Robb Interview: Raynald Aeschlimann
Ahead of the America’s Cup, we spoke to the OMEGA President and CEO about the brand’s deep ties to the Auld Mug, the importance of professional friendships and what he’s learnt from time spent with numerous Kiwis and Australians.
Robb Report: Raynald, if we talk discuss OMEGA’S relationship with Team New Zealand (TNZ) – an alignment that’s now run for more than 25 years – why the longevity, why the Kiwis specifically, and what has this bond been forged upon?
Raynald Aeschlimann: We joined with the Kiwis mostly because of our relationship with Sir Peter Blake, who was a key member of New Zealand’s America’s Cup team in 1995. Peter was already a renowned sailor, but also a very passionate supporter of the oceans and their protection. OMEGA really found common values with Peter and it naturally led to a partnership with Team New Zealand. Since then, we’ve shared some incredible sailing success together and we’ve always been bonded by the same love of innovation and precision. I really believe that any great partnership begins with friendship, and that is what we’ve established with TNZ over the years and why we’ve remained close for so long.
RR: How would you, as an ‘outsider’ far removed from the Antipodes, explain Kiwi spirit and grit – what have you learnt of such, given your association with so many over time?
RA: New Zealand is similar to Switzerland in many ways, because we are both small in size yet big on spirit. The athletes from both our countries continually rise to the greatest challenges, prepared to take on teams who often have a longer heritage or greater resources. What I’ve noticed in sailing, and also through our experience at the Olympic Games, is that Kiwis thrive on a big challenge. They have a very resilient spirit and don’t give up easily. Toughness is really part of their DNA. It’s the same, I would say, as OMEGA’s approach to watchmaking.
RR: Speaking more broadly, and in regards to OMEGA’S further role as the Official Timekeeper of the 36th America’s Cup, what aligned values does competitive sailing offer over other sports?
RA: I think the innovation within sailing is a major difference when you compare it to other sports. The competitive edge of a team can really come down to the weight, angles and materials that go into the boat design. That’s one side. Then you add the performance of the team and the precision and intelligence they have to bring to every second of racing. It’s a sport that requires so many parts working so seamlessly together. I guess that’s a major reason it appeals to us as watchmakers. For OMEGA, we also have a long tradition at sea, with diving watches that go back to 1932. So, it’s clear that we share a lot of values with this sport and have a very authentic reason to be so deeply involved.
RR: How do you personally describe this racing and these incredible ‘flying’ machines to a lay person, or someone who has not had the privilege of seeing this type of competition (AC75s /AC72s) up close – because it’s truly something to behold and witness.
RA: I actually love to sail myself and it’s quite difficult to describe the feeling of being on a boat. You certainly get a sense of nature’s power, with views and sensations that can really take your breath away. As a spectator, it’s quite an incredible experience too. These are racing boats, so they literally fly across the water, yet at the same time, they have the ability to make tight turns and manoeuvres you wouldn’t believe. The new AC75 boats are going to be a joy to watch, and as a sporting spectacle, it’s something I think everyone should see at least once.
RR: We understand you were on the shores of San Francisco in 2013? What emotions were there for you as a spectator, attached to witnessing that incredible sporting series?
RA: When you talk about the highs and lows of sport, that 2013 series is probably the best example you’ll find. New Zealand were on the brink of winning the America’s Cup, having won 8 races and needing just one more. Naturally, I was so excited for the team and proud that they had dominated the series so emphatically. Like everyone on the shore, we were just waiting for that final moment to celebrate. But Oracle famously came back, changing their tactics and winning the next 8 races in a row. It was incredibly tense watching it unfold and realising what we were witnessing. It was one of sport’s great comebacks, but on the other side, we all felt quite disheartened at the end. We also knew that TNZ would come back fighting. And that’s exactly what they did in 2017.
RR: And then watching first hand in 2017 in Bermuda – what remains with you from that experience and the emotions felt in being present and personally cheering on TNZ?
RA: For me, Bermuda was particularly special because I had come to know the Kiwi crew so well. Just a year earlier, I’d been in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games and watched Peter Burling and Blair Tuke win gold medals in the 49er class. They were so humble, but also clearly determined in their careers and I just knew they would make a formidable America’s Cup team. Being in beautiful Bermuda was a real treat, but I was so happy to see New Zealand win so well. It felt like the perfect response to what happened in 2013, and a real victory for all the hard work they’d put in.
RR: Now, with OMEGA as the ‘Official Timekeeper’ of the 36th America’s Cup we imagine you must show certain impartiality in regards to the AC itself; will this prove difficult given those ties to TNZ and the shared history?
RA: There are really no issues in that respect. Our timing is world-renowned for being precise and unquestionable, no matter the sport. I know that our team in Auckland will be equipped with the most state-of-the-art equipment that will benefit every single athlete and team equally. It’s a key part of a successful event. But, of course, we’ll still have our name on the ETNZ sails, and will be hoping that the team can fulfil their own potential when it comes to the races.
RR: What does being the Official Timekeeper of the 36th America’s Cup ultimately offer OMEGA?
RA: It aligns us with a historic moment in sport, one that will be remembered throughout time. The America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in sport, contested with the most advanced boats in the world. That speaks not only of heritage, but also innovation and modern excellence. That is what OMEGA is all about, and it’s a great message for fans, as well as potential customers. We want our name to be associated with quality and perfection. It doesn’t get more prestigious than the America’s Cup.
RR: The reality is that we’ll be spectating this year’s AC via tablet / laptop / TV – how do you feel about not being present? Will you make the early morning hours to tune in live where possible?
RA: We’re still assessing the spectator element of this year’s competition. But definitely, I think it will be different to the past. The America’s Cup atmosphere is always so memorable and Auckland is one of the world’s great sailing destinations. For OMEGA, the most important focus is always the athletes and ensuring that everything is perfect for their needs. So long as that’s the case, it doesn’t matter where we watch it from. As for the time difference, I’ll certainly be trying to tune in live. Who knows, maybe I’ll have one of my OMEGA’s set to New Zealand time.
36th America’s Cup final starts Saturday March 6; omegawatches.com
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