Nicolas Hayek, the head of the Swatch Group, has confirmed that he plans to concentrate on the chairmanship of the company.
The cigar-smoking 74-year-old boss owns 36 per cent of the Swatch group, which produces not just the eponymous plastic watch, but also brands such as Omega, Tissot and Blancpain.
Speaking of the company's sales prospects for the rest of the year, after a flat beginning, Hayek declined to give precise figures. "We feel a positive underlying tone, so we are confident of a good 2002," said the CEO.
"We are growing, but... much depends on the second half," he added.
In 2001, sales and earnings fell after a drop in consumer spending in the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and a downturn in the electronic systems activities. The strength of the Swiss franc also had an impact on revenue.
Hayek urged the central bank to weaken the franc further after last week's half-point rate cut. "We do not want a weak franc, but an overvalued franc is not good for anybody."
Swatch sales last year were SFr4.18 billion ($2.6 billion), down nearly two per cent, while net profit was SFr504 million, a drop of 7.7 per cent.
swissinfo with agencies
Hayek, best-known as the manager who tuned round the ailing Swiss watchmaking industry with the plastic Swatch in the 80's, said on Tuesday in Biel he wants to hand the CEO role, and day-to-day operations, to his son Nicolas Hayek, Jr.
Although he had been expected today to announce the date of his departure, the chairman did not do so.
"We started this handover some one-and-a-half years ago and Nick now has 70 per cent of my responsibilities," added Hayek. "The handover of the rest will take place, after a board decision, in the coming months."
Hayek senior said he would remain chairman of the supervisory board.
Some fund managers believe Hayek's son, who has studied American marketing and management techniques, is better suited to leading the company. They point to the CEO's autocratic style as being ill adapted to the group's global strategy.
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