Timing Is Everything

This heir to a watchmaking dynasty struck out on his own. Now he's the one to watch.

Why would anyone abandon an incredible job at great financial risk to start a business? That's what critics and naysayers asked Carlo Crocco when he left his family's watchmaking dynasty to start Geneva, Switzerland-based MDM Geneve, manufacturer of the exclusive Hublot watch.

Crocco turned a deaf ear to the critics, convinced he could do what they thought impossible. The result is a company that produces one of the world's most distinctive watches. This year, Crocco's company will rack up sales of $22 million. But getting to that point was a study in perseverance, conviction and enormous risk-taking.

When Crocco decided to leave the family fold in 1976 at age 32, almost everyone who knew him was convinced he had a few screws loose. As scion of Italy's premier watchmaking family, the Milan-based Binda company, Crocco had it made. In fact, until he defied tradition, no family member had ever left the firm.

It's easy to understand why. Founded by Crocco's grandfather in 1906, the time-weathered company was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Today, Binda controls the largest watch distribution network in Italy. Like his parents, uncles and cousins, Crocco grew up in the business. He had become its top marketing and creative person, and was destined to take the helm of the sprawling multimillion-dollar empire. But Crocco had other plans.

The need to go off on his own became an all-consuming drive he couldn't deny. "Growing up in a watchmaking family, there was no question about what I was going to do for the rest of my life," he recalls. "When I told my uncles I was leaving, they thought I was crazy."

It was no snap decision, either. "I agonized over it," Crocco says reflectively. "But when I compared the pros and cons, I felt I had no choice. I had been working for my family's business since graduating from college. I loved the business, but I had my own ideas I wanted to test. I wanted to make my own statement."

Not only was Crocco bent on starting his own company; he decided to relocate to Switzerland to do it. "If you're going to be in the watch business, Switzerland is the place to be," he says.

Crocco's most important reason for setting up shop in Switzerland was to create a unique watch that would enjoy world recognition. "My vision was to produce something different," he says. "I envisioned a timepiece that flawlessly merged Italian styling with Swiss craftsmanship." Watch connoisseurs know that's as close to perfection as anyone can get. If Crocco's plan worked, he'd capture the hearts-and pocketbooks-of fickle, fashion-forward Europeans.

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This article was originally published in the July 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Timing Is Everything.

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