Ernst Thomke

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Ernst Thomke (born 21 April 1939 in Biel/Bienne Canton of Berne, on the Franco-German linguistic border), is a Swiss physician and watchmaker. First a trained mechanic, he acquired the Swiss federal maturity degree and pursued academic studies, while in employment.


Thomke first completed an apprenticeship as a mechanic at the factory of ETA SA in Grenchen Canton of Solothurn. Between 1961 and 1967, he studied natural sciences, mainly chemistry at the University of Bern and University of Lausanne. Then he pursued medical studies in Berne, while working full-time. He was promoted to doctor in 1975. He completed his education with management studies and marketing at the (INSEAD), Fontainebleau.

Professional Activities[edit]

He worked from 1970 to 1977 in research for the British pharmaceutical group Beecham, mainly at their Swiss laboratories, but also at the pharmacological institute of Gothenburg, Sweden. He was appointed head of marketing and regional marketing director in the Europe division of the group.

Return to ETA SA[edit]

In 1978, at the peak of the Swiss watch industry crisis, facing competition from Japanese watches, mainly those with Quartz, Thomke was tasked with heading ETA SA. In order to end the prevailing internal competition within the Swiss Ebauches manufacturers, Thomke was convinced that consolidating scattered companies could save the Swiss watch industry.

1978, ETA SA merged with its former rival A. Schild SA (AS). The new ETA, with 2,200 employees, introduced gradually improved new technology in the manufacturing of quartz movements and full automation throughout the production. Thomke integrated the administrative and production areas of the other Ebauches factories since long owned by Ebauches SA.

In 1982 he became CEO of Ebauches SA and was appointed on the Board of Directors of the ASUAG, the holding company of ETA SA.


On the advice of the Hayek Engineering AG freelance consultant Nicolas G. Hayek, watch groups ASUAG and SSIH merged between 1983 and 1984 in the Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie (SMH), now called Swatch Group.

Thomke was its first CEO, from 1984 to 1991. In this period, the company won integrated all of all the Ebauches factories into Eta SA and regained the brands Omega, Longines and Tissot. The Microméchanique acquired the necessary technology for the manufacture of integrated circuits and chips. In 1989, the consolidated turnover of SMH was CHF 2.1 billion.

Thomke left in 1991.

Later Career[edit]

Motor Columbus[edit]

Thus, between 1992 and 1995, as CEO of Motor Columbus, on a mandate from its majority shareholder, the Union Bank of Switzerland, now known as UBS, he turned around the group by restoring its activity in the most profitable primary energy sector, under the new name of ATEL.

Oerlikon-Bührle Holding (OBH)[edit]

In addition he was active until 1997 for the Oerlikon-Bührle Holding (OBH). As Chairman and CEO between 1991 and 1997of both

  • Pilatus AG-Flugzeugwerke and Stans
  • Bally International AG. However, after an effective restructuring and streamlining of the latter company, plans to bring it to the Stock Exchange were rejected by the holding company. This negative decision led Thomke to withdraw from any activities within either company.

Saurer AG[edit]

In 1995, became Chairman of the Board at Saurer AG in Arbon. To restructure this conglomerate, he had previously abandoned his position with its major shareholder: BB Industrie Holding AG (22%). The previous major shareholder, Tito Tettamanti, of the conglomerate, founded in 1853, specialized in textile machinery and "Antriebstechnik", had acquired the main competitor in each field, Schlafhorst, with a large manufacturing capacity excess and Ghidela .

Thomke led Saurer AG until 1996, when he retired to the direction of the Board until 1999. In 1996, Saurer SA went back into financial results showing profits. More than half of the revenues originating from Schlafhorst.

Other directorships and shareholdings[edit]

Thereafter, Thomke agreed to other terms as administrator. In the medical industry sector, he invested in shares of the company BB Biotech, promoting the development of medicines.

Other Investments in the watchmaking industry[edit]

  • Métaux Précieux SA Métalor: he became the main shareholder. This company is the largest refiner and producer of gold watch cases.
  • British Masters SA he was the leading investor, who enabled the foundation by Eric Loth, one of his former employees, in 1995, of this watch company. He holds 25% of the capital.

Involved in[edit]

Director, Chairman of the Board to

Sources & references[edit]

  • The Outsiders who saved the Swiss Watch Industry: [1]
  • Ernest Thomke: "Father of Swatch"
  • [2] "Um Ernst Thomke und Elmar Mock legt Hayek eine grosse Wolke": Macht und Sensibilität: Nicolas G. Hayek
  • [3] Thomke: Swatch a Successful Strategy
  • [4] Managers and leaders: Are they different?: see Ref. to Ernst Thomke & Nicolas Hayek "Ernst Thomke created the organisation that led to the emergence of the innovative Swatch; subsequent CEO Nicolas Hayek took the invention and relentlessly managed the organisation into a long streak of dominance and profitability".
  • [5] Thomke, Ernst, Short Biography
  • [6] Ernst Thomke: Chairman BB MEDTECH AG, etc.
  • [7] Thomke, Ernst: Nobel Biocare Holding AG, etc.
  • The Swatch Phenomenon Series of articles retracing Swatch's history