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Dr. Ernst Thomke was born on 21 April 1939 in Biel/Bienne Canton of Berne, on the Franco-German linguistic border. His father was a practicing physician. First a trained mechanic, he acquired the Swiss federal maturity degree and pursued academic studies, while in employment. The circumstances led him to become an efficient saviour of Swiss ailing companies throughout his career
- 1 Training
- 2 Professional Activities
- 3 Return to ETA SA
- 4 Swatch
- 5 SMH
- 6 Saviour of companies
- 7 Other Directorships and shareholdings
- 8 Other Investments in the Watchmaking Industry
- 9 Involved in
- 10 Family
- 11 Hobbies
- 12 Sources & References
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.
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 Gothenborg, Sweden. Imperceptibly he was taken to focus on the tasks of economic management. He was appointed head of marketing and regional marketing director in the Europe division of the group.
Return to ETA SA
In 1978, at the peak of the Swiss watch industry crisis, facing the global onslaught of Japanese watches, mainly those with Quartz, Thomke was called to the rescue of ETA SA. In order to end the prevailing destructive internal competition within the Swiss Ebauches manufacturers, Thomke was convinced that only a maximum of concentration of all those companies scattered around, could finally 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 as much as possible 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.
Thomke, with his collaborators Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller are the inventors of the Swatch, and with the assistance of external Franz Sprecher, a fine marketing specialist, they are the instigators of the success of the Brand Swatch, which spearheaded the resurgence of the Swiss Watch Industry. Nowadays the accounting unit of Swatch watches sold around the world is the tens of millions!
On the advice of the Hayek Engineering AG of freelance consultant Nicolas G. Hayek, both big 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 universal major consideration for the successful integration of all the Ebauches factories into Eta SA and the regain of prestige of exclusive brands Omega, Longines, Tissot. The Microméchanique acquired the necessary top 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: At that time, Hayek, as Chairman of the Board had then already become the only person of reference.
Saviour of companies
Thereafter, Thomke consolidated its reputation as a corporate saviour by interventions met with success in the watch industry. He however always took several assignments simultaneously outside the watch industry:
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 transformed this eclectic group by restoring its activity in the most profitable primary energy sector, under the new name of ATEL.
Oerlikon-Bührle Holding (OBH)
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.
In 1995, he had already taken the leadership of Saurer AG in Arbon as Chairman of the Board. 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 his years he promulgated transparency at all levels, flexible working hours, optimized the production and refined accounting systems. In 1996, Saurer SA went back into financial results showing profits. More than half of the revenues originating from Schlafhorst, upon its positive restructuring.
Thereafter, while remaining in the background of the Swiss economic scene, 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 innovative medicines.
Other Investments in the Watchmaking Industry
- 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 exclusive watch company. He holds 25% of the capital.
Director, Chairman of the Board to
- BB Biotech AG since 1993
- Métaux Précieux SA Métalor, from 98;
- BB Medtech AG, since 2000;
- Nobel Biocare since 2001;
- Stiftungsrat, Institut für experimentelle Krebsforschung "(since 1995).
Married and father of three adult children.
He manages a farm in southern France. Skiing and tennis are among his favourite sports.
Sources & References
- The Outsiders who saved the Swiss Watch Industry: 
- Dr. Ernest Thomke: "Father of Swatch"
-  "Um Ernst Thomke und Elmar Mock legt Hayek eine grosse Wolke": Macht und Sensibilität: Nicolas G. Hayek
-  Thomke: Swatch a Successful Strategy
-  Managers and leaders: Are they different?: see Ref. to Dr. 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".
-  Thomke, Ernst, Short Biography
-  Ernst Thomke: Chairman BB MEDTECH AG, etc.
-  Thomke, Ernst: Nobel Biocare Holding AG, etc.
- The Swatch Phenomenon Series of Articles retracing Swatch's history