All in the Timing: Hublot’s Ben Zemen Makes Big Move to H-Town
At Hublot, in the Galleria, he works with some of the most exclusive and intricate timepieces in the world. The Swiss horological brand, founded in 1980 by Italian Carlo Crocco, celebrated its 40th anniversary last year with the Classic Fusion model, inspired by the design of a ship's porthole. But Zeman, who relocated to Houston late last year, also has an eye for larger trends and long-term issues. He's one of the rare city dwellers here without a car, and he's passionate about innovation and addressing climate change before it takes an even greater toll on the planet.
Born in France, Zeman studied finance in Paris and London, and began to move down a traditional career path of a finance guy. But his gregarious nature and love for people drew him from behind the computer screen and out into the world of luxury retail. He took a job at London's legendary department store Harrods, and began networking with people from all over the globe.
"I love meeting people, and in the luxury retail market, it's all about building personal relationships," he says. "You are meeting entrepreneurs and interesting people with fascinating stories all the time." As his network grew, he received job offers in the United States, spending time in both Los Angeles and Denver while also traveling the globe. He developed a broad worldview, and has astutely observed major cultural paradigms. He shares his observations on Houston.
"Houston is casual, laid back and not stuck up like Los Angeles," he says, something that Houstonians do love to hear. "Anyone can walk through the doors here and buy a $50,000 watch." As a general rule, he thinks Texas represents American stereotypes, good and bad, at some of their strongest and most extreme manifestations. Unlike in his native France, he finds the business community extremely open, a land of opportunity. "Elon Musk said it's possible for ordinary people to become extraordinary. I like that approach, especially here."
Despite the rosy eyes, Zeman also observes that Houston has lots of things to work on. He's a huge reader — noting that his love of books has led to a broad knowledge base that allows him to connect with a wide range of clients — and his latest recommendation is Bill Gates' new bestseller, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. It's appropriate, given that only a few months after Zeman arrived here, Texas was hit with February's crippling winter storm, accompanied by failing utilities and a collapsed power grid. He personally made do just fine during the crisis — although he couldn't shower for several days, he laughs — but he fears that events like this are only going to become more regular and more severe. He's adamant about doing his part — hence the lack of car and affinity for public transport — and believes Houston could be at the forefront of adapting and making appropriate technology changes in energy if it choses to. "Texas is rich with power, and people here can change things," he says.
For the moment, Zeman's Houston experience has been relatively unexplored. He lives in the Galleria area, near work, but he's looking forward to discovering more of the city and meeting more of its residents as the pandemic recedes. "It's been hard to go out, but I can't wait to experience more of Houston soon. I'm the type of person who is never home, and I can't wait to see things as they were before the pandemic."