By Michelle Graff

Basel, Switzerland—René Kamm, CEO of Baselworld organizer the MCH Group AG, has stepped down. His resignation comes less than a week after the loss of the watch and jewelry trade show’s biggest exhibitor, the Swatch Group.

Kamm will be replaced by MCH Group AG board Chairman Ulrich Vischer until the company can find a new permanent CEO. He had been with MCH Group for almost 20 years, starting in 1999 as Baselworld’s director.

In the release announcing Kamm’s resignation, MCH Group said the board and Kamm mutually decided that “the time has come for a change in the operational leadership of MCH Group” in light of what it described as a “fundamental transformation phase in business operations.”

His exit follows that of longtime Baselworld Managing Director Sylvie Ritter, who resigned in the spring.

News of Swatch Group’s exit from the watch and jewelry trade show broke Sunday in an interview CEO Nick Hayek did with Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

In a later interview with CNBC, Hayek said that traditional trade shows like Baselworld “no longer make much sense” and he blasted show management for being “a little bit arrogant,” unwilling to change with the times and non-communicative with key exhibitors, like Swatch Group, about any changes that are planned.

The loss of Swatch Group, which brings 17 of its 18 watch brands to the show, was a huge blow to Baselworld, which acknowledged in announcing Kamm’s resignation Friday that it will have a “yet inestimable” impact on its balance sheet in 2019 but rejected the idea that the show will not go on.

“Although it does not generally question the continuation of the Baselworld trade fair, the withdrawal of this important exhibitor has led to questions concerning the consequences for MCH Group's results,” the company said.

Also on Friday, MCH Group corrected what it says was an error in the release it issued Monday in reaction to news of Swatch Group’s withdrawal.

The release claimed that there was a meeting held July 4 with the show’s Comité Consultatif (committe of top brands) but is saying now that the meeting was actually with the extended Comité Mondial (a larger committee comprised of representatives from all sectors) but noted that the members of both committees are the same.

A Baselworld spokesman added that Swatch Group has a representative on both committees, and that the show stands by its statement earlier in the week, which denied public claims made by Hayek that exhibitors had not been notified of planned changes to the show.

“The new ideas were presented and discussed in all exhibitor committees,” the spokesman said.

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