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BIEL, Switzerland (AP) _ Nicolas Hayek, the marketing wizard behind the plastic Swatch watch, announced Tuesday that he plans to step down next month as chief executive of the Swatch Group while staying on as chairman.

Hayek, 73, will likely be succeeded as CEO by his son, Nicolas Hayek Jr., 47.

``Since I started to transfer responsibilities to my son more than a year ago, he has taken over 70 percent of the duties of a CEO,'' Hayek told reporters. ``I will step down, if the board of directors and shareholders agree'' at the group's June 7 annual meeting.

Hayek, who has a fortune of $2.4 billion, stands at 168 in the ranking of the world's richest people as estimated by Forbes magazine. He is the sixth-richest person in Switzerland.

In March, Swatch Group reported 2001 net profit of 546 million francs ($329 million), down 8 percent from the previous year, and said it would step up efforts to push its luxury brands.

On Tuesday, Hayek said there was a strong increase in orders in the first quarter of 2002 in the company's luxury segment.