Swiss Executives and Multinational Companies (by Veronica De la Fuente)

Recently I have been in contact with different multinational companies based in La Côte region in Switzerland, where to my surprise, there were very few Swiss nationals occupying C-level positions.

When I asked my Swiss acquaintances who work in high positions in Swiss companies about whether they would like to work for multinational companies in Switzerland, the answers were different. They mentioned that multinationals are complicated, there is too much stress and politics there, they didn’t like the management style, and in MNCs you are a number.

In my opinion, two main factors could explain this trend.

1. Soft skills versus hard skills
The Swiss education system is oriented towards rationality, technique and practical knowledge i.e., hard skills. This path has given the image of quality, precision and efficiency characteristic of “The Swiss Label”.

2. Differences in the culture of multinationals and Swiss companies.
MNCs have a vision focused on competition and results. They are hierarchical and the decision-making process is taken from high-level managers. Leadership is important because the leader makes the wheels spin. Leaders must develop soft skills such as empathy, interpersonal relations, emotional, cultural and cognitive intelligence to manage all competencies.

On the other hand, traditional Swiss companies are focused on product quality and technology, and this search for added value is their driving force. Company size also plays an important role. A multinational company with many employees seems to lose the family atmosphere that is so important for Swiss employees. In Swiss companies, hierarchy is flatter, the leader is expected to be an active part of the team and decisions are made through a consensus.

Results from the recent 2015 Randstad Award Switzerland survey show that the most attractive sectors for Swiss employees to work at are: 1) watchmaking industry, 2) IT consulting, and 3) industrial manufacturing. Knowledge, precision, technology, quality are the essential characteristics associated with these industries, where most of their production goes to foreign markets and where the Swiss can better use their savoirfaire and hard skills.

The survey also showed that the top 10 Swiss companies where the Swiss want to work most are:

  • Google
  • Patek Philippe
  • Swatch Group
  • Victorinox
  • Zurich Airport
  • Rolex
  • Nestlé
  • Swiss
  • Swissport International
  • Stadler Rail

The main factors considered attractive for Swiss employees, are:

 pleasant working atmosphere  60%
 salary and benefits  59%
 long-term security  50%
 a good work-life balance  48%
 flexible work hours  42%
 job’s tasks and responsibilities  42%

(Source: Randstad Award Switzerland 2015)

If we observe the list of top 10 companies chosen as most attractive to work for, except for Google, all ranking companies are Swiss companies (versus multinationals based in Switzerland). Interestingly, Swiss multinationals from the pharmaceutical or banking industries do not appear on the list possibly since these companies nowadays have lost their Swiss-style management and have moved to a more global style of management.

Since Swiss employees are seeking a better balance between work and private life, maybe the feeling is that this balance is difficult to achieve at MNCs.

Verónica De la Fuente is a Chilean and Swiss citizen. She has a Business and Administration degree and has worked for more the ten years in the finance industry. She is an Intercultural Consultant and Trainer working with expatriates and Multicultural teams. Coach certified by ICF (International Coach Federation). LinkedIn

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