Switzerland, wake up! (#2)

Structural Shifts with Martin NAVILLE, CEO of Swiss American Chamber of Commerce

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Ben Robinson discusses with Martin Naville, CEO of Swiss American Chamber of Commerce, whether Switzerland is losing its competitiveness in attracting multinational corporations


  1. Switzerland, Wake Up! Reinforcing Switzerland’s Attractiveness to Multinationals


Ben Robinson: For episode #2 of a p e r t u r e, we’re on tour and we’re in Zurich. We’re in the office of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, and we’re discussing multi-national corporations (MNCs) in Switzerland. Specifically, we’re discussing their importance as an engine of economic growth and prosperity and the key role they play as a bedrock of innovation and productivity. The question will be discussing is whether Switzerland is losing competitiveness in both attracting and retaining these MNCs. And to discuss this topic we are with Martin Naville, who is CEO of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. Martin, please could we start by you telling us about your background, the mission of your organisation, and also why are you so interested in this topic of MNCs?

the new-economy companies who have built European headquarters, you know; the Netflix’s, Amazons, Google’s, Uber’s, Airbnb’s of this world. None of them has chosen Switzerland as European headquarters. And that should really make us worried that this is not the place that it was ten, fifteen years ago.

MN: Well, we can be mediocre and then we don’t have those companies and we are Belgium or Portugal when we’d like to be better. And then we need to work very hard. And as long as you do the things right, there is no reason to leave. If we don’t do the things right then clearly, we have a risk of losing them. But I’d rather have them and risk losing them than not have them here in Switzerland. It’s like in tennis, Federer can easily play and be, say, number 100, that’s fine and I don’t need to train so hard, but if you want to become number one, you have to go on court every day. And that’s, I think what Switzerland needs to do is to go on court and train every day.

I think the common factor is basically the people out there selling the business location Switzerland to other companies outside. They do a marketing job. They have a great product, but they have to explain it. […] And so we need people out there to sell it. And especially to the new tech companies who are not used to this European environment and also to Chinese companies. And we do a poor job selling this. […] this is a competition and we have to up our game.

MN: So let’s quickly go back. Switzerland was never one of the really low, low, low tax countries. And also, in Paradise Papers and the Luxembourg Papers and all those things Switzerland didn’t really appear. We were always slightly higher than others, but we were competitive and tax is only just the cost of the product – the product being political stability and the talents and everything. And so we were always, we had a great product and we weren’t the cheapest, but we were competitive. The way to be competitive was ringfencing the foreign revenue and giving them a priority over domestic revenue. And this is where the EU and then the OECD said, we’re not accepting this.

airports are very important, but just not for multinationals. But also for art and science and education and sports and everything. You need a very efficient airport system. And the title of this report is Flying Blind after 2030 because at least in Switzerland, but in many places around the world, you plan roads and railroads 40, 50 years out. Here, we all know that the system is already creaking.

MN: There are not many multinational leaving, but many multinational downgrade their presence. They take certain departments and send them to somewhere else because it’s cheaper or just — they do just a good job in Frankfurt and Munich or Paris or somewhere else. I think Geneva and Vaud have had mostly a flat development – since we haven’t looked at the numbers in depth. All those numbers are strong numbers, the latest report is with McKinsey Company and the report you mentioned is a Boston Consulting Group.

aperture | Digest

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