Time for Switzerland - IMD Business School

It’s Swiss time!

Switzerland has a short term opportunity for greatness
4 min.
November 2016

Opportunities for greatness are rare, and all notable success stories can be traced back to someone, somewhere making exactly the right move at just the right time. One of those rare moments exists right now, and Switzerland is in the perfect position to grab it.

The world, as we have come to understand it, is disintegrating around us. Surprises abound: the unexpected Trump victory, Brexit, Chinese aggression, mass human migrations, and global terrorism. In most cases, these events can be traced back to a desire among different populations to reject the status quo and embrace change. In a world that is undergoing massive change and disruption, stability is rare and valuable. This is where Switzerland comes in.

Switzerland oozes stability from every pore. It is one of the few nations today with extremely high levels of institutional quality, political and economic freedom, education and infrastructure, innovation and digital capabilities, and political stability. Indeed, IMD’s Global Competitiveness Index ranked Switzerland in second place globally, after Hong Kong, which can hardly be considered stable. The World Economic Forum ranked it first.

The world’s greatest talent, who may have considered taking their abilities to the US or the EU will now be thinking twice about their prospects in either place. Switzerland has a great opportunity to attract them. The world’s best companies, who are increasingly worried about continued economic and political upheaval, may consider the stability of Switzerland more attractive than ever.

We are not Swiss. Yet, we have been living in this country for many years and love it. We marvel at its beauty; we appreciate its organization; we enjoy its prime location in the heart of Europe; we welcome its low taxes; and we value its complete democracy. These attributes, coupled with the turbulence occurring outside its borders, provide Switzerland with a unique opportunity to shine on the world stage. It is time for Switzerland to open its doors to the world’s best and brightest individuals and corporations.

Yet, Swiss humbleness and introversion get in the way. There are very few Swiss political leaders on the international stage trying to promote the country. For many abroad, Switzerland is still seen as a tax haven full of boring people and stupid rules. They don’t see what we see. Even the Swiss struggle to recognize their own potential. A recent survey shows that only 42% of people feel “very proud to be Swiss”.

Brexit, the Colombian referendum, and the US election have uncovered an ugly side of modern society, full of arrogance and xenophobia. People and politicians are moving away from each other; and trust is at an all-time low. Political and economic unions are fragmenting. It could take a generation to clean up the mess in today’s advanced economies. All of the sudden, boring is cool.

In Asia, China remains the biggest risk factor to the world economy, and others like Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, are carrying private debt levels that exceed 200% of GDP. And let’s not forget their high levels of corruption fed by a crony capitalism closely resembling the very systems that took those countries to huge devaluations in 1997. Even though Asia remains the engine for global growth, the attractiveness of countries like China and India for top talent is questionable.

Compared to all this, Switzerland emerges as a haven of peace, political trust, and economic success. The attractiveness of the country to foreign capital has strengthened the Swiss Franc, which has helped to transform Switzerland into one of the most innovative countries in the world. With the right mix of political will and strategic investment, Switzerland could become a magnet for companies and individuals.

“Swiss Made” is today a certificate of quality and reliability. “It’s Swiss Time!” should become the new mantra. Switzerland has a short term opportunity for greatness. Embrace it!

Professor Arturo Bris is Director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center and Professor of Finance at IMD.

Michael Wade is the Cisco Chair in Digital Business Transformation, and Professor of Innovation and Strategic Information Management at IMD.


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