Swiss Business Structures

Switzerland, as a country, is highly decentralised and divided into a series of semi-autonomous Cantons. Many highly contentious decisions are left to the population to decide through a series of reasonably frequent referenda.

A direct parallel between these two points of decentralisation and delegation of decision-making can be found in Swiss business structures. Switzerland is not dominated by a limited number of large companies but, rather, contains a plethora of medium and smaller organisations. Larger companies tend to favour the holding company model, under which operates a series of businesses aligned in a loose federation.

This industrial system promotes the delegation of responsibility to semi-independent operating units on a whole range of major issues. The benefit of this approach, coupled with the Swiss desire for order and systems, is that companies exhibit great strengths on the operational side of the business. However, the criticism often levelled at the Swiss is that they have a weakness in areas of strategy and business development (which, it is said, is a direct result of a lack of decentralised decision making.)

Surprisingly, the Swiss are not as hierarchically minded as some other European countries (the Germans and the French for example) and this could be another reflection of the deeply entrenched political beliefs in decentralisation and delegation of authority to the masses.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Switzerland

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Switzerland. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Switzerland and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips