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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Switzerland must rank as one of the most politically and economically stable countries in the world. It has for years managed to deliver ongoing prosperity for its highly educated, multi-lingual population and, although the country did feel the impact of the banking crisis, the long-term signs seem very positive.

Switzerland is a land-locked country yet despite that seeming disadvantage it is an extremely successful export economy with sector strengths ranging from advanced manufacturing through to high-end financial services. As well as being export-oriented, Switzerland has also been able to attract massive levels of inward investment through a combination of fiscal incentives and a very high standard of living.

Recent years have seen large numbers of immigrants entering Swiss society and whilst this has led to some internal tensions, it has also allowed Switzerland to benefit from the arrival of highly skilled workers who have helped Swiss industry remain at the forefront of innovation and productivity.

Switzerland is a high-cost, high-skilled economy which must be an attractive proposition for many international organisations who are looking to grow their business by entering new markets. Don’t be put off by the seemingly high costs – Switzerland is worth a closer look.

However, Switzerland is a culturally complex country – as you would expect from a country with four official languages. Before starting to do business in Switzerland you would be well-advised to develop a good understanding of the significant cultural differences you can find within the country. Don’t be fooled by the fact that so many people speak good English – their fluency in English doesn’t mean they don’t think, act and behave in a Swiss way.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Swiss business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

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