Background To Business in Switzerland

Switzerland has always had a reputation for order, decency and an almost obsessive desire for security.

The Swiss are, for example, the most heavily insured nation in the world – a fact reflected in the number of insurance and re-insurance businesses based in the country – and have the highest per capita insurance spend.

These characteristics permeate every aspect of Swiss life and also percolate down to the business level.

Thus, the Swiss approach to business can be classified as orderly and thoughtful where pre-planning and risk-aversion are to the fore. The type of crisis management apparent in countries such as the UK, where the ability to deal with unexpected events as they occur is highly prized, would be viewed as haphazard and as showing a lack of control.

Although containing a sizeable number of Italian and French speakers, business comes very much before relationships in Switzerland. Respect is earned through the display of professionalism and technical competence rather than through the ability to cultivate the right quality of personal relationships.

Surprisingly, despite the regional differences which are more obvious in Switzerland than in most other countries, there seems to be a surprising degree of homogeneity in approach to business life throughout the country. The obvious exception to this homogeneity is in attitudes to communication, which are very much determined by the native language of the individual.

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

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

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