Switzerland is worth a look

Mike Harling, Whitefield International Ltd…

Switzerland is a lovely place. We all know that. What with the lakes and mountains, sun in the summer and snow in winter. A veritable paradise. Those of you who are financially well endowed can even rest your funds here to quietly accumulate or to purchase the ever reliable and strong Swiss franc (more about that later).

Switzerland is often seen as an oasis of peace and tranquillity surrounded by a thundering herd of noisier neighbours. Some would say clever enough to stay out of the EC and clever enough to stay well away from the Euro. Yet successfully trading with all EC nations, those inside the Eurozone and those outside, whilst continuing to do its own thing.

However, that’s where the simple truths or even clichés stop. In reality, Switzerland is, and always has been, far more than “a nice place to visit” or somewhere to “stash the cash”. For many years, and continuing into the present, the country has possessed a vibrant manufacturing sector, one which has changed with the times and continually adapted to the requirements of the day. It is a success story and one – the Swiss being the Swiss – which has not been trumpeted loudly, unlike the at times more meagre, self-proclaimed success stories emanating from those noisy neighbours.

Swiss manufacturing is characterised by innovation, ingenuity and entrepreneurship, just as a successful industry sector should be in order to survive and prosper in these turbulent times. And most of the manufacturing takes place in the engineering sector. Yes, engineering. Something that in these islands we have been trying to forget about until relatively recently, a travesty give n our heritage in the sector. Heavy machinery, mechanical and electrical engineering have thrived over the years in amongst the Alps, mostly within the small-and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector. Engineering is strong, but let’s not forget other areas, such as pharmaceuticals, with Switzerland being home to the headquarters and extensive R & D and manufacturing facilities of some of the leviathans of that sector.

A well-balanced economy then, with room available for both small enterprises and large multinationals. And, I’ve not even mentioned watches – a case study, if ever there was one, for business schools in how to resuscitate a terminally-ill sector and re-conquer the world.

Yet, like us, but more proportionally, Swiss manufacturers have started to feel the chill of the current economic woes. For them, however, the dangers have not come from without, but from an unlikely source, within. The Swiss franc, eternally strong and a haven against uncertainty deriving from economically less well managed parts of the globe, has now – with the help of overspending and economic mismanagement closer to home – moved into a currency league of its own. It has become a victim of its own success and arguably is now too strong, seriously hurting Swiss exports and exporters. Measures, such as a currency peg against the Euro to dissuade franc purchasers have been put in place, so this is certainly a space to watch for developments, as alternative currencies rise and fall at a whim.

From a personal perspective, I must admit to being a bit biased about Switzerland. Most of my career to date has been spent in and around international trade and investment and has frequently involved business trips to Switzerland, way out or proportion, I used to think, to the size of the country. I even spent time working in the country in my early career. However, with age comes wisdom and I long ago realised that although Switzerland is a small country, it has a medium-sized economy. It offers real opportunities in many sectors to British exporters and those companies looking to invest. Definitely worth a look in these uncertain times.

A final comment…..Switzerland can be fun too. Any of those people lucky enough to have attended the famous carnival in Basel (yes, Basel, not Rio), the Basler Fastnacht, will attest to that. I’m one of those and become misty-eyed with memories (although the best ones remain beyond recall) when glancing at my Waggis figurine grinning down at me from the shelf in my office. Waggis? Diccon Bewes’ book, “Swiss Watching”, http://www.dicconbewes.com/about-the-books/swisswatching explains what a Waggis is amongst a welter of wry observations about Switzerland and the Swiss. Worth a look.

To explore opportunities in Switzerland, please contact:
Mike Harling, Managing Director, Whitefield International Ltd
01672 851802 mharling@whitefieldinternational.com