Switzerland: Why Europe’s mountain crossroads leads the world in innovation

There are those that say that it is the landscape that shapes and forges a people. Harsh environments require courage, skill and determination to survive in.

Switzerland: Why Europe's mountain crossroads leads the world in innovation

Take Switzerland – ringed by mountains, and comprising steep alpine valleys, it takes a clever and resourceful people to make it their home. Yet, over hundreds of years, those who have lived there have not only survived, but thrived, making the country a powerhouse of innovation.  

Living at the crossroads of Europe, the Swiss have consistently overcome challenges and obstacles, sharing solutions with the world and fundamentally changing the way we live. 

In fact, the country now leads the world in several areas, including business education – however, perhaps it’s better to start at the beginning. 

Ready to make the climb towards becoming a thought leader? The embaX program from the University of St Gallen and ETH Zurich begins January 2022

A trek to the top

Back when the rest of Europe was still labouring under the yoke of feudalism, the Swiss blazed their own path. A pioneer of direct democracy, three Swiss cantons first came together in 1291 to ally against their Habsburg opponents. It was the signing of the Federal Charter that would give birth to the Swiss Confederation – a nation state in an age of kingdoms and empires.

With greater prosperity and safety than their neighbours, Switzerland became a place where people fled to live a new life away from persecution. It was Huguenot refugees settling in Geneva who established the watchmaking tradition for which the country has become famous. As a centre for precision instruments, many secondary industries developed in and around Geneva, such as toolmaking. 

As the country developed, it was essential that rapid transport links to the rest of the world were established. This led to an age of rapid invention during the 19th century. Engineers such as Roman Abt and Emil Strub developed the rack railway systems that would allow locomotives to climb steep mountain inclines. Long tunnels were bored through the mountains, such as the Gotthard Tunnel – spectacular feats of engineering that opened up Switzerland to the world and further propelled progress in the mountain realm. 

Swiss inventors would give the world a number of essential tools and technologies over the new few decades. The Swiss Army pocket knife, a model of ingenuity and design, first appeared in 1891. It gave soldiers in the field not only a cutting tool, but also a number of other attachments useful for the maintenance of weapons. The first mass-produced wristwatches appeared in Lucerne from 1868, and indeed, most of the world’s luxury wristwatches continued to be manufactured there. 

Such an influx of industry led to increasing wealth. To cope with the demand, the Swiss had to develop complex, robust banking systems that could deal with the incredible amounts of money moving in and out of the country. Many banking innovations, such as numbered accounts and client confidentiality, emerged as a result. 

Swiss discoveries also made it to the kitchen table. Muesli became popular in the early 20th century after Maximilian Bircher-Brenner developed the dish from a regional speciality, for the patients in his hospital. Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé came together in 1875 to give the world milk chocolate. Finally, stock cubes were first sold by Julius Maggi in 1886, forever making cooking a tasty soup or stew simpler. 

Think you’ve got what it takes to innovate, rather than follow? Enrol in the embaX program from the University of St Gallen and ETH Zurich, commencing January 2022

Standing proudly at the summit 

Switzerland’s central position and neutral stance in European affairs has meant that a spirit of ingenuity and invention continues to this very day. Not only the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is also home to the World Health Organization, and a number of other international organizations. This has given the Swiss a great deal of experience in flexibility and resourcefulness, working to ensure that all parties needs are met. 

A particularly good example of this is CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Not only has CERN led research into the Higgs Boson – the so-called ‘God Particle’ – but in developing the skills and technologies to do so, the World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. 

Switzerland also leads the world in medical research and drug manufacture – indeed, Switzerland is the second-largest exporter of packaged medicine in the world. Pharmaceutical and med-tech giants such as Roche and Novartis were also founded there. 

Sharing the journey with the world 

In an age of global change and transformation, Switzerland has not only remained a centre of innovation, but has increasingly begun to share its unique approach to problem-solving with the world. 

Home to many of the world’s premiere research organisations in the sciences, Switzerland is growing as a powerhouse in the realm of business and business education. Drawn by the strong banking industry and entrepreneurial excellence, students now ‘climb the mountains’ to learn at some of the world’s leading business education institutions.

Chief among these are The University of St Gallen and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich. Each with over a century of experience, they are thought leaders in regard to the skills needed to succeed in the world of 21st century global business. They are both world renowned for their quality of teaching, and strong alumni networks. 

Now, the pair have combined to create the Joint Executive MBA Programme  or embaX, – a programme in general management for business leaders (35+) that focuses on both technology and leadership to give an incredible edge. It also focuses on the ability for alumni to ‘make the descent’ and share what they’ve learned with others. It also focuses on the ability for alumni to ‘make the descent’ and share what they’ve learned with others. 

Comprising a mix of on-campus classes, intensive camps that involve hands-on projects, and online sessions over 18 months, the embaX not only embodies the Swiss spirit of ingenuity and innovation – it also demands students share what they learn. 

Want to share your ideas and spirit of innovation with your teams? Erol in the embaX program from the University of St Gallen and ETH Zurich for a January 2022 star

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Swiss hotel accuses Il Volo of trashing rooms

A five-star hotel in Switzerland has accused the squeaky-clean Italian operatic pop trio Il Volo of trashing its hotel rooms on Saturday night.

Swiss hotel accuses Il Volo of trashing rooms
A Swiss hotel has accused the Italian operatic pop trio Il Volo of trashing its hotel rooms. Photo: Dieter Nagal/AFP

The three young tenors stopped off at the Hotel di Garni du Lac in Locarno after recording a show for the German TV channel ZDF.

But according to an interview the hotel's management gave to La Regione Ticino, Il Volo's behaviour was more suited to rock stars than tenors.

“When the cleaning staff entered their rooms they found they had been turned upside down – it was total and utter chaos. Mattresses, bedding and rubbish were strewn everywhere.”

In a subsequent interview given to Ticino's LiberaTV, the management made even stronger claims that could damage the squeaky clean reputation of the trio.

“Not only that, cleaning staff discovered urine on the floor in the bathrooms and in one room faeces had been smeared on the walls,” the management said.

The claims were vehemently denied by the group, who said the rooms were in a terrible condition to begin with.

“We found ourselves in dirty hotel rooms full of dust. The conditions weren't ideal for anybody – let alone those with a dust allergy,” the group said in a statement.

“The next day we moved to another hotel. This probably upset our hosts and they have come up with these false and unjustifiable claims.”

One of the singers, Gianluca Ginoble, tweeted that the group would be pursuing legal action against the hotel – saying that the claims were “absurd” and that the group's lawyers had already been informed.

The three tenors have found success on both sides of the Atlantic since 2010 when they started singing together as Il Volo. In 2015 they represented Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest and finished third place in the final standings.