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.
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.
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.
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.
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