Switzerland has developed a very distinct business culture among European countries as a developed economy with continuous prosperity. Swiss business people are strict, pragmatic, and unpretentious and expect employees and other people in business to do their best in their work and business dealings.
Even though it is a landlocked country, Switzerland is an export-oriented economy. So Swiss businessmen do a lot of their dealings with foreigners. So, those doing business in Switzerland need to adapt to the Swiss business culture to make their business dealings more successful.
Business Structure in Switzerland
Switzerland has a very decentralized and globalized economy. Large Swiss companies with significant international influence have become the country’s hallmark, but small businesses make up the vast majority of the Swiss companies.
Businesses can be of different structures. For instance, businesses formed by two or more people are registered as a general partnership. But, if a person doesn’t want to have any business partners, he records it as a sole proprietorship.
Then, there is the corporation (AG) which is the most common business structure. A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners. Corporations can make a profit, be taxed, and be held legally liable. This type of business structure requires at least three shareholders and a minimum of 100,000 CHF of shared capital.
Another popular type of business structure is the limited liability company (LLC), an independent legal entity with limited responsibilities and at least one Swiss resident as a managing director. This type of business structure requires a minimum share capital of 20,000 CHF.
As for company subsidiaries and Swiss branch companies, you should know they differ in that subsidiaries are legally independent of their parent companies, but company branches are not.
Doing Business in Switzerland
Businesses find Switzerland very attractive because of its transparent policies, disciplined fiscal system, strong economy, and political neutrality. Switzerland’s developed infrastructure also makes business easy and attracts corporates from different types of industries to do business there.
Swiss companies’ technological advancement and know-how are also of the highest of qualities, with the electronic and automotive industries being one of the most advanced. Furthermore, the country has a very skilled workforce, which some neighboring countries lack.
Business strategy and planning in Switzerland
Before setting up a business in Switzerland, investors first have to decide on the strategy their company will follow and make up the plan in order to implement their business idea. Strategy and planning are vital because they will clarify how the business will operate, its type of structure, where it will get its resources, target market, customers, etc.
If you are an amateur businessman with little experience in business strategy and planning, different financial institutions offer education and training in business strategy and planning.
Business meetings in Switzerland
Business meetings are very formal in Switzerland, and everybody is expected to respect Swiss etiquette. Even though most Swiss people involved in business speak English, monolingual foreigners attending a business meeting with Swiss people are advised to hire a translator to avoid the language barrier.
Besides the proper workplaces where meetings are held, such as offices and meeting halls, having business meetings in restaurants is also a widespread practice in Switzerland. Restaurant meetings are usually held at dinner or lunch, and the conversation usually revolves around business only.
Also, keep in mind that business meetings are usually held in high-end restaurants and people attending are expected to respect dinner-table etiquette.
Business networking in Switzerland
Most foreign business people visiting Switzerland feel lost finding the right people they need to benefit their company. Networking is a great solution for these businessmen and young entrepreneurs who need to form connections.
Networking is sharing information between people or businesses and forming connections related to business. There are a few ways to network. The usual one is following social events which people of that particular business sector usually attend, such as corporate parties, seminars, meeting halls, public debates, etc.
If you, however, require more professional assistance to ensure your networking campaign is successful, networking clubs are also available. These professional networking agencies help you establish all the business connections you need. Check Executives International to find business events, and enhance your business interests within Switzerland.
Business socializing in Switzerland
Besides formal job events and informal networking events, socializing with Swiss people is also an important part of business life in Switzerland. Hanging out with people after work at a bar and restaurant is a regular practice in Swiss society; however, Swiss people act differently in social events compared to other western people such as Americans or Brits. Swiss people are very polite and easy-going; however, they are very reserved about their private life, and any conversation should remain inside the professional field or other general discussions.
Business Etiquette in Switzerland
As we mentioned before, Swiss business people have a reputation for having a rich etiquette regarding business activity and life. The Swiss work culture is notorious worldwide and even admired by many people. If you plan to do business in Switzerland, you have to be aware of and respect Swiss business etiquette.
Read on to learn more about the basics of business etiquette in Switzerland.
Swiss people are very punctual both in business life and outside of it, and they see punctuality as a matter of responsibility. Being late for important meetings and work should be out of the question. Non-punctual people are seen as irresponsible, and being continuously late can be very harmful to your business activity. Non-ironically, Swiss watches are world-famous, so if you want to do business in Switzerland as a foreigner, get one of those watches and respect the time of meetings.
Swiss people are known for their conservative and neat dress, especially during formal meetings. Even though in other countries business cultures, untidy and casual clothing might be acceptable in some cases, in Switzerland, both men and women are advised to wear suits during business meetings. If businesswomen choose to wear dresses, they should be formal and not too revealing.
Titles and greetings
When meeting someone in Switzerland, there are many things one should keep in mind in order to respect Swiss etiquette:
- Always shake hands with everybody.
- Greet everyone.
- Refer to each person with their appropriate title.
Because Switzerland is a multi-lingual country, there are other different formalities and titles, so it might be hard for a person to remember all the correct ones. Still, one should try to be as formal as possible. In German-speaking Switzerland, for example, the formal pronoun “Sie” is used in most cases, and you do not refer to another person by name unless you are given permission to.
When communicating, Swiss people pay great attention to physical posture. People are expected to keep a straight posture while conversing. Also, the use of hand gestures while talking is frowned upon in Swiss culture, even though it is a widespread practice in a lot of countries. So remember to keep your hands behind your back when speaking with a Swiss businessperson.
Business card exchange
Like in most other developed economies in the world, exchanging business cards has become a popular practice in Switzerland too. You should have plenty of business cards and make sure they are very neat and in good condition. Ideally, they should be in more than one language, but English-only cards are acceptable too.
Gifts are usually reserved for special occasions such as signing a deal, forming a partnership, etc. Most popular presents include items such as a bottle of wine, flowers, or an item characteristic of your own country. However, you are not expected to bring gifts at random business meetings.
Businesses in the Community in Switzerland
Because Switzerland is home to large international corporations, a major concern for the local communities is the responsibility of these corporations towards the treatment of the people and public property. On April 21st, 2015, many different human rights and Swiss civil society organizations launched the Responsible Business Initiative, which aimed to hold multinational corporates accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses abroad. The initiative went to the ballot in 2020. Although it won the popular vote, it lost the cantonal vote.
A similar counter-proposal was then enforced. The government has subsequently implemented an alternative corporate social responsibility (CSR) measure compelling companies to increase reporting on social and environmental issues, with a focus on child labor and conflict minerals.
Diversity in the Workplace in Switzerland
Switzerland is a naturally diverse county, with people from all over the world living or residing in the country. Swiss corporates are well aware of that and respect diversity as a core value of Switzerland. Although Swiss law does not require private companies to establish diversity programs, many of them choose to do this voluntarily. In contrast, the public sector is required by law to have a diversity program.
With all the different ethnic groups living in the country, racial discrimination is a concern in Switzerland; however, it is not prevailing as in other countries. In fact, Switzerland ranks among the top countries in the world for racial equality.
Business Corruption and Fraud in Switzerland
Even though Switzerland is an international economic hub, it has one of the world’s lowest perceptive corruption. However, with all those giant corporations and organizations operating out of Switzerland, there can be sporadic corruption or fraud cases.
The Swiss government takes financial crime very seriously, so being involved in a financial crime can have dire implications for any corporate. Even more severe punishments are carried out for government officials involved in fraud or bribery.
If you witness corruption or fraud in Switzerland, you can contact services that protect people from fraud, such as Swisscom’s fraud prevention service.
Business culture is a vital part of Swiss culture and life in general. Their characteristic structure, values, and business etiquettes have become notorious worldwide. Many countries look up, admire and try to imitate the Swiss way of doing business. This has led to the Swiss government and people paying special attention to preserving this culture and its unique contribution to the Swiss economy and life.