Relationships First in Switzerland

April 13th, 2015 by Patricia Jehle Leave a reply »

When talking to foreigners who have started a business in Switzerland, one of the first things they emphasize is the need to get to know the people and their culture before making a move out on your own. I happen to agree one hundred percent and there are a few benefits to this advice:


You have a Swiss network.


If you come straight from another country and start a company without any local connections you are doing yourself a disservice. The Swiss work on a relational basis, so if you want to work with someone, you need what they call “Vitamin B”, where B stands for Beziehung, the German word for relationship. One entrepreneur said “go anywhere and join anything, but join it: church, a golf or tennis club, whatever”. Another said that working in the country first helps to build relationships, but also to learn the mentality of the Swiss.


You know the culture better.


When you first arrive, you must be like a detective asking yourself questions about one does business here. Of course you have read the books, too. But mostly, your own experience will best tell you how to act and react. What you might find if you are a North American is that the Swiss are not only more relational, but also slower in developing relationships. This slow pace seems to be counterintuitive if the Swiss are so relational, but it has to do with the Swiss version of “saving face”. Nobody wants the other to be embarrassed for any reason. Therefore, you may not be invited to your neighbors’ or colleague’s house for quite a while. One way of breeching this barrier is to initiate. But be forewarned, a friend made in Switzerland is a friend for life.


You know where to go for help when you need it.


If you live in Switzerland for a while and gain some local friendships and a handle on the culture, the next step is to find out the rules, regulations and possible situations where you will need to protect your start-up from problems and financial risks. There are governmental institutions and private companies just for that purpose. When you have been here in Switzerland long enough and have your friends helping you along the way, you will be told about these places as you need them, or hopefully, before you need them.



Relationship brings safety.


When you work here and do it all “by the Swiss book”, you will be taken care of. The Swiss government is pro-SME and the taxes are favorable for business of all sizes. If you have a network of friends, former co-workers, clients, neighbors, and the government helping you, you are well on the way to a successful start-up. But take it easy, get to know the locals, have fun on the way, and make lots of friends.


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