Note: This post was originally published in March 2020
When selecting an MBA programme, the location plays a strong role in many people’s decision. There are perspectives on business and society that are characteristic of various regions. There are local business practices and etiquette to be learned. There are strategic industries that influence both the in-programme experiences and post-graduation career paths. Our geography is broadly characterized as the German-speaking area of Europe. It is one of the most exciting and diverse places to live and do business.
Taken as a whole, the population of the German-speaking region is approximately 100 million people. It most traditionally encompasses Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. However, there are official German-speaking parts of Northern Italy, Luxembourg and Belgium too. Germany alone is the fourth largest economy in the world with a 2019 nominal GDP of USD $3.85 trillion. Many of our alumni live and work in this dynamic and wealthy country, and we maintain relationships with many companies in Germany because of its regional and global power in business. Switzerland is also a wealthy country and home to a highly international professional community. The following information paints a picture of the domestic professional environment our MBA is embedded within.
Multinationals from a wide range of sectors have chosen to locate their global or regional headquarters in Switzerland for many decades. This is due to favourable tax rates, a stable currency, an educated workforce and the quality of life employees experience. According to a 2019 report by McKinsey & Co., 26% of jobs in Switzerland are in multinationals. They are spread across the country too, rather than clustered all in one major city. Key global headquarters include: ABB, Credit Suisse, Glencore, Holcim, Lonza, Nestlé, Novartis, Richemont, Roche, Schindler, Sulzer, Swatch Group, SwissRe, UBS, Zurich Insurance Group and more.
While multinationals may create 26% of the jobs in Switzerland, the other three quarters are spread largely through Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). In fact, according to data from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, 99.6% of all registered companies in Switzerland are classified as SMEs, which by definition employ less than 250 people per firm. SMEs are especially prevalent in the Manufacturing, Electronic and Metals sectors, which employs 320,000 people in Switzerland. The entire workforce is roughly 5 million people. No matter which industry is considered, SMEs are a critical part of the Swiss economy. There are many career opportunities in companies you many not have heard of.
The prevalence of SMEs in Switzerland showcases the entrepreneurial spirit that has existed in the country for generations. Nonetheless, we now associate the term ‘startup’ with specific types of entrepreneurs, investors, policies, technologies and so forth. Switzerland is also a growing home to this type of entrepreneurial ecosystem. In data published by Startup Ticker, in 2019 CHF 2.3 billion was invested in 266 Swiss startups across a range of sectors. Of that, CHF 1.2 billion was invested in ICT startups, a category that includes Fintech. While we do see startups being founded all over the country, 84.8% of the total amount invested in all Swiss ICT startups was raised in canton Zurich, making it the clear hub of activity for this type of venture.
NGOs and NPOs
To round out our discussion of the economy, it is important to circle back to another historically important component: Non-Governmental Organisations and Non-Profit Organisations. Switzerland holds global significance partly because it is the home to the United Nations (UN), World Economic Forum (WEF), World Health Organization (WHO), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), International Basketball Federation (FIBA), International Olympic Committee (IOC) and many more groups like this. These organisations add to the intellectual, human and cultural capital of the country.
Drivers of the Economy
Let's circle back to look at some of the biggest drivers of business in Switzerland. In 2019, the Top 5 export industries by gross value in 2019 were:
Chemical and pharmaceutical (CHF 104 billion)
Precious metals and gemstones (CHF 68 billion)
Machines, appliances and electronics (CHF 34 billion)
Watches (CHF 21 billion)
Precision instruments and equipment (CHF 17 billion)
There are many highly successful companies offering wonderful careers within these industries. You will see some of them collaborating with us each year through our suite of Corporate Interactions activities. We want to ensure a virtuous circle with local economy, providing them with relevant MBA talent while enlisting their expertise to help give our MBA participants a truly Swiss perspective of business.
A quick look at the main international trading partners also underscores how Switzerland is strategically integrated both on global and regional levels. By gross value, the Top 5 in 2018 were:
Germany (CHF 57 billion)
Great Britain (CHF 26 billion)
United States (CHF 21 billion)
Italy (21 billion)
France (20 billion)
Germany (CHF 47 billion)
United States (CHF 40 billion)
China (CHF 30 billion)
France (CHF 20 billion)
India (CHF 17 billion)
Finally, it should be highlighted that Switzerland is a highly diverse country. In fact, it has one of the highest percentages of foreign born residents of any country in the world. A full 25% of the permanent population are not Swiss citizens, plus 17% of Swiss citizens over 15 years of age hold dual nationality. This means that over 42% of the population hold international citizenship.