par Lara Berguglia, Info-Suisse
Design: Schmack Design
Q1: Since 2014, you are the Director of the Swiss Business Hub Canada (SBH). Can you tell us something about the history of this organization?
A1: Although the opening of the SBH in Montreal took place only a few years ago, in (cold) January 2014, the Swiss economic promotion structure as such is much older. OSEC, a Swiss association headquartered in Zurich and now operating under the name of “Switzerland Global Enterprise” (S-GE) has been informing, advising and guiding small and medium sized companies from Switzerland and Liechtenstein in their international business ventures since 1927. It has also been responsible for promoting Switzerland as a business location to foreign companies since 2008. S-GE is represented abroad in 22 selected locations as "Swiss Business Hubs". Their local teams are part of the Swiss embassies or consulates general. SBH Canada opened in 2009 in Toronto, right after the signing of the Free-Trade-Agreement between Switzerland (as part of EFTA) and Canada. With the closing of the consulate general of Switzerland in Toronto, the SBH moved to Montreal.
Q2: What is your mission?
A2: We support Swiss companies in the process of expanding their activities into and within Canada (Export Promotion). And we inform Canadian companies about the advantages of Switzerland as a business location (Invest Promotion). These two business areas are related to each other and both mandates are public mandates governed by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in Switzerland. The mission has also evolved over the past decades. In the early days, companies asked us for general information and market reports. Today, their needs are much more specific and as an SBH, we have to build up and maintain a first-rate network of industry contacts as well as subject matter experts in order to stay in business. “Enabling new business” has become our new mission. Our official status and the strong Swiss brand help us implement it.
Q3: Are all of your services free of charge?
A3: As being part of the Swiss government, we are clearly a public service organization. General information and all Invest Promotion services are therefore free of charge, as it is the case for most of the trade commissioner services of other countries. However, we need to be careful not to compete with private consultants providing similar services. This is why we charge a fee for specific Export Promotion services to individual companies.
Q4: Dealing with various companies coming from very different industries must be a challenge. What background do you have and how does it help you cope with this challenge?
A4: I have a background in law and also a degree in business administration; but what is clearly more important in my current role is the fact that I did work for a multinational business consulting company prior to joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Switzerland. As a result, I have learned to deal with different cultures, business contexts and languages during my previous assignments as a Swiss diplomat in Algeria and China. I learned that it is a good idea to seek local support if you want to be successful in a new, somewhat unknown territory. The SBH, together with its network of local experts, provides exactly this kind of support.
Q5 : You have lived in China and in Canada and you are now moving to Japan for your next assignment with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How do you integrate into a new culture? Do you have a recipe?
A5: I am convinced that what applies to companies going abroad also applies to me personally. The most important thing is to keep an open mindset and not to judge. Things are different, not only from one country to another, but also within countries. There is no right or wrong, it’s just different. Finding a positive way to cope with the differences is key. Developing a new market or moving to another country is as much about bringing your own products, personality and views with you as it is about observing and learning from locals. Of course it makes a difference if you speak the local language, as it was the case for me and as it is the case for most of the Swiss companies in Canada. Speaking the same language can, however, also lead to a somewhat dangerous bias and a false sense of “been there, done that”. My recipe is therefore: invest time and effort in building up a reliable, sustainable local network of contacts, no matter how well you understand your new environment.
Q6: The topic of the current issue of Info Suisse is “immigration”. Immigration in Canada must be very different compared to immigration in China! Can you compare your two personal experiences?
A6: I do need to say that diplomats do not go through a classic immigration procedure. We have a job (and even a fairly Swiss office environment!) before we move to a different country and the move is more or less comparable to the move of an expat working for a multinational company. I know that this is not the typical situation for immigrants and for many Swiss who have moved abroad. However, from my own family perspective and from observing other immigrants, there was a significant difference between moving to Canada and moving to China. Canada, like Switzerland, is a country of immigrants, very much used to dealing with people from all over the world and various cultural and ethnical backgrounds. The proportion of immigrants is much lower in China, for many reasons. The positive impact of immigration is more visible, even obvious, in Canada and we were received with openness from the beginning. The fact that most immigrants are very successful and contribute to the society and the GDP within a short time also helps create a generally positive perception of immigrants. It seems to me that Canada continues to position itself in an intelligent way to attract new immigrants – immigrants which help further develop the local knowledge, innovation and economic base. I am impressed when I see how many startups are driven by immigrants, for instance. This is a big plus for Canada in the age of digitalization and globalization.
Q7: Your successor at the SBH Canada will arrive in summer and you will leave to Japan. What will you remember from your 4 ½ years in Montreal?
A7: I will remember that Canada is a country of opportunities. But most of all, I will keep an excellent memory of the people here and I will certainly stay in touch with as many as possible. I am particularly thankful to my small team, to my colleagues at the Embassy and Consulates and to the many experts in various locations in Canada for their continuous support. I will also take a few copies of the Info Suisse with me, as a positive reminder of what can be achieved with a team of dedicated professionals. Good luck to the Chamber and to the Swiss business community in Canada!