Interview with Ruedi Noser about Swiss innovation and changing mindsets
Why is an event like WORLDWEBFORUM important in a place like Zurich?

Central Europe is the heart of industry and culture. It has a big influence on the whole world. But digitalization happens more in the United States and in Asia. If we can bring these together here in Zurich and then we would have a very important message for the world and I would like to have a very strong international event here in Zurich who brings this culture and these technology mindsets together.

Have you seen that it changes the mindsets of business leaders?

If you attend to the event then it’s definitely changing your mindset. The problem is all the people who are not yet attending because they are not aware that it is not a standard business forum.

The WORLDWEBFORUM has the goal to be a punk rock version of a business conference. That means we really want to change people, so that they leave with a different mindset out of the conference. That’s the main focus of the conference.

There are too many “digitalization conferences” where everybody tells everybody that they are great. That’s not enough. We have to accept digitisation will fundamentally change the way how we do business, how we consume, how we build a culture together.

But if you don’t go for the changes then you won’t see the picture.

What can all the international speakers take away with them about Swiss innovation?

It’s clear when you look for the groove of Silicon Valley, you have to go to Silicon Valley. I believe you have to take the strong part of each region and use it to your advantage.

For example, our advantage is that we have more time and actually also more money than the Silicon Valley. We have more more freedom than the Silicon Valley. You don’t have to keep up with trends and that means you have to be more self responsible here when you work and if you use this as an opportunity, then you can develop complete different products.

As a result, perhaps we are able to add more value to the world than these fast, trendy things out of Silicon Valley, which may start well but trail off into nothing. So in Switzerland, innovative businesses tend to bring much more sustainable solutions.

And we have more time- here, you have maybe a two or three year time frame to achieve success and in Silicon Valley if you have no success after the first launch, you are bankrupt and they have to start with something new.

These are cultural differences we have to use as a strength and not see as a problem.

I always say here in Switzerland we have to work with our culture. However, we tend to have the fear to come out with ideas that extend beyond our cultural border, and this is sometimes a challenge for us.


Do you think this fear is driven by limited creativity, or over rational thinking?

It’s that the second point for sure but there is maybe also something more.

I think we want to be the owner of the ideas and to maintain control. But actually for an idea to grow very big, it needs a lot of people and a lot of money – this means also losing some control to investors, private equity and so on. A lot of stakeholders have to get involved to grow scale.

I think it is the Protestant Swiss approach is to say, I would rather own all of my company and stay small, than own 5 percent of a big one with fast growth. This is also part of why sometimes they aim too low to get their first release out to the market. But I see there are some changes in the younger generation so I am quite hopeful that that will change.

How do you provoke in your political role?

Well, I’m not the standard political guy. I was born in the mountains from a modest family, moved to Zurich, made a business that has CHF 100 Million turnover. I entered politics by chance and I think I’m the only entrepreneur in my parliament. It’s not a typical political career. So that the way I see and approach problems is completely different from standard political people.

But it’s the openness of people here that gives people that chance. So I think that’s also the power of the canton of Zurich. At the end of the day, here in the Zurich no one asks you which University you attended, who your professor was, what your degree is in, or things like this.

They only ask if you have a solution to the problem. If you’re willing to work with the levers and you deliver the solution, you are accepted no matter where you come from. And that’s a very very good attitude.  

What should business leaders know about digital transformation?

Lead digital change, coach digital change, yet accept that the change will not be done by you. Change will be done by a younger generation: give them the freedom, the space and the resources that they can go their way. That’s the most important thing –  but don’t do it by yourself.

Listen to the millennials because knowledge today is completely different than when I was in university. We have an older approach how to solve problems. It’s sometimes difficult for the older, classical managers to really give this freedom. But I think digital change means giving freedom to the next generation in the company so they can make a real difference.

Who/what are you most looking forward to at the 2019 meeting?

It’s always very interesting to see if we can get the groove of the previous meetings, as I think the special thing about the conference is the energy, and the surprises it brings. I’m optimistic that 2019 will be a great one.

What do guests get from WORLDWEBFORUM?

A lot of inspiration for innovative ideas. You are stimulated to think differently and a lot of motivation to do it – that’s what makes the difference