An exclusive interview with Felix Sutter
We are about to meet Felix Sutter. He is the President of the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) and also Partner and Head of the Asia Business Group at PwC Switzerland.
EurAsia Info: You have many interactions with China and you have contributed a lot to the friendship between China and Switzerland. Do you still remember when you got in touch with China for the first time?
Felix: What was my first contact with China depends on how you look at it. The first time I got interested in China was in Junior High school when we had geography lessons and I detected this huge country in our school book. In 1998, I went to Beijing for the first time to ask my future father-in-law whether I may marry his daughter. I obviously have had a very personal relationship with China, for almost 20 years.
China is close to my heart because of my family, but also because of my business interactions, and I am also curious about China and have a natural interest in it. China has so many facets, a rich culture as well as a lively business society, and I am interested in all these aspects.
EurAsia Info: You visit China quite often and also do a lot of work there. What are the most interesting or the most impressing things you have experienced in China?
Felix: I have been engaged professionally in China since 2002 and there are two things which impressed me the most. First of all it is the mentality of “keyi” (可以, Chinese for „can do“): everything is possible in China. This is something which shaped my personal attitude towards challenges, since everything can be done.
The other thing which impressed me very much in China is the concept of ‘face’. You can consider ‘face’ as something positive, as you need understand what drives other people, so you can focus more on their intentions and motivations.
EurAsia Info: China’s President Xi Jinping visited Switzerland in 2017. Do you want to share something with us about this event?
Felix: For me personally it was the opportunity to meet President Xi Jinping for the third time in person, and, taking part in the economic dialogue, being able to sit directly opposite of him. This was a great honor for me as the President of the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce. I am generally impressed with President Xi Jinping’s calm attitude; he is trying to transport calmness into any meeting room. I believe this is something of very high value.
EurAsia Info: How could China and Switzerland strengthen their cooperation in the future?
Felix: There are many ways how Switzerland (the egg) and China (the chicken) can cooperate. Of course, the chicken is much bigger than the egg, but out of every egg a new chicken can appear.
Let’s look at Switzerland’s economy: it is placed in the top league of the economies worldwide because of innovation. The innovation platform established in 2016 between President Xi Jingping and then-President of Switzerland Johann Schneider-Ammann is beneficial for both economies: to use the innovation ability of Switzerland and the market size of China to jointly bring new products to the market. The “Belt and Road” initiative poses so many challenges. But the Chinese companies are big enough and the Swiss companies have the advanced knowledge to jointly develop the best solution for these challenges. The Chinese companies also get an opportunity to learn how to operate in a developed economy like Switzerland.
EurAsia Info: How should Chinese companies prepare for entering the Swiss market?
Felix: The first question for Chinese companies to address is: are you ready for Switzerland, do you have management power which you can delegate? Do you have the language skills? It doesn’t have to be French or German, but English is certainly necessary. Do you have people whose command of the English language is good enough to understand the market and to be able to communicate on legal matters? These are important things. Being ready for Switzerland means management capacity and language skills. On the other hand, regulations in Switzerland are very business-friendly. In any case, I would suggest to contact the SCCC which is happy to help with the first steps in Switzerland.
EurAsia Info: More and more Chinese companies are coming to Switzerland. Some local media expressed their concern about more Chinese companies coming to Switzerland. What is your opinion on this?
Felix: In Switzerland, media can express their opinion freely.
From my point of view, the voices you are referring to are not critical of China but they are conservative voices which are critical to everything new. In the past, the same voices had criticized US companies when they entered Switzerland in the 70s and they had been very critical in the 80s and 90s when Japanese companies came here. So they are actually not critical of China or the Chinese government or the Chinese people. They think the same way about Japanese investors, US investors or investors from other European countries. I am sure that in few years these voices will be gone.
EurAsia Info: SCCC has a great degree of influence on the cooperation between China and Switzerland. What was your most significant achievement?
Felix: Our most significant achievement is supporting the process of negotiating the free trade agreement between Switzerland and China. We have provided strong support and had been involved when this idea was voiced since the beginning.
In this process, we were supporting all activities concerning the free trade agreement, acted as an intermediary when difficulties arose and provided insights into all aspects of Swiss-Chinese economic relations. There are many areas to continue with this close cooperation.
Mr. Felix Sutter is having the interview with EurAsia Info
EurAsia Info: How do you see SCCC in the next 5 years?
Felix: At the moment, there are over 700 Swiss companies in China and around 100 Chinese companies in Switzerland. Based on the current trend, I believe in the next few years these numbers (and the interests behind them) will be more balanced: we will have more Chinese companies in Switzerland. And I hope the critical voices mentioned before will understand better what the benefits of a cooperation between the two countries can be.
EurAsia Info: How can European people find jobs in overseas Chinese-funded enterprises? Can you share your experience with us?
Felix: If Chinese companies need local talent it is because they need to obtain knowledge and cultural understanding to operate successfully here. The important element is to understand each others culture. So if a European person wants to work for a Chinese company, it is good to understand the Chinese culture. It is not just about speaking the language; the understanding of the culture as a whole is important.
EurAsia Info: Where could the overseas Chinese-funded enterprises find the local applicants? Can you introduce some platforms to us?
Felix: First of all, I believe there are many opportunities to meet. There are over 30 events organized by the SCCC where Chinese companies can meet the local people. There is an annual career and curriculum platform event in Basel which is a good place to go.
Since cultural understanding is of so much importance, my view is that a direct meeting between a candidate and an employer is much better than a match on a curriculum platform.
EurAsia Info: How can people with different nationalities and cultures maintain good relations at work?
Felix: If you work in a multinational and multicultural environment, I believe this already helps to develop good relationships. Open your eyes when you work together, when you plan events together. That is something which establishes good relationships. What I mentioned earlier about ‘face’ also applies to Swiss people. No one should ever be embarrassed. So you should find out what the drivers of the co-workers and the boss, as well as what the drivers of your supporters are. In Switzerland there are regular events, including social events. It’s important to join the local event club in order to understand each other, there are ‘apps’ that facilitate that need.
EurAsia Info: You are partner of PwC and also is the President of China Swiss Chamber of Commerce. How do you manage your time?
Felix: I am in the very comfortable situation that PwC recognizes the importance of the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce and allows me to take the time to work as its president. I also have a very understanding family which is very important and a big support. Whenever I am talking to someone, I am always very clear about which hat I am wearing: the PwC hat or the Chamber of Commerce hat.
EurAsia Info: Do have you anything more that you want to share with us?
Felix: What I want to share with your readers are the events of the Chamber of Commerce. I am happy to see how both cultures are moving closer together. In order to enable this exchange, and increased economic growth. The Chamber of Commerce has a strategy and this strategy leads to us organizing many interesting events. They are aimed at addressing the needs of people in Switzerland regarding the two economies, e.g. about topics like the RMB internationalization. I invite your readers to attend our events, to come and visit us and give us feedback on areas where we could do better. You asked about the SCCC in 5 years: we will be even better then, and for that we need your feedback!
EurAsia Info: Many thanks for your valuable time and suggestions.
Interviewed by EurAsia Info Team
By Ailian Zhu and Jia Lu
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