As part of my Executive MBA at Leeds University I was offered the chance to go on a study tour. I immediately volunteered for a place. I was surprised by the attitude of some of my peers who stated there was no value in this activity, and that it was a waste of time. Cultural learning – what’s the point?
Where was it?
We were hosted by ZHAW School of Management and Law located in Winterthur a town near Zurich, Switzerland. More info on the school can be found here
When was it?
I flew out on Sunday 18th June to study Mon – Fri (19th threw 23rd) and I flew back on 24th June.
What was the cost?
Total cost to me was £1,036.89.
This was made up of a payment before the trip of £621.98 to cover hotel, breakfast, travelcard (bus/rail), tuition, and lunch at the University. We had to manage our own evening activities so I spent £309.66 on food & drink. I spent the remaining £105.25 on our free morning travelling up one of the famous Alps with a trip to Santis.
Where did you stay?
We stayed at the Best Western hotel next to the main rail station in Winterthur which was a 7 minute walk to the University.
What was the format?
The format of the week was half day lectures and half day company visit. On Thursday we had a “free” morning which two of us filled with a trip up a mountain.
What were the lecture subjects?
The lecture series was with some incredible academics, and industry leaders. Subjects covered;
Doing business in Europe, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, International Negotiation, and International Consumer behaviour.
The guest speaker was Elmar Mock – inventor of the Swatch watch.
What companies did you visit?
ABB – a leading industrial technology company – http://new.abb.com/
Microsoft – a leading provider of software & hardware – https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/
Sprungli – a traditional chocolatier – https://www.spruengli.ch/cms/en/
Renault – Automobile Retail Group – https://www.renault.co.uk/
What was the biggest learning from the lectures?
Probably the most striking learning for me was the approach to business of the Swiss. They are an EU member and as a nation they recognise 5 languages with the population speaking a dialect of German, French or Italian in the main but using English as a common language. Their politics is driven by population engagement in referendums and they operate within the EU framework with little control of the legislation to maintain access to the free trade area. However their retail landscape continues to have significant Swiss company presence with a busy retail high street. When questioned on this it would appear the Swiss consumer is happy to support Swiss companies even if a premium has to be paid. “Protectionism through pride as opposed to tariff.”
What was the biggest learning from the company visits?
Having held a Director position I was impressed by the time and seniority of personnel who hosted the student visits. We had Chairman, Managing Directors, and country General Managers hosting us. How many UK companies would not simply hand this activity off to a recent graduate? This meant the level of discussion was strategic, and we could ask challenging questions of the business decision maker.
Favourite company visit?
Has to be Sprungli. Who wouldn’t want a full open access tour of a sixth generation family chocolate manufacturer in Switzerland? We were hosted by Milan Prenosil, the Chairman, and I can only liken him to a real life “Willy Wonka”. His passion and enthusiasm was infectious. I’ve subsequently read further information about the company, and I attach a link. Anyone who has visited Betty’s in Yorkshire has had an experience like Sprungli – but you can only imagine what running around the kitchens was like…and I had to taste everything!
Favourite leisure activity?
Myself, and another member of Cohort 49 got up early on the Thursday to catch 2 trains, a bus, and a cable car to go up Santis, the 13th highest Alp mountain.
The travel there was so easy as the transport system is efficient. Once we had reached the peak we could take in the view and try to work out where we had to look to see six countries! I was able to Facetime with my family who were eating breakfast back in the UK as Swisscom have a mobile mast on the peak. A hot chocolate, and a bit of sunshine made the views even sweeter. A great life experience.
My key learning
- I felt humbled by the Swiss ability to effortlessly switch between languages whilst my school boy French enables me to get an ice cream, and my German allows me to ask them how many brothers or sisters they have…
- Switzerland is a beautiful country I now want to take my family to visit. However it is really expensive for every day expenditure so its not a cheap destination.
- The people appreciate quality, and that works through from teaching, company visits, catering, transport, and approach to life. I cannot thank our hosts enough.
- I’ve stood on the top of a mountain and looked at 6 countries. It puts the world into some perspective. We’ve all got to make our mark and I’d recommend everyone takes a trip up a mountain with a view like that.
- I couldn’t help myself…I found a product I want to work on in Switzerland. Just advertised on the side of a bus stop. Not sold outside Switzerland…just maybe this item can be brought first to a UK audience but could I help it go global – fingers crossed!