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Mouse maker reveals how niche players succeed

Daniel Borel, founder of Logitech

(Keystone)

Computer mouse maker Logitech has posted record results for the eighth year running. Founder Daniel Borel tells swissinfo how the company grew from humble beginnings.

Logitech introduced the revolutionary computer mouse on to the market in 1984. Last year it brought 130 new products into people's homes.

Borel is currently chairman of the highly successful firm that he set up at his father-in-law's farm in 1981 together with Pierluigi Zappacosta and Giacomo Marini.

He is also founder of the Defitech Foundation, an organisation aimed at making computers more accessible to disabled people, and educational standards watchdog SwissUp.

Borel attributes Logitech's success to a combination of passion, business acumen, and a stubborn refusal to consider the possibility of failure.

swissinfo: When you set up Logitech in 1981, did you ever imagine it could get this big?

Daniel Borel: I was hoping to survive because you should never forget that even the very large and successful companies of the time such as Digital Equipment Corporation - which was number two behind IBM - just disappeared.

We were thinking of feeding our families, at the end of the day. The point was being able to realise your dream at the same time of being able to make ends meet at the end of the month.

swissinfo: What was it like setting up a business at that time?

D.B.: I felt something special was going to happen with the personal computer era. My feelings was similar to the inventor of the television, or the Wright brothers, who could see that they were on to something big that could change the way people lived.

Logitech was founded on my father-in-law's farm in the village of Apples [canton Vaud]. For a long time my mother thought I was the founder of Apple Computer.

swissinfo: How did a start-up from Switzerland survive in a market dominated by large, competitive US companies?

D.B.: If you have such a niche product you either embrace the world or you just die. The reason nobody swallowed us up is that the rule of the game was software - something very few of our competitors had a clue about.

The small player that is smart, agile and moves fast can position itself favourably against large operators, and those guys could never catch up with us.

swissinfo: Have you ever been afraid of failure?

D.B.: I knew if I failed I would had to leave Switzerland because I would have had a "failed" stamp on my forehead, but I didn't care much.

When you are young you can walk on a cliff edge and you don't see the drop because you are focused on the beautiful landscape. My character means I will always be walking along a cliff edge because the potential for reward outweighs the dangers.

swissinfo: What makes you tick as an entrepreneur?

D.B.: If you are passionate, the rest does not matter. It is the engine that makes you believe you are going to get there despite the problems.

swissinfo: Why are you involved in SwissUp?

D.B.: I wanted to return something to Switzerland. The original thought was to create a virtual Silicon Valley in Switzerland.

In 2000 the Swiss media were painting a very dark picture of young people being laid off, but in Silicon Valley these same kids were winning the world. I thought Switzerland had enough big companies to create the same spirit, but it did not work.

Now I am trying to shake things up because our government is not investing enough in education. Switzerland has potential to rise in the world because we have the workers, but we have to give them a better education.

swissinfo: And Defitech?

D.B.: For years I got requests from handicapped people to make special equipment, but we never had the time or resources to do this. My wife and I created a foundation to make computer technology for handicapped people that could take knowledge from Logitech without draining its resources.

swissinfo: Are you Swiss or a citizen of the world?

D.B.: What is a Swiss person? My roots are in Switzerland but my daily life is neither here nor in London or San Francisco. It's not a question I ask myself too much because travelling is so easy and quick I don't have to think about it.

swissinfo-interview: Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

Logitech is a Swiss public company traded on the Swiss stock exchange and in the United States on the Nasdaq National Market System.

Its corporate headquarters are in Fremont, California. Its office in Switzerland oversees operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Logitech designed its first computer mouse, the P-4, in 1982. Two years later the firm won its first major contract from Hewlet-Packard.

The company listed on the Swiss stock exchange in 1988 and on the Nasdaq nine years later.

end of infobox

Key facts

Logitech 2005/6 results:
Net profit: $181 million (2004/5 $149 million)
Sales: $1.8 billion ($1.48 billion)
Gross margin: 32% (34%)

end of infobox


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