A shortlist of three candidates has been drawn up for the bi-annual Swiss Business Woman award, which is to be announced in three weeks time. In the first part of a series on the nominees, swissinfo portraits Ricarda Berg, managing director of facility management group M+W Zander (Schweiz) since 1996.
Although German-born, Berg, went through high school education in Switzerland before studying Business Administration at the University of St Gallen.
"I've always found business interesting," Berg told swissinfo. "That comes from my family background as both my parents were entrepreneurs, they had their own businesses. If you come in touch with this sort of environment when you're young then you turn towards business administration."
Berg, who is 43, began her career in Switzerland in 1986 with the United States computer giant, IBM. In her 10-year career with the company she was responsible for a wide range of departments including business service support, and logistics and infrastructure
"I think what counts today and at the time when I first started with IBM is that you get results," Berg said. "Being a manager you have to have people management skills and you have to be credible as a person - that helps you get along and get upstairs."
Her current Zurich-based business, with an annual turnover of SFr16, manages buildings not only for her ex-employer IBM, but also Tamedia, Antalis, Ilford and Tecan.
"In 1996 IBM decided to outsource its facility management services to M+W Zander. The company wasn't in Switzerland at that time so it decided to set up a Swiss subsidiary and they asked me to take on the position of managing director, and I thought that must be very interesting."
Berg is a charismatic figure, but her business style is calm and relaxed, something she said she learned at IBM and now tries to pass on to her own staff.
"I was kind of lucky, I always had good bosses in IBM," Berg said. "Without the people and the things I learned at IBM I wouldn't be able to do this job. People helped me, promoted me, they were kind of mentors to me and I try and do the same today."
Berg says she has never noticed any discrimination as a woman. But her experience of international business has led her to the conclusion that attitudes in Switzerland to women in business are slightly more conservative than elsewhere.
"Maybe the Swiss people are a bit more conservative than other countries such as say the United States, the UK or France where it is more usual for woman to make their own career," she said.
Berg's enjoyment of her job is shown by her determination for M+W Zander to win its International Standards Organisation quality certification in 1998.
"I always felt my job, whatever job it was, had to be fun," said Berg. "If you're interested in the people and in the things you have to do, it will produce results, and success gives you motivation"
The Swiss Business Woman award will be announced on June 12 at a prestigious gala dinner in Zurich. The award, run by champagne makers Veuve Clicquot, has been going since 1972 and is held in some 20 countries.
The other finalists on the Swiss shortlist are Irène Hiltbrunner, founder of Dynamic Business Services in Biel, and Catherina Maulbecker and Barbara Staehelin, co-founders of GetWellness in Basel. Swissinfo will carry another portrait of one of the finalists next weekend.
by Tom O'Brien
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