Majority of Swiss company CEOs are foreign

Mario Greco, the Italian boss of Zurich Insurance Keystone

More than half of Switzerland’s largest companies have non-Swiss bosses. 

This content was published on December 17, 2018 - 15:44

A total of 52% of CEOs from the 50 firms on the SMI ExpandedExternal link stock exchange are from abroad, according to a study published on Monday by the recruitment consultancy Heidrick & StrugglesExternal link. A year ago, when the profiles of Swiss executives were evaluated for the first time, the figure was 49%. 

The study looked at the CEOs of listed companies in 13 countries. The percentage of foreign CEOs is also relatively high in Britain (43%) and in the Netherlands (40%). However, the locals dominate in France (88%), the US (90%) and in Portugal, where every single CEO was home-grown. 

“The high proportion of foreign CEOs reflects the global activities of many [Swiss] companies as well as the uncomplicated labour market in Switzerland,” said Michael Oberwegner, managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles. 

He gave the examples of Novartis, Zurich and Credit Suisse, headed respectively by American Vasant Narasimhan, Italian Mario Greco and Tidjane Thiam, a dual national of France and the Ivory Coast. 

On-the-job training 

What’s more, the CEOs of Swiss companies are relatively young and have a range of professional backgrounds. 

“This shows that Switzerland is a country with a dynamic labour market, which presents an opportunity for skilled workers with highly diverse qualifications,” Oberwegner said. 

As an example, he pointed to the Swiss CEO of UBS, Sergio Ermotti, who started his banking career with an apprenticeship in Lugano. “In other countries, teaching and on-the-job training are very unusual, but it was well worth it for the bank,” he said. 

The study revealed that the average age of Swiss CEOs is 54, while the average age in all 13 countries is 56. A quarter of the Swiss CEOs are under 50. 

As far as female CEOs are concerned, the situation has barely improved. Of the 50 companies surveyed, only Ems-Chemie has a female boss: Magdalena Martullo-Blocher. The share is thus 2%, while the average of all countries is around 5%. In Britain, Finland and Norway, 8% of CEOs are female.

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