eBay eyes the world from Swiss capital, Bern

The number of "eBayers" has gone from strength to strength Keystone

The world's number one online auction site, eBay, has been steadily using Switzerland to push its worldwide activities and growth outside the United States.

This content was published on January 7, 2008 - 09:22

Bern is where eBay has its international headquarters and for local CEO Nick Stahayeff, the city is the centre of the world.

"Absolutely. We've had our international headquarters in Bern for the eBay business since 1999... so the decisions about our strategy and our operational decisions are taken here," he told swissinfo.

"Here" means a discreet office building opposite the city's Museum of Communication. The word "communication" is perhaps fitting for a company that took over the popular internet telephony network Skype in October 2005.

But why come to Bern, a city that some would argue is one of Europe's sleepiest capitals? Stahayeff says Switzerland and Bern in particular have a number of positive attributes.

"Switzerland and Bern both have a multi-national type of workforce so we can get people who have tremendous language skills and are culturally sensitive.

Culturally sensitive

"In Bern, people are used to dealing with all kinds of nationalities, are very flexible and as a result it's a very good place for us to have qualified and motivated people who are used to being in an international organisation," he explained.

The Bern headquarters have three main functions – running the "quite vibrant" Swiss business on eBay.ch, as well as looking after the administrative operations and the operational management of eBay International.

The staff of around 100 includes people with marketing and technical backgrounds, accountants, human resources professionals as well as experts in contract law and intellectual property.

"And then of course you have finance people... people who are used to managing a portfolio of diverse businesses across the world, who have some very strong analytical skills and are able to use that as a way of trying to predict the way the business will move and allocate our resources accordingly. It's a pretty varied group of people," Stahayeff said.

eBay is convinced that transactions over the internet have a bright future.

"We believe firmly that there will be a continued, very active growth in e-commerce and that's supported by the many outside research agencies that we and other people use to look at the business.

"There will always be a place for all types of retail activities, be they in a business to consumer world, a business to business world or a consumer to consumer world," Stahayeff commented.

No fruit and veg

But there are certain items which may not be sold over the internet with any great success. You won't find fruit and vegetables on eBay, for example.

"Various countries have tried for example to go heavily into groceries over the internet and in some cases it works and in some it doesn't.

"I think there will be certain areas where we won't see huge growth but others which will continue to evolve over a considerable period of time," he added.

eBay has had many fascinating auctions in its young history, including a car that was said to have belonged to Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger; the first tickets on the new Airbus A380 put under the hammer by Singapore Airlines, and lunch dates with billionaire investor Warren Buffet.

Stahayeff is obviously no stranger himself to the company auction procedure and once trawled eBay to find an item relating to "independence" and "American" as a gift to someone celebrating the 50th year of independence of their company.

"I went across the whole world on eBay sites and ended up buying a calendar celebrating 200 years of American independence from Willisau [in central Switzerland], so I thought that was quite fascinating."

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

A diamond ring is sold on eBay every two minutes.
More than three watches are sold every minute.
Five women's handbags are sold every minute.
And a car is sold every minute.

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Company profile

eBay brings together millions of people every day on a local, national and international basis through a number of websites that focus on commerce, payments and communications.

On any given day there are millions of items available through auction-style and fixed-price trading.

Acquired by eBay in October 2002, PayPal enables any individual or business with an email address to securely, easily and quickly send and receive payments worldwide.

Skype is the world's fastest-growing internet communication offering, allowing people everywhere to make unlimited voice and video communication free between users of Skype software. eBay bought Skype in October 2005.

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