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Business leaders meet successor generation in St Gallen

Swiss justice minister Ruth Metzler (left) talks with Austrian minister Benita Ferrero-Waldne (right) at the 31st ISC Symposium in St Gallen Keystone

The International Students' Committee (ISC) has once again attracted the cream of the international business community to its 31st symposium at the University of St Gallen in northeastern Switzerland.

One thousand delegates, of whom 250 are students, were present for the opening of the meeting by Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler. She spoke of the symposium’s importance in the Swiss economic calendar as she opened the three-day event.

The symposium is the second biggest gathering of business leaders in Switzerland after the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. But as Daniel von Heimender of the ISC told swissinfo this event is not a “junior Davos”.

“A quarter of the delegates here are students and that brings a new input to the event, and we also focus much more on the programme content here.”

The symposium has been running for the past 31 years, and came about as a result of the student demonstrations which swept across Europe in 1968. The ISC’s Gregor Simon told swissinfo that the founders of the organisation wanted to look at a more constructive way of exploring new ideas than manning the barricades.

“They wanted the leaders of today and tomorrow to meet and have a creative dialogue to solve the problems of our time,” said Simon.

This year’s symposium is entitled “New Balance of Power” and looks at how the balance of power between business, non-governmental organisations, governments and the new economy is changing.

A host of top-level dignitaries, politicians and business people from across the world are present at the symposium, including Donald Soderquist, vice-chairman of United States-based group Wal-Mart, André Kudelski president of Switzerland’s Kudelski Group and Stelios Jahi-Ioannou chairman of Britain’s EasyGroup.

They are rubbing shoulders with the specially selected student delegates, who are all winners of the Wings of Excellence Award. This is an annual essay competition posted in 500 universities across the globe, and each of the winners gets to present their work to the plenary assembly.

“The student winners have very interesting thoughts that they can bring into today’s business and political life,” explained Gregor Simon.

Among the delegates attending is Walter Kirschleger, president of the University of Lucerne. He told swissinfo that he especially enjoyed the dialogue between students and business.

“The main achievement of the event is to create and promote a dialogue – an exchange between the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow,” explained Kirschleger. “It’s a dialogue where both sides listen and both sides make contributions.”

Other participants were also impressed by the way in which debates are organised at the ISC. Business woman Christine Wunderburg told swissinfo that the atmosphere on the St Gallen university campus was intellectually very stimulating.

“It gives me a feel for what’s going on intellectually in the world from the three dimensions of politics, science and economics,” said Wunderburg. “Melded together it’s a wonderful experience particularly with the youngsters who take such an active part in the event.”

The ISC Symposium manages what many other events of this sort fail to do. Through the involvement of students from across the world it forces the “powers that be” to listen to new ideas and answer the questions.

One thing that certainly stands out in St Gallen is the absence of demonstrations that have become something of a trademark for other international business gatherings.

by Tom O’Brien

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR