Swiss industry is reaping the benefits of the current property boom in China – numerous skyscrapers are fitted with elevators made by Schindler.
In 1980, it was the first company to establish a joint venture with China, but today competitors are snapping at their heels.
Every major Chinese city is the same – wherever you go you are surrounded by the noise of building work 24 hours a day; sometimes the entire country feels like a building site.
From a hotel window in Beijing, for example, you can see at least ten cranes vying for space among a forest of skyscrapers and high-rise residential buildings.
"The construction boom has taken off in all sectors. Everything is being built: high-rise buildings, airports, residential complexes and industrial buildings," explained Schindler China Vice-President Bernard Schwegler.
China now buys one quarter of all elevators and half of all escalators
"Last year Schindler elevators and escalators were installed in about 800 buildings throughout China," said Schwegler.
The vice-president of the Chinese subsidiary, which employs approximately 2,000 people, is extremely proud of its "formula one" lifts.
Some 50 high-rise buildings in China are fitted with elevators that can climb 500 metres at a speed of over ten metres per second.
These high-tech installations are equipped with computer-controlled systems and electronic sensors to
optimise lift capacity.
"In the future lifts will be even faster, safer and use less energy," added Schwegler.
But the Swiss elevator company is not the only one eyeing up the Chinese market. The other leading lift companies – Otis (US) and Mitsubishi (Japan) – are also present and showing off their muscles.
"Our company has existed for 130 years and continues to grow," said Schwegler. "But competition is now intense."
"For three or four years China has been a flourishing market. It's constantly developing and for those firms wanting a piece of the action
you need to be extremely active to remain competitive."
By becoming the first company to establish itself in this highly sought-after market, Schindler managed to gain a head start.
But China's decision to open its doors to foreign business at the end of the 1980s changed things dramatically, putting Schindler under considerable pressure.
Doing it tough
"These past few years have been hard," admitted Schwegler.
"Some Europeans still haven't quite understood that there are millions of people here struggling to make ends meet and willing to make huge
sacrifices to improve their lives. We need to adapt to the Chinese way of thinking," he said.
The Swiss manager, who arrived in China just over three years ago, feels strongly about understanding what makes the Chinese tick so as to be able to do business.
"The Chinese have their way of doing things. Being successful in Europe or in the US does not guarantee good results here," he added.
The quality of your service and products is obviously extremely important, as elsewhere, explains Schindler's vice-president.
But that is not enough. Success in China means gaining the trust of
your partner – a tricky, often tortuous but essential activity that requires considerable patience.
"It's all about time and perseverance," said Schwegler.
"The irony is that, compared with Europe, the Chinese market is one of the most fast-moving in the world, but decision-making here is extremely slow. The Chinese have a very different way of sealing a deal."
swissinfo, Marzio Pescia in Beijing
The Schindler Group was established in Lucerne in 1874.
As of 2006, the group employed over 43,000 people on five continents.
In 2006, the group had a turnover of SFr11.106 billion and earned SFr511 million in profit – its best-ever result.
The Schindler Group is the world number one escalator manufacturer and the second largest elevator supplier.
The group is the leading European company in both sectors and hopes to expand its business considerably in Asia over the coming years, in particular in China.
The group continues to manufacture certain spare parts in Switzerland for its highly sophisticated elevators.
It recently inaugurated the largest elevator factory in the world close to Shanghai.