The secret to Swiss success in just two words

Roger Partridge
Insights Newsletter
23 June, 2017

Some things just sound odd when delivered with an accent. Imagine a French exposition on the virtues of Marlborough sauvignon blanc or an Australian singing the praises of New Zealand’s weather.

But nothing sounds stranger than the words “bureaucracy” and “can solve” with an Italian accent. Except that when we heard them they made complete sense … simply because they were not referring to Italy.

As part of the Initiative’s recent visit to Switzerland, our group spent a day in Italian-speaking Ticino. Situated south of the Alps, it is to Switzerland what the West Coast is to the South Island.

Ticino is a place that does not only speak Italian but feels Italian. Its commercial centre Lugano is much closer to Milan than to Zurich, and the whole place breathes Mediterranean lifestyle.

But unlike its larger southern neighbour, Ticino is genuinely Swiss. It has the same ‘can do’ attitude that we encountered in other parts of the country.

Ticino is also Switzerland’s second-richest canton on a per capita basis. And during a reception featuring the city’s mayor, we quickly learned why.

In talks by the mayor and local business people, we got an introduction to “Doing business in Ticino”. It was not what you would have heard in New Zealand.

Instead of listing regulatory obstacles faced by foreign investors, our Swiss-Italian hosts got straight to the point. Their message was clear: “We want your business and we will solve any regulatory problems standing in your way.”

Or as one of the slides stated under the heading “Bureaucracy”: “Can Solve”.

Of course, Ticino has the usual array of business laws. It is after all part of Switzerland.

But Ticino has every incentive to be hospitable to foreign investors. Switzerland’s decentralised tax system means it shares in the tax revenues from the business activity it generates.

Little wonder that Ticino is host to scores of multinational companies, many of whose origins lie just south of the border in Italy. Think of companies like Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci and North Face.

If only we had the same incentives in New Zealand. The lesson from Ticino is that it does not matter which language you speak or which lifestyle you prefer. All that matters is the right set of incentives.

Perhaps Switzerland’s secret recipe is that simple: Can solve. Perfetto.

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