Andreas Gerber (left) and Hans-Ulrich Mueller (right) at the Swiss Venture Club general meeting.

Swiss Venture Club: Handing over the Reins to Andreas Gerber

On September 6, 2017, Andreas Gerber, Head of SME Business Switzerland at Credit Suisse, was elected as the new President of the Swiss Venture Club (SVC) at the Annual General Meeting of the SVC at Bellevue Palace in Bern.

Andreas Gerber succeeds founder and long-term President Hans-Ulrich Müller, who with great passion and commitment undertook pioneering work to make the Swiss Venture Club what Bilanz magazine describes as "Switzerland's most successful entrepreneur club." Today, the SVC has 2,800 members and Credit Suisse (Switzerland) Ltd. has been a proud strategic partner of the SME association for more than ten years.

Andreas Gerber and Hans-Ulrich Mueller

Andreas Gerber (left) and Hans-Ulrich Mueller (right) at the Swiss Venture Club general meeting on September 6, 2017, at the Bellevue Palace hotel in Bern.

Photo: PPR/Manuel Lopez

Andreas Gerber, you've been elected as the new President of the SVC. What things will you change?

Andreas Gerber: There's no reason to change anything about the SVC's successful recipe. However, we will be setting priorities such as focusing on the Prix SVC, concentrating on efforts to involve young entrepreneurs, and expanding our "Policy" work. I'm confident that the five new members of the Board will contribute fresh ideas to the SVC.

In ten years' time, the SVC will hopefully be an even bigger and even stronger network than before – a network that's familiar to all segments of the population right across Switzerland, and plays a major influencing role. But at its heart the SVC is an association that facilitates high-quality contacts and the sharing of experiences.

Hans-Ulrich Müller, you did pioneering work with the creation of the SVC. Why did you set up the SVC 16 years ago – what was your main motivation?

Hans-Ulrich Müller: Establishing the SVC was a statement in support of more cohesion within the Swiss economy, more commitment to Switzerland's SMEs, and more exchange between entrepreneurs. Back in the 1990s, I found that meetings with business clients amounted to more than just a sales pitch or a matter of protecting the bank from risk: I also realized what motivates the SME sector. With the SVC, my co-founders and I wanted to create a platform for all small and medium-sized enterprises. The aim was to give them an opportunity to achieve greater visibility and more intensive sharing of experience. Fact is, networking isn't everything – but without networking nothing's possible.

How have the needs of businesses changed in the years since the SVC was founded, and how are they set to change in the future?

Hans-Ulrich Müller: Globalization had a dramatic effect. For the SME sector it brought both new opportunities but also new risks. Generally speaking, Switzerland has become more dynamic and innovative. On this front too, the SVC is helping by having set up SVC – Ltd. for Risk Capital for SMEs (SVC Ltd.) in partnership with Credit Suisse. This provides small and medium-sized enterprises as well as young entrepreneurs with venture capital totaling 100 million Swiss francs. But while SMEs are engines of innovation, some are currently facing problems. This is to do with issues such as the Swiss franc exchange rate, access to international markets, and the shortage of specialists. We still have a lot of potential in digitalization in particular, but we mustn't underestimate what that requires of us. Even so, the drive and pioneering spirit of our young entrepreneurs is impressive; I'm therefore confident that the quality and competitive strength our country offers will continue to be top-notch in the future.

Andreas Gerber: I would agree with that. Globalization and digitalization will continue to influence companies in Switzerland over the long term, leading to fresh dynamism in businesses and markets. If you look at these changing requirements, all I see is opportunities for our companies.

Andreas Gerber, the SVC is best known to the general public for its Prix SVC Entrepreneur Awards. These awards send out an important signal to the Swiss SME landscape. How will the awards be developed under your leadership?

Andreas Gerber: First of all, the Prix SVC gives our entrepreneurs a platform and at the same time serves a link between business and society. We aim to continue showcasing the spirit I am currently seeing among Swiss companies to the public at large. Swiss companies mustn't hide themselves away. Switzerland is a leader in the international innovation rankings, and we need to demonstrate that fact in Switzerland too. That's what the Prix SVC stands for, and is something we strongly believe in.

Andreas Gerber, Switzerland is often said to be the "land of the SME." Digitalization, automation, and Industry 4.0 are the issues of the day. Is fundamental change imminent in the Swiss economy, and in the country's labor market?

Andreas Gerber: Digitalization is altering the market, creating new business models, and forcing existing companies to adapt their structures. When globalization arrived, Switzerland was quick to seek out sales markets abroad and gain an edge over its global rivals. I am convinced that digitalization is a huge opportunity for a country like Switzerland, with its limited natural resources.

Digitalization and automation will, of course, mean changes in job profiles, while new jobs will emerge that call for an appropriate response in terms of education. According to a recent study we published, "Strategies Against the Shortage of Skilled Labor," the longer-term implications of the new digital technologies are difficult to gauge at the moment. SMEs are already focusing on digitalization and automation in order to counteract the shortage of skilled labor in Switzerland and survive in a competitive global environment.

But in addition to digitalization and the shortage of specialists, many Swiss SMEs will also need to address the issue of company succession over the next few years. With the SVC, we therefore intend to give this new generation even greater encouragement in future and to forge cross-sector networks.

Hans-Ulrich Müller, I would imagine you will wish to remain active on the SME scene after you retire. Can you tell us anything at this stage?

Hans-Ulrich Müller: The SVC is – and will remain – something I am passionate about. I'll always retain my close links, and will follow its future development with great interest.

l now intend to devote all of my time to my own entrepreneurial projects. They include the packaging manufacturer Mopac, which I acquired last winter, and Schlossberg Thun AG, which houses the Mobiliar Forum Thun – an ideas workshop for SMEs – and also operates conference facilities and a restaurant. My biggest commitment is Bernapark in Deisswil: Having acquired the old cardboard factory, I'm converting it into a residential and commercial complex. Over the next ten years a state-of-the-art city district should emerge – for me it's all about creating jobs and housing. It's where a lot of the things that were important in my professional life come together, and I look forward to continuing to do all I can for the benefit of SMEs and Switzerland as a center for business.