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Peter von Muralt: Fascinating career that got off to a rocky start

Losing his job after IMD's executive development course, Peter von Muralt launches rewarding career

peter von muralt and PED reunion
PED 1980 class reunion. Peter von Muralt: second from left

At IMD in Lausanne for a recent reunion of the Program for Executive Development (PED) class of 1980, IMD caught up with Peter von Muralt, accomplished executive and entrepreneur, whose career has spanned the banking, finance, film, TV and airline sectors.

One of the first things Peter tells us when asked how the PED program helped his career is how he was fired because of the program. He said he had ambitions to enrol in the PED at IMD, which was then called IMEDE, on his own account but then was promoted into management at the bank where he was working. Executives at the bank said they would send him to take the program later. 

"Send me or I quit," was his response. 

His employer ceded. 

Shortly after the program, Peter was interviewed by the International Herald Tribune (now International New York Times) about his experience. 

"I told them it was devastating. I could have gone on vacation for six months instead because nobody at the bank wanted to hear about my experience," said Peter. 

Bosses at the bank got wind of the article and fired him immediately.

His experience wasn't a total loss though. Peter said that the program gave him "the confidence to start his own business not knowing what it would be". And that after the PED, he "had the courage to walk out of a safe job to see what else he could do".

After losing his bank job, Peter convinced his friend and business associate to also attend the Program for Executive Development so they could be on the same page and start a business together. Once his associate had finished, they started a financial advisory company.

Their company got off to a shining start and opened up new opportunities through their clients' business activities.

Later Peter became Chairman of a foreign-controlled Swiss bank from which he retired in 2001. During and after his banking career he was involved in some other exciting business ventures, which saw Peter jumping in and out of a number of industries.

"I became an entrepreneur," he said. "Two German film producers offered me to become a partner and to handle their finances. When I went to Australia invited by my PED colleague Peter French, I met some film business executives who were looking for European connections which I had. This led to a German-Swiss-Australian partnership."

Later the German partners in the venture left the business and the profits had to be redistributed or reinvested.

Another one of Peter's ventures was when he found himself in Tallinn, Estonia after the fall of the Iron Curtain where he and the Australian partners started up the first private television company in the country. After three years Peter sold the station to a Norwegian group for a profit.

Over the years, Peter said he started several businesses, one being an Apple computer distributer in Switzerland, for example. "Some of these ventures went well and some lost money," he said. "I have had some pleasant surprises and some unpleasant ones during my career."

On one occasion Peter rented a private plane with a group of longtime friends to go on vacation. One of his acquaintances loved the experience so much that he said: "wouldn't it be fun to own a plane?" Peter and five of his friends then ended up buying a company with one propeller plane.

Soon the business grew; the company bought two business jets and started managing other people's planes as well, with Peter as chairman of the company.

This was another point in Peter's life where his IMD experience paid off. Due to misconduct he had to fire the CEO and head of pilots from one day to the next.

"I called my friend and PED classmate Konrad Wittorf, an ex-SWISSAIR executive, and he found us a new man within 24 hours."

After a while in the airline business, Peter and his associates decided that they needed to "go big or get out" and the decision was made to sell the company to SWISS AIRLINES.

Peter is now winding down his activities and is preparing to retire. He now spends much of his time in Gstaad in the Swiss Alps, a couple of hours away from Lausanne.

During his long and accomplished career, Peter has also enjoyed world travel, sailing and rally driving.

While Peter became successful taking some gambles that paid off, he said "It's important to take the risks while you're young," when asked what advice he would give to the younger IMD generation.

IMD's Program for Executive Development is for experienced functional managers who have recently transitioned or will soon transition into a business leadership position. Participants generally have 10 or more years of relevant management experience.

The Program for Executive Development comprises two parts, Foundations for Business Leadership and Transition to Business Leadership, each of which can also be taken as stand-alone programs.

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