Switzerland’s concentration of successful small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is both remarkable and inspiring. From Caran d’Ache, the luxury writing instruments leader, to Ricola, many have achieved enviable niche positions in the global export marketplace.
A new book by IMD Professor Emeritus Jean-Pierre Jeannet and co-authors Cornelia Amstutz, Thierry Volery and Heiko Bergmann, Masterpieces of Swiss Entrepreneurship, spotlights these successful SMEs. The authors explain in great detail how and why SMEs are a critical element of the Swiss economy while emphasizing how exactly these companies arrived at their positions.
However, this text is not a cookbook offering simple recipes for success. The authors instead feature management practices relevant to practitioners, in addition to offering input for academics, policymakers, educators and the general public. The title Masterpieces of Swiss Entrepreneurship was chosen, in part, because the achievements of these companies may also inspire future generations of entrepreneurs. The hope is to impact the managerial practice of existing firms, as well as of companies that are yet to be created.
Published by Springer, this open-access book is based on more than a decade of in-depth documentation and analysis of 36 Swiss companies over their entire history. Jeannet and his team present several parallels in the pathways and success factors which allowed these firms to assert their dominance and operate from a high-cost location like Switzerland.
The book enhances these insights by providing detailed company profiles documenting company history, development and how their global positions were reached. Readers will benefit from these profiles as they comprise a diverse selection of industries – mainly active within the B2B sector – with mostly mature companies (60 years to over 100 years since their founding) and different types of ownership structures including family firms.
Masterpieces of Swiss Entrepreneurship is exceptional in that it includes a comprehensive, bottom-up approach with an extensive field research process coupled with in-depth analysis. The case research offers insights along the longitudinal development of firms and the reasons why and how certain decisions were taken. It also focuses on the environmental context of a firm, and how SMEs interact with the local ecosystem – ranging from economic development to public infrastructure to educational institutions.
Since the founders of these companies and their successors play an intrinsic role in the book, they are described in detail before their actions and practices are meticulously covered in the later chapters. Thanks to the personal interviews with many owners and managers of the companies featured, the authors add deep insights to their data and a sophisticated analysis of entrepreneurial dynamics.
The book reveals the “secret” of Swiss PME’s success. For these companies, longevity is driven largely by adhering to particular management styles and practices, such as focus, segmentation, marketing, innovation and supply chain. Growth, however, is largely driven by company governance and finance models, as well as balancing independence vs. autonomy over time, regardless of access to external capital.
Firms that learned how to progress along both vectors achieved superior results over the long term, earning them the fitting title of “Masterpiece of Swiss Entrepreneurship”.
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Masterpieces of Swiss Entrepreneurship brings unique learning opportunities to owners and leaders of SMEs in Switzerland and elsewhere. Findings are based on detailed bottom-up research of 36 companies—without any preconceived notions. The book is both conceptual and practical. It fosters understanding for different choices in development pathways and management practices.
This book offers a well-documented view of long-term success factors of Swiss SMEs, taking a comprehensive view of their management practices. Analyzed are individual firms, as well as patterns across the entire set of firms. Shown are the development of successful strategies with a strong connection to management practice. The book adds value to SME owners and managers well beyond Switzerland.
The authors have spent years studying 36 Swiss SMEs that have been ‘punching above their weight’ for many years. Beyond the unique individual trajectories, these companies have been following a few practices that all leaders—regardless of company size—can learn and benefit from.
This is a remarkable book. It does a masterful job of telling and reflecting about the stories of closely held companies that have had a lasting impact in their industries and their wider social context. Instead of proposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ list of success factors, it gives space to the heterogeneity and uniqueness of the companies studied. I highly recommend this book.
Startup entrepreneurs need proven models from industry which demonstrate the various paths to success. Masterpieces of Swiss Entrepreneurship provides deep insights highlighting these models and the important trade-offs entrepreneurial teams must consider when choosing the path of high growth or of maximum control, as they are often mutually exclusive.