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ESSEC Alumni in Switzerland: “We live in one of the most attractive countries in the world”

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Switzerland is home to about 400 alumni. Dominique Falque (E76), Head of ESSEC Alumni’s Switzerland Chapter, tells us more about life in the land of banking secrecy, direct democracy and chocolate – and the services he offers to the community. 

ESSEC Alumni: How many alumni are there in Switzerland? 

Dominique Falque: Around 400. Half live on the French side, in Annemasse, Annecy, Pays de Gex or Mulhouse area. That is why we also created a French Regional group named ESSEC Romandie. Most others live in major cities such as Zürich (100), Basel (60), Geneva, and Lausanne. 

EA: What are their profiles and backgrounds? 

D. Falque: Switzerland has six economic pillars: international headquarters of multinational companies; finance with banks, wealth management, trade and commodities; luxury; food & fast moving consumer goods; pharmaceutical business; international organizations and NGOs. Most alumni have positions in sales, marketing, finance, human resources, and general management. 

EA: What opportunities are there in Switzerland for our alumni? 

D. Falque: Switzerland offers a good life balance, a good education and training system, excellent public transportation, flexible labor laws, a robust retirement plan, a strong currency, an internationally neutral environment, a solid and efficient democratic political system, beautiful landscapes, and all outdoor activities within easy reach. 

EA: How does the COVID-19 pandemic impact Switzerland? 

D. Falque: Although Swiss authorities and citizens handle the pandemic quite well, the economic cycle hurts badly in many sectors. Roughly 30,000 lost their jobs in March and April after the shutdown; in just those 2 months, the unemployment rate rose by almost as much as it increased in all of 2010 following the financial crisis. According to a Deloitte survey conducted last spring, Switzerland is facing an unprecedented economic downturn, with a significant decline both in the demand for Swiss exports and in the domestic market. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) assumes that manufacturing output will fall by around 25% of total economic added value compared to 2019. Even if Switzerland moves into a V-shaped recession (a major downturn followed by a rapid recovery), SECO estimates that GDP will decline by 7% in 2020 and the rate of unemployment will rise to 4% (from 2.3% in 2019). In the case of a more severe recession (a major downturn followed by a weak recovery), the decline in GDP could be as much as 10%, with unemployment rising to 4.5%. At present, recruiting is at a standstill in most businesses.

EA: What makes it interesting to live in Switzerland? 

D. Falque: The OECD has investigated how attractive its member states are, taking into account indicators such as quality of opportunities, income and tax, future prospects, family environment, skills environment, inclusiveness and quality of life. The conditions of entry and residence for prospective migrants were also considered. The results show that Switzerland ranked first for students, and third for highly qualified workers and entrepreneurs. Note that Switzerland ranks higher than any other German-speaking countries, due to its “welcome culture”.

EA: What may strike a foreigner as specific to Switzerland? 

D. Falque: The first thing that comes to mind is the high cost of living, housing, health insurance and food. Then there is the work permits system. Switzerland has a dual system for allowing foreigners to work while in the country. The first concerns citizens from the European Union and/or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), who are generally allowed to come to Switzerland for three months while they look for work. The period can be extended to six months during an active job hunt with a special short-term permit, issued if you are registered at a regional employment center and have a good chance of being able to find a job. Workers from all other states – third states, as they are referred to – are admitted in limited numbers to the labor market in Switzerland if they are well qualified. Switzerland makes delivers about 8,500 B and L work permits annually to people from outside the EU. Britain will be considered a third state if it exits from the EU with no deal, but will get a quota of 3,500.

EA: Do foreigners have the right to vote?

D. Falque: The right for foreigners to vote is an ongoing political issue in the country. At federal level, the right to stand for election and to vote in popular initiatives and referendums is limited to Swiss citizens aged 18 or over. However the cantons have extensive powers to enact their own legislation. For this reason, the rules regarding the rights of foreign residents to vote differ considerably throughout Switzerland. Only the cantons of Jura and Neuchâtel grant foreigners the right to vote in cantonal elections, but neither allow foreigners to stand for election at cantonal level. 600 municipalities across six cantons grant foreigners the right to stand for election. 

EA: What advice do you have for alumni moving in Switzerland? 

D. Falque: Listen, learn and follow the local habits and practices: be modest, be punctual, deliver good work, respect your neighbor, get involved in local social activities. Also, if you need a car, clarify before coming over whether you want to import your current vehicle or to purchase one locally after arrival. If you do decide to import your car, there are opportunities for significant financial savings if you plan 6 months in advance or more. However, be sure to weigh the costs of importation and potential necessary modifications to comply with Swiss specifications and pollution requirements. These factors can be costly for cars designed for non-European markets. Once you live in Switzerland, note that it is compulsory by law to be covered by a Swiss health insurance policy and that authorities will ask you to provide proof within 3 months of your arrival.

EA: What is the offer of ESSEC Alumni’s Switzerland Chapter

D. Falque: We have developed a welcome pack available on request. Our team is available at any time to advice new comers and support alumni looking for job recommendation. We also organize many events. In 2019, we initiated a new concept by inviting ten corporate specialists to round tables on a specific business topic: how can we give more sense to our professional involvement? We have scheduled another round on business and sustainability on March 25, 2021 (see info here). And there are many more to come. On April 20, we’ll meet with David Douillet and talk about facing new challenges. On June 4, we’ll celebrate the 11th anniversary of ASAGE (see below) during our traditional Golf Open. On June 19&20, we‘ll go on a discovery weekend in one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland, Valais. On September 7, we’ll invite alumni to discover a luxury brand fabrique, Frederique Constant. And in November 2021, we’ll have a negotiation run practice inspired from a Harvard Business School case. But for now, we schedule a Christmas cocktail & dinner mid December. More details to follow on our LinkedIn group – come and join us!

EA: What about your career services?

D. Falque: We have always been focused on helping alumni finding a (better) job in Switzerland through our ESSEC+ process, which was initiated in 2009. Since then, we organized 10 speed-networking events in Geneva and Lausanne with 8 to 10 headhunters interviewing about 30 alumni. In 2017 and 2018, we had the concept evolve by inviting 8 corporate recruiters to the event. This was done in partnership with other alumni associations, such as EM Lyon, Arts & Métiers and HEC Lausanne. Also, we recently launched a new coaching program with certified coach Isabelle Laugier (M07), funded by ESSEC Alumni, and free for its members.

EA: How do you contribute to building brand awareness for ESSEC in Switzerland? 

D. Falque: ESSEC Alumni Romandie was instrumental in creating l’Association Suisse des Amis des Grandes Écoles (ASAGE) in 2010, and we now benefit from this locomotive, which regroups 20 Swiss, French, Italian, Spanish and Canadian alumni associations. Together, we organize speed-networking sessions, which contribute to develop ESSEC brand awareness among Swiss recruiters. 

Reach out to ESSEC Alumni’s Switzerland Chapter's team: 

- Romandie areaDominique Falque (E76)

- Lausanne area: Christian Albrich (B99) 

- Grand Zurich areaMarie-Luce Baudelet (E06)

- Basel areaHubert de l’Hermite (B99)

- ESSEC+ & Career WorkshopsIsabelle Laugier (M07)

- CommunicationJulien Laurent (M15)

- Digital Support: Karim Bangoura (M15)

Interview by Veary Ngy, International Community Manager at ESSEC Alumni, and Louis Armengaud Wurmser (E10), Content Manager at ESSEC Alumni 

Want to read more? Join ESSEC Alumni for us to be able to bring other quality contents about the community to you.

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