Victorinox & Swiss Re visits – Incredible Swiss Icons

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

4 August 2014

In my recent Independence Day remarks, I talked about the solid foundation we have for the relationship between our nations and that we need to remember to celebrate what’s great. In the coming years, I will share a lot of stories that illustrate and celebrate what’s great.  Here are two important examples:

Over the past few weeks, as a part of my listening tour, I separately visited the CEOs of Swiss Re (151 years old) in Zurich and then Victorinox (130 years old) in Ibach, Schwyz. Each is an incredibly iconic Swiss company with brands that reflect the essence of Swissness: Precision, Quality, and Security. And each is an example of the incredible trade in goods and services between our countries.

Swiss Re visit with CEO Thomas Wellauer:
As one of the world’s largest re-insurers, their customers are insurance companies and governments. Thus – they are more behind the scenes and not so much in the consumer’s mind. However, their work touches millions of Americans – and even more around the globe. In fact, 40% of their business is supplied by the US and they generate 2,500 US-based jobs. They especially kick into gear during catastrophic events and, thus, have been very instrumental in recoveries around situations such as Hurricanes Sandy, Wilma, Katrina, and Rita.

They also are collaborating with USAID in a number of ways – including improving resilience (how communities can bounce back in the event of natural disasters – ie the effects of climate change) in South America, Africa, and Asia.

Victorinox tour with CEO Carl Elsener, Jr.
When I first arrived in Switzerland 26 years ago, I bought my first Swiss Army knife. I believe I was in Luzern at the time when I cut an apple that I was holding in my palm and…well…let’s just say – I ended up getting first-hand experience (pun intended) of the Swiss healthcare system. 2 butterfly bandages later – I was off on my adventures – with my christened knife. It went on to serve me well on that trip for many bread, cheese and tomato sandwiches. Ever since, I am reminded of my initial Swiss visit every time I look at my palm.

SO – it was with great anticipation and engineering marvel that a couple members of the US Embassy and I were taken on a tour of the Victorinox factory in Ibach, Schwyz (located in what is commonly known as Swiss Knife valley). Carl Elsener, Jr – the grandson of the founder, Carl Elsener, took us through the factory, showed us the apprenticeship room (and explained their extensive program), shared the diverse product line, and exposed us to their intense level of precision and perfection. I was particularly moved by how well they recovered from 9/11 – when their business took a severe blow – and how much they’ve put in place to diversify and increase their fiscal resiliency. As an example of the great relationship between our two countries – the number one market for the array of Victorinox products is the US – and they now have 5 stores across the US – generating a healthy number of US jobs!

My favorite part of the tour, as you might imagine, was when I got to make my own Swiss Army Knife (I chose yellow so that it wouldn’t get mixed up with all of the red ones I already have in my camping gear). Note – if you want to do this – here’s their website where you can find info on their museum and make a reservation to make your own knife.

Here is the note up on the Embassy Bern Website about the visit. What a great way to experience Swiss Icons – and to recognize and celebrate the tremendous bilateral trade we share.