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Fireworks Display in Miyajima, Hiroshima

Photo by courtesy of JNTO
Author
Elizabeth Borner-Mouer
Published
2010

The year 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the registration of the first .com domain name in the history of the internet. Short for “commercial”, the .com extension was intended for use in commerce. Today it is the preferred web page extension around the world, and is used for everything from company websites to personal blogs.

The Swiss Japanese Chamber of Commerce, also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year has informed members and the wider public of its activities on its website (www.sjcc.ch) for many years now. Although a major tool of communication, the web still cannot beat the traditional gathering of persons to discuss timely topics of mutual interest in a friendly atmosphere over lunch or after work. The SJCC is a forum created for such discussion, and now has a 25-year tradition. Let us go back to the beginning, 1985. Rudolf Bosshard, the founding President of the SJCC who stayed at the helm until retiring in 2000, remembers it well. An extreme lack of economic, financial, political and trade information about local markets characterized our two countries despite the fact that Switzerland was then the 2nd largest foreign investor in Japan behind the USA. Japanese listed companies were raising more capital in the Swiss financial markets during the 80’s than at any other address. And yet, it was said at the time that the key to success in Japan was cultural understanding. The Swiss-Japanese Society (Schweizerisch-japanische Gesellschaft) had already existed since 1955. The road to the creation of the SJCC was bumpy. The Japanese business community in Zurich had already organized itself into an economic group, quasi under the direction of JETRO in order to found a Japanese school. They met regularly and discussed mutual interests. The Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan was also established (1981) to sit together at luncheon meetings in Tokyo.  The Deutsch-Schweizerische Handelskammer (German-Swiss Chamber of Commerce) and the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce had already long traditions. Yet, no bilateral organization with Japan existed in Switzerland.

A need to establish one in Switzerland was first identified by a young Swiss lawyer, Stefan Lanfranconi, returning from a year in Japan in 1984. He wrote to approximately thirty firms with positive responses from eight large Swiss firms (Alusuisse, Banca del Gottardo, Electrowatt, Kuehne & Nagel, Mettler Instruments AG, Swiss Re, WalterMeier Holding, and Swiss Volksbank), as well as the Swiss arms of four major Japanese firms: Sony, Toyota, Brother and Bridgestone. The founding committee was formed with Rudolf Bosshard, then Director-General at Swiss Volksbank in Zurich, at the helm. According to Mr Bosshard, the road began to get bumpier: consensus among the biggest Swiss firms both in Switzerland and Japan was that a Swiss- Japanese Chamber of Commerce was not necessary. The Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (SCCIJ) feared that its existence was threatened and its members were able to convince their head offices in Switzerland to refrain from membership. The circa 60 Japanese branches and representative offices of major Japanese firms in Switzerland, thereupon also declined to join. Nonetheless, the founding committee went ahead, as by then, more than 100 large- and medium-sized Swiss firms had declared their willingness to proceed. The SJCC was formally launched on September 5, 1985, at the Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich. The Japanese Ambassador was not in attendance, sending instead his First Secretary. However, a congratulatory telegram from the President of the “Japanische Industriekammer” (Keidanren) arrived congratulating Mr Bosshard for having christened the fi rst bilateral Chamber of Commerce between Japan and a Western nation! The support given in these words also came with great expectations: the Swiss members would be expecting opportunities to meet regularly with Japanese members of the Swiss business community. The challenge was to attract these firms following the quasi boycott.

The founding Executive Committee of the Board was comprised of:

  • Rudolf Bosshard (Swiss Volksbank),
  • President Markus Blechner (Bridgestone),
  • Vice President Dr Stefan Lanfranconi, (lawyer) Secretary / Managing Director
  • Sigvald B. Wehrle (Alusuisse), Treasurer
  • Heinrich F. Grieder (Kuehne & Nagel) and Mario Zoppi (Brother)

Other Board members included:

  • Werner Boessinger (Minolta),
  • Dr Peter Graf (Motor Columbus),
  • Herbert N. Haag (Swiss Re),
  • Melk M. Lehner (Mettler),
  • Dr Reto E. Meier (Walter Meier Holding),
  • Dr Hans Peter Ming (Sika),
  • Leonard Mueller (Toyota) and Christian Norgren (Bank in Liechtenstein).

Records indicate that 120 persons gathered, including VIPs, guests and press as well as 80 members. Invited guests included the following:

  • Edouard Brunner, State Secretary, Keynote Speaker
  • Swiss Ambassador to Japan, Dr Dieter Chenaux-Repond, Speaker
  • Former Federal Councillor (Minister) Dr Ernst Brugger
  • Heinz Allenspach, Nationalrat and Director, Swiss Employers’ Association (Zentralverband Schweizerischer Arbeitgeber-Organisationen)
  • Dr Paul Wyss, National Councillor (member of parliament) and Delegate of the Chamber of Commerce of Basle
  • Ambassador Dr Silvio Arioli, Delegate for commercial treaties, BAWI (today SECO)
  • Toshio Kunikata, First Secretary, Japanese Embassy, Bern
  • Eugen Bertschinger, President, Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (SCCIJ), Tokyo
  • Prof. Dr Theodor Leuenberger, University of St-Gall (HSG), President of ECOTEC
  • Dr Peter Frey, Vice-Director, Swiss Trade Promotion Agency (Schweizerische Zentrale für Handelsförderung)
  • Josef A. Schriber, Member of the Board, Association of Trade Companies of Zurich
  • Alexandre de Coudenhove-Kalergi, President of the Chambre de Commerce Belgo-Luxembourgeoise en Suisse

Secretary of State Edouard Brunner delivered the keynote address: “Relations économiques et politiques entre la Suisse et le Japon” with translation into English.

Swiss Ambassador to Japan Dr. Dieter Chenaux-Repond followed with a short speech on the need for the Chamber to address economic and trade issues. This historic meeting held in Zurich on September 5, 1985, 125 years after the first Swiss delegation arrived in Japan, was covered in all major economic and financial newspapers and journals in Switzerland. Mr Brunner stressed in his keynote speech, that there was a need for trade imbalances to be addressed in the work of the new Chamber. He also noted that in the Swiss financial markets, Japanese institutions had taken advantage of liberalization, while in Japan, Swiss banking establishments continued to be faced with restrictions. In the meantime, 25 years later, these matters have been addressed: the Big Bang of 1998 in Japan opened financial markets, and the FTEPA was signed in 2009.

But let us go back to 1985 again. The first work of the Chamber was to convince the major Swiss firms and Japanese banks to join. Many luncheons with prominent speakers which interested both Japanese and Swiss, useful seminars, some of which were half- or full-day, for both Swiss firms developing their businesses in Japan, and the Bulletin, a newsletter, helped to increase membership steadily. The strategy worked once Brown Boveri (now ABB) decided to join after participating in one of those seminars. It was not long thereafter that the “Big Three” Swiss banks followed in 1990, represented on the Board by Dr Thomas E. Krayenbuehl, Director, UBS. The Japanese banks followed with the support of the big banks, together with the “behind the scenes” work of the Industrial Bank of Japan and Japan Airlines. Starting from approximately 100 members in 1985, by the end of 1989 there were 176 members; at the end of 1991 membership increased to 310, and at the end of 1995 there were 450 members (our peak), including 60 Japanese firms. In 2005, membership had declined to 302. Today, despite world-wide trends in corporate consolidation, re-structuring and fusion, membership numbers have stabilized. At the beginning of 2010 we were nearly 300 strong. Demographics have shown that individual memberships have increased as Swiss start-up firms and smaller Japanese firms join. For these smaller businesses, the SJCC has a mentoring role to play in addition to providing its traditional platform.

Throughout the 25 years of the Chamber, certain traditions have remained: prominent speakers join our luncheons every year, seminars addressing current economic and trade issues are supported by various Swiss and Japanese government organizations, and publications of the SJCC, such as the Bulletin (1985–1993, the Journal (1994–2004), and the Yearbook (2006, 2007/08; 2009/10). The stability of Board memberships has been a strong factor in its success: to date, the SJCC has had only three Presidents in 25 years: Rudolf Bosshard (1985–2000) Rene Jaccoud (2000–2005), and Henry Wegmann (2005–present). Each has left his mark. Following Rudolf Bosshard, Rene Jaccoud greatly improved the burdened financial situation of the Chamber, organised a delegation to the Aichi Expo in Nagoya in 2005, and set up the SJCC website. Henry Wegmann promoted an important dialogue towards the successful signing of the FTEPA, engaging various prominent luncheon speakers and seminars in both Switzerland and Japan, created the Yearbook, established the Shinnen-kai tradition of engaging prominent speakers on the financial and economic outlook each January, and secured financial support for continuance of the SJCC Scholarship (see separate article below).

 

During the 25-year history of the SJCC, speakers at the annual general meetings included:

1987 — H.E. Dr Dieter Chenaux-Repon, Swiss Ambassador to Japan

1988 — H. Spiess, President, SCCIJ, Tokyo

1989 — Prof. Dr Theodore Leuenberger, University of St-Gall

1990 — Prof. Dr Hellmut Schuette, INSEAD, Fontainebleau

1991 — Prof. Toyoo Gyoten, former Vice-Minister MOF, Japan

1992 — David de Pury, Co-President ABB

1994 — Dr Thilo Graf Brockdorff, General Secretary, Japanese-German Centre, Berlin

1995 — Dr Jenoe C. A. Staehelin, Swiss Ambassador to Japan

1996 — Ivan Pictet, Pictet & Cie

1997 — Yoh Kurosawa, Chairman, The Industrial Bank of Japan, Tokyo

1998 — Maurice D. Bauche, Regional Representative, ADB European Representative Office

1999 — Prof. Dr Yasusada Yawata, Waseda University, Japan

2000 — David de Pury, former Co-Chairman ABB and former Swiss Trade Ambassado

2001 — H.E. Takaji Kunimatsu, Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland

2002 — Rainer E. Gut, Chairman, Nestlé S.A.

2003 — H.E. Yuji Nakamura, Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland

2004 — Prof. Dr Franz A. Blankart, former State Secretary for Economic Affairs (SECO)

2005 — Walter Fust, Ambassador, Director-General, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

2006 — Samuel Schmid, Federal Councillor (Minister of Defense)

2007 — Luzius Wasescha, Ambassador, Delegate of the Swiss Government for 19 Trade Agreements, Swiss chief negotiator in the WTO-Doha Round and Member of the Executive Board of SECO.

2008 — Gerold Buehrer, Chairman, economiesuisse

2009 — Dr Fritz Schiesser, President of the ETH Board

2010 — Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman, Nestlé S.A.

 

Some milestone events of the SJCC 1985–2010:

1989 — Scholarship program begins with four recipients

1992 — Luncheon speech by Shijuro Ogata, former Deputy Governor, BOJ

1993 — “Seminar Wirtschaften in einer anderen Kultur”, Festival Japan in Zurich 93

September 1995 — Three-day Symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the SJCC: “Europe and Japan Approaching a new Century. Trade-Capital-Employment”

1998 — “Switzerland Inside Out” book (Japanese version: Suisu Daremo Shiranakatta Kuni”) published by the SJCC.

1998 — Asiabooks bookstore opened at SJCC offices

2000 — Rudolf Bosshard, President SJCC, received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in recognition for his service to Swiss-Japanese relations

20 June 2000 — Dr Rene Jaccoud, Nestlé S.A., succeeds Rudolf Bosshard to the Presidency of the SJCC

April 2002 — Founding of the SJCC Alumni Association (former Scholarship recipients) in Zurich

2003 — “Japanese Links in Switzerland” directory published by the SJCC and uploaded to the SJCC website

February 2004 — Commemoration of the Treaty of Friendship and Trade between Switzerland and Japan 1864 at the Zurich Stadhaus (City Hall). Addresses by H.E. Yuji Nakamura, Ambassador of Japan to Switzerland, Dr Elmar Ledergerber, Mayor of the City of Zurich, and other distinguished guests. Keynote speech given by Dr Roger Mottini.

May 2005 — Henry Wegmann, lic. oec. HSG, former Credit Suisse Japan head, succeeds Rene Jaccoud to the Presidency of the SJCC

August 2005 — Luncheon speech by Dr Hans-Ulrich Doerig, Vice Chairman of the Board, Credit Suisse

August 2006 — Luncheon Speech by Dr Patrick Ziltener, SECO, and Dr David Chiavacci, Free University Berlin, “Towards a Japan-Switzerland Free Trade Agreement: The Japanese Perspective”, fi rst presentation of a research study supported by the SJCC

September 2007 — Luncheon speech by H.E. Michael Reiterer, EU Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein

December 2007 — Luncheon Speech by Dr Philipp Hildebrand, Vice Chairman, Swiss National Bank

December 2008 — Luncheon speech by H.E. Paul Fivat, Ambassador of Switzerland to Japan

October 2009 — Swiss Symposium participation of SJCC members in Tokyo, where SJCC President Henry Wegmann led a distinguished panel on “Switzerland and Japan: Economic Strategies and the Future of our Bilateral Economic Relations”

October 2009 — Celebration of the Swiss-Japanese FTEPA at the ETH Zurich with speeches by H.E. Ichiro Komatsu, Ambassador of Japan, and Ambassador Luzius Wasescha, Delegate of the Swiss Government for Trade Agreements, Swiss chief negotiator in the WTO-Doha Round and Member of the Executive Board of SECO

 

During its 25-year history, the SJCC has offered its members seminars and workshops too numerous to mention on topics ranging from intercultural management practices to innovation and product development in Japan, as well as language courses and tailor-made seminars to Swiss companies entering the Japanese market, or to employees of local offices of Japanese corporations. Collaboration and/or co-sponsorship with various Swiss government offices, academic/research organizations, or with JETRO on seminars designed for specific needs have been equally numerous.

 

Elizabeth Borner-Mouer, 1946. Studied, worked, published on four continents, mostly retired from banking (Yamaichi, BNP Paribas, EFG) and teaching (University of Zurich), avowed Japanophile. Member of the Executive Committee of the Board (SJCC), as well as Board Member of the Swiss-Japanese Society, Zurich.