Working in Switzerland
Quality Of Life, Quality Of Career
Calum Robson talks to recruiters, employers and CIMA members in Switzerland
‘I’ve worked in a number of countries before moving here – and have no intention of leaving,’ says Frank Van-Veen, CIMA member and finance director (personal care) at Unilever in Schaffhausen, capital of Switzerland’s northern canton of the same name. ‘It’s safe, well organised and great for weekend trips.’
A refreshing international outlook
But there’s more to Switzerland’s international appeal than its well documented quality of life – considering the current financial turmoil in which the world finds itself, things aren’t too bad on the economic front, ‘there seems to have been less of an impact here than in other countries,’ says Heather Steele, director of the finance business line at recruitment specialists Adecco Finance Switzerland. ‘Even though there’s caution, not every bank has stopped hiring. In industry, there is still a healthy demand for finance professionals – so much so that in recent years, because of shortages, employers have been looking even more to neighbouring countries for talent. In sectors such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, clinical research, energy, utilities and telecommunications we are continuing to see demand for finance professionals.’
That’s great for CIMA jobseekers – and according to Duncan Brown, European Finance Manager at Syngenta, a worldwide agri-business in Basel, the fact that Switzerland is host to many international companies is a major factor. ‘Here, it’s very different to, say, the UK, France or Germany, where native organisations tend to dominate. There are so many global organisations headquartered here that there is a good mix of head office and operational roles'.
Syngenta’s assessment centres for finance recruitment have attracted candidates from as far afield as the US, China, Poland, the Netherlands and Singapore – something which wouldn’t be considered unusual by James Mills, a CIMA member working for Ciba: ‘I recently worked on a project with over 100 people, less than ten of whom were Swiss,’ he reports.
Calling finance professionals
Jim Fredholm, Chief Financial Officer for the global integrated logistics business at Agility Logistics, whose European headquarters are in Switzerland, says, ‘There’s a rich infrastructure of global blue chips here who need accountants with entrepreneurial flair and a commercial outlook – and are more open to hiring international candidates than in other countries’.
Thomas Hadron, Finance Manager for BAT’s vending business in Lausanne says, ‘change management skills and experience in a multinational environment are the most sought after skills', while Steele adds, ‘financial reporting and analysis, treasury, internal audit and tax are areas where it’s hardest for employers to find people'.
Financial analysts have also been scarce on the jobs market – and the existence of so many organisations with American connections influences person specifications. ‘From a technical perspective, it depends on the reporting framework but US GAAP skills are particularly relevant', says Neil Murdy, a CIMA member who works for ABB, the global technology company based in Zurich. ‘However, I imagine IFRS skills will become more important as we move towards integration of standards.’
Getting the best from the country
‘Coming to Switzerland was a breath of fresh air after five years working in London, says Fred Fowler, Group Manager in finance at Procter & Gamble in Geneva. ‘There’s far less traffic and pollution – and proximity to the Alps is a key benefit, with the ski slopes only an hour away. Plus, in the summer, you can be in the south of France in a couple of hours'.
Having also worked in the UK, Hungary and Germany, Steele says that for English speakers, she can’t imagine an easier country in which to live, ‘You can talk English to virtually everyone – and even the cinemas show films in English with French or German subtitles.’
She recommends the place especially for those who enjoy the outdoor life, ‘Whether it’s winter or summer, and whichever city you settle in, you’re never far from plenty of opportunities for mountain biking, climbing, walking and skiing; the work life balance you can achieve is excellent'.
Those with children will also find the country welcoming, ‘Switzerland is steeped in family values – it’s a strong part of the culture', says Fredholm. ‘There’s a sense of collective responsibility for providing a secure environment for children, while also giving them exposure to multicultural aspects of life'.
Whether you decide to stay in Switzerland, return to your native country or move onto another destination, a stint in the country would appear to be career enhancing in many respects.
Euan Taylor, CIMA member and senior pricing analyst at Emerson, a global manufacturing and technology company with European headquarters in Zug says, ‘To work in an office alongside European finance directors and vice presidents provides enormous opportunities in terms of challenges and exposure'.
Meanwhile, Fredholm concludes, ‘Experience of working abroad, in most large companies today, is going to provide a faster route to the top – and working in Switzerland will help you develop a strong sense of being less nationalistic in your thinking, and more international in your outlook'.
For more information on living and working in Switzerland you can download our useful PDF provided by our sponsor - Adecco Finance.