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A Lesson From the World's Richest People

What strategies can you learn about running your business from Switzerland?
Exclusive: People shopping at the famous Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. The street is the third most expensive for retail property in Europe, and the fifth most expensive in the world.
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One of the most fascinating elements of Switzerland's success is its determination to remain neutral under unimaginable pressure to pick sides. The country has not declared a state of war since 1847 (it never entered the World Wars or the Iraq war) and opted out of joining the European Union. They didn't even join the United Nations until 2002 and that was only after a country wide referendum.

Despite what you may think of Switzerland's neutral geopolitical stance, it is hard to argue with the economic results of neutrality:
•    The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world.
•    In 2010, the Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse Research Institute found that Switzerland has the highest average wealth per adult at $372,692, with wealth defined by the value of financial and nonfinancial (such as real estate) assets.
•    According to Trading Economics, the worst the Swiss unemployment rate ever got during the recent worldwide financial crisis was 4.2 percent in January 2010; today the unemployment rate is around 3.4 percent.
•    According to Mercer Consulting, in 2010, Zurich and Geneva were respectively ranked as the cities with the second- and third-highest quality of life in the world (behind Vienna).

The Switzerland Structure

The Swiss obsession with neutrality inspired the name of one of my core ideas for creating a valuable company. "The Switzerland Structure" is a way of evaluating your business to ensure that neutrality allows you to minimize your dependence on any one company or individual. I'd recommend you consider the Switzerland Structure in all areas of your business:

Suppliers

If your business is dependent on one or two key suppliers (companies or independent consultants), you are at their mercy. Cultivating a bench of suppliers, on the other hand, means you will never feel beholden to anyone. Spread your business around – even if you lose some special pricing discounts. Neutrality is worth more than a few dollars in savings.

Employees

If you're too reliant on any one employee, you are at a significant risk if that employee chooses to leave and at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating his or her salary. To avoid this situation, nurture a pool of people you want to hire. Toronto-based executive search firm IQ Partners offers a bench-building service: it proactively recruits a short list of candidates who could fill your key roles so that you have a bench of people to go to in the event of an employee defection.

Customers

If you're too dependent on any one customer, your business will be highly unstable. It will be stressful to run in the short term and virtually worthless if you ever want to sell it. Try to work your customer concentration down to a point where your largest customer represents no more than 15 percent of your revenue. You'll sleep better at night and have a more valuable company when it comes time to sell.

 

IMAGE: Pedro Szekely via Flickr
Last updated: Jul 7, 2011

JOHN WARRILLOW | Columnist | Sellability

John Warrillow is the author of Built to Sell: Creating A Business That Can Thrive Without You and the founder of The Sellability Score, a cloud-based software company that helps business owners improve the value of their company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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