Swiss Values as an Identity

"One franc more in the savings bank is always good." - In an interview with Victorinox CEO Carl Elsener, we talk about the need for healthy risk management, online commerce and how to remain innovative in the market - even after 136 years.

Victorinox is now in its 4th generation of management and represents one of the most traditional Swiss companies. In the past 136 years, the company has been constantly growing and evolving at a top level. In a conversation with CEO Carl Elsener, he talks about Swiss values, the Corona Pandemic and Risk Management.

Mr Elsener, the history of Victorinox began 136 years ago. Solid values such as highest quality, solidarity and a true connection with one's homeland, also known as "Swissness" today, have been central from the very beginning. Does this still apply in our globalised world today?

Yes, Swissness remains an important selling point even today and is an essential distinguishing feature - at home as well as abroad. Consumers want to be able to trust a brand and this is exactly what a Swiss brand, such as ours, promises through its values and sense of commitment. We are currently witnessing a return to authentic, sustainable quality products in a number of markets.

If you ask people abroad about Switzerland or Swiss products, the first things mentioned are likely to be Heidi, Chocolate and your pocket knives. Is Swissness a key part of the brand identity for Victorinox?

Yes, we definitely have a competitive advantage - and this lies in the strength of our brand and its 136-year history. It is the result of a combination between tradition and innovation. Our Swiss origin is a guarantor for quality and reliability - but also for innovation, courage and a certain pioneering spirit. These typical Swiss values form a significant part of our identity; they are embedded in our company's spirit and our brand and they will continue to play an important role in the future.

Icons embody the image of our dreams. The little red pocket knife, known to every Swiss child here, keeps on winning design prizes and is the ultimate allrounder product in every trouser pocket. Can an object such as this be surpassed by anything else?

It is a great pleasure and motivation for us that the small red pocket knife from Ibach symbolises Swiss quality and reliability all over the world today.

Millions of people everywhere have discovered and have indeed grown to love the almost unlimited uses a Swiss Army Knife has to offer. It is compact, reliable and fits in every trouser pocket - a true companion for life. An American journalist once called it "a friend, not just a knife" and a tourist spontaneously called it "A little bit of Switzerland with you forever" in an interview.

All this encourages us to remain open to new challenges and innovations. We must continue to develop our products and ensure that they also remain relevant in our customers' lives in the future. Our product teams are tirelessly working on new products, designs and materials. New products are vital building blocks for future success. We always strive to stay close to the market, so we can identify new customer requirements at an early stage and creatively transform them into useful products.

Your father already had a lasting influence on the company’s development by implementing automated production, an international sales strategy and introducing additional product lines. Zena Swiss AG was recently acquired under your leadership. Thus, the diversification continues- can this be seen as a long-term strategy?

The brand's expansion into other segments such as watches, luggage or perfume, was a response to the needs and wishes of our customers for more products based on the Victorinox brand values but also a strategy to increase the brand's visibility. We were able to significantly increase the exposure and charisma of our brand through the expansion of the Victorinox product range. However, we do not wish to overstretch the brand. The existing product categories go well together and support our strategy of focusing on the areas of travelling, the outdoors, as well as the kitchen and cookery. In the years to come and before we start investing in new business areas, we will focus on expanding our brand’s exposure through specific investments at the point of sale, for instance, and in online shops throughout the world.

When asked why Victorinox AG never considered going public - your answer, in a nutshell, was: "Continuity". We find ourselves in a time of great upheaval and great uncertainty. Does your strategy work and what lessons, do you think, should be learned from the current situation?

We have been a family business since 1884. We always think and act long term - in generations and not in years or months. Our objective is to hand over a healthy company to the next generation, which they will be able to develop further with passion and dedication. In our 136-year history we have encountered many challenges and we have learned from them.

In order to successfully master a crisis, you need reserves and a high level of liquidity. Save in good times, so you that you have enough in troubled times! We have all been overwhelmed by the Corona crisis indeed. In order to prevent this in the future, companies need better risk management. Personal initiative and self-responsibility must be strengthened and promoted again, as these are decisive factors for a sustainable and healthy development. We need to return to a healthy equilibrium in a number of areas - there needs to be a balance between tradition and innovation, between stability and agility and between the digital and the real world. The lessons learnt from this crisis also show that, if used correctly, home office can be a useful extension of office work. Of course, online shops have been the big winners in the Corona crisis. Although online shops will complement them, they will never be able to replace physical points of sale. Last but not least, I also hope that this crisis will lead to a stronger sense of togetherness and solidarity. We will be able to master these challenges together.

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