In some funny places in the outside world, Switzerland is known as being a country full only of
rich people with golden Swiss wristwatches eating Swiss (!) chocolate 24 hours a day. This by far
is not true. However, in each rumor there is a grain of truth. Yes, there are rich people, but only
very few, and mostly foreigners. Yes, they have golden wristwatches, but they are purchased mainly
by tourists. Yet, this is true — They like their own chocolate.
However, as the author is a native citizen of this country, he must say that Swiss people
are very pragmatic and down-to-earth. If they don’t like a situation, they go for the national
sport: voting. And at the moment, there are truly historical things happening in Switzerland: Last
Sunday — as happens four times a year — Switzerland was voting “yes” or “no.” Mostly, it is about
decisions proposed by the government.
However, one must know that the Swiss can also vote for or against in so-called referendums
for virtually everything if the interested party of citizens can collect more than 100,000
signatures in the country. (See sentence above: “If they don’t like a situation they go for the
national sport: voting.) Frankly speaking, it is quite seldom that one of these referendums is
accepted by the Swiss people — usually, the result is negative because the government also proposes
a kind of counter proposal. And these counter proposals normally win.
Initiative Against Rip-off Artists
Some years ago, big Swiss companies started to copy the financial institutions’ way of
paying their top people. Compensation soared, with salaries and bonuses far higher than any
common-sense compensation: Double-digit millions of Swiss francs were paid. Then, a few years ago,
Thomas Minder, a Swiss entrepreneur — no, not a socialist — started a referendum to stop these
outrageous payments. The referendum was and is called the “initiative against rip-off artists”- and
this in Switzerland. Everybody was laughing at him, saying this cannot work, not in Switzerland,
and so on. In no time, more than 100,000 signatures from all over Switzerland were collected and
validated. Now, the story was serious.
The establishment was in trouble, and for the last two years, the government and the two
legislative chambers tried to break this entrepreneur’s will, asking him to put an end to the
referendum. He didn’t. Advertising campaigns costing multi-millions of Swiss francs were started to
tell the people not to vote yes for this “anti-social initiative.” Sunday, March 3, was the day of
clearance and decision.
Lesson In Direct Democracy
And, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, a truly historical thing happened: The Swiss
people voted “yes” to stop overrated payments and other financial extremes, taking nearly 70
percent of all votes. This kind of result has happened only three times since modern Switzerland
was born in 1848.
Now, a quite strange situation for big companies will occur: among the 24 regulations listed
in the initiative, every member of the board must be elected at the annual meeting by the
shareholders — and they must set the payments, too. After the poll, the comments in the newspapers
are arguing, “Thanks to the excesses of a few people, an entire industry has to suffer now” —
whatever that means.
But not only is Switzerland redirecting its activities against excessive payments and
bonuses: The European Union has just signed a new law that in the future, financial people and top
leaders will not be allowed to get bonuses that are above their annual salaries. Whether this is
right or wrong is not for the Rupp Report to decide.
Nevertheless, it seems that the times are over when some people on some top floors are able
to further increase their salaries without limits and treat the cash of their companies like
selections at a self-service restaurant.
Once more, it is quite clear: today’s people are much more educated than ever before. Modern
media tools such as the often-cited social media like Facebook or Twitter are very powerful and can
turn public sentiment totally — or 70 percent — upside down.
On the one side, the Swiss citizens are now very keen to know how the government and the two
chambers of the parliament will implement the new laws “word by word,” and in 12 months’ time, as
it is written in the referendum text. On the other side, it is regrettable that such a ballot is
needed to tell some people that the sky is not the limit, and that it’s more about dignity and
The Swiss minister of justice said after the publication of the referendum results that
those results for the affected institutes and companies are quite a challenge. However, she also
mentioned that the competitiveness of Switzerland is not only dependent on the stock corporation
And what could be the conclusion of this Rupp Report? Don’t underestimate the common sense
of people on Main Street; the last move in this chess game isn’t completed yet. People on the top
floors should always remember this fact.
March 5, 2013