The Swiss Dichotomy
Switzerland is something of a dichotomy for me. I’ve now lived in the country for more than a decade, but still struggle with coming to terms with some of its inherent contradictions. In some ways it’s a very progressive culture, with a well-functioning direct democracy, a very high quality of life and is a relatively safe place to live. Oh and the flag is obviously a big plus (!) Yet behind the snowcapped mountains, stunning lakes and marvellous chocolate there is a slightly dark underbelly of high levels of domestic abuse and outdated attitudes when it comes to gender parity in the workplace and elsewhere. I challenge the feminists amongst us to watch this video about women being denied the vote in 1959 without shouting at the screen.
The country’s contradictions extend into my personal spheres of interest around the role of business in society. A vote initiated by the people was held last weekend to decide whether Swiss domiciled companies should be held responsible for any Human Rights abuses in their extended supply chains. This would have taken Switzerland way beyond other countries into a leadership position on Human Rights but alas, it was marginally defeated thanks to huge resistance from the business lobby and indeed, the Swiss government. Over 350 commodity trading companies domiciled in the country must have raised a collective sigh of relief.
One other progressive vote which did go through was on raising the minimum wage to 23 CHF (about $25) per hour taking Geneva to being the highest rate in Europe. Of course, there have been howls of disapproval coming from local businesses, bars and restaurants however something does have to be done about the rampant inequality I see every day in the city. Post the first lockdown, queues outside of luxury shops like Louis Vuitton and Patek Philippe were only surpassed by the length of queues for the food bank on other side of the city. Go figure. My sense is Geneva is just playing out in miniature the rampant and growing inequality we see on a national and international level. It’s neither socially nor morally sustainable.
However, even I was astonished to read of a new law to make bribes no longer tax-deductible in Switzerland. Can you believe it? Apparently, this was an effort to “harmonise tax law with criminal law”, the latter eventually having made bribery illegal only as recently as 2015. So, if my understanding is correct, giving a backhander to a corrupt politician or business person domestically or in a foreign country was not only tolerated – it was actively incentivised fiscally. I had somewhat naïvely assumed that such blatantly corrupt and grubby business practices would have been stamped out decades ago, at least in the eyes of the law in most civilized countries, if not practically.
I firmly believe that multinational corporations, given their size and scale have to operate to the highest standards of behaviour – globally. Not simply to adjust policies to the lowest common denominator wherever they are working in order to shave a few quid off their costs. That’s a race to the bottom. Surely we can do better than that and aspire to ethical behaviour in business, even if it takes a while for governments to catch up and ensure “doing the right thing” is enshrined in law.
Legacy of Lockdown
Since writing the November Bullog exactly one month ago, I’ve been locked down in my chalet in the mountains about one hour from Geneva. No, I’m not looking for any sympathy whatsoever and I have to say that the weather has been incredible and worryingly warm and sunny for this time of year. Penny the dog and I enjoyed long hikes in the mountains and breath-taking views, each day seemingly surpassing the previous. I feel very lucky to have been immersed in nature at this time.
It was also a really good opportunity to recalibrate and reflect. I recall during the first lockdown having a strong sense of an abundance of time. The frantic travel schedule ended overnight, the temptation to go out to bars and restaurants to socialise and see friends halted and suddenly there seemed to be long days and evenings to fill. Bingeing on Netflix was of course one way of doing so, but also reading, exercise and yes, even things like yoga and meditation. I was of course delighted to come out of lockdown in the summer and have my freedom back, but I confess that I started to drift back into my old habits of being too busy, too often – of running from one thing to another, filling my day full of Zoom calls and work activities. The voice in my head told me I had no choice.
Yet we all do have a choice as to what we do with our time and where we focus our attention. Hopefully the legacy of this second wave lockdown will be different. I aspire to developing the muscle memory of that feeling of an abundance of time and use it as effectively as possible – Less doing, more being.
I was delighted to be asked to speak at a new online initiative run by Salesforce.com for their series of B-Well Together podcasts. They’ve been running these 30 minute sessions twice every week since the beginning of the pandemic and have had a diverse range of speakers including the likes of Deepak Chopra, Drew Barrymore and Billie Jean King earlier this week. Great company to be in I have to say. If you’d like to see me talk about the benefits of business deceleration to drive innovation and intrapreneurship then tune in here.
Sometimes podcasts take a while to produce and come out. But I admit to being more than a bit surprised to be contacted by someone I’d spoken to more than two years ago in Singapore when I was interviewed in my hotel room by Anne Morgan. It was hard to think that we were able to sit less than 2m apart and not wear facemasks. It was a fun discussion on Finding Purpose in Business and better late than never, although you can be the judge of that if you care to listen here.
Best of the rest……
The team and I have been doing quite a lot of planning for our upcoming Deceleration Day on the 9th of January 2021. Our aim is to make this as accessible as possible to as many people as possible across different time zones. The full details of the schedule are still to be worked out, but you may wish to register your interest in just 20 seconds by clicking here.
I attended a fascinating virtual book launch run by our very own Alexander Inchbald, a.k.a. “The Artist” within our Craigberoch Cast. Alex’s new book is in entitled “Masterpiece. What you would do with all the time and money in the world.” It has already become a best seller in many markets and is available online here. I’m certainly looking forward to reading my copy.
On the personal front…….
We’re in the run up to the Christmas holidays and if like me, you’re struggling to think of interesting gifts for friends and family then I might have an idea for you. Yes, this is a blatant product endorsement but I hope that you’ll forgive me when you hear the context. My late father, Lyn Bulloch was an art teacher all of his life and at Christmas time, he used to screen-print handmade Christmas cards of a sketch he’d done of a local scene on the Isle of Bute. I remember him sending a couple of hundred out each year for most of my life. The cards quite often made their way onto the walls of people’s houses or into frames on the mantlepiece. One of his former art pupils from the island, Sarah Jane Hemsley, who trained as a master furniture upholsterer, decided to go a step further and use a selection of these prints to make cushions, napkins, lampshades and even curtains. She calls this The Bulloch Collection. I’m biased but I think they’re lovely and you can see for yourself by visiting Sarah’s website. What’s more she’s also offering all Bullog readers a special discount of 20% until the 12th of December by using code GIB2020. The only commission I get is to keep my fathers memory alive at this time of year.
That’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up here. Until next month,
* The Bullog = Bulloch + BlogMake sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.