The Swiss Pilot



Davos, where I attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the end of January, is, of course in Switzerland. Switzerland is a beautiful country of snow and mountains, though I do not like the cold much. Driving me around was a wonderful Swiss who flies Lufthansa cargo planes but makes a point of taking leave every year during the WEF season to drive WEF participants around. So for a week he stops flying to New York and Atlanta, and instead drives between hotels and meeting places, because he finds it interesting to meet people and soak to some extent the excitement and busyness of Davos. I wonder if any Singaporean would see life in a similarly open, curious, and venturesome manner!

As we were driving to Zurich airport, I contemplated the inspiring scenery of the Alps and remarked that people have said “Switzerland is God’s country.” “How,” I asked, “could anyone see such rugged, powerful beauty, and yet believe there is no god?” 

“Yes,” my driver said, “And he did a good job!”  

We laughed, but how true: God does a good job!

I recall a meeting in Davos with a Swedish company. We observed how Sweden and Finland were so good in design and engineering: both countries are the home of SAAB, Ericsson, Ikea and Nokia, among other well-known international names. How did this come to be? Our Swedish friend said, simply, “Because we are Lutherans: we work hard.”  

The reference to Lutherans is a reference to what is often called the “Protestant work ethic” that states: “work hard, save well, do a good job.”  To me, it is a very interesting point, that the capacity and willingness to work hard defines the culture of a nation and paves the way for success.  

Perhaps there is something about small countries, whether it be small land mass or small populations, that the sense of vulnerability and need for sovereign independence leads to enterprise and the spirit of drawing together, studying hard, and working hard.

Some closing observations on Switzerland. Almost every three months they have a referendum on something or other, where every Swiss citizen gets to vote on some national issue.  Every so often they vote on whether to stop having national service: each time they have chosen to keep national service. And those who fail to perform their annual in-camp training of 21 days a year have to pay an extra tax amounting to three percent of their annual income – not a small sum! Such is the Swiss conviction that they themselves have to defend their land and their independence.  

Even more interestingly, recently they had referendums on whether to lower the number of working hours a week to the mid-30s, and to increase the number of public holidays a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the Swiss but surprisingly for the rest of the world, they voted against both the changes! My Swiss pilot explained that both measures meant less work hours, so who is going to pay the extra taxes to make up for the loss in productivity?

The mentality of the Swiss is one that we would all do well to espouse…for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, and for our country’s sovereignty. 

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