There’s the scenic view of Zurich, which involves sightseeing and there is the business view, which means talking about Indian business in a Men Only club.
5,4,3,2,1: Blast off. Taking five flights, in four days, to visit three countries, give two speeches; and the one that wins hands down is ....Zurich! I went as a speaker in a fascinating India road show for KPMG, the tax and audit firms, to give their clients an insight into “Doing Business in India”.
Luxembourg, Stuttgart and Zurich featured on my itinerary and Zurich, with its view from the top (literally and figuratively) took my breath away!
There can be two views to anything and Zurich is no exception. There is the scenic alpine view. And then there is the business point of view. In every corner of the world, there's an Indian touch!
Zurich (pronounce it with a guttural sound from the base of your throat to get it right), the largest city in Switzerland, has 3,80,500 people, stunning views of ever iced mountain ranges, the Alps peek out from behind cloud cover; now you see them, now you don't.
Our guide points out the remains of a Roman writing on a tablet, and asks if we have ever written a note all in capitals on a piece of paper and run out of space to complete the message ... looks like the stone carvers did the same, as the letters get thinner and more squished at the end. She tells us her husband was an Ambassador, and that she's travelled the world. She speaks indignantly of tourists at Rajghat, which she had visited to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi. She feels they should be maintaining silence, not taking photographs, at such a sacred spot.
The old town is a voyage of discovery. The house where Lenin lived is one of the stops. The beautiful St. Peter's church in the city centre has Europe's largest clock face, the fall leaves surround it like pretty wisps of blond curls on a lovely girl. The church of Fraumünster has Chagall's stained glass paintings that tell fascinating stories and bear testimony to the artist's impression of the eternal. The colours are now muted, now vibrant but the story is always exciting.
Fountains are Zurich's main attraction; 1200 in all, they have a main level and often a lower level, so as not to leave out the pets who can drink from there too. Water fountains adorn street corners and a drink from one of them is as refreshing as the pure air you breathe in.
Say it with flowers: A florist beckons, I walk in, the flowers and pumpkins she displays are stunning enough to grace a king's table. The purple orchid finds a reflection of its elegance in the mother-of-pearl vase it sits in. The chrysanthemums dance, bobbing their heads, and smile at you. She takes time to explain the species on display.
To the Swiss, “hospitality” holds a world of meaning. The valet at the Savoy, the bell captain, the woman who takes your coat at the restaurant, the room service waiter, the concierge... all seem to have eyes only for you. Warm greetings, elegant gestures and attentiveness has to be experienced to be believed, and well worth emulating!
Hotel Savoy, Baur au Lac and the Dolder are the three top-notch hotels in ascending order. All three are worth a visit. We started with breakfast at the Savoy, had lunch at the Baur au Lac and finished with evening tea at the Dolder.
It is an “India matters” view. The business community in Europe is discussing India in their boardrooms. At Zurich, the interest in Indian business is at an all-time peak.
The talk on “Understanding India” was held in the Hotel Baur au Lac's prestigious Men Only club. It had its origins in the army, and offered the military personnel a place to meet. It is for Members Only. And ONLY men are members. The manager Elizabeth (yes, an efficient woman runs this men only club!) speaks in hushed tones about her club's ambience being preserved and the formality of attire bringing in a je ne sais quoi to board meetings. And here I am, a sari-clad lady from India, holding forth!
The roundtable seating of board members, CEOs and CFOS is elegantly set up with Swiss precision, all colour-coordinated and running precisely to time. The grand ballroom of the club overlooking the Lake Zurich provides a stunning view of cygnets with protective mother swans as gliding companions in the chilly lake.
The top brass participate, listen attentively, laugh at Indian jokes about our traffic or verbosity, and ask a range of questions: How can we hire in India? What is the red tapism like? Why is an Indian reluctant to relocate even within India? How does religious or linguistic diversity impede business? How do you handle bureaucracy?
One CEO said he had come to take part in ground-breaking ceremonies in Pune where they set up a plant to make rubber edging for cars; a chocolate company said they were bringing the right ingredients to fill the quality void in the subcontinent; a digital colour processing firm said they were coming to Gurgaon to set up the distribution network... All eager and wanting to know how to work with India effectively.
India's time has come
After an exhilarating interaction, I walk towards the lobby and an elegant Indian man with a warm smile walks out of the elevator. Seeing a sari-clad woman with a sense of purpose divergent from tourism, he strides over to ask, “What are you doing here?”
“I am here to speak about ‘Understanding India' to help Foreign Direct Investment succeed in our country,” I reply.
“That is good. I do it a bit differently; I buy their companies!” he states. Ajit Gulabchand, chairman and managing director, HCC, says the card he pulls out from the pocket of his long overcoat. Hindustan Construction Corporation just bought Steiner, the second largest construction firm in Zurich. I was reminded of Amitabh Bachchan's recitation of “India poised” in the 60th year of Independence: “We no longer boycott foreign made goods, we buy over the companies that make them instead”.
Once outside, I inhale the air by the flower clock on the lake. What precision in gardening and time keeping! I walk along the tramway to Sprungli, the famous chocolatier, and order a hot chocolate. Even as the delicious, sweet warm liquid descends my throat, pride swells within me. So many lessons for us to learn and teach these days: India's time has come! How fitting that I should realise this on a visit to Zurich, home to the precision clockmakers of the world.
Everything about Luxembourg, the world's 6th smallest country, is discoverable in two hours with a hop-on-hop-off bus. The town itself is sleepy and quiet, but iron ore reserves have muscled the country on to the world economy map.
Arcelor Mittal is the biggest employer here. Mittal's domain makes it so apparent that India touches Luxembourg. The pre-Diwali party this year had 450 registrations, for a town of just a few thousand inhabitants, this is sizeable, said Sudhir Kohli, founder of the India Business Chamber of Luxembourg.
Talking of horse power
Stuttgart means Stud Garden. The horse in the middle of the square is the rearing equine which Ferrari took on as their symbol. The town has many interesting nooks and crannies and in the world of automobiles, it gets top rating.
The author is Founder-CEO of Global Adjustments. E-mail: email@example.com