In 1992, two organisations from Thun, the recently founded association “Imageförderung Thun” (promoting Thun’s image) and the Forum of Young Enterprises Thun, which had been operating for years, decided to join forces and organise an event in the city to highlight entrepreneurial opportunities and share entrepreneurial knowledge. No sooner said than done, the Forum first took place in October 1993 and was a success from the outset, with 200 people attending. The organisers even managed to persuade watch manufacturer Omega to offer a prize for young entrepreneurs.
The Young Enterprises Forum was then held every autumn in the ensuing years. Attendees increased to about 350. Contacts were made. It was also how Stefan Linder, managing director of a marketing consulting firm, and Peter Stähli, who founded an engineering firm in Thun and was a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, came to know each other. The two understood and complemented each other and were persuaded to join the Forum organising committee in 1997 and 1998.
In 1997, they persuaded Verena Spoerry, a member of the Zurich Council of States and, at the time, the most powerful woman in Swiss business, to come to Lake Thun, which opened their eyes to the event’s potential. Stähli, an engineer and project manager and Linder, a marketing specialist, believed in the Forum’s core idea: provide a platform for business leaders, across industries, to strike up a dialogue with each other. This would help strengthen the exchange of experiences, broaden horizons, and create new perspectives and business contacts for those attending.
But they also believed the potential of the previous format of the event in Seepark Thun had not been fully exploited. After discussing the matter over dinner following the 1997 Forum, they retreated to the snow-covered Griesalp nestled right at the back of the Kiental valley for a weekend in January 1998 to flesh out the ideas for developing the Forum further. The outcome was the birth of the Swiss Economic Forum. Stähli and Lindner founded a limited liability company and set themselves the goal of holding the first SEF in early summer 1999.
You can read about what happened next in Chronicle 3 – and the SEF story in full in the SEF25 magazine, which will be published to coincide with the anniversary edition of Swiss Economic Forum 2023
Text and research: Felix E. Müller