People 2 | 25 Years of the Swiss Economic Forum: Urs Gafner

What does the SEF mean to him personally? He doesn’t think about it for long, explaining that whenever he comes home after spending a few days in Interlaken his wife says: “So you’ve now got some fresh ideas again!” Gafner himself puts it this way: “The SEF is inspiration pure and simple, and always ahead of its time. The only reason why I was so well-prepared for the whole electric boom was because the former US presidential candidate Al Gore gave a speech on electric cars back in 2004.”

Gafner is a businessman and has around 120 employees at the transport company Gafner AG, headquartered in Thun. He has been at every single SEF. “Right from the very start, and always putting my heart and soul into it,” says the 58-year-old. “For many years there’s been no easier way for SME people to gain access to business heavyweights like Peter Spuhler, Hans Hess and Nicolas Hayek. The SEF is just a completely straightforward, fuss-free event.”

Gafner AG organises the logistics for the Forum every year. Sometimes they’ve needed to improvise, as he recalls. “When the SEF moved to Interlaken, the organisers only noticed that the red carpet was missing at the last minute.” Gafner jumped behind the wheel of one of his trucks and drove off to Bern without further ado, where he was lucky enough to find a carpet, before dashing back to Interlaken. “I unloaded and rolled out the carpet, freshened myself up and joined the proceedings.”

Gafner also fondly remembers the 2000 Forum, when the then President of the Swiss Confederation Adolf Ogi was the keynote speaker. “That proved to be a game changer, as Ogi’s popularity seemed to make the whole SEF grow massively at a stroke,” says Gafner. “Suddenly we were playing in the big-events league. Logistically, this also meant we were faced with completely new demands. We had to deliver very large reels of cable simply because of the large number of journalists there.”

Gafner says the SEF has become “a bit too busy” in the years since. He would like to see the Forum return to a smaller core. “And it needs rejuvenating over the next few years – and I wouldn’t rule myself out for that either!”

Recorded by Mirko Plüss