People 4 | 25 Years of the Swiss Economic Forum: Monika Ribar

The Chairperson of the SBB Board of Directors and former head of the SEF jury on a special friendship forged at the forum and her encounters with Gen Z.

Ms Ribar, how important is the SEF for Switzerland?

The SEF is a hugely important event for the nation’s entrepreneurial landscape. While the really big players are perhaps to be found at the World Economic Forum in Davos, small and medium-sized companies – who are the real backbone of the Swiss economy – go to the SEF. As the Chairperson of the SBB Board of Directors it is of course also a fixture on my annual calendar.

When did you first attend the SEF?

It was before my time at SBB. In 2008 I was asked to give a presentation as CEO of the logistics company Panalpina. The SEF was still held in Thun at the time, before the move to Interlaken. I had never been to an event of this kind before. The SEF is not open to the public and therefore has a certain exclusivity, but there is a real openness to it.

What is your personal highlight of the event?

The bit I enjoy most is the networking evening on the Thursday. The entire business community is in one place, one interesting discussion leads to another and it is all tremendously invigorating. The friendships made possible through the SEF are also highlights, though. For example, I got to know the former television director Ingrid Deltenre at a forum more than ten years ago and we are still friends today.

Various awards and communities have been created over the past 25 years. What is your view of this trend?

At one stage I felt there were rather too many. I think it’s a good thing that the number of awards has been reduced again. We should focus on the Swiss Economic Award for young entrepreneurs; that’s the one that really stands out. 

How important are young people generally for the SEF?

Young people are the highlight of every edition. I once gave an interview to the founders of the company “Zeam”. They were a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old who translate content for young people, in other words for Gen Z. Their questions were so intelligent, and you realised just how differently today’s youth approach both business topics and their lives in general. The SEF is a wonderful venue for listening to the young people of today. And we really do need to listen to them, because they are our future customers and colleagues.

Where should the SEF be in ten years?

For once, I would say that it shouldn’t change very much at all. Despite the increase in remote working, most people still like to meet in person. With this in mind, going forward there will still be a demand for platforms like the SEF where people can meet, network and educate themselves.