Recruitment of senior executives in Swiss companies, 1910-1980

Production of the elite in Switzerland
By Isabelle Lucas, Stéphanie Ginalski, Thomas David

Until recently, the few studies to have focused on company executives in Switzerland in the 19th and 20th centuries have generally celebrated the figure of the “self-made man”, someone who started from nowhere and by the end of his life had moved up to the highest positions of power. This article – which looks at the social origins and education of more than 800 senior executives from the largest Swiss companies, over the period 1910-1980 – breaks with this hagiographic view. In line with research on the recruitment of senior executives in Western Europe and the United States, our research shows that social origin was the most decisive factor for success. However, two specific features emerge for Switzerland. Firstly, a few educational institutions were predominant, and all of these were public. Secondly, the army played an important role in the careers of Swiss executives. The army, as an entirely male place of sociability, contributed to women being excluded from the centres of economic power.

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