The Industrial Architect
Stephan Schmidheiny began very early to expand his entrepreneurial activities beyond the construction industry and the national borders of Switzerland. He often invested in companies that were in financial difficulties and needed to be restructured. He diversified into various industries and, inter alia, held investments in companies from gypsum and water pipe production, in the industries of packaging, real estate and forestry, in plantations, banks, steel manufacturers, makers of electronic devices, watches, cameras and microscopes. Over the years, in addition to Switzerland, Latin America increasingly proved to be a geographical focus of his commitments.
In Switzerland, the investment in SMH / ASUAG, today's Swatch Group, was one of the most successful. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Swiss watch industry had hit the bottom because of competition from Japan; SMH was handed over to its creditor banks. Together with Nicolas Hayek, in 1985, Stephan Schmidheiny took over the majority of SMH and thus laying the groundwork for an unprecedented success story in Swiss economic history: the launch of the Swatch watch. Once the watch company returned to profitability, thanks to a strategic realignment and profound restructuring, Stephan Schmidheiny gradually withdrew as a director and investor of the first hour from this commitment. The foundation for his present wealth had been laid.
In Latin America, with GrupoNueva, Stephan Schmidheiny created a groundbreaking group of companies. GrupoNueva and its companies are tied into the "triple bottom line" philosophy, i.e. they simultaneously pursue social, ecological and economic objectives. On the one hand, a leading company from the building materials industry (piping systems) formed part of GrupoNueva. On the other hand, the group included the investments in the forestry sector. As early as 1982, Stephan Schmidheiny had invested in a forestry company in Chile, Terranova. This, he developed into a leading provider of sustainable wood products. In 2005, Terranova and Masisa merged to become one of the largest publicly traded companies in the Latin American forestry sector. In 2003, Stephan Schmidheiny gave away the shares of GrupoNueva, worth approximately USD1 billion, to the non-profit Viva Trust he had founded. The generated dividends provide the funding for the non-profit Fundación Avina, which Stephan Schmidheiny had established in 2001.
In addition to his entrepreneurial activities, Stephan Schmidheiny also bore responsibility as a board member of renowned Swiss companies. And so, he was a member of the board of directors of today's UBS for 18 years and sat on Nestlé's board of directors for 15 years. For 16 years, he was a member of the board of BBC Brown Boveri where he actively participated in the merger with Asea, resulting in today's ABB.