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The Loss of Innocence

In one of my first-year BGIE classes I offered a potential solution to an economic and political problem by quoting Switzerland, my home country, as a role model. Unfortunately, my professor did not appreciate it as expected. I approached him after class, and he told me that Switzerland would never hold as a replicable example for any BGIE problem. Other countries would not have met its incomparable standards of efficiency and political stability, nor its even distribution of wealth, or its absence of security concerns. Of course, I felt flattered and did not stop him getting into raptures about my home.

However, half a year later, the splendid painting lost some of its hue. A tirade of catastrophes hit the country. Unforeseen incidents beset the small nation in the heart of Europe. It started on September 11. The Swiss were deeply shocked by the attack on the USA both because of the terror act on Western civilization and the loss of many Swiss citizens in the planes and the World Trade Center. They gathered in churches and prayed. They collected money and established funds. The Swiss government even decided to place the flags at half-mast, a sight not seen for years. All Switzerland held a moment of silence in memory of the victims.
While struggling to recover from the terrorist attack, another catastrophe shook the country: On Thursday, September 27, at 9 AM, a fully armed maniac raced into a Congressional session of one of the state parliaments and opened fire on the representatives. He murdered three members of the state’s government and killed several members of its parliament before committing suicide. Many people were injured. The scenery was described afterwards as a slaughter. The Swiss gathered again in churches and prayed. While candles were lit for each victim in a ceremony, one was spared for the perpetrator to be lighted later. The government put the flags at half-mast. Some days earlier, a court had denied several lawsuits against the government initiated by the murderer. Friends of his mentioned that he had lost confidence in the political
institutions after these unfavorable court decisions.

Shortly afterwards, the symbol of the nation’s excellent service crashed: Swissair went bankrupt. The cash cow of the early 90’s drowned in its debt. The HBS alumnus (MBA ’77), who had been hired in January to turn around the company, failed. After having followed a disastrous strategy for more than five years, even a genius could not have saved the beloved airline anymore. People on the streets shouted for the police to arrest the former Executives and the Board of Directors and to put them in jail. NB: the airline had the most prestigious and renowned directors in Switzerland. Their names read like a “Who’s Who”. Trusted and smart people led the proud airline into a disaster.

In mid-October, two trucks crashed while traveling in the longest tunnel for cars in Europe. The trucks caught fire and soon exploded. Drivers close to the accident literally evaporated due to the hellish heat, and many who managed to escape at first, died after inhaling the toxic smoke. All the security measurements and up-to-date sophisticated technology could not prevent this catastrophe.

Last but not least, on Saturday, November 24, the Crossair flight LX 3597 coming from Berlin, crashed into a forest close to the Zurich airport. 24 people died and many were injured. The successor of Swissair had to mourn its first catastrophe before it had really taken off.

Yes, the splendid painting has lost some of its hue. Self-confidence has been hurt. The police now guard the parliaments. Security is an issue. Trust in the business leaders is broken. The Swiss fly with other airlines. Concerns about the next potential catastrophe haunt the small nation. Perhaps, somebody ate the shining, delicious apple. Switzerland has lost its innocence; in somuch as it ever existed. Welcome to the real world!

December 3, 2001
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