Discovering the Swiss Valais region - sometimes it’s the road less travelled that reaps the most reward.

As the first week of post-summer classes drew to a close, I and my International Consulting Project (ICP) team had mixed feelings regarding the weekend. We had made a trade-off between having a free Saturday to ourselves to work on cover letters and spending the time leisurely travelling two hours to the Canton of Valais to visit our ICP client – Univerre. Little did we realise it then, but we were about to gain a better understanding of how business relations are built and, in the process, discover a little hidden gem nestled in the south of Switzerland.

Along the train route to Valais, the manmade architecture slowly gave way to enormous mountains and the never-ending vastness of Lake Geneva, transporting us to and through nature’s wonderland. My initial impression of Valais was a town with few people and even fewer businesses; the entirety of green nature overshadowed any structure, so it was perplexing to me that Univerre, a company specialised in the distribution of glass packaging, bottle washing and decoration on glass had selected Sierre, Valais as the their headquarters.

We were warmly greeted by David and Ruanda at Univerre with croissants and coffee and after having a short tour of the plant, proceeded to the “Thinking Box” for a brainstorming session on the application of 3D glass printing, which was David’s pet project and soon to be our consulting project.

The “Thinking Box” had a very start-up vibe to it; funky chairs, a sofa, a projector screen and a whiteboard which doubled as a wall. I was amazed that this traditional company had embarked on baby steps in its digital transformation, with one foot firmly on the current business model while getting its other foot wet in new technology associated with 3D glass printing. David and Ruanda were surprisingly open and impressed with a structured thinking approach to the challenge we proposed and all of us spent the morning thinking, discussing, defending and iterating the real problem that we would be solving given the constraints and the potential of the technology. In essence, we sought to better understand “where to play” and “how to win”.

Satiated with our efforts in brainstorming, we set of for lunch with David and Ruanda, the mouth-watering prospect of the raclette awaiting us. The origins of this Swiss delicacy transcended decades – an ancient tale told of a cheese factory that caught fire and the melted cheese that ensued, reluctantly consumed by the desperate people of the village – what was now an absolute delight paired with black pepper, boiled baby potatoes, slices of ham and a variety of pickles. The aroma of melted cheese (from different regions) permeated the air and we struggled with balancing every additional plate of the scrumptious raclette with the better judgement of listening to our stomachs.

We learnt that Univerre supplied the glassware to this restaurant and in the conversation with David, realised the strategic significance of their location in Valais. Valais was full of vineyards and Univerre was their supplier of glass bottles. On the topic of vineyards, we had initially planned a hike through some vineyards post-lunch which was scheduled for 2 hours. Needless to say, after 5 plates of raclette each, a lot more bottles of wine emptied and 4 hours later, little wonder that we postponed the hike to another time.

On the train ride back, I couldn’t help but smile at the fruitful Saturday. More than colleagues (if we were before), we had built bonds through banter and meaningful conversations while impressing the client with our analysis and intellect, rounding off the day with more laughter and jokes over raclette and vino in a little treasure cove that is Sierre, Valais.

Lessons Learnt :

  1. Working on a weekend can yield unexpected rewards and foster relationships
  2. Don’t plan a hiking trip when your client plans lunch


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