“Millennials Want To Work For A Company With A Purpose”

In the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn, a small group of leaders and entrepreneurs meet at the Zermatt Summit. Their goal is to create a better world.

If you think about an impactful meeting in the Swiss mountains, it is usually the World Economic Forum in Davos. However, for three days, leaders and changemakers from all around the globe gather in the Hotel Mont Cervin Palace in Zermatt. “We want people to reflect, to connect, to inspire, and to take action,” tells Christopher Wasserman, founder of the summit.

The Zermatt Summit’s vision: Economy serving the common good. The summit’s goal is to connect entrepreneurs from different countries that embrace the idea of sustainability and human decency in their businesses. It is a small event, only around 120 people — including a handful of journalists and staff members — made the time-consuming travel to Switzerland’s most famous touristic destination in the shadow of the Matterhorn.

After the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, Mr. Wasserman created the summit to define a new role for business. “Is business something to make money. Period. Or has it a broader definition where business brings in the notion of technological, social, and environmental progress?” asks Mr. Wasserman. “We believe that companies have a responsibility for all stakeholders — not just the shareholders.”

The people, Mr. Wasserman and his team try to attract, are explicitly defined: “We want to bring leaders together that are willing to work on their personality. With a big ego, you feel good about yourself, but your employees are not happy to work with you.” Mr. Wasserman admits that three days are not enough to transform a person, but it should be an impulse for this process.” This connection to the personal values will lead to a more authentic way in business as well, Mr. Wasserman is convinced.

“Millennials want to work for a company with a purpose.”

There are a variety of topics discussed: From new technologies to innovation inspired by nature and the Blue Economy. Surprisingly, the summit does not focus too much on typically green subjects like veganism or environmental protection. In fact, some speakers are even saying, the time of these classic approaches is over. “Organizations like Greenpeace or WWF could not make the necessary impact,” says Prof. Dr. Gunter Pauli in his opening speech. Of course, adds Mr. Pauli, the organization’s effort is essential but just not sufficient enough.
Instead, the Zermatt Summit’s goal is to promote businesses that grow in harmony with society and nature — benefiting a more significant cause.

“Unfortunately, the mainstream is still the shareholder value,” says Mr. Wasserman in the interview but also sees more and more leaders in big companies embracing the idea of stakeholder value. “They realize that otherwise, they won’t attract young people. They won’t be able to keep the younger generation. I think the millennials want to work for a company with a purpose. And the purpose is not to have 15 percent of revenue,” explains Mr. Wasserman.

“Change will not only come from new models but relationships.”

Although the ideas and visions spread at the summit are worth to think about, it always feels a bit like preaching to the choir. The participants already have a common understanding of the future. They are building sustainable businesses, have exciting designs for a better future — whether it is growing mushrooms or use the whole coffee berry instead of just the bean. Moreover, their cases seem to work. However, the Zermatt Summit and its topics miss a broader audience.

Every movement needs visionaries and leaders to form an actionable spearhead, driving innovation and spread the word. Zermatt Summit gives them a platform to exchange and create partnerships. During the networking breaks, discussions are intense. However, there is little challenge for the proposed solutions. How is society, the public, responding to their answers? We do not know.

Mr. Wasserman admits those problems. “We try to start something — a community movement that spreads the message. Of course, we’d like to attract more CEOs and companies.”

The Zermatt Summit’s biggest obstacle is to get the message out to more people. Progressing the suggested strategies is essential. They need to be questioned, examined thoroughly — otherwise the vision never expands out of the comfortable bubble.

However, Mr. Wasserman does not want the summit to grow much more. Although he tries to attract more young, problem-solving entrepreneurs as drivers of change, there is a purpose to the small setup: “The idea is to have a meeting with 100, maybe 200 people. Otherwise, you cannot make this human connection. We feel the change will not only come from new models but relationships.”

Change is an opportunity. Product Owner at Blick.ch and learning at Hyper Island.

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