I had the opportunity to speak at the stars Symposium for Leaders of the Next Generation at Stein am Rhein, a little medieval city in Switzerland, on challenges and choices for future leaders.
Before getting to Stein am Rhein, I had the opportunity to walk through “old Zurich” – the older, historic part of the city of Zurich, where there are many narrow, cobblestoned passageways lined with small, exclusive, specialized shops that sell items that are not cheap – certainly not cheap by Singapore standards.
How could these shops possibly succeed and survive? The answer is not hard to find. These are shops with loyal, satisfied customers, who keep coming back, because they trust the integrity, honesty, quality, and reliability of the shop owners. In other words, these are shops that treat their customers with much honour, and for whom trusted, long-term relationships make for profit, survival, and security.
How do expensive cities such as Zurich survive? How do their people get to earn the high wages to survive and maintain their standard of living?
When I was driven to the airport to fly back to Singapore, the driver parked the car, found a trolley, unloaded the baggage, led me to the Singapore Airlines check-in counter, and unloaded the bags on the conveyor belt at the check-in counter – the driver did all this with a smile, explaining the design of the airport as he walked. The way the driver went about the job is an important part of the explanation of the high wages he received – he was certainly doing more than what the average driver in Singapore would do. In addition, by providing superior customer service, he was honouring his own talents and capabilities with his attitude towards his work and the knowledge he displayed.
Expensive cities such as Zurich survive and manage to maintain high prices and high wages because their people honour themselves and their customers by providing customer-centric service injected with cheerful spirit and integrity, which results in long-term relationships that ensure the success and survival of its economy.