07 April 2020

Slatkine, a century-old family and literary saga in Geneva

by Laëtitia Cadiou

Ivan, the publisher, the bookseller, the printer, the politician and the President of the Fédération des Entreprises Romandes tells us the story of his family but also a personal journey built on convictions and a free spirit.


Photos Michel Juvet – majicmiju.com

What better place than a literary café to meet a publisher, 5 rue des Chaudronniers, an address he particularly likes. It is inseparable from Slatkine, the former bookshop of his forefathers, which has been established for 102 years in Geneva. Today it has become a place for meetings and erudition between authors and their readers, women’s associations, philosophical discussions, a real cultural broth where the family and convivial spirit of the Slatkine family lives on.

Family trip

It is however far from Geneva that the family journey begins, in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. The great-grandfather, born in 1875, Mendel Slatkine, at the time a successful insurance agent, lost his entire fortune during the Russian revolution. He fled and settled in Geneva at the beginning of the 20th century with his wife Sonia. His only means of survival was to sell the works in his personal collection. The business becomes fruitful, he decides to open a bookstore. The grandson Michel Edouard, who studied literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, took over the business. It is the 60’s, a period of great post-war questioning, but also of reconstruction of the cultural heritage that will lead the Slatkine family to choose to integrate reprinting: The company Slatkine Reprint SA will be created, then a few years later those of Slatkine Editions.

A busy career
Ivan tells us about his personal journey before joining the family business. After an internship in New York in a publishing house and a year spent at Columbia University to perfect his English, this graduate in econometrics from the University of Geneva, passionate about mathematics and science, will start his career at Arthur Andersen, as a specialist in economic fraud. Working in an American company has been, he says, “a great experience, an opening to the world and forging in me the notion of work and research”.

I started working for the family business as a financial director (50%), the other half was spent writing a graduate degree on the evolution of the Monroe Doctrine during the Cold War. It was inconceivable to take over the publishing house and not know how to write, I had to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it, especially since Slatkine Editions is very active in the academic field.

Knowing how to anticipate the evolution of the publishing world, renewing oneself has always been a driving force, Ivan and his brother Michel Igor are today at the head of the group and its 5 brands. They have also just launched ISCA, a digital production line for printing on demand, a small revolution since it is the first self-publishing platform in French-speaking Switzerland. This will allow all authors who have not been lucky enough to find a publisher to be able to get printed at a lower cost while keeping control, and in particular of their rights.

Is politics a coincidence?
This curious person, keen on work and picking up opportunities, tells us how politics came to him, it must be said that he had been immersed in Geneva politics since his childhood with a maternal grandfather, Emile Dupont, State Councillor from 1954 to 1965, initiator of the social housing model known as “H.L.M”. A passion that was confirmed when reading Françoise Buffat’s columns in the Journal de Genève: “I totally adhered to his ideas, the party at the time did not matter to me. Invited one day by a friend of his father to participate in an assembly of the liberal party, he was bored and found that it lacked action. He felt the need to do something consistent and effective. It was René Koechlin who told him: “Run for office! But don’t have any illusions, you won’t be elected. You must first make a name for yourself and run several times before you can run for a seat. At 29 years old, against all odds, he found himself propelled to the ranks of the youngest MP in his political group, the Liberal Party. “I got my start with a first political file, the Stade de Genève, which was a great success, even though we know today that this file has never been reopened. I am aware that my name and my status as a publisher did a lot to get me elected. On the other hand, I owe the next three mandates to my work and my tenacity in dealing with the files.

In 2015, resignation from the Grand Council after 14 years of good and loyal service in order to accept the invitation to be entrusted with the Presidency of the Fédération des Entreprises Romandes. “I am very honored and happy to steer the strategy of the Federation and to meet with the other cantons to discuss the many economic and social issues at stake. There are major issues to be dealt with, such as pension reform in both the first and second pillars, bilateral agreements, defending the free movement of people, but also mobility, taxation, and sometimes even regional planning. I must point out that I am very well supported at the FER. Mr. Blaise Matthey, our Managing Director, is a well-organized man who manages the files with conviction, he has a great social sensitivity and it is a pleasure to work alongside him. Both of us have a professional conscience and an eye for detail, but also a love of our city and its future”.


Ivan Slatkine & Blaise Matthey

His favorite place in Geneva? There are several, but according to him the perfect balance is between the old town and the Geneva countryside. The old town is a bit like a village in the heart of the city where you can find his family ties, sentimentality, the history of his family and the century-old bookstore that has since been transformed into a café. Another place, Choulex, between Meinier and Belle-Idée, “I like to walk along the Seymaz river, pass by the soccer stadium near the ruins of Rouelbeau, a magnificent view of the Mont-Blanc where my grandparents lived. »

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