30 June 2020

Vincent Subilia, the man of the moment for the CCIG

by Laëtitia Cadiou

The Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services of Geneva (CCIG) is celebrating its 155th anniversary this year. It is the voice of the economy of more than 2,400 member companies. It is an opportunity to look back on this traditional institution, stimulated by a Managing Director who is just as much a part of it.

Photos Denis Jouglet / NOW Geneva

We met Vincent Subilia the day before the confinement in Switzerland.  He warmly welcomed us but without shaking hands already. At that moment COVID 19 has gotten to several countries and Switzerland will not be spared. A difficult period that is beginning for companies as well as for small businesses and independents. The economic equilibrium is shaky, companies are in danger and a new era is beginning for Helvetia. A period that will bury some decision-makers and reveal others. A real stress test for Vincent Subilia who will prove to be the man for the situation at the CCIG.

Are you Vaudois, Genevan, Belgian?

Vaudois of origin but Genevan since I “immigrated” there 20 years ago, and Belgo-Swiss! A “half-portion of French fries” as my classmates – affectionately I hope – called me, which has become a “pure Geneva product” with a professional career as a lawyer and in the local banking sector. If I am deeply Swiss, I also define myself as a Europhile, a dimension that I probably developed when I went to study and then work in Brussels for the European Commission.

And Switzerland in Europe?

Geneva’s economy is nourished by its openness to the world. Having reference points outside our borders so as not to lock ourselves into an ivory tower is essential; this is particularly obvious for Europe, whose countries surround us. To give a more visual example, Switzerland accounts for CHF 1 billion of trade per day with the approximately 500 million consumers in Europe, so it is an illusion that Switzerland would go it alone. We are currently waiting for a strong signal from the federal authorities to validate the framework agreement with Brussels, which is the only way to guarantee the stability of our relations with our European partners, and thus Switzerland’s prosperity. The success of our Heidiland as an export and innovation economy is intimately correlated with our ability to project ourselves beyond our borders. In this sense, it is an illusion to imagine being able to operate alone with a restriction of free movement. It is pernicious to play with fire! We are at the heart of Europe; not being a member of the Union is no reason not to take care of our agreements with our partners.

Studies and training related to Asia, a business model?

We train all our lives! There was the right and I don’t regret in any way this direction which leads to everything! It’s a good school of rigor and a structured way of thinking.  The hotel school path also appealed to me because of the welcoming dimension which is precious to me; I followed an executive training there afterwards as well as international relations, which interested me a lot and so, in parallel with my job, I took a diploma at the Graduate Institute. Having said that, my attraction for Asia and particularly for China is above all a family affair. My grandfather was a professor at Beijing University before the Second World War, a pioneer in Swiss-Chinese relations, who even wrote a book entitled “La chine qui bouillonne”. It is in this continuity that I became Vice-President of the Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce. A fascinating country in terms of its history and economic development. Often confined to the world’s factory, China has established itself as a technological pioneer, ranking alongside Silicon Valley in a number of areas. I regularly take delegations there so that our entrepreneurs can open up to another reality. In fact, Switzerland is the only country in continental Europe to have a free trade agreement with China. We are a trusted partner.

What is the role of the CCIG today?

The CCIG is an SME with 30 employees, with 155 years of history and a start-up spirit. My desire is to energize our institution to carry out its many missions: to marry the tradition of recognized expertise with the innovation that is essential to its development. Our primary vocation is to defend the framework conditions so that companies can carry out their activities in an efficient, effective and predictable environment, in terms of taxation, mobility, land use planning and energy. The CCIG makes the voice of the economy heard in the political arena through the many campaigns we run. For example, we have led the campaign for the reform of corporate taxation, known as the RFFA, which sees the tax rate for SMEs significantly reduced; another campaign focused on the creation of the Léman Express, which we inaugurated at the beginning of the year, or on the crossing of the lake, which is more necessary than ever.

In reality, the CCIG constitutes a community of about 2400 member companies; a private and self-financed institution, the Chamber therefore has a freedom of tone, which it wants to be critical but constructive, towards the political authorities, with whom it collaborates intensely .

En tant que « club d’affaires », la CCIG fait bénéficier ses Membres d’une large gamme de services, dont une place de marché digitale leur permettant d’interagir au moyen d’une App ; elle propose également une centaine d’événements par année, soit autant d’occasion d’échanger entre opérateurs économiques.

You have among your members many businesses, what is their future?

The local shop is key. It is important to support it as it suffers from the combination of various factors.  First of all, the strength of the Swiss franc, which leads to the strong temptation to buy supplies from the other side of the border. Secondly, the digital transformation, which is crucial in this day and age. Even if our merchants are sometimes skeptical about digital, they have to embrace it and you, NOW, digital media platform, are the perfect embodiment of this, a magazine to highlight local commerce. Consumption patterns are changing, websites must become an added value, and no longer be just a showcase.

What actions to boost trade?

In general, and particularly in the city of Geneva, developments are not designed with local shops in mind. It is important to create conviviality, a pleasant and welcoming city center. It takes life!

For years I have been fighting for the pedestrianization of 11 streets and the construction of an underground parking lot in Rive. This project, known as Clés-de-Rive, which will soon be submitted to a popular vote, will precisely create meeting places that encourage local consumption. It’s time to mobilize!

Another black spot for traders is the lack of flexibility in opening hours, with all attempts to do so coming up against the brakes of the unions. All the same, we have managed to obtain three Sundays a year, a meagre comparison with our French neighbors, who have about fifteen, and thus exercise fierce competition. This penalizing state of affairs accentuates shopping tourism, as well as online consumption.

Your political role?

I am passionate about project politics, not so much about political politics. My commitment to the city started in the associative field with the foundation of AGIR (Action pour la Genève Internationale et son Rayonnement), whose mission is to defend and promote International Geneva. It continued in the ranks of the PLR, whose values of freedom and responsibility are anchored in my DNA, on the benches of the City Council of Geneva, then as a member of the Grand Council.

As the capital of global governance, Geneva’s influence is inversely proportional to its size; its wealth must be valued. I am committed to this on a professional, political and associative level; the three dimensions converge and are fueled by motivation, the best fuel.

What is your favorite place in Geneva?

A glance at Saint Peter’s Cathedral, bastion of this Protestant Rome, land of welcome and future.

What can we wish you?

Serenity, audacity and prosperity for Geneva and for Switzerland.