Day 7 – Dubai the City of Gold


After early start in the 7th day of our middle east trip, we had the opportunity to visit the well-known company Hilti, founded in 1941 in Lichtenstein. Hilti provided us a good overview on how to deal with HR topics within the emirates and how it is possible to stick with the corporate values throughout such culture diversity of employees. It was fun and a great experience to also have the possibility to use the tools, which contributed a lot to this amazing development of the GCC region.

We have seen that using the Hilti tools isn’t just a man’s (Christoph, right) capability. No: Susanne (left) and Sabrina have demonstrated us their extraordinary direct fastening skills.

The Red Hilti Box has also established the same iconic meaning in the UEA region, as in other parts of the world. A well-known label, which most of the people can immediately link to the company.

The swissness of Hilti is clearly visible (despite their Lichtenstein origin)

Swiss Business Council

From the Swiss Business Council, we have received a good overview about the UEA region in terms of geographic, history etc. Urs Stirnimann (founded of the law firm) provided us an in-depth insight on how starting and developing a business in the region. Thanks to his 17 years of experience working in this area, he was able to provide us with Tips and tricks to overcome the challenges and obstacles in living and starting a business in the UAE


In his best swiss lawyer attitudes did we learned that tax avoidance in one country can be of value in another one. It was exciting to get invited to the 36th floor of the Swiss Tower to enjoy the view and see his house, which is located on the emirates golf course, the most prestige golf course in the UEA.

M-HQ Law Firm

Finally, the official visits’ program ended with being hosted by one of the most important law firm in Dubai. Their founder Yann Mrazek, a Swiss lawyer who works already since 12 years in Dubai, gave us a good example of the modern meaning of “ars oratoria” by taking and presenting us the legal framework for establishing a business in the UAE. We could also appreciate the differences and peculiarities of the region in terms of company’s legal structure. Indeed, he explained us how the family owned businesses (common legal entity here in the UAE) are structured and how they changed in the past years.

Dinner in the Burj Khalifa

9 of us made the investment to enjoy a dinner in the Burj Khalifa. The building itself rises 828m into the air and had a building cost of 1.5 billion USD $. The restaurant, which is the highest located in the world, is place on Level 123th which is 442m above ground level. The Top floor is on Level 158 / 584m, everything above this is either technical, storage and empty rooms. 

We enjoyed our dinner in the private room, which normally only movie stars like Will Smith (just last week) or former soccer icon Diego Maradona are staying. It requires a minimum consummation fee and we have been lucky to be 9 people. The dinner and service have been fantastic. It was the true experience.

But nevertheless, made us this experience think. However nice this might be, it is a priviledge to be able to enjoy something like this. The Tower was built for the rich by the poor to impress the world. Our dinner cost for the 9 people (12’000 Dirham / 3’200 CHF), would provide a half year income for one of the poor immigrante worker, which build the tower.

It shows that we are all lucky to be on the better side of life and we realize again, that the world is developing in a unhealthy direction, where bigger buildings, the highest restaurants, the most expensive wine, the best view count more than the real issues in the world. The gap between rich and poor is further increasing and the strive to equal chances for all, remains a illusion.

We are educating ourselves with highest degrees. As manager and future executives it is also in our hands to reduce the gap and contribute to a better world.

Day 4 – Being outnumbered by cows and croissants – and meeting the Ambassador

The day began early in the morning, 7.00 h was the time of departure. Luckily everyone was excited to visit Almarai so “rise and shine” was an easy task. We embarked the bus leaving for what was planned to be a one hour journey to Almarai, the largest dairy production site in the world.

The day took off well, but alas, soon a first inconvenience overshadowed the trip – the air-condition of the bus suddenly failed to deliver the much appreciated cool air. The heat in the bus might have been a reason for our driver to lose his way which manifested in the trip taking two instead of one hour. Nevertheless, spirits were high and upon arrival our engineering friends Marek and Thomas managed to fix the air-con with support from Hubi.

We were welcomed by Tony the head of farming who led us through the plant explaining the struc-ture and processes. You could immediately tell how passionate he is about the animals and his work. With his team, he takes care of 190’000 milk cows. 300 cows are milked by machine per 20 minutes – 4 times a day! They are fed with alfalfa, yellow corn and nutrients added to their diet. The food is kept in separate stock entities to prevent spread in case of a fire. The cows are not fed any antibiotics to produce more milk, but the cows are sold after about 3 years after their peak in milk production is reached. Almarai focusses purely on milk produc-tion which is why the cows are artificially insemi-nated and bulls are sold shortly after being born.

Despite the mass production the Almarai cows seem to lead a fairly humane life. Tony referred to them as “she” rather than “it” and workers are asked to treat the animals gently and “not shout” at them on instructional posters. All the same, one has to ask how sustainable is it to breed, feed and milk cows in the middle of the desert where food and water are scarce and has to be imported on a daily basis. Fact remains that Almarai seemed to be a healthy business with even more potential for growth which is being carefully evaluated by CEO Georges Schorderet.

The immensity of Almarai does not consist of the dairy production only. We moved on to another pillar of production – the bakery. There we were welcomed by Simon, the head of production for baked goods who again displayed a contagious excitement for his production. We learned how buns, rolls, sliced bread, and croissants are produced from making the dough to packaging. Most importantly we learned about the delicacy of dough because of its one living ingredient – yeast. As a special treat, the two ladies in the group, Sabrina and Susanne, were invited to inspect the ladies division in croissant production. Almarai employs astonishing 900 female workers which are shuttled to the production plant everyday separated from their male colleagues. These are the first effects of the efforts Saudi Arabia is making towards the integration of females into the workforce. However, questioned regarding fitting positions in higher positions, we are told this is not possible as long as segregation of the sexes is part of daily life in Saudi Arabia.


After this fascinating tour of the bakery facilities, we were offered a delicious buffet lunch. Not only was the food – again – outstanding but also the facilities we had lunch in were high class, with chandeliers and ample decoration.

We were joined by Swiss CEO, Georges Schorderet, and three of his senior staff, two of which were from New Zealand, Australia respectively and the third was Saudi. 25% of employees at Almarai are Saud

is whilst the rest come from all over the world, predominantly from English-speaking regions.

After lunch, we followed David, the head of dairy, to a screening room where we were shown the company video summarizing all that we had seen in the morning. David then took us to a gallery were all Almarai facts and figures were displayed and windows into the cheese production facilities rounded off a most interesting site visit.

On the way back to the hotel, in a cooled bus full of tired EMBA students, the traffic ate up the free time scheduled before the evening program.

A refreshed and revived group reassembled at the lobby at 19.15 h to attend the Swiss Ambassadors reception and dinner. We were welcomed by the Embassy’s delegation in the beautiful garden of the Ambassador’s residence. After some welcoming words from the Ambassador congratulating us to our trip to Saudi Arabia. Members of the Clyde & Co law firm informed about the remarkable opportunities that the change in the country has brought in relation to the 2030 Vision. Following that short introduction, we had the chance to speak to several guests and of course his Excellency himself, Ambassador Heinrich Schellenberg. Throughout the evening we could not repeat often enough how our kind hosts, Mr. George Schorderet and his Excellency Heinrich Schellenberg have made this visit to Saudi Arabia an unforgettable experience for all of us. Thank you!

Susanne Eisenegger, David Kocher

Day 1 & Day 2- Arrival and the first visits


Study Trip to the Middle East

Date: 31.03.2017 – 08.04.2017


  • Riyadh
  • Dubai

Name of class: International Executive MBA 2016

Number of students: 13

Name of SML representative: Khaldoun Dia-Eddine

Day 1

The day has come: the IEMBA class of 2016 is visiting the Middle East.

The whole gang has gathered near gate 67 at Zurich airport. The boarding of the Emirate A380 flight to Dubai began at around 21:40. Already this was a new experience for some members, since they never have flown with such a huge commercial flight vessel.

The flight was in general smoothly, next to the very rare and small turbulence. Arriving in Dubai we had to wait for four hours to board our connecting flight to Riyadh. Since it was a overnight flight and most people barely were able to sleep, we used the excessive free time to replenish our energy by eating and drinking beverages contains lots of coffin.

The duty free section was rather small and underwhelming. The most exiting part was probably when Mike managed to carry around a half opened Coke Zero glas bottle which was stored in a paper back, which dripped all over the airport floor for at least 30 meters before he even notices what was going on. At least we were able to see the efficiency of the Dubai people at hand, since it did not even take five minutes till there was at least three “wet floor” shields place around the small debacle.

The Saudi Air flight to Rijadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, took us 2 hours. This went without any kind of problems and we all arrived safely at the airport. Just stepping out of the plane already displayed how vast some of the architecture structures are when we walked by the airport fountain.

While waiting for our taxis, several class mates tried to obtain some of the countries currency. Seemingly confused we thought that about 5000 Saudi-Riyal is worth 300 Swiss franc. So some decided it would be a good idea to get about 2500 each. A quick google search, of course after we already held the money in our hands, we realized that the 5000 combined are not CHF 300.- rather more than CHF 1200.-. Quickly using our learned skills during the EMBA classes, we mitigated our risks and sold some of the overstock in Saudi-Riyal bills to other members of the group.

Arriving at our hotel Al Khozama most of the people tried to get their room key quickly and take a quick nap and a shower. Our leader Khaldoun offered a museum visit at the National Museum for anybody who is interested. Most of the class participated. Seeing the museum showed again the grandeur of Saudi Arabia. The whole group gathered in front of it before entering:

For the quick people it easily took about 1 hours and 15 minutes to finish the whole tour. The last group, spearheaded by our dear Khaldoun itself, was for nearly 2 hours in there. If you are interested in Middle East culture and have the chance to visit Saudi Arabia, you surely have to drop by at the National Museum in Rijadh. I am sure every member of the class learned something about this country in there, that he did not know before. The range of information is huge. The following pictures show a set of details brochures which show the theme which was focused heavily in the different kind of sections at the museum.

The majority of the group is getting hungry and we were returning to the hotel to have a small feast around 19:00. Compared to the China study trip in October 2016, the buffet this restaurant provided was sufficient for every single person. I do not think that there was anybody not satisfied at the end of that dinner. Even though this gave a small energy boost, for most people it was not enough and a good night sleep is ahead of us for the interesting day 2.

We are looking forward to the visit of the two companies Alinma Bank and Alfanar Group.

Day 2

The second day of our study trip started with a nice breakfast buffet at the hotel and a short briefing from our host Mr. Larbi Elttari from the Embassy of Switzerland about the upcoming days in Riyadh.

We were picked up by a bus which brought us to our first company visit Alinma Bank. A young and innovative bank with a tremendous growth. We were hosted by the six very senior executives, including the CEO of one of their investment branches. Getting some very interesting insides about the banking system in Saudi Arabia itself and our hosts gave us also the chance to get some general information about economy and what kind of difference there is compared to the western world.

One of the major difference would be the sharia-compliance which have to be considered in their banking. For example: in Europe when we lend money, the bank receives interest to cover the risk and of course make a profit in the end. With the sharia-compliance, you are not allowed to take in interest in such a matter. Their lending system is more like leasing a car: they buy the product and you pay them back. In the end their risk management is different in that matter than ours, since they are not able to cover their losses through interest rates and they have to vet carefully with who they make their deals. In general the class was extremely surprised about the transparent communication and the openness on which we were received. We were able to ask any kind of questions. They also had strong sarcastic and humorous remarks in a very witty way. It was the perfect start for our study trip.

The second visit took place at the electric industrial manufacturer Alfanar. We had a very warm welcome with “Arabic coffee and sweets”. After a short company movie we were pleased to walk through their whole production line which they have in based in Riyadh. For our engineers that was a field day and they were comparing it to their own field and experience. Our ABB guy Marek assured us, that they have a strong focus on quality. It seems not only he was interested in the different kind of production sights.

Some of us found it even so interesting, it seemed they did not want to come back with us and almost missed the departure of the bus.

When we arrived back at their headquarters we were pleasantly surprised with a late lunch. Their employee dining room was set up nicely and we even received non-alcoholic wine. The food was tremendous:

We were split up in two small groups and one was able to talk with Larbi Ettari to get some more insights about Saudi Arabia and the other one sat with Kahldoun and also talked about the first two companies and how interesting both visits have been.

As a closure of the evening, we were heading to an all authentic Arabian restaurant. Luca Urech from the Swiss embassy was accompanying us again. He also brought somebody from the Alinma Bank with him (nobody from the mornings meeting). The dinner was served and the dining experience was a first for many.

The class in general agrees on one thing: this was a great start to the study trip and we all hope, that the visit continuous to be so inspiring and interesting in the coming days.

Thanks for reading.

Authors: Sabrina, Marek & Mike