Swiss Post from a Chinese perspective
A conversation about innovation, work and living in Switzerland
I wanted to find out from my Chinese colleague, Jiayun Shen (26), what surprises her the most about Switzerland and her experience of working at Swiss Post. She works in Swiss Post’s Development & Innovation department in Berne, whilst also completing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Matthias Finger at ETH Lausanne. We carried out the interview in German, as Jiayun speaks the language almost perfectly, having completed a Master’s degree in Germany and worked for us for almost two and a half years.
What surprised you the most when you started working at Swiss Post?
When I arrived in Germany and then later came to Switzerland and Swiss Post, I didn’t experience any culture shock. In China, I studied in Shanghai and, before that, lived in Huzhou. It’s quite a pleasant city about 2 hours away from Shanghai, and with only 2.5 million inhabitants, we consider it a small city. In this region in particular, my generation is quite cosmopolitan: we also had access to Western media.
Old town of Huzhou
View over the lake next to the city of Huzhou
However, my idea of “the West” was based primarily on what I knew of the USA. So I thought that one always has to be very direct, almost aggressive, in the West. This is nothing like traditional Chinese culture. Yet I was surprised: I find that my colleagues at Swiss Post are more indirect and reserved than I was used to experiencing in China, and that suits me very well. As a result, I felt comfortable in Switzerland straight away.
I also had some issues with the very rigid hierarchies in Chinese state-owned companies. I’ve had a completely different experience working at Swiss Post: I can express my opinions here, and if they’re good, my line manager will take them into consideration.
You organized a trip to China for Swiss Post’s innovation specialists: what were our colleagues particularly astonished about?
In Beijing, the sky was deep blue and the air wasn’t very polluted. That was the first surprise. However, we found out that the China-Africa summit was taking place during our stay. There are rumours in China that the government releases cloud rockets containing artificial rain before special events, so that the sun shines afterwards.
Our trip allowed us to identify and familiarize ourselves with interesting start-ups and technology companies. My colleagues were particularly impressed to see how new technologies such as video cameras and facial recognition are widely used in China, replacing old systems. This has led to bank notes almost completely vanishing from payment transactions.
In China, not everything has to work 100 percent before it can capture the market. The people here are so used to change that, in comparison with Switzerland, they adapt to new solutions and technologies very quickly. There is a saying for this: it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white – as long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat.
You are writing your PhD thesis on innovations in China and Switzerland: what can we learn from each other?
Swiss companies are very good at technological development and step-by-step innovation. The market development of innovative solutions is more difficult, however, because the market here in Switzerland is so small, and I think risk appetite is also not as high. In China, businesses don’t necessarily develop the technology, but they are good at introducing new business models. In short: in China, you can make money with technology that has been developed elsewhere.
What do you miss when you are in Switzerland, and what could you no longer live without?
I sometimes miss the variety of vegetables and fruit that we have in China. Because I don’t have a lot of time, I usually just cook a mixture of European and Chinese meals. If I were to return to China, I would miss a lot from here, too [laughs]: the mountains, the snow, my friends in Switzerland. And the simple way of life here.