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Observational study missions allow a firsthand view of practices and applications of specific tools by firms and industries in the host country. They have been one of the most popular and successful project types organized by the APO. Historically, these projects have been conducted mainly in member countries to allow participants to observe best practices in productivity improvement undertaken by renowned companies or firms in the region. However, member countries have expressed the need to learn from advanced economies outside the APO region such as the USA, Australia, and European countries.
The study mission to Switzerland on Quality and Innovation, 3−7 December, was one of the APO’s efforts to meet the needs of member countries with the support of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). The objective was to learn from European quality management experiences and provide exposure to the best European practices in quality and innovation. Professor Tomas Lin of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology accompanied the 16 participants as a resource speaker.
Despite being a small, landlocked country, Switzerland ranks highly in terms of the global competitiveness of its firms, quality of life, and technological advances. The mission visited world-class Swiss companies such as Nestle, Merck Serono, and Frank Muller. The aim was to examine their key strategies for enhancing customer value, promoting innovation, deploying quality and productivity measures, and sustaining global market competitiveness.
The mission began at JETRO’s Geneva office with Prof. Lin’s lecture on the “Importance of quality and innovation management to keep long-term competitiveness in the global market.” This was followed by two lectures given by Professor Georges Haour from the International Institute for Management Development and Mr. Michel Hirsig from the Geneva Economic Development Office.
The second day brought the first company visit, which was to the Nestle group, the world’s leading food, beverage, nutrition, and wellness company. Corporate Communications Director H.J. Ritcher, Nestle Nespresso S.A., gave a presentation on the business strategy of the company. The Nespresso system, first developed in the 1980s, is expected to generate sales turnover exceeding 2 billion Swiss francs in 2009. Vice President of Corporate Communications Francois-Xavier Perroud briefed the mission on the long history of the company, its business strategies, quality vision, and innovative ideas that transformed it a leading global food and beverage company. Finally, Ronald Stalder highlighted the key principles of the Nestle Quality Management System as being a fundamental quality system, responsibility by process, recognized standards, and competence and behavior. The mission also visited the Nestle Research Center and listened to introductory remarks by Nathalie Schull from the Communication Group, Visitors Office on Research for Quality and Safety. Participants then toured the Packaging and Aroma & Taste Impact laboratories.
On 5 December 2007, the mission group visited Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, Inc.), a privately held, knowledge-based company carrying out applied research, product development, and prototype and low-volume products. Vice President Dr. Georges Kortosios, Marketing & Business Development, highlighted how the company responds to customer needs by bridging the gap between applied research and business to fulfill customers’ expectations. The next visit was made to the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lansanne (EPFL), an internationally recognized polytechnic institute. Professor Jaques Giovanola and Professor Hannes Brouler presented an overview of the EPFL as well as the education system in Switzerland. The busy third day’s schedule ended with a visit to Bluebotics, an EPFL spin-off founded in 2001. Bluebotics CEO Dr. Nicola Thomatis spoke about his business strategies and the company’s innovation in the field of mobile robotics and navigation.
Three observational visits were made to the Laboratories of Serono S.A. (LSA), Geo Technology, and Del West on 6 December, the fourth day of the mission. LSA is an affiliate of Merck Serono S.A. manufacturing genetic engineering and other products, such as used in the treatment of neurologic, metabolic, and human growth disorders. LSA is involved in manufacturing nine recombinant products acquired through Serono. Vice President Mohsen Eghbal explained that human resources development is the basis for a good quality management system. The mission then met President Goto of Geo Technology, who worked as the Director of Honda F1 for six years until 1990. Geo Technology is involved in engine design and analysis, development and testing, and race track support. Del West, located next to Geo Technology, provides technical support to industry from design and testing to manufacturing.
The visit to Frank Muller, a world-renowned watch and jewelry manufacturer, was conducted in two groups due to space limitations. Frank Muller is an excellent example of how constant innovation can help a company maintain its competitive edge. Currently, the company is constantly developing new models of brand watches. Finally, the mission attended a wrap-up session at the JETRO Geneva Office to hear a presentation by Director General Togo on the “Swiss economic and industrial environment.” Prof. Lin also made a presentation reviewing the week’s activities. The participants saved their highest praise for the presentations given by the senior managers and/or CEOs of the enterprises visited and institutions which were accompanied by tours of the facilities.