Today’s economy is anything but stable.
But for the workers at one company, job security isn’t just a nice thought, it’s an everyday reality.
That means that no employee, in the history of the company, has ever been laid off for business or economic reasons.
Even during global depressions, recessions, or other moments of low demand, Victorinox has kept this promise to its workers, which today number about 1700 worldwide. And back in 2009, Victorinox boasted over 100 employees who had remained with the company for over 40 years.
“We consider our employees as one big family, and we have always tried to apply a strategy that allows us to overcome normal economic cycles,” said Victorinox President and CEO Carl Elsener Jr., in a radio interview with BBC in 2012. Elsener’s great-grandfather Karl Elsener and great-great grandmother Victoria Elsener began the company back in 1884.
In fact, Victorinox was founded by the Elseners during an economic depression, partly in order to provide jobs for the out-of-work Swiss, many of whom were considering emigrating to better conditions.
In order to accomplish this extraordinary feat, the company stockpiles resources and assets in boom times. If the economy takes a turn for the worse, the company uses these reserves to lease out some of their employees to external contractors, until they can afford to bring them back.
Most recently, Victorinox sales dipped 30% in the wake of 9/11, when Swiss Army Knives stopped being allowed on planes. As they worked on different ways to make the multitools relevant (and plane-friendly) again, the company was strapped for cash. So to make ends meet, the company stopped hiring and scheduling overtime, encouraged their workers to take vacations where appropriate, and temporarily lent 80-odd workers out to other local businesses for four to six months, hiring them back once the market improved.
No one was let go, and the move fostered trust between Victorinox and its employees and families.
Over the years, Victorinox has, for the most part, skated underneath the radar of criticism. With a female co-founder (and namesake), a 1:5 salary ratio between the average-paid and highest-paid worker, and quality multitools and knives in all price ranges (including some that retail for under $20, and some that have USBs attached), this medium-sized company has made an enduring business out of trust and loyalty.
The company also takes great pride in its responsibility to the environment, with eco-friendly roofing and flooring, low-energy lighting with motion sensors, solar-heat reducing building positioning, and recyclable and LEED-certified furniture at its headquarters and regional offices.
Never downsizing isn’t a practical reality for most companies, but it’s refreshing to see a company actively working for the benefit of its employees, rather than just focusing on the extra dollar.
How can other companies follow in the footsteps of Victorinox? There are a few major factors that allow the Swiss company to use this innovative approach to finances:
1. The company isn’t public, so the CEO doesn’t have to answer to stockholders that want to see their financial investment grow.
This could also help explain why Victorinox has lasted so long: not only do they make a quality product, their main goal is corporate sustainability, rather than profits. It’s a sleeker, tighter model of growth, rather than constant expansion.
2. It’s a family company, and the CEO is invested in the company for the long haul.
“The future of the company is always paramount,” said Elsener in an interview with Swissstyle.com. “We do not consider ourselves owners of the brand, but rather [are] responsible for it.”
When you’re in the market for birthday or Christmas gifts for anyone—the chef, the outdoorsperson, the tech-savvy traveler, the working parent—consider supporting companies like Victorinox, that show they care.
Kelsey Ryan is the editor of Groundswell’s magazine. She’s a linguist, fledgling Tolkien scholar, knitter, Oxford comma proponent, and firm believer in the use of stories for social good. Explore her website, or connect on Twitter: @kryanlion.