Toni Schönenberger: Leadership and Culture at UBS

Dr. Toni Schönenberger is the managing director and chairman of the board of the Wolfsberg Executive Development Centre, a subsidiary of UBS AG in Ermatingen, Switzerland. He attended the universities of Zurich, London, and Singapore, studying general history, political science, and English literature. He received his Ph.D. from University of Zurich in 1981.

He has been a lecturer at Wolfsberg since 1981, became managing director of the Centre in 1993, and chairman of the board in 1995. He has been a member and curator of the UBS Art Committee since 1982.

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Ethix: Tell us about the goals of the Wolfsberg Centre.

Toni Schönenberger: We have two responsibilities. The first is executive development, so executive and management seminars are run here on various levels, with all divisions, primarily dealing with strategy and leadership issues. Very often this is done through workshops involving whole work teams. The result is that Wolfsberg is an important place for the development of corporate culture. We enable integration across functions because people meet from the wealth management side, from the investment banking side, from management, from retail, etc. Our people also meet across geography and hierarchy. This is very important as a meeting point for corporate culture, integration, and synergy for the bank. My experience is, if you know somebody you achieve certain things better and faster than if you don’t know them, or if you only know them electronically.

The other function for Wolfsberg is an increasingly important role in business development. That starts with public relations events, like tonight’s concert with about 300 people in attendance, all of them clients or UBS people. Last week we had here the German Secretary of State for Home Affairs, with about 450 people from Switzerland and Germany, including 150 very important clients of the bank who were especially invited. Then we offer seminars and workshops like the one last week on private art collections. There were 100 participants—clients and prospective clients of the bank from Germany and Switzerland who came here in order to talk about contemporary art, about private art collection. All these activities build relationships and create ideas.

In addition to that we run many “Wolfsberg Think Tanks.” These are also a tool for business development in the sense that we invite people having new ideas or products to come here and discuss them with representatives from UBS, as well as others. We just held a conference for the very first time for CEOs, a small group of perhaps 50 people, where we discussed political, moral, and economic issues. Prabhu Guptara (see The IBTE Conversation, pp. 8-12, with him in this issue) probably discussed other aspects of the “think tanks” with you, but they are very important for UBS in developing ideas for the future.

Leadership Training

How has this training changed in recent years?

There have been lots of changes, but here are two examples. Executive development seminars have been getting shorter, and will get even shorter in the future. Our managers used to have to undergo twenty weeks of training divided up over two years into six, seven, or eight week courses. Today it is difficult to pull such talented people out of their day-to-day work for that long.

Online courses are the second example. Basic skills may be acquired faster and cheaper this way, but I believe that knowing each other and learning from one another will become even more important as we move more and more into the electronic age in our business. However, e-learning will certainly be one tool to help for certain challenges going forward.

Now this whole program must cost a lot. The facility, the wonderful accommodations, everything about this place is first rate, and yet UBS must think it is worth it. How do you measure the worth of something like this?

I usually refer to this as an investment rather than a cost, but you are right, it is expensive. And we have to defend it. The measures of success come from new revenue based on business ideas, the image and public relations for the bank, and the contributions to corporate culture and integration. Much of this is intangible and difficult to precisely measure. But it is well recognized by the executive board as a major contributor to the success of UBS.

Corporate Culture

How do you change or develop corporate culture, and what are your targets for corporate culture at UBS?

You have certain kingdoms or empires, even within a bank. So in order to exploit potential synergies, on the first of July, the bank decided to have one brand only. Earlier we had UBS Bank, we had UBS Warburg, and a lot of other banks. Now it is UBS only. That is the flag and it is one brand, one firm, and one company.

One of our major goals is to make this happen in practice. When we bring people here to Wolfsberg for two or three days, they work together, they get to know each other, particularly when they chat informally in the evening.

It would seem there is a potential trap here as well. If this working together is not really modeled from the top, it could create some potentially strong conflicts.

Fortunately, this commitment is demonstrated in many ways starting with the new CEO Peter Wuffli and the group managing board. This group of the 50 top managers in the bank from all divisions meets regularly for workshops. They have shown to the entire bank that they are cooperating and really want to push cooperation. Secondly, the involvement of many of these top managers in our executive seminars is really outstanding. If top management has a two-day strategy workshop here, they can easily go to one of our seminars for an hour or so. They prove that working together is important; they practice it.

As you know, very often managers say how important the people in the organization are. Here it is modeled, but also measured. Our performance management measures, including our 360 degree evaluation of senior management, demonstrate this.

The Arts

Wolfsberg has incredible art, from the paintings on the walls, to the statues, the gardens, and the architecture. How does this fit in with leadership development?

In several ways. First of all, art links with the interest of one big segment of our private banking clients. Many of these clients have the necessary resources to buy art. So we have reasons not to talk only about the performance of customers’ financial portfolios. The workshop last week was unique, in that we had 100 clients and fine art collectors who came together here. Of course any such event has to be an excellent event in its own right, but it is also a tool to relate to a particular segment of the bank’s market.

The other part is that we believe, and I personally believe, that art and culture also contribute to the climate of innovation in a company. So whenever we have artists-in-residence here for our managers to meet, it leads to very interesting discussions about creativity and innovation; about what artists do.

In addition, it is simply a corporate responsibility to support art and music, because the world would be very poor without culture.

Ethics and Social Responsibility

How are you dealing with societal responsibility and corporate ethics here in Wolfsberg?

Europe has also had some scandals, though perhaps of less significance and size than the major ones in the U.S. Nevertheless, learning from the past two or three years, we have tried to do something here. For instance, we are planning a very important conference in October 2003 with chief financial officers of the top 100 companies on the subject of social responsibility. We will go into sustainability and transparency issues as well as international ethical questions. Off the record around the fireplace, we will create a climate where managers can frankly speak and discuss all these questions.

Secondly, perhaps you know about the Wolfsberg Principles? This is an initiative our bank introduced about three years ago here at Wolfsberg when we invited the ten other biggest banks in the world to meet here. It was initiated by the UBS, dealing with money laundering and privacy issues with concerns about controls on channeling money through banks—for example to terrorists. The ten banks formulated principles about knowing the customer, knowing where the money comes from, and appropriate privacy issues in banking. I’m very pleased that we played a part in creating the Wolfsberg Principles.

How many people come through here in a year?

It’s about 200 people a week for about 45 weeks. About two-thirds of these are UBS executives about one-third are client companies who run their own seminars and use this place and the structure.

Is there a place like Wolfsberg in other companies in Europe or is this a unique thing?

Many other companies have executive development centers; as far as we know, Wolfsberg was the first such place in Europe, but every place is a bit different. Very often they are so-called corporate universities. They do basic training only for the company. Wolfsberg is much more open to the top executives as well as to representatives of other companies and organizations. It explores and creates ideas. A lot of clients come here. The growing role of business development here is different from most. We have developed our own identity in these twenty-eight years of existence.