Let's start with an apology for poor timing with my derisive comments last week on reality television, just as Julie Christie, NZ's queen of reality TV, was made a Dame.

I'm a fan of Julie's, but not of reality television. Just as I despise the greedy killer corporate model but love business.

Which leads me on to how business might take a far more active part in our society, based on the Swiss model. A business friend has just come back from Switzerland fired up by how that admirable country operates.


It's a bottoms-up society, the old egalitarian New Zealand of the 50s and 60s when we had the attitude of each being as good as the other. The social strata hardly existed, we all kind of pitched in together. We preceded J F Kennedy's, "Ask not what the country can do for but what you can do for your country." The same outlook of every Swiss.

Fairly recently the EU countries voted near unanimously on six weeks annual vacation for every employee. Switzerland, not an EU member, had a referendum on the same question and voted to stick with four weeks because they did not believe the country could afford such an indulgence.

I can't imagine France voting with such fiscal responsibility. Yet I'd like to think that New Zealand, in the not too distant future, could behave just as unselfishly. Like we are capable of adopting some of Switzerland's political and economic practices.

In Switzerland 99 per cent of businesses are small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) employing an average 10 workers, employing about two thirds of the nation's workforce. The children in the last year of high school who do not make the examination cut go out to work, part-time, at firms to gain work experience.

Doesn't matter if it's stacking shelves at a greengrocer's; the youth still acquires skills like in this case stock control, stacking techniques, dealing with the public, etc. Being a waiter or waitress might also seem the last place to gain skills, and yet she/he does. From experiencing human behaviour to social skills at handling both the customers and the invariably volatile kitchen staff, not to say boss or bosses, a raft of efficiencies otherwise not learned.

In a country where everyone feels they are contributing, there is not the measuring of status that happens here. Everyone treats others as they expect to be treated themselves. Living in such a society does surely lift everyone's head a little higher and that country generates so much wealth the average pay package is about $120,000 a year.

Your columnist was convinced at the very start of our literacy programme that without a business partnership we wouldn't achieve our goals. We can say after 24 years that that partnership worked. Sure, successive governments have been behind us. But without the emotional, ideological commitment of our management team, trustees, business sponsors and schools.

In other words a partnership. Based on inclusion. On everyone being equal. No hierarchy. No big players and minor cast. Kind of the Swiss model of doing things. From the bottom up, all working together.


Governments can't fix things because we the public keep them in a spot of afraid to do and afraid not to do; so they pontificate, obscure, fudge, even lie. Because it's the nature of politicians and what our political system has forced on them.

If every employer in Switzerland feels obliged - not by government decree but a sense of common cause and national responsibility - to take on employees and make sure to get the best out of them, then the country advances. Together.

Businesspeople are any country's lifeblood. The smartest, most entrepreneurial minds are drawn to business. Men and women not afraid to take a risk, make hard decisions, and look into the future as if every day is tomorrow looming, and so the job must get done.

Our businesses have to start putting their hands up to say they'll take on X number of employees. Unions should stay away and so should bureaucrats. Let the doers get on with doing. If the local butcher takes on one, the hairdresser two, the freight company 10, the supermarket 15, each and every restaurant and farmer just one apiece, and so on. You've just done your bit to making this a better country.

I know someone of considerable business heft who is going to combine with another of the same heft to make a significant dent in education and employment in the Far North. That's commitment. We can all do our bit.