"Entrepreneurship must always be forward-looking!"

Interview with Kurt Widmer, Chairman of the Executive Board of Goba AG

Kurt Widmer, Chairman of the Executive Board of Goba AG
Chairman of the Executive Board Kurt Widmer

Goba AG, named after the Swiss Gontenbad, has long been known not only for its pure Appenzell spring water, but for a significantly broader range of soft drinks. With its particularly emphatic set of values, the company looks to the future with great optimism - and sees in the idealistic attitude of Generation Z an important opportunity for the economy and society.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Widmer, originally Goba AG grew significantly with a mineral spring in Gontenbad - but now you offer a much more extensive range of products.

Kurt Widmer: Our mineral water continues to be a central pillar of our company - after all, it is particularly popular in upscale gastronomy and hotel industry because of its special purity and very light mineralization, where it excels as a wine accompaniment. In addition, we offer a wide range of soft drinks, where we showcase our spirit of innovation in several aspects: For example, under the name Charisma, we now offer a mineral water infused with frankincense hydrosol, giving the drink a very light, pleasant smoky note - this product is unique in the world. At the same time, we are very committed to reducing the sugar content in our drinks without compensating for this by adding other sweeteners. Instead, we want to accustom our customers' palates to consuming less sugar overall.

Goba AG Beverage Selection
Goba AG stands for sustainably produced, high-quality beverages

Wirtschaftsforum: Doesn't this endeavor run contrary to the general market development, in which soft drinks are becoming increasingly over-sweetened?

Kurt Widmer: We do not perceive trends and market developments as unchangeable phenomena that one must simply accept. Instead, we see ourselves as manufacturers in the responsibility to actively develop corresponding trends. Especially as an SME, we are in an ideal position to do this because we are agile enough to cross existing boundaries and quickly launch new products. At the same time, we actively involve consumers in our product development processes – especially young consumers from Generation Z.

Wirtschaftsforum: How do you experience Generation Z – are their representatives as idealistic and elusive as they are often portrayed in public opinion?

Kurt Widmer: They are definitely the individualists and the brave ones, who see the world differently and want to interpret their values differently in everyday life than perhaps the generations before them. But whether one wants to look at them skeptically or openly: They will determine which products – with what purity, flavors, and ingredients – will be in demand in the future. Every forward-looking company must adjust to the shifts resulting from this today.

Wirtschaftsforum: To what extent do the values of Generation Z align with those of Goba AG?

Kurt Widmer: The very conscious consumer behavior of this generation definitely makes me very optimistic for the future – and also, it naturally sets important impulses in the labor market. How one deals with this is a question of attitude: I can loudly complain about the shortage of skilled labor, the emphasis on a better work-life balance including increased part-time work and their expectations that their ideas and visions are also implemented – or I can accept this attitude, adjust to it and thereby shape a much more beautiful, fulfilling, and value-creating working world. All my interactions with people from this generation have reinforced my observation that a mutual exchange characterized by appreciation, acceptance, and respect bears enormous fruits in day-to-day business as well as in strategic matters. Because the new working models are not just about a bit of home office or the odd flextime model, but about quite fundamental issues like better compatibility of family and work – so that employees do not feel under pressure either professionally or privately, which in turn enables them to have a sustainable and effective commitment to the company. In the end, everyone benefits – and that fills me with great joy.

Wirtschaftsforum: Is Generation Z with these ideals then also ready for leadership roles?

Kurt Widmer: Absolutely – and they should be able to assume them as soon as possible! I myself joined Goba AG six years ago, after spending 35 years committed to Migros. Together with Gabriela Manser, the then owner and now chairwoman of the board of directors of Goba, I drove the sale of the company to the Pfister Foundation, which also allows us a sustainable commitment in the market with our values in the future. My own goal in my role as CEO is soon to act merely as a janitor whom the young colleagues can ask for advice when they need it, while they themselves are already in the pole position. Because entrepreneurship must always be future-oriented – and there is something wonderful in this conviction.