Pierre Landolt: The Sustainable Man

Pierre Landolt knows his subject well; whether financial and agricultural, or ecological and hospitable, sustainability is at the heart of nearly all this Swiss businessman does.

Pierre Landolt: The Sustainable Man

Pierre Landolt has had a love affair with Brazil ever since his relocation to São Paulo with Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in 1974. The following three years gave Mr Landolt the opportunity to understand a nation long touted as the country of the future–an expectation becoming a reality in the 21st century. Now a citizen of Brazil as well as Switzerland, Mr Landolt chose to stay in Brazil after he left his post and, in true entrepreneurial fashion, decided to undertake a new challenge totally unrelated to anything he had ever done before. He bought his beloved farm, Fazenda Tamanduá, in 1977; thirty-five years later, he is still there, still working not only with some of his original staff but also with their children and grandchildren who continue to take up the evolving challenges as did their parents before them.

It wasn’t always easy for a cosmopolitan family from Switzerland to forge a new life in what was then an isolated region of a country not yet elbowing its way onto the world stage; it seems, though, that Mr Landolt relishes Life’s challenges and goes about surmounting them with the confidence and aplomb of a man who follows his moral principles and instincts. As he says himself, “The bigger the challenge, the better”. Speaking of the state in which Fazenda Tamanduá is located, he continues, “Paraíba was a big challenge with tough conditions. I was impressed with the endemic problems in the Northeast. I never worked in agriculture in Europe, so for me beginning with the toughest or the easiest was the same” as it would have been anywhere else. “I had to learn absolutely everything”. His wife, Catherine, homeschooled their three children with a European education and the family travelled every three months to keep their ties to Europe strong.

At the 3000-hectare farm known as Fazenda Tamanduá, we see selfcontained sustainability at its most rudimentary—and most innovative. An exemplary model for farmers in developing countries to follow, Fazenda Tamanduá’s onsite Institute manages to conduct biodiesel research into the potential value of Brazil’s native physic nut (Jatropha curcas L.) as a fuel source while also keeping on top of more typical farm activities such as the cultivation of organic fruit and the pasteurisation of organic milk and cheese. More importantly, Landolt’s farm is biodynamic; it functions in synergy within its various components as well as with the local environment. An example? Mango and watermelon cultures are fertilised by goat and cattle (whose milk is also processed into cheese at a nearby facility), and the entire system is kept irrigated by a series of reservoirs that itself hosts a highly diverse ecosystem. As Mr Landolt observes, “Looking at the farm as a human body, with every organ interacting with the other, is very fascinating”.

Though the activities of the farm are not accidental, the logic in solving problems facing farmers working in less than hospitable conditions leads a naturally organic and sustainable modus operandi; in such as place as the arid Brazilian Northeast, with a particularly unforgiving landscape and climate, turning the dry sertão into arable land takes some creative thinking with the few resources that are at hand. Becoming an organic farm, therefore, was an organic process, a process that is ongoing as experimentation with other crops such as rice, pomegranates, and guava take place both at Fazenda Tamaduá as well as a second farm of 300 hectares where Mr Landolt leads a program sponsored by local government to train farmers in sustainable farming practices.

The most important resource for any business is, of course, the people who work in it. Though we live in times of ever more automated manufacturing processes, the human factor remains the most important aspect of any business. As Mr Landolt says, “Finding people to help you and work with you, choosing the right team, finding the right people with the same views on ethics and the same vision” is key to success. Mr Landolt didn’t have to look far to find his most important colleague; his son Nicolas, fresh from business-school training in Europe, carries on the family commitment to sustainability and to the farm where he was born and raised, though today the family’s business interests extend to the southern part of the country with activities in soybean cultivation and fish farming, an activity Mr Landolt also undertakes in Switzerland in partnership with his brother. Not that understanding and embracing the values of a leader is the exclusive ability of his relatives; Mr Landolt found agricultural engineers in Brazil who had the skills and drive to take on his vision for sustainable farming to help people work in ways different from the more common methods.

Despite the tyranny of distance, the family unit has always been important to Mr Landolt. As the years went by, he began to ask himself, “Why don’t I invest myself more in Switzerland?”, a question which led to an introspective evaluation of his activities in his native country. In 1986, Mr Landolt was elected to the board of Sandoz, a big change in his life that required his presence in Europe on a frequent basis to attend meetings between harvesting fruit and birthing calves. As his businesses in Switzerland demanded more and more of his time, Mr Landolt decided to come back to Switzerland and bring with him some of the knowledge he acquired and developed in Brazil. Hence the birth not of a cow but of his fish-farming business raising Lac Léman perch–in the Valais– to reestablish fish native to Switzerland.

When asked how he manages to keep a balance between such seemingly incongruous activities as agriculture, banking, and watchmaking, Mr. Landolt reveals a humorous side that may seem at odds with his image as a global crusader and conservative businessman. “Je suis ravi d’être schizophrène, d’avoir un pied dans les deux mondes,” he confessed in a recent interview with swissinfo.ch. “I’m very proud to be a real citizen of the world”.

Behind the sunny sustainability of the Fazenda Tamanduá Institute is the money generated by the Landolt & Cie Bank. Founded in 1780, the bank was the pride and joy of Pierre’s late brother, Marc-Edouard, upon whose retirement Mr Landolt took on a greater role in the management of the financial institution. Behind the historic Art Déco façade of its Lausanne headquarters is, conversely, what may be the paradigm of a modern, sustainable bank. Landolt & Cie preserves and grows wealth for future generations, a strategy that stands in contrast to the short-term vision and exhaustive practices of some its competitors further west along Lac Léman. Unlimited liability on the part of its partners also helps shield the bank’s clients from the kind of rampant speculation that proved the downfall of other banks, and a strong commitment to ethics underlines the bank’s practices. Speaking candidly about the machinations of the banking industry, Mr Landolt reveals, “Lots of people lost their jobs. We will see the impact in the next few years. The problem is always the same when working with money. (Bad managers) lost vision of their original responsibilities helping businesses and societies and cultivating new ideas. Making money with money is without any doubt something horrible”. Mr Landolt does not mince his words in evaluating the banking industry in an era when so many banks have strayed from the basic tenets still embraced by Landolt & Cie “to have an ethical view” of money for clients and their heirs: “Today, it’s a real mess”.

Despite Landolt & Cie’s consistently high level of service, however, the bank’s focus is not purely economic. Having endowed the Chair ‘Innovations for a Sustainable Future’ at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Landolt & Cie has found a way to fuse architectural and business sustainability together. The Chair’s ambition to bring “a world-renowned specialist in an area essential to sustainable development” is but a small step in the overall effort “to build a sustainable world for the future generations.” Its other endeavours include recent events such as academic conferences on topics as diverse as extreme weather, sustainable infrastructure, and water scarcity—topics which at first seem applicable only in the developing world but, Mr Landolt supposes, will become conditions more familiar to European farmers as global warming and climate change continues to modify weather patterns around the world. With climate change an undeniable reality already affecting crop yields across the world, Mr Landolt sees Fazenda Tamanduá as the ideal venue for studying the effects of climate change and the ways in which farmers can adjust their methods to conditions that will be new to Europe but already existent in Brazil. As Mr Landolt states, “We are a model of what they will be in 20-50 years. This is very important; I think Fazenda Tamanduá is not only having an impact in the place where we are, but also (having an impact) in looking at the future of the rest of the world with the issue of climate change”.

One part of the world outside Brazil where aridity and drought are already a reality is Africa. Fazenda Tamanduá works with projects in places such as Angola in a combination of Mr Landolt’s areas of expertise–microcredit and sustainable farming. “We are today working with a South- South vision of microcredit in direct contact with Africa. This is really a fantastic experience because everyone is speaking about South-South but nobody’s working with South-South”. As he speaks, Mr Landolt’s passion for his work is evident, as is his excitement about sharing new ideas across borders and making international cooperation and understanding a greater reality in contemporary society.

Making international cooperation and understanding a greater reality in contemporary society

Mr Landolt’s work in sustainability also has a familial edge. Through his position on the Sandoz Family Foundation board–an organisation which manages the Sandoz family fortune–Mr Landolt has overseen the continual effort of cultural and consumptive renewal that is the face of contemporary sustainability today. Recognising that true sustainability is comprehensive, the Sandoz Family Foundation’s investment policy is vertical in character, with acquisitions of points above and below supply chains assuming an important role in the creation of a veritable empire of holdings. Uniquely, the Sandoz Family Foundation has managed to achieve this in two disparate yet typically Swiss industries: fine hotels and fine watches.

A term that distinguishes craftsmanship from mere manufacturing, haute horlogerie is a distinctively Swiss approach to watchmaking, one that implies a level of superiority in the creation of timepieces. While watchmaking firms often maintain a level of control over their suppliers, the Sandoz Family Foundation has taken this tradition to an extreme through its choice of brand acquisition. By obtaining a majority interest in Parmigiani Fleurier in 1996, the Foundation solidified its hold on everything from that company’s manufacturing base via its Vaucher Manufacture, Elwin, and Atokalpa facilities to its finishing elements via the group’s ateliers de terminage, Les Artisans Boîtiers.

Parmigiani Fleurier and all the companies that form the watchmaking division of the Sandoz Family Foundation maintain a Swiss approach to the importance of education as demonstrated in its apprenticeship program, which offers young men and women the opportunity to continue the tradition of excellence in Swiss haute horlogerie by offering professional preparation in both technical skills and administrative matters. In enabling this kind of education, the Sandoz Family Foundation is proving that sustainability is not just a matter of composting and recycling, but rather an intrinsically human endeavour applicable to all work—one that can, and indeed must, be passed down from generation to generation.

As with watches, the Sandoz family is also committed to ensuring the future and reputation of Swiss hôtellerie. The family foundation maintains a controlling interest in three hotels in Switzerland, arguably the best in their categories and indisputably among most interesting: Lausanne’s Beau-Rivage Palace, Riffelalp Resort in Zermatt, and Hotel Palafitte on Lake Neuchâtel. While the legendary and beautiful Beau-Rivage Palace hardly needs an introduction, perhaps the Riffelalp is less familiar despite a long history. Opened in 1884, destroyed by fire in 1961, the resort is the subject of a collaboration begun in 1997 between the Sandoz Family Foundation and the Seiler Hotels Zermatt group that has gradually rebuilt what had been hitherto an institution among Swiss hotels while continuing to ensure that ownership of the hotel remained in local hands. In bringing this classic building into the 21st century, the historic aspects of the Riffelalp are now complemented by such modern additions as solar power and onsite recycling to minimise the property’s impact on the environment.

The Palafitte takes the responsibility of sustainability even further. Designed as a feature for the Swiss national exposition of 2002, Hotel Palafitte is one of the few buildings in Switzerland—and the only hotel in Europe—authorised to be constructed on water. Featuring rainwater collection, solar power, and charging stations for electric cars, the hotel makes a point of being an example of a more sustainable future, to the degree that the hotel building itself is entirely recyclable. To reduce its carbon footprint further, the hotel also offers guests complimentary trips on public transport.

None of these activities would be possible without the assent of Mr Landolt, who hopes the spirit of entrepreneurship can be maintained in Switzerland, where so much innovation exists despite a lack of funding. “There is no doubt that there is a lack of vision and help from the banks for individual companies. Switzerland is not able to defend originality. Of course, working in Switzerland with all the problems of costs that we know, there is no doubt that it is probably not the best place. But when I look at what is happening with EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) and all the companies they were able to help start up and find financing for these concepts, I realised that there is still something to do in Switzerland. The situation today with very high costs and very high exchange rates is really something complicated and tough, but creativity in Switzerland is still there, education is great, the sense of entrepreneurship is still there, and this is very important for a country like Switzerland, an old country but still one with a vision of entrepreneurship. So, the problem is to find how to help these guys. I am very confident in the future of Switzerland because of the quality of the people”.

Article by Alain Bartleman & Robert La Bua