The Swiss Business Elite (1980-2000): How the Changing Elite Composition Explains the Decline of the Company Network



The Swiss economy was since the 1920s based on a strategic collaboration between the industrial and the financial sector. This collaboration was both the paramount strategy of the Swiss elites to secure their power and influence against other groups of actors and one of the factors of success of the Swiss economy during the 20th century. Therefore observers were surprised that as one of the pioneering countries, in early 1990s Switzerland, this tranquil and efficient collaboration-system was noisily shaken up by a rapid internationalisation and transformation of the Swiss banking system. What renders the Swiss case more intriguing is the fact that the Swiss elites can be counted among the most interwoven and transversal. Not only the business elites are tightly connected, they are able to participate in political decision making through personal engagement, powerful business association and public private political commissions. We propose to analyse the Swiss case by the use of two methodological innovations: firstly, we reconstruct the space of the Swiss elites with a combination between network analysis and multiple correspondence analysis. Whilst network analysis is suited to observe and describe the dynamics of the decline of the density of the network, multiple correspondence analysis, by focusing on the properties of the actors who form the network, can explain which relational mechanisms - namely strategies of involved actors -  are at the origin of this decline. As we will show, indicators of centrality and betweeness can also be used as properties of the population of a multiple correspondence analysis. Together with characteristics of the social background, of the educational curricula and the current position, indicators of centrality/betweeness can contribute to situate an actor in the space of the elite and to gain a more adequate picture of its dynamics. Secondly, we compare the networks and the space of the Swiss business elite at two moments in time - in 1980 and 2000. In this way we try to explore the potential of a longitudinal use of two methods that by many scholars have been considered - and criticised -  as methods only able to produce structural snapshots.
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The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.
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Abe de Jong Ben Wubs
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