Suzanne Thoma

Dr. Suzanne Thoma has been the Executive Chairwoman of Sulzer AG since 1 November 2022. She was CEO of the BKW Group from January 2013 to mid-2022. After her studies and doctorate at ETH Zurich, she worked for
12 years at Ciba Speciality Chemicals (now BASF), and later for 5 years as CEO of Rolic Technologies (now BASF). Suzanne Thoma is Vice President of the think tank Avenir Suisse and was appointed Honorary Board Member of ETH Zurich in 2021.

«Management will increasingly have more data at its disposal»

What trends do you see in how leadership is evolving in the age of digitisation, artificial intelligence, increasing individualisation among employees, and agility?
If implemented correctly, management will increasingly have more data at its disposal and the data and information will be of a higher quality. Using the wealth of data appropriately will remain an art. Regarding employees: For employees who perform tasks that require physical presence, I see less potential for individualisation. However, these are the professions that will be in high demand in the future. For «office-related professions in a broader sense», I see partial and gradual automation, as well as at least for international companies, a shift to cheaper locations abroad. How far the individualisation options will actually go in Switzerland will be defined by
the demand and supply for each specific task.

Currently, companies are meeting the gender guidelines with 30% female representation in the Supervisory Boards and 20% in the Executive Boards. From your perspective, what is next in the generational project of gender diversity after reaching this milestone?
I see a gradual evolution, which does not mean there will not be occasional setbacks. The participation of women in the economy and society is a global trend in developing economies, and it is also a prerequisite for positive development. You can observe it almost everywhere, with some exceptions, interestingly even in many societies considered backward in terms of women’s rights.

The proportion of women on your Executive Board is already above the required minimum of 20%. How have you achieved this and what other goals are you pursuing?
We are two women out of six members of the Executive Board. That is not particularly high. Our main focus currently is to ensure that women in all group companies have equal opportunities to advance to middle and senior management positions. We aim to have the best talent, regardless of gender, nationality, or other distinguishing factors. However, to truly foster the best talent, management must hold itself accountable for unconscious biases and acknowledge that women may sometimes act differently than expected and still be successful. It requires this openness and self-awareness within management.

According to our surveys, the women who left their Executive Board positions last year only remained in office 3 years. What measures has your company taken to ensure a high retention of female managers?
This would need a deeper analysis. There are surveys indicating that women often have a chance of getting the top job especially when the company is in a crisis. This would then at least partly explain the shorter tenure.

We have noticed that the average age of Executive Boards is increasing. How do you assess this development?
For me, it is a natural progression. In our complex world, experience is very valuable. Additionally, many people remain dynamic and capable of learning for much longer, a fact that is now supported by neuroscience as well.

The ecological footprint of Swiss companies is large. How important is sustainability in your company and how have ecological considerations changed the focus of your corporate strategy?
The ecological footprint of our society is high. Swiss companies cannot be separated from the overall society. Sulzer is working to reduce its own ecological footprint. Our products and services provide solutions to our customers in the areas of energy, natural resources, and process industries to reduce their ecological footprint. Security of supply and economic viability set the framework.