Monday, July 6, 2015

MAEUS Alumnus Participates in the St. Gallen Symposium

By Erik Vickstrom (’12 MAEUS, MBA; ’09 BA)

Erik Vickstrom (right) with Bertrand Badré (left), 
Managing Director and World Bank Group Chief Financial Officer
This past May 2015, I was provided the opportunity to attend and participate in the 45th St. Gallen Symposium. The St. Gallen Symposium is a global gathering of Leaders of Today and Tomorrow that takes place annually in May at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. It is organized by the International Students’ Committee (ISC); a team of students from the university. The goal of the conference is to provide a setting for relevant debates between Leaders of Today and Tomorrow on topics of management, politics, and civil society. The St. Gallen Symposium also aims to provide leaders and young talents from around the globe with fresh insights into the most relevant issues concerning our world in order to create meaningful change in the lives of key decision-makers.

I was invited to attend this year’s conference to participate as one of 200 Leaders of Tomorrow; a hand-picked assortment of outstanding academics, brilliant entrepreneurs, young professionals, politicians, and public intellectuals under the age of 30. Students, which make up half of the Leaders of Tomorrow, are selected based on the combination of a global essay competition and academic or professional merit. The remaining 100 Leaders of Tomorrow constitute the “Knowledge Pool,” and are selected based on their relation to the annual topic. I was invited to participate as Knowledge Pool due to the relation of my MAEUS Master’s thesis (“Implosion in Greece? An analysis of the Greek debt crisis and its impacts on Europe and world markets”) to this year’s topic, “Proudly Small.”

While the St. Gallen Symposium takes place over the course of two days, the Leaders of Tomorrow are invited to participate in a 2-day pre-program in the days leading up to the conference. This year’s program consisted of a multitude of different activities, including: (Day 1) travel to Basel, Switzerland to visit Roche’s corporate headquarters (one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies), tour the city, and attend a dinner at the FC Basel football club stadium; as well as (Day 2) travel to Friedrichshafen, Germany to visit the corporate headquarters of ZF (German car parts manufacturer) and Zeppelin (German rigid airship manufacturer). During the company visits, we listened to guest speakers, attended networking-oriented luncheons, engaged with company interns and employees, and participated in small group discussions and activities (to name a few). It was fascinating to listen to and engage with the speakers, scientists, and engineers of both companies, as well as listen to the insights provided by other Leaders of Tomorrow. 
Some of the Leaders of Tomorrow at the FC Basel football club

Over the course of the next two days, the St. Gallen Symposium offered participants a vast selection of content and debates to attend. At the Plenary sessions, we listened to and engaged with keynote speakers, panels, and one-on-one debate sessions. It was at these sessions I had the opportunity to meet with some of the keynote speakers, including: Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach (Lord in the UK House of Lords and Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bertrand Badré (Managing Director and World Bank Group Chief Financial Officer), and Anders Fogh Rasmussen (former Secretary General of NATO and former Prime Minister of Denmark). The Work Sessions provided an opportunity for small group discussion, typically led by one of the day’s keynote speakers. The conference topic “Proudly Small” bought forth a wide array of ideals, thoughts, insights, and opinions from speakers and attendees alike with regard to political, economic, governmental, and company-related innovation issues (to name a few). One prominent debate was oriented around whether big companies can freely innovate by themselves (ie. “Can Big Innovate?”), and brought forth many interesting thoughts and intuitions both for and against the motion.
One of the plenary sessions
In the evenings, there were various social events to participate in, including: elegant themed dinner nights, open house nights in the university students’ apartments, and a traditional international-themed buffet (to name a few). One of the greatest areas to relax at in the evening (and through the early hours of the next day) was at the ISC Lounge: an outdoor terrace on the roof of the main conference building offering a wide-array of drinks and delicious food. From this point, one has a beautiful view of the city of St. Gallen, surrounding lakes, and of course, the Swiss Alps.

I am tremendously appreciative for being presented with the opportunity to meet and engage with numerous brilliant minds on a multitude of topic areas, as well make long-lasting friendships with those situated all across the globe. I will continue to contribute and support the St. Gallen Symposium for years to come, and perhaps have the opportunity to participate again next year (or future years). Additionally, I highly recommend that students explore each year’s conference, and submit an essay to attend; beginning with next year’s conference in 2016.

From the dynamic and engaging events at the Symposium, to playing a pick-up game of soccer in the hallway of your host’s apartment at 1:30 AM in the morning, the St. Gallen Symposium not only presents the experience of a lifetime, but also the opportunity to pick the brilliant minds of many. This event may even prove to be life-changing. 
Panorama of the closing ceremony

For more information on how to participate in the 46th St. Gallen Symposium, contact the European Union Center beginning in Fall 2015, visit the St. Gallen Symposium website at, and visit the St. Gallen Symposium Facebook page at

*On a side note, if presented with the opportunity to attend the St. Gallen Symposium, a day trip to (or weekend in) Zurich, Switzerland (where the airport is conveniently located) provides some good post-conference R&R and the opportunity to further experience Swiss culture (see photos below).
Panorama of Zurich facing toward the Swiss Alps

Panorama of Zurich facing away from the Swiss Alps
Panorama of the entire city of Zurich, with Lake Zürich in the center, and the Swiss Alps to the right


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