Walter Füllemann (Young Leader 2000)
Permanent Observer to the U.N., International Committee of the Red Cross
What can Americans learn from the Swiss?
In as much as a superpower like the USA can learn anything at all from a small country like Switzerland, I can spontaneously think of three avenues that could be explored or considered:
- Switzerland has a well-established political and social culture in which power sharing, compromise and solidarity are given preference over the winner- takes- all approach.
- Switzerland offers a high quality public education system that is accessible and affordable. It is built on an apprenticeship track covering hundreds of professions as well as a university track.
- Swiss laws foresee paid maternity leave across all economic sectors.
What can the Swiss learn from the Americans?
The pace and energy, the unbroken belief in oneself (individually and collectively), the disposition to take risks, the spirit to identify and the willingness to pursue opportunities, the courage to progress through trial and error.
What defines your leadership style?
Give and explain the destination, trust and let the colleagues choose the path to get there safely and in time.
What qualities do you most admire in a person?
Courage. Keeping cool and serene in the heat of battle. Overcoming adversity.
What are your greatest strengths?
Vitality, instinct, empathy.
What is your greatest weakness?
Impatience. Impulsiveness. Allowing myself to be distracted and irritated by secondary things that , more often than not, I cannot change anyway.
Where do you live?
New York City
Where are you from?
My "place of origin" is the charming little village of Berlingen, in the canton of Thurgau, on the shores of Lake Constance. However, I never actually lived there. I am what we call an "Auslandschweizer" or a “Swiss abroad”, coming from the “fifth Switzerland" (the first four being the four language regions.) My parents are Swiss; I was born in Colombia, went to primary school there, and then moved to South Africa where I finished high school. My father worked abroad for Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis) all his life.
What is your favorite leisure activity?
Food and wine. Cooking and sharing a home-prepared meal. Photography. Tennis (these days I spend more time watching Roger Federer than moving on the court myself). Reading the New York Times (and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, NZZ) the old fashioned way: on real paper! Following and supporting Manchester City Football Club.
What is your goal in life?
Philosophically: to contribute to less suffering, more dignity, and perhaps more joy through international and inter-cultural dialogue and understanding, at the small local level, but also on a bigger collective level. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that I work for the Red Cross and spend so much time at the UN!
About Walter Füllemann
Walter has been with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 1989. His field missions include Nicaragua (1989-1990), Peru (1991), South Africa (1992-1994), as well as Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (1994-1995). His most recent field assignment was as Head of the ICRC delegation in Baku, Azerbaijan, from July 1996 to July 1997. Subsequently he worked as delegate and spokesperson for the ICRC delegation to the United Nations in New York (1997-1999). After heading the operational desk for the former Yugoslavia in 1995-1996, he was back at ICRC headquarters in Geneva beginning in August 1999, where he first worked as Deputy Head of the External Resources Division (fundraising). From 2002 to 2009 he was the ICRC's Deputy Director of Operations, covering 80 delegations worldwide. As of July 1 2009 he became Head of Delegation of the ICRC's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, in New York. Walter holds a Master's degree in International Relations from the University of Saint Gallen, Switzerland.