When Callam arrived in Switzerland in June 2016, he discovered a country with a dense concentration of global companies, an international reputation for quality and excellence, political neutrality, and a nation that was renowned as a global centre for policy and diplomacy. He immediately recognised the influence that this small country had on international affairs and business. Aged 29 at the time, Callam had an appetite for a challenge.
Where to Start?
In a previous job, Callam had come across the email address of the Founder of Infosys, Narayana Murthy. Mr Murthy is a remarkable and visionary leader, who has built a company which today employs more people than Microsoft, Google, and Facebook combined. In an effort to learn more about the Europe-Asia theme, Callam prepared a letter for Mr. Murthy, asking him whether he would meet with him if he came to Bangalore. Callam asked Mr. Murthy if he would share his views in a filmed interview about India’s role on the global stage, particularly in view of rising protectionist sentiment in the West. Mr. Murthy agreed.
This was Callam’s first trip to India, and also his first filmed interview. To make the most of his time in Bangalore, Callam managed to get additional meetings with Mohandas Pai and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw - who according to Forbes is the 60th most powerful woman in the world. Energised by these leaders in India, and their own humble beginnings, Callam was taken aback by their clarity of purpose, their unwavering values, and their refreshing vision for a better world. It occurred to him that by bringing these leaders into direct contact with the right people in Switzerland, perhaps he could influence positive change on a grand scale.
From Concept to Reality
Callam wasn’t entirely sure what shape this initiative would take. With only a handful of contacts in Switzerland, and a budget of less than 5,000 CHF, it was going to require creativity. He started to approach a number of organisations and banks in Zurich to find funding. Not surprisingly, it was not forthcoming. It soon dawned on Callam that a new strategy would be required.
Callam had learned that if he made a personal commitment to someone he respected, he would go to great lengths to deliver on his promise. With awareness of this and in a leap of faith, he wrote a letter to Hong Kong’s former Chief Secretary, Anson Chan, inviting her to Switzerland. When she agreed, Callam needed to find money for her business class flights. So, he immediately began acting as her “agent”, trying to set-up confidential briefings with private companies. Eventually, his determination paid off and sufficient money was obtained to cover the costs. Having allocated an afternoon and evening of Mrs. Chan’s time for his own ideas, Callam then proceeded to set-up a dinner at the Baur au Lac. He returned to the banks he had previously asked for funding, and invited their CEOs to join an “exclusive VIP dinner with Mrs. Anson Chan”. Every participant was asked to pay.
On April 6th 2017 Anson Chan shared her concerns about Hong Kong’s future with ten of Switzerland’s most prominent leaders at a VIP dinner at the Baur au Lac. In hindsight, her message was a valuable one. This dinner provided Callam with some credibility and a boost of self-confidence to do more.
Launching the Asia Leaders Series
Callam turned his attention to Lord Stephen Green, inviting him to Zurich to deliver a speech to an audience of 100 top leaders. Lord Green had been CEO and Chairman of HSBC, the world’s largest bank at the time. Once again, it was unclear how Callam would convince a hundred people to attend this event, let alone to pay for it. Setting the bar first, and working backwards had worked before, so he thought it could work again. With the date set, not reaching this goal was clearly not an option.
At the time, it seemed plausible that France could fall into the hands of Le Pen, so Callam titled Lord Green’s talk: “The Rise of Asia, The Break-Up of Europe?”. The Baur au Lac was booked, the first version of the Asia Leaders Series website was launched, and Lord Green’s flights were scheduled.
Despite relentless effort to convince chambers, universities and all forms of non-profit organisations to help with marketing, three weeks prior to the event, there were still no sign-ups. Callam recalls this as one of the most stressful moments of his life. It was not until Callam met Dr. Kellerhals from the Europa Institute, that an email was finally sent out to 20,000 business people in the Zurich area. Dr. Kellerhals saved the day, as all tickets were sold within 48 hours. The event was a resounding success. Those who had been sceptical, were now eager to be associated.
Over the course of the 24 months which ensued, Callam made a personal effort to meet each and every potential speaker in-person. He would fly to India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia with a week’s notice at the prospect of meeting a single potential speaker. By the second year, Callam had met Vijay and Jasmin, who later played crucial roles in bringing the initiative to where it is today.
In December 2018 the Europe Asia Company AG was established in Zurich. Since its inception, we have hosted 12 of Asia’s most recognised leaders, as well as 974 top decision makers from Switzerland and its neighbouring countries. Many of Europe’s biggest names in business have attended our events. The combined revenue of the companies represented at each Asia Leaders Series dinner in 2019 ranged from $42 billion to $236 billion for our most recent event with the Deputy Chairman of Huawei. We now have an office in central Zurich, a highly competent team, and we are planning to expand the Asia Leaders Series to Singapore and London. We view the importance of enabling new relationships to take root with trust at the core, and facilitating dialogue between influential leaders as crucial in today’s increasingly uncertain, fragmented world.
Perhaps you know someone who would like to join our team? Or you may represent a large company interested in backing our international programme? Perhaps you may even like to nominate a speaker? Whatever you may have on your mind, the Asia Leaders Series team is keen to hear from you, so please do come and visit us at our office in Zurich.Visit Our Office