Tidjane Thiam’s family were extremely influential in West Africa, yet his parents still grew up in great poverty. “My grandmother tied African material around my father’s hips so that he didn’t have to go to school naked”.
The sense of hard work as a virtue was implanted within him at home. Mr Thiam is convinced that Africa is not condemned to a state of eternal backwardness, despite its many problems; unfortunately, the word “Africa” is all too often used as an excuse “not to be measured by the highest of standards”.
In this interview, Tidjane Thiam also speaks in-depth about the prejudice that he has experienced because he is African. At the elite Ecole Polytechnique university in Paris, for example, he was regarded as something “exotic”.
Mr Thiam expresses extremely positive views about Switzerland. His colleagues at work in London had been cautious, but he has been received with great openness and kindness. In virtually no other western industrial nation could “someone who looks like me” attain a top post like this in a traditional domestic business. He is certainly cannot relate to the criticism expressed in British newspapers that Switzerland is “Europe’s Heart of Darkness” with regard to hostility towards foreigners. Tidjane Thiam would regard it as an honour if he were one day to become a Swiss citizen.
Other high-quality interviews and portraits are also available to read in Weltwoche’s Special Edition on the “State of the Nation”.
The interview is published online in English: https://www.weltwoche.ch/amp/2019-30/artikel/never-forget-who-you-are-die-weltwoche-30-2019.html