Career Path

Stephan Schmidheiny (b. 1947), is the second of four children. His business career started at age 29 when his father handed him the leadership of an important family construction company.

For thirteen years (1976–1989) he was the director of the Swiss Eternit Group (SEG). He restructured the company and propelled a series of reforms that made him the pioneer and world leader in the elimination of the use of asbestos.

“There will be no successful companies in failed societies.” Stephan Schmidheiny


Stephan Schmidheiny was born on October 29, 1947. He and his siblings, Thomas, Alexander, and Marietta, were raised by their parents Max and Adda Schmidheiny-Scherrer in Heerbrugg, Switzerland. His father and uncle, Ernst II, expanded the family business at the international level through Holderbank and Swiss Eternit. Stephan Schmidheiny, against his father’s wishes that he study engineering in order to continue the family business, attended law school at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he obtained a PhD in Law in 1972.

“Stephan Schmidheiny is an individual who faced a problem and leaves several solutions as his legacy.”


Published: 1991

The New Rules of the Game: Towards Sustainable Development in Latin America

Latin America is a continent with many resources, both financial and human, and has an enormous potential for business endeavors that could generate jobs and allow more income for the population. However, development in most Latin American countries has been stagnant and many times sporadic. In The New Rules of the Game the authors analyze the reasons for this economic and political underdevelopment, and point out possible solutions for sustainable economic and social development.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny and Hernando de Soto
Publisher: Editorial Oveja Negra. Bogotá, Colombia
Langage: Spanish

Published: 1992

Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective for Development and Environment

Faced with pressing environmental challenges, the editorial value of this publication is based on the environment from the perspective of one of the sectors that is directly involved in environmental controversy: the entrepreneur.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny and the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD)
Publisher: Fondo de Cultura Económica, USA
Original language: Spanish. It has been translated into 15 languages.

Published: 1994

Towards an Ecologically Sustainable Growth Society: Physical Foundations, Economic Transitions, and Political Constraints

In this book, the authors combine three disciplines: international business economy, physics, and politics. The objective is to find an answer to the question of whether sustainable development is possible and how it can be achieved. The concept of sustainability is subject to physics and at the same time includes financial efficiency.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny, Bruno Fritsch, and Walter Seifritz
Publisher: Springer
Original language: English
Published: 1996

Financing Change: The Financial Community, Eco-efficiency, and Sustainable Development

Stephan Schmidheiny and Argentine businessman Federico Zorraquin analyze sustainable growth for the first time in relation to its evaluation by the financial market. The book summarizes the vision of several players in this area and from it derives the need to recognize the value of environmental aspects as a fundamental variable in the financial market and its planning.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny, Federico Zorraquín, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Publisher: MIT Press
Original language: English. It has been translated into 10 languages
Published: 1996

Sustainable Development: The Financial Markets in a Paradigm Shift

A discussion and summary of Stephan Schmidheiny’s theory regarding financing change in the pathway towards sustainability from the perspective of banks, insurers, auditors, and ecologists. A surprising revelation is the similarity between the conclusions and possible solutions towards which both economists and ecologists tend to lean.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny and Rolf Gerling
Publisher: Gerling-Akad.-Verlag
Original language: German
Published: 1998

The Ownership Solution: Toward a Shared Capitalism for the Twenty-First Century

Although capitalism has triumphed in the competition of systems, dramatic inequalities in the distribution of wealth have emerged in the process. Many people feel left behind. In The Ownership Solution, the authors show how, with broader ownership, more people can be included in economic development.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny and Jeff Gates
Publisher: Basic Books
Original language: English
Published: 2002

Walking the Talk: The Business Case for Sustainable Development

The authors argue that sustainability is crucial for business success. By using more than 70 examples of companies from around the world, they demonstrate that the three pillars of sustainable development—financial growth, ecological balance, and social progress—can improve results in both business and the world at large.

Authors: Stephan Schmidheiny, Chad Holliday, and Philip Watts
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Original language: English. Translated into several languages
Published: 2006 (second edition)

Stephan Schmidheiny: My Path, My Perspective

Stephan Schmidheiny’s autobiography

Author: Stephan Schmidheiny
Publisher: VIVA Trust
Original languages: Spanish, English, and Portuguese

Published: 2010

Stephan Schmidheiny. The Long Journey to Find Himself. Heir - Entrepreneur - Philanthropist

This biography covers the life of a man who experienced great personal growth, from heir and innovative industrialist to philanthropist. René Lüchinger portrays an unusual family, in which the second born, Stephan Schmidheiny, broke free from an almighty father and, in a dramatic fight for survival, changed the Eternit Group’s family legacy through asbestos-free production. Ueli Burkhard was the first to examine Stephan Schmidheiny’s personal files in the ABB, Landis & Gyr, SMH (currently the Swatch Group), and Wild-Leitz holdings, and relates a fascinating piece of Switzerland’s financial history. Lastly, it illustrates the transformation of a world-renowned philanthropist.

Authors: René Lüchinger and Ueli Burkhard
Publisher: Stämpfli
Original language: German


1993: Doctor Honoris Causa INCAE Business School, Costa Rica

Stephan Schmidheiny received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the INCAE Business School in 1993 in recognition of his philanthropic work with FUNDES, for his leadership as co-chair of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and as a productive entrepreneur who serves as a model of responsibility towards his clients, collaborators, and the communities that operate his businesses. At the ceremony, the President of INCAE Business School said: “Stephan Schmidheiny is a loyal representative of INCAE’s best qualities in his career as a productive and social businessman, as an exemplary philanthropist and innovator, and as a leader committed to the environmental and social well-being of the region and the world.”

1993: Commander of the Order of Vasco Núñez de Balboa

In April, 1993, he was awarded with the rank of Commander of the Order of Vasco Núñez de Balboa for his contribution, through the creation of FUNDES, to the development of micro-, small, and medium businesses in Panama and the surrounding region.

1996: Order of the Southern Cross (Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul), awarded him by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil

1996: Order of the Southern Cross (Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul), awarded him by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil

1996: Doctor Honoris Causa, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

The reason that led Yale University to bestow upon Stephan Schmidheiny an Honorary Doctorate Degree is listed in the following excerpt from the speech made in 1996:

“Not content to be a steward of a family business, you have used your corporate role to promote stewardship of the global environment. You have made company decisions based upon the health of the planet, introducing new technologies and ways of doing business that are environmentally friendly. By bringing your message to leading industrialists around the world, you have helped to create an attainable vision of a global economy based on sustainable, ecologically sound development…”

2000: Honorary President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

2000: Honorary President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

2001: Doctor Honoris Causa in Education, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Caracas, Venezuela

The reasons that led the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela, to bestow upon Stephan Schmidheiny an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Education are listed in the following excerpts from the speeches made on November 7, 2001.

Luis Ugalde s.j., Rector of the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in 2001: “Stephan (Schmidheiny) is a person whose lessons and models are particularly important for our university. He took a chance on Latin America, its peoples’ talents and hope, as well as the social work carried out by the educators associated with the Society of Jesus for the benefit of more than a million Latin Americans in several countries. As of today, the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello bestows upon you the title of PhD for entrepreneur educators, for enterprising educators, and for those students who wish follow in their footsteps.”

Brizio Biondi, President of INCAE:

“(Stephan Schmidheiny is) in fact a low-profile man, a world class businessman, a leader in social and environmental innovation, a new-generation philanthropist, a culture, arts and nature enthusiast.”

“He never forgets that his deep sense of respect for the human dignity of each man and woman is the focus of everything he does and everything that motivates him.”

“In order to take on this commitment (Principal Advisor for Business and Industry by the General Secretary of the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro), Schmidheiny founded the World Council for Sustainable Development which brings together 150 of the world’s leading companies, and, in 2000, he was named Honorary President of the World Council due to his precursory work in the field of corporate social responsibility.”

In his appreciation of the title awarded him, Stephan Schmidheiny states (excerpts from his speech): “I am convinced that education is a fundamental pillar for personal and national development. The most brilliant thing I have done in education was to support Luis Ugalde, his colleagues in Fe y Alegria, and the Jesuit universities. In my long career as an investor, I cannot remember a wiser investment than this one, or one that has brought me as much satisfaction or promised such a high return. Of course, the return I am expecting is not a monetary one, but that of crucial changes in society.”

He added: “I believe that a businessman who does not promote sustainable human development cannot really understand his own interests. This seems to be basic common sense, but we already know it has the least common sense. When I was considering what I would say to you today, I thought of how difficult it would be to convey my message in a country that is ‘condemned’ by oil wealth; but wealth is made up mostly of human energy and creativity.”

“Without education, the people cannot effectively participate in democracy or in business. In the global market, no country can be successful if it does not use all the knowledge and energy of its people.”

2001: Doctor Honoris Causa, Rollings College, Winter Park, Florida, USA

2001: Doctor Honoris Causa, Rollings College, Winter Park, Florida, USA

2004: Order of the Quetzal, Grand Knight

In 2004, Dr. Stephan Schmidheiny was awarded the title of Grand Knight of the Order of the Quetzal, bestowed upon him by the Guatemalan government, in recognition of his contributions to the competitiveness and sustainable development of Guatemala and of the entire Central American region.

2014: Stephan Schmidheiny appointed Director Emeritus of INCAE Business School

On this past November 20th, in celebration of its 50th Anniversary in Costa Rica, INCAE honored individuals who made its continuing development possible. INCAE recognized, among others, the work of regional leaders, such as Francisco de Sola, Founder and first President of the institution; and Walter Kissling, its second President and one of the most renowned entrepreneurial leaders of Central America.

Stephan Schmidheiny, a member of the Board for the past 16 years, and co-founder of the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development, which is a center for research and education and which also promotes dialog on the topics of sustainability and competitiveness, was named Director Emeritus, which means he will remain on INCAE’s Board of Directors for life, thus being able to attend Board meetings whenever he wishes.

When defending this nomination, Dr. Arturo Condo, Rector of INCAE, explained how Mr. Schmidheiny drove and collaborated with the Institution to become a global leader among centers of education committed to sustainability; which makes it unique among business schools for incorporating into its curriculum management courses on eco-efficiency, environmental economy, green strategy and management, and economic and environmental project analysis. He also explained that Mr. Schmidheiny represents the Institution’s essential values, the most outstanding being to positively impact communities, his excellence in all activities, and his profound commitment to Latin America.

Stanley Motta, an entrepreneurial leader in Panama, who was also honored, stated that, “Schmidheiny is a Swiss industrialist, philanthropist and entrepreneurial leader who, at some point in his life, received a Latin heart transplant, which turned him into a Latin person, committed to the sustainable development of the region.”