Thomas about Trüb

How to wrap up an interesting life and a long career? You take a walk down memory lane and tell the story to a writer. I did it – here’s milestones (and some pebbles), I came across on my way.








A Star is Born, oldest known photo of Thomas (with his mother).

Picture: private

First footprint: August 27, 1952

At the beginning the father’s – slightly confused – words were cloudy:

“In his first minutes of life, he was violet-blue and screamed pitifully; he had black hair down to his ears and long, long fingernails. Instead of being nicely curled, the rims of his ears were woefully flat. His face could not be called particularly beautiful; on the contrary, it resembled a dgmlseklmmiKehschmgcktendeminketi. Big sagging cheeks and puffy little eyes completed the picture. But he became more beautiful from day to day…”

Tommy the Kid

I turned out to have decent business sense at a fairly young age, and I was a hard worker. To earn my first money, I cleaned my family’s shoes. I never turned my nose up at that sort of job. Some of my childhood was spent in Chur, where my father worked, and I made quite the killing there shovelling snow off our neighbours’ drives. By the spring, I had saved enough money to buy one of the sports bicycles that were all the rage back then.

Sleeping prince and not the shoplifter.

Picture: private

Tommy the Kid (Part Two)

One day, I was browsing the local shop with a friend – we’d known each other since preschool. We were so absorbed in ourselves, we didn’t even notice when the owner locked up the shop for the day and left. When we realised what had happened, we were frightened but also very excited about the opportunity at hand: endless sweets! Until I came up with a plan. I told my friend, “We are going to break out. And we don’t want to be punished, so we can’t touch – let alone eat – anything.” He was on board. We smashed a glass door and left.

After dinner, two police officers rang our doorbell. A neighbour had watched our breakout. I hadn’t told my parents yet, just to be on the safe side. However, the fact that we didn’t eat or steal anything worked in our favour, so our breakout seemed understandable and we got away with it.


I’m a Virgo with a Leo rising, so I don’t believe in star signs.


I was a bit of a rebel even in high school – never responded well to authority and all that. The headteacher regularly threatened to expel me for my behaviour. One day, I asked for a meeting with him. I told him I was going to quit of my own accord. Somewhat surprisingly, he said that, now that we’d come together, he’d be happy for me to finish school and that it’s hard to succeed in the professional world without high-school qualifications. But I’d made my decision and I dropped out. Soon after, I started an apprenticeship as a publisher, where I learned about the publishing trade – in contrast to apprentice booksellers who are more concerned with the book content. I think this was the foundation for my later career as the person who largely focuses on business in publishing or, more lyrically, “creating”.



Locked up

My career trajectory might just as well have taken me to prison. The career advisor I consulted with my parents actually said he could imagine me as a prison guard. Apart from people skills, this path would have taken an apprenticeship and further education in psychology, for example, at the C. G. Jung Institute in Küsnacht, Zurich. If my non-plan A in the media business hadn’t worked out quite so smoothly, this might have been a solid plan B.



Chalk and cheese

I had a big brother, Martin, who was two and a half years older than me. When we were teens, we secretly listened to pirate radio stations together. Martin loved the Beatles, I preferred the Rolling Stones – of course. It wasn’t just their music: Mick Jagger had dropped out of school just like me. I thought that was cool. My big brother was the sensible one. Sadly, he passed away at 60 – heart failure during exercise, even though he was as healthy as a horse.

Which one is the Rolling Stones fan? Obviously, the one on the right.

Picture: private

The Beatles or the Stones – if you know Thomas you know the answer.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

“A small step for Buzz Aldrin”, as you know – and for Thomas Trüb?

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Food for thought

Some of my early socialisation took place at the Fritschi dive in Lucerne. It occupied two floors of a house in the old town. Upstairs, the clever people met. Downstairs was for the tough crowd. They’d hang out there from five o’clock in the morning until late at night, then the political discussions would take over the ground floor, too. I considered myself a revolutionary and played cards for a living. As a talented chess player – I had once drawn in a simultaneous game against a former world champion as a student – I had the best prerequisites for this. And of course I was to be found on the first floor.



1971 - 1973

Viva la revolución!

At Fritschi I became friends with Othmar “Otti” Frey, the leader and mastermind of Lucerne’s progressive youth. In 1971 he and I toured the then Soviet Union with our “rolling hotel,” a coach with a sleeping trailer. The year after, we flew to Cuba, the model of revolution. On August 31, 1973, in transit in the Prague airport, I met a member of the Socialist International named Marie-Françoise. This Corsican girl has been on my mind ever since, this year was fifty years ago.

The lider, Fidel Castro (somewhere in the picture perhaps), talks to the crowd. And talks. And talks… (Havana, 1973)

Picture: User:Bin im Garten / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Who is wearing the pants here? Thomas and Marie-Françoise, early 1970s.

Picture: private

A journalist takes off

A married man shouldn’t play chess or cards to make a living. That’s what my new bride thought, at least – she used to introduce herself as Muriel instead of Marie-Françoise in Switzerland to make things less complicated. So I applied for one of the sought-after places at Ringier’s in-house School of Journalism (or “Jouschu”). Mine was the first ever class, the class of 1974, and my fellow students included current chairman Michael Ringier himself. My acceptance may have been due to my highly enthusiastic cover letter: I claimed that I loved nothing better than to read the business section of the NZZ newspaper in my spare time. In reality, I’d never even glanced at the paper. However, I navigated the editorial department fearlessly, and people soon recognised me as a doer. On my first day of work, I managed to get a quote from the then head of the Swiss National Bank about an interest rate hike; after I had investigated where he went for coffee, I caught him off guard there and got my quote.



1975 - 1977

Highlights of a precocious man

I had a great time at the tabloid newspaper, which was probably at (or near) its peak at the time: Fridolin Luchsinger, the editor-in-chief, was a great teacher and an expert in his field. To go through his school meant to learn the linguistically concise but clear expression. Of the numerous good stories I was privileged to write, a few have remained in my memory:

The Chiasso scandal of the Schweizerische Kredianstalt SKA (Swiss Credit Agency), a perfect story for a newspaper that had to sell at the newsstand.

The (temporary) rise of Werner K. Reys, one of the first corporate raiders in Switzerland.

Relatively early on, I covered perhaps the craziest story of my career – especially because I was not just a describer of events, but also a designer. I had a dual role that, with compliance and other corporate governance requirements, hardly any journalist could take on today. It was about 170 construction workers stuck in the Libyan desert for a Chur-based contractor who was in financial (and other) trouble. His people had to hold out there on a construction site, without bread, water, wages and passports. I had received the call for help from the foreman – received via a telex message from the Swiss embassy – during Sunday duty. I made a lonely decision and traveled there immediately. Alone in the unfamiliar country, after the photographer bailed out on the first day, I became the negotiator between the Libyan clients, who insisted on fulfillment, and the desperate, abandoned workers. For the purpose of immediate fundraising, I bought alcohol for the equivalent of 1500 francs that I had scraped together – with a smart construction worker we stretched the liquor and took in 10000 francs by selling it to local customers, so we could provide the workers with makeshift food. The employees of the Swiss embassy kept a low profile in this matter, they did not want to endanger the good relations with the Libyan leadership, so the official explanation. At least the ambassador warned me that the local authorities would be looking for me. This was after a big article had appeared in Blick under my name, although it had been agreed that the story would be published under a pseudonym for my protection. Since I had not entered the country with an official journalist’s visa, I had to leave as soon as possible. I just managed to do that. And also the workers could finally be repatriated after two weeks (and several Blick frontpage stories).

And finally, more premiere than primeur: the first culture story ever to appear in Blick, my Christmas story about the great but difficult Swiss writer Robert Walser, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death on December 25 in a psychiatric hospital (or “insane asylum”, as it was called back then).

The first issue of Bilanz

The newly launched magazine was the right place for me. It wrote about people – egos, really – from the world of business rather than just droning on about numbers. Editor-in-chief Andreas Z’Graggen told me that there were three private companies no journalist had ever been able to crack: a trading firm called André, Firmenich (aromas, fragrances), and Maus Frères, the unseen brothers behind Manor and Lacoste. Anyone who could manage to deliver an investigative report about one of these companies would get a crate of champagne. Well, I can’t resist a challenge, can I? So I ended up delivering all three “impossible” stories in a row. Santé!



Thomas who?

A Ringier journalist called Frank A. Meyer, a confident and charismatic character, rang me – to bring me back to Blick. I asked him what he had in mind exactly. Well, here’s the thing, said FAM. There was no actual vacancy at the time, so they were planning to put me in their talent pool – just for a while, of course, but I had to look at it as an opportunity. I thanked him. And answered: “I’ll be there right away, but only for my dream job – as head of Blick.” I was 28 and unfortunately it was never to be.

Last stop: Lucerne

A few months after FAM’s attempt to hire me away (see above – Thomas who?), “Lucerne happened”, as we used to say in the industry. Jürg Tobler, the manager of Luzerner Neuste Nachrichten, was fired, and and Christian Müller, the publishing director, was appointed as his successor. Whereupon 31 members of the editorial staff resigned. And this led to my getting an offer from Ringier, the publishing company behind the newspaper – they didn’t want me to take over Blick, but they offered me a job as editor-in-chief for LNN. I couldn’t say no – after all, Lucerne is my city.

The editor-in-chief is responsible for the general look and feel of a newspaper: what goes where, how big should each bit be, all that. But the job description didn’t keep me from researching and writing my own stories every now and then. I went to the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain, for example, after winning a bet against the LNN sports director (I had correctly predicted Italy would make the final). After the match in Madrid, which the Italian national team had won 3-1 against Germany, my accredited colleagues moved to the press conference, so I was soon the only journalist left in the stands of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Suddenly, I saw German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and his entourage striding through the stands toward the exit. I called out, “Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Chancellor…” but he seemed to ignore me. Whereupon government spokesman Klaus Bölling said to me, “Louder, he can’t hear well.” I shouted for Helmut Schmidt. Whereupon he noticed me – and gave me an unplanned interview. He had also spoken to a colleague of the ARD, I think, apart from that the Luzerner Neusten Nachrichten had been allowed to question the highest German in the world exclusively about Germany’s defeat.

“Paolo Rossi was a player in Italy’s national football-team of 1982”, can one say understated about the world-champion. And “Thomas Trüb was at that time a freelance collaborator of Zurich-based publishing house Ringier.”

Picture: Wikimedia Commons


Live fast die young (well, almost)

Marie-Françoise and I were doing a big trip through Mexico by bus and rail. One day, we were having a meal at a restaurant in Puerto Angel when a gunfight broke out. The really dangerous part happened at the beach, though. I’d failed to notice that only locals were venturing into the sea that morning. All the tourists were sticking to the hotel swimming pool. What followed was an enormous wipeout: a huge wave that took me completely by surprise. It led to a near-death experience exactly like those described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the pioneering researcher of death. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and felt the endorphin rush that takes away your fear of the unknown. It was calm and beautiful. Ever since then, I have thought of death as something positive. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the Mexican fishermen who pulled me out of the water unconscious and saved me from drowning.


Ahead of the game

I wanted to enter the first Zurich triathlon, competing in the Olympic distance (one third of the Ironman distance). The organiser convinced me to upgrade to the Half Ironman instead. Again… I can’t resist a challenge. Even though my preparations were limited – and that’s an understatement – I ended up being the best finisher from Central Switzerland.

The bicycle race from Milan to San Remo – quite possibly the hardest eleven hours of my life.

Saving the best for last: the New York Marathon. I qualified, all was well. But I didn’t actually get to take part. My doctor wouldn’t let me go because of my knee issues. That was a setback, a major setback. And, played over the rail, so to speak, Michael Ringier as well – he then had to start alone after I had persuaded him to participate. He was furious with me, but only for a short time.

My own 1984

Quit while you’re ahead, they say. So I left LNN to start my own business. But what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? A whole range of things: ideas, persistence, execution and customers. I had ideas. I had customers, too. Well, one customer: a German publishing house that wanted to do something in Switzerland. I don’t quite remember what it was. So I basically had half a customer. Until Bruno Gabriel appeared on the scene. The businessman and software and venture capital pioneer from Lucerne asked me to develop a customer magazine. Like any self-respecting young entrepreneur, he offered me a stake in his IT start-up Also as payment. We had drawn up a draft for a magazine, delivered it and soon forgot about it. Until I found out months later, after Bruno had put some of the Also shares on the stock exchange, that my shareholding was now worth something, namely a few hundred thousand francs. But more important than the amount was the realization that although you can make a lot of money by charging high fees, you can get rich if you’re paid in equity. Today I would describe this as a game changer – because from then on, venture capital became my business model.

Those who matter

Formative people in my life up to this point (no claim to completeness).

My parents: they taught my brother and me that family happiness is more important than material prosperity.

My brother Martin: because he was a Beatles fan, I became a Rolling Stones fan. If it had been the other way around, I would be living off my pension as a former federal employee today.

Michael Ringier: without him, nothing would have happened.

Uli Sigg: I’ve learned a lot from Uli, who’s smart as a whip. One life lesson in particular has stuck with me: learn to ask the right questions.

Ueli Flörchinger: For years my alter ego in building all my projects anywhere in the world. He has mastered all disciplines (finance, administration, law and some more), which are still foreign to me today.

Othmar “Otti” Frey, the then chief ideologue of the Young Left Lucerne. Without him, no Cuba and without Cuba, no Marie-Françoise. Thanks to him, I also learned the art of dialectics – it helped me in many conversations and negotiations.

Marie-Françoise, my wife: she instilled in me the Corsican sense of family (see also “Our parents”). Her acting talent ensures that she is good for a surprise every day.

Dariu, my son, born in 1987 (I was 35): he taught me that we must not look at the world through our Eurocentric eyes. And today he lives the life I always dreamed of when I was young: alternative, environmentally conscious, self-determined. And always do only what is fun. One could become a little envious sometimes.



Back to Ringier – in a different role

How was it again with me and Ringier? I was happy to join but only if I got to take over Blick. That’s what I had told Frank A. Meyer over a decade earlier. It didn’t happen. But I got to take some responsibility for Luzerner Neuste Nachrichten for a while, and I turned it into a bit of a tabloid even though it was a subscription paper. Now, the company was thinking about line extensions: launching slightly different versions of successful brands. A business-focused Blick, for example. Michael Ringier and the other managers reckoned I’d be the right person to make it happen. I was tempted, but I had different ideas. A Blick about the world of business. In 1989, the first issue of Cash came out. My identifier at Ringier, by the way, wasn’t TT. It was “tut”. Fair enough.

Shortly before the fall (of the wall), Berlin, autumn 1989. And shortly before my journey in the other direction – Eastern Europe beware, Ringier and Thomas Trüb are coming.

Picture: Raphaël Thiémard / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Money, money

I told Ringier that I never wanted to be an employee again when I rejoined. Being self-employed is fun… and profitable. Michael Ringier didn’t mind: he was happy to work with me as an independent contractor. He also let me make (smaller) investments regularly to prove that I really believed in my business ideas.

Cash, the popular business weekly which I had personally created and developed, went on to make more money than any other print media title in Switzerland (until the launch of the free periodical 20 Minuten). This was also thanks to the Cashclones published in the newly liberalised Eastern European countries (the Swiss print edition was discontinued in 2007; the online version is now the largest financial platform in Switzerland).



The world’s shortest business book: my career in seven words

Entrepreneur – with Ringier’s money (also called “intrapreneur”).

Too much grace – for the photographer, he couldn’t take a square picture. Thomas scoring for FC Alternativ-Luzern

Picture: private

The game of life

That’s football to me, no doubt. My favourite position is that of sweeper, a defender without a direct opponent – a bit of an antithesis to my business conduct. I made it onto the national squad (of journalists, that is). I even founded my own club, FC Inter Altstadt; we played in Lucerne’s alternative league. And that’s how I ended up in prison, in a way: a team mate killed his wife – a horrific story, he did it out of jealousy. A crime of passion, in more poetic terms. We players showed solidarity with all the victims: the son who lost his mother, but also with A., the perpetrator, whose guardian I became.. We supported the boy, but also stood by the father during his detention. Among other things, we helped coach the prison team in which he was allowed to play. Which led to us being invited by numerous other prison teams to play against them in prisons.

Apart from that, I managed to get Günter Netzer to join FC Inter Altstadt. The German great footballer was without commitment after leaving Zurich Grasshopper Club GCZ. Whereupon, true to my motto “Nothing is impossible”, I asked him if he wouldn’t join us occasionally for a good cause (and a settlement permit from the canton of Nidwalden). He agreed. Unfortunately, no use of him came about, the Hamburg sports club HSV got him as a manager, and then he never took up residence in Nidwalden.

Cash as cash can

François Mitterrand, France’s president from 1981 to 1995, spoke of “capitalism with a human side.” I can subscribe to that. I can subscribe to that. In the sense of a social market economy, but also that the focus is on people. That was the idea behind our founding the Swiss newspaper Cash in 1989. Readers loved the personalised business stories. Only one year later, in 1990, we launched a Czech edition of Cash called Profit. Cash daily, a free daily periodical accompanied by an online finance and business portal which we launched in Switzerland a little later, was probably the world’s first multi-media news project.





On the ball

When FC Lucerne, which had been my club since childhood, faced financial ruin, I had to do something. I was able to broker a deal between the traditional clothing manufacturer Schild from Lucerne and FCL. Schild bought CHF 300,000 worth of adverts, and Ringier left the money to the club. It worked, even in the long term: FCL is still around, even though Schild ultimately didn’t survive. Its final years saw a lot of ups and downs, then the company was sold to Globus in 2019.

Marseille – still on the ball

Newspapers and magazines are educational. I’ve always thought so. In the 1980s, I read an article about Marseille in the Nouvel Observateur. It praised France’s second biggest city as a lovely place to live in the Mediterranean, and its property prices were said to be very reasonable. My wife didn’t need much convincing: the port city has always been a popular destination for Corsicans seeking to escape their small island. So I bought a house there, Marie-Françoise moved in, and I lived there with her whenever I wasn’t on a plane headed for Eastern Europe or Asia.

As a football fan, I was well aware of the local club, Olympique Marseille, and its dramatic history. In the early 1990s, a winning streak had turned into a calamity. Just after winning the Champions League, the club was forcibly relegated due to a bribery scandal. It was in serious trouble and low on cash. As I was working at the time for the sports rights joint venture of the German Axel Springer Verlag and Leo Kirch, the film trader, I was asked to negotiate with the club management about a possible sale of OM to the German partners. It looked good, we probably would have gotten the club. But the deal fell through – because Kirch was on the verge of bankruptcy. I still remember his words when I called him and asked why the deal couldn’t be closed. He said, “I invite you to come to my office in Munich – you will be facing the most indebted man in Germany.”

My property overlooking the bay of Ajaccio is named “U Tempu Persu”, meaning “Time lost” in the Corsican language. Which is wrong, of course, it should be called “time won” instead (the picture shows the guest house).

Picture: Alberto Venzago

Château Trüb or, in more humble words, our home in Marseille.

Picture: private

Room or apartment with a view – from Thomas Swiss pied-à-terre in Lucerne.

Picture: private

My Life

A note in advance: I started investing money early because I always wanted to be independent. The alternative, actually more obvious for a hippie, namely to drop out to go to Goa and enjoy free love on the beach smoking joints, I considered, but rejected after careful consideration. But what I have never done for ethical reasons: speculated with real estate considered as investment properties Thanks to my occasional information advantage (e.g. in Eastern Europe), I could have become filthy rich. But that was not the point for me. I wanted to become a journalist after I realized that I could do what I wanted in this profession: to implement good ideas and tell exciting stories. And to earn enough money to be able to live out my desire for independence. The path I eventually took was slightly different, but I remained true to the design. Also in terms of investing in, rather than speculating on, houses.

Marseille could have evolved in a different way. In retrospect, your own decisions always look clear and logical, but nobody knew at the time how the port city would fare. Crime, corruption, immigration, unemployment… Things turned out differently, fortunately. And of course I’m not the only Swiss Marseille fan: Peter Schellenberg and Roger de Weck also love the city. Which is why we founded the Marseille Club.

My decision to buy a plot with a house in Corsica in the 1990s was also a matter of the heart. Over the following years, was able to purchase the adjacent properties, something that should be done if at all possible. Today, my land spans more than 40,000 square metres set on a hilltop with views over Ajaccio Bay. It has long since become my permanent home. We have a park that is full of surprises, from genuine counterfeit art to harmless big cats on the trees. There’s also a zoo housing around forty live animals, including two donkeys I call my “tribute to Corsica”, and a newly renovated holiday villa with a rooftop jacuzzi. I rent it out, and it’s not visible from my own house.

U Tempu Persu: click and immerse yourself

On the prowl

I conduct my private life much like my business: the other party – the woman – has to take the first step. This way, I know whether there’s any interest in me or my offer. After I met Marie-Françoise on August 31, 1973 on a trip to Cuba (where she had approached me), I sent her flowers to Paris after I’d returned home. She visited me in Lucerne. We got married quite quickly, and there were additional benefits involved for both of us: she got a Swiss residence permit, I got a French passport. This partner of convenience turned out to be the love of my life. On 31 August 2023, we have been together for fifty years. Strictly speaking, I can’t even say that I married “my wife“ – I married “into a large Corsican family”. That’s how it is for me.

Our special sauce, our secret recipe

Many people ask Marie-Françoise and me how we’ve managed to stay together for half a century. I don’t have a universal answer, but I know what’s worked for us. We have three lives: she lives hers, I live mine, and we live ours. The only exception to the rule is parenting: we’ve always either made every decision as a team or at least presented a united front to our son, Dariu. We’re pretty different people: my wife is fairly introverted and pessimistic. She celebrates what the French call l’ennui, a certain melancholic approach to life. I’m an extroverted optimist. I think this contrast has somehow also helped us to still get along very well.

Go east, young(ish) man

I had the ambition to conquer Eastern Europe’s newly opened markets. But in the beginning, as is so often the case, there was a happy coincidence, in this case a Czech physiotherapist who raved to me about the business opportunities in his homeland. Dort lernte ich einen jungen Wirtschaftsjournalisten kennen: Michal Voracek. Das war ein Volltreffer, das merkte ich auf unserem Streifzug durch die schönsten Bierkeller Prags. Michal war unser Mann, und so reiste ich bei nächster Gelegenheit mit 50’000 Schweizer Franken im Gepäck nach Prag. So entstand unsere erste Cash-Adaption, die wir sinnigerweise “Profit” nannten. We had plenty of skilled people on board, and the conditions were liberal and favourable. But there was a challenge: finding good employees locally. The quality of the printing houses in the countries did not meet our standards, and advertising is always a very local affair, which made things hard for us. However, we fully leveraged our early-mover advantage anyway. Next, we launched the tabloid daily Blesk – the concept was based on Blick – in the Czech Republic. The supplement of the Sunday edition was so popular with our business customers that we were able to triple our ad rates. Even so, demand for advertising spots still exceeded the pages available – it’s hard to imagine nowadays.



Life of the party

I’m actually not, it just came that way. Because if you plan a celebration in Corsica, you will necessarily invite the whole village, you can compare it roughly with the wedding customs in India. So who am I not to welcome the cousin’s cousin (and his cousins) as well? Comes to that: he also welcomed my family and me at the time, when there was something to celebrate with him. And that’s why we invited over 300 guests to our son Dariu’s christening in 1987. For my 40th birthday there were 450, my record so far. For the 60th there were fewer people, but more parties in four different places: in Lucerne, Asia, Africa and, of course, on Corsica.

My son Dariu or From start-up man to therapist and life artist.

To love is to let go. Give your child everything they need to leave you and forge their own path.

I assume it wasn’t always easy to have a father who tended to succeed more than he failed, who was generally well liked and respected. That’s why I made a fool of myself again and again: so Dariu could see that I don’t take myself too seriously.

My son studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, which teaches its subjects from the perspective of African and Eastern cultures rather than from our western point of view. There is a strong focus on development studies. Dariu learned that there are many different ways to look at the world. He has shared this insight with me, and I have benefited from it.

After his studies, he got off to a brilliant start in business life with start-ups in Africa and non-profit companies in Asia. Then he found, probably with the kind help of his girlfriend at the time, that this life, which suspiciously resembled mine, was not really his cup of tea. So he got out and switched – he trained as a hypnotherapist. And now enjoys with his new girlfriend an alternative, environmentally conscious life in Corsica, with small outliers, travel, around the world.

Mein Sohn und Geschäftspartner, Dariu. Er überredete mich damals mit ihm nach Afrika zu kommen – das war der Startschuss zu Ringier Afrika.

Picture: Alberto Venzago



Sharp minds and greedy hands

We did not just establish newspapers and magazines in Eastern Europe, we also bought up promising local publications. The Czech culture magazine Reflex, for example. It was a clever publication with a wide reach, and we enjoyed having it in our portfolio – until we realised that the intellectual editors and co-owners had sold their interest twice: once to a local company with a suboptimal reputation and once to Ringier. I had to get the shares back from the buyer. This was quite a tricky endeavour until I figured out that his daughter was at a boarding school in Switzerland and the family wanted to retain its good name in our country. That is, some additional pressure from my side was necessary so that a deal was finally struck at four o’clock in the morning.

Lessons learned in the past fifty years “Irrationality rules the world.”

My money

Money buys independence. I’ve always had a strong desire for freedom and autonomy, so I knew that earning more would be better than earning less. Especially if this is possible with a business model like that of journalism – what could be nicer than developing interesting ideas and then implementing them or researching and writing exciting stories? That means, alternatively, living as a dropout would probably have worked too. But money in and of itself is not that interesting to me. I’m not an expert on investments and have never cared about them very much; my own assets are managed by a professional – and I don’t really keep track of them. But what I have learned is the briefest insight into the respective performance: When the manager invites me to the Kronenhalle at the end of the year, it means my assets developed poorly. When prices rise, he only pays me a bratwurst from the Sternen Grill. My investments in start-ups, on the other hand, have been a passion project. Some of them went well and grew considerably, others bombed. I invested as a seed investor in one of the few French Unicorn. What fascinates me most about startups is how the founders, who are usually young, see the world. I want to get to know their ideas, so I invite a few people from fresh companies to my house from time to time.

To this day, I’m not very good at predicting whether a start-up business idea will be successful. Actually – I think I’m probably better at predicting what won’t be successful. My personal risk profile makes me a perfect start-up investor: I like taking big risks. There’s something appealing about the possibility of losing my whole wager in a bet.

The most impressive encounter of my life

“A little man stood in the forest all still and silent…”

Ly Van Sau reminded me of this nursery rhyme when I met him for the first time at a meeting in Hanoi in the early 1970s. And many more meetings were to follow with our Vietnamese partners to launch a business newspaper à la Cash. And Mr. Sau, this inconspicuous little man, certainly well over 70 years old, always sat there and never spoke a word.

One day, after a meeting, I asked him what his function was, and he explained to me that he was there on behalf of the communist party to make sure that no errors of content slipped into the paper.

And then we went to have tea and he told me his story.

He was a close companion of Ho Chi Minh and had already been commissioned as a journalist to run a guerrilla radio station during the French Indochina War. His equipment consisted of two elephants, which, in order not to be tracked, dragged the necessary equipment through the jungle every night so that the journalists could go on the air during the day.

In 1968, he was appointed spokesman for North Vietnam at the beginning of the Paris peace negotiations and kept this position until the conclusion of the treaty in 1973. During this time, he met many personalities from Henry Kissinger to Fidel Castro, Ayatollah Khomeini to President Georges Pompidou.

Subsequently, I invited him and his wife to France, because his last wish was to show his wife Paris. After Paris, they came for a visit in Corsica, it was high summer and the following morning he was standing there perfectly dressed in a suit and tie to pay his respects to Tino Rossi and to visit his grave. The Corsican singer and actor was an international star in the 60s, with over 300 million records worldwide and an incredible repertoire of over 1000 songs. And my friend Sau shed tears at this grave and recited a good dozen songs as a result. And so I learned that he was an huge fan of French culture, who also knew all the literature inside out. Besides Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese, he also spoke perfect Spanish, English and French.

And during the evenings in Corsica, he told us about his eventful life at the side of Ho Chi Minh, his elephants, how he met his wife in the jungle, his encounters with all the important personalities and, above all, about his love for his country.

I will never forget the encounters with this humble man who had deeply impressed us with his charisma and his story.


On the importance of frog legs

I’m often asked why I have such a special bond with Vietnam. I inevitably reply: politics (Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh…), people I admire, the personalities I’ve met… And the cuisine: my first trips to Hanoi were invariably spent dining at the legendary Cha Ca restaurant, which serves a kind of irresistible fish fondue… And I could mention countless other dishes, so rich and varied is Vietnamese cuisine. But my Achilles heel, if I may say so, are frog legs, sometimes as big as chicken legs. With lots of garlic and beer – cold, please! We could go on and on about the role of food in negotiating contracts, about what motivates people to do business in one country and not another... In the case of Vietnam, the frogs in the rice paddies have a lot to do with it.

Thomas added color to the world – magazines, newspapers and other media that he founded or co-founded in Switzerland, Europe, Asia and Africa. Hence a colorful map of the world showing where he went with Ringier (bright blue) and where the company expanded after him (dark blue).





This is what a coup d’etat looks like: tanks in front of the 1st Army headquarters, Bangkok, 2006. It was also the end of the planned joint venture with the former prime minister.

Picture: User:Roger_jg / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.5

Not meant to be

In 2001, I worked on perhaps the most interesting project of my career: an American non-governmental organization approached Michael Ringier with the idea of setting up an editorial team of Muslims and Jews in East Jerusalem. To publish a joint newspaper that would be read by Palestinians and Israelis. It was, in essence, an impossible project. One of the reasons was that there was no common denominator. But that’s exactly what challenged me, “Impossible? Doesn’t exist”, was my attitude. So I found a common denominator: the black humor that characterized those involved on both sides. I was enthusiastic about the project and willing to work for it pro bono, for free. Because it was clear to me that such a project could make a real contribution to international understanding. Apart from the fact that the newspaper, if it could be published, would go around the world as a news story. At the beginning, we made surprisingly good progress; we were already talking about personnel, an editorial concept, and so on. But suddenly, the project ground to a halt. Until, suddenly, it didn’t go any further. He could no longer guarantee the safety of the staff, the Palestinian project manager told me before pulling the plug, “we had to present the project to Hamas. They told us any cooperation with Israelis was treason and would be punished accordingly.” After all, we almost made (a little) world politics.


Around 2006, I got a call from Thailand asking me whether Ringier-Pacific, which I managed, would like to publish a tabloid with an important local businessman. We were interested, of course. However, we never heard from Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai businessman, ever again. It wasn’t surprising: the police and military had staged a coup d’état and taken over the government while Thaksin – who had been the prime minister of Thailand since 2001 at the time – was at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He ended up in exile in London and abandoned the idea of a tabloid paper. In the meantime, his successors in Thailand seized the equivalent of more than one billion Francs of his frozen assets. He has since become a citizen of Montenegro and for a long time stayed mainly in Dubai (the Emirates do not have an extradition treaty with Thailand), but recently he returned to his home country, where he was briefly imprisoned and then hospitalized, he is ill.


A little later I came into contact with Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of Tabo Mbeki, then president of South Africa. He had been commissioned by Nelson Mandela to set up a media house aimed at Black South Africans. The conditions were described to us as very favourable: “There are no budget restrictions. Anything goes.” However, the South Africans soon lost their sense of urgency about the project. In the end, it was “temporarily suspended”. The president’s brother said it would be “picked up again after the elections”. The elections took place in 2008, and afterwards, Moeletsi was still Tabo’s younger brother, but Tabo was no longer president. And the vision of a Black publishing company was history.

Flops? I’ve had a few

Ringier had Sonntagsblick, Tamedia had Sonntagszeitung – only NZZ was lacking a Sunday edition. There was a gap waiting to be filled, and the answer was Sonntagsblatt, published by six regional newspaper publishers and Karl Schweri, the founder of Denner. I was put in charge of managing the project. Sonntagsblatt was displayed on racks with plastic bags that held the papers and a little cash register for people to insert money (or not, as the case may be). It didn’t last long. Was the editorial content inadequate? Maybe, but it’s more likely that the various interests of all those publishers and Schwerk, the successful and confident owner, simply clashed.


Ringier Studios, an early sort of in-house app (about Prince William, cocaine and the Champions League, for example). In doing so, I violated my own rule that I had made in my career: Don’t think from the product, think from the market. Instead of: “Oh, this is a lovely magazine, a good newspaper, a nice app – someone will buy it.” Think: “This is a wealthy target group interested in my magazine, my newspaper, my app.”


Cash for Germany. It was going to be a joint venture between Axel Springer and Spiegel. It would have been sensational, perhaps even successful, but the big egos at the major publishing houses ultimately condemned it to failure.



Mission IMPOSSIBLE (Dariu Foundation)

Finally, to my greatest source of pride: my foundation, which has been generously supported by Ringier Publishing since its inception, and which I named after my son. Maybe I chose his name because the foundation helps children who start their lives in less favourable conditions than he did. They are children and young adults from rural areas of Vietnam and other Asian countries. Rural populations are generally at a disadvantage compared to city dwellers. In other words: we find and support talent where no one else is looking. Talents that would otherwise have remained undiscovered.

The first lesson we had to learn: when the children can’t get to school – because the school is far away and the parents won’t let them go – the school has to get to the children. So we developed mobile schools that travel to the villages we want to support. To date, one and a half million children have taken our IT lessons. There are various levels, from user fundamentals to advanced software development training. We discover and promote talented young people who would otherwise have struggled to live up to their full potential. Digital literacy is, without a doubt, one of the most useful skills for a modern career. More recently, we have expanded our offering even further: coding skills are one thing, entrepreneurial skills are another. And we are increasingly teaching these to our participants as well. Because as the saying goes, “Give a kid a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish – and he eats for a lifetime.” In our example, you can replace the fisherman with the entrepreneur.

We have designed and improved our processes in a way that puts every single Franc, Euro or Dollar collected towards developing the children’s skills. I am proud of what we have achieved with the Dariu Foundation. Soon, I will hand its management over to a successor. The solution is already in place. That’s always been very important to me: if you fail to appoint a worthy successor, you have failed altogether, I think.

A peek into the classroom – Vi Than Elementary School, November 2022.

Picture: Alberto Venzago

The greatest deal in history

For Ringier, that was the acquisition of a 49.9 percent stake in the Scout24 online marketplaces for 140 million Francs. A hefty price tag back then, but from today’s perspective, our entrance into Switzerland’s digital classifieds network was a steal. Nowadays, the company is a part of the Swiss Marketplace Group, which also includes AutoScout24, Homegate and Ricardo. It is one of Switzerland’s most valuable digital companies (SMG is owned by Ringier, TX Group, Mobiliar and Investor General Atlantic).

Finally, a (smaller) deal, but also of strategic importance: the purchase of Radio Energy for Switzerland. Ringier, before diversification, had a similar starting position, a fundamental problem, as SRG – a satisfied audience, but one that was getting older. Winning young customers was hardly possible. The conclusion: a youth medium had to be in the portfolio. Which is why we bought what was then Radio Z and, in agreement with the French energy operators, rolled it out in Zurich and later in Basel and Bern. With our program we reached the most listeners of all private radio stations in Switzerland, young listeners. The deal went through in Corsica, it was not the only one, Corsica should prove to be fertile ground.


A look back at an adventurous life

I have had the privilege of witnessing political and social changes in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. And it is not presumptuous to say that Ringier has made an important contribution to press freedom in many countries as a pioneer. This has been accompanied in part by liberalizations of people’s personal freedom in these countries; some countries have become functioning democracies, others, unfortunately, have not. And freedom of the press – yes freedom of the press has unfortunately not become a matter of course, it is, once again, under increasing pressure.

I was also lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And was probably also the right man for it. I had a healthy amount of self-confidence, but I was also a doer, a front-runner, not afraid of anything or anyone. Still, I would never have gotten this far without a publisher and client like Michael Ringier at my back – he gave me the chance to realize all of this. And that’s what made this business and private life possible for me in the first place.

I was (and still am) an optimistic person. When it comes to the environment, however, I have doubts for the first time. I hope I’m wrong again.

Thomas does Proust

Or this homme de lettres answers questions that the other one had already asked in 1895 (or 1896).

Where would you like to live?

At my home in Corsica

What is perfect earthly happiness for you?

The lightness of being

Which mistakes are you most likely to excuse?

The first

What is the greatest misfortune?


Your favourite novel heroes?

Sherlock Holmes, he solves all problems

Your favourite figure in history?

Mahatma Gandhi

Your favourite heroines/heroes in reality?

All people who unselfishly work for a better world

Your favourite painter?

My heart beats for all artists who, despite their talents, have remained unknown all their lives

Your favourite composer?

Keith Richards

What qualities do you value most in a woman?

What would this world be without women

What qualities do you value most in a man?

(see above)

Your favourite virtue?


Your favourite pastime?

To be happy and content

Who or what would you have liked to be?

The court astrologer of the Bhutanese king has predicted that in my next life I will see the light of day as a cow. I just hope that this will be somewhere in India and not near a slaughterhouse.

Your main trait?

Drive, tolerance, confidence –
and I have retained my childlike curiosity.

What do you value most in your friends?


Your biggest mistake?

Thinking I was still 50

Your dream of happiness?


What do you want to be?

Healthy and lively and independent

Your favourite colour?

Red and yellow

Your favourite flower?

Dracula simia

Your favourite bird?

The Corsican Nuthatch, which can only be admired in Corsica.

Your favourite writer?

Depends on my mood of the day, at the moment James Joyce. He demanded everything of me to understand Ulysses.

Your favourite poet?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I had to recite the “Erlkönig” at school – it was pure horror, but whole passages of the text have remained with me to this day.

What do you detest the most?


Which historical figures do you detest the most?

All war criminals, the list is unfortunately very long

Which reform do you admire the most?

The Corsican national hero Pasquale Paoli. He liberated the island from the Genoese in 1755 and wrote the world’s first modern democratic constitution in the same year.

What natural gift would you like to possess?

Playing the piano

How would you like to die?

At the best moment

Your current state of mind?

Don’t ask my psychiatrist, I don’t have one

Your motto?

Nothing is more fascinating than reality

What do you consider the most important invention of the last hundred years?

The internet

Do you think God is an invention of man?

As an agnostic I have to pass

Who would you like to meet in person?

Geopolitics interests me, therefore Henry Kissinger

Which design do you prefer?

Flaminio Bertoni

Your favorite music?

Blues & Rock

Your favorite animal?

The elephant, according to my court astrologer from Bhutan, that was me in my last life.

What sports do you do?

Cycling, tennis, swimming, playing cards

Which car would you like to drive?

Not interested, today I only consider it a necessary evil.

Food and drink keeps body and soul together, what is it with you?

Dry chili chicken, Szechuan style and one or even two ice-cold Tsingtao beers to go with it.

What three items do you take with you to a desert island?

Internet connection, well-stocked fridge (hopefully counts as one item), return ticket