In 2019, when Swiss telecom giant and leading IT company Swisscom was looking around for a dynamic site for its new DevOps Center, the final choice was between two A-list locations, Berlin and Rotterdam.
Ultimately, Rotterdam’s multicultural attraction proved the more powerful and, in October of 2019, the first five Swisscom engineers took up their positions in the Dutch city. Despite the added degree of difficulty that the COVID pandemic presented, Swisscom’s Rotterdam operation has rapidly grown to over 150 active employees today.
Although Swisscom’s roots lie in traditional telecoms as the national telecom provider, to address the needs of a changing marketplace, it is diversifying into IT, security, and cloud, with ambitions to be recognized as an IT employer. According to Operations Manager and Swiss national Murielle De Roche, whose task it was to set up the office here, Rotterdam came out on top for several key reasons. ‘There is a great international spirit and expat-friendliness here which, in a way, is also true of Berlin. However, from Rotterdam, we have better access to international labor markets, which was our aim, to compete in the battle for talent.’
The choice for a non-Swiss location was a conscious decision by Swisscom: a deliberate strategy to establish a broad and culturally diverse community, as De Roche explains: ‘In the IT sector, talents are rare, and as a Swiss company we had a problem covering our needs with regard to IT skills and IT talent.’ In Switzerland, it isn’t easy to hire someone from outside the country, and although the DevOps Center is based in the Netherlands, its output is purely for the Swiss market.
As well as the crucial talent aspect, De Roche also has her own reflections. ‘What I observe about Rotterdam is that it is becoming stronger and stronger in terms of IT skills – these innovative characters – you can feel them here in the city. It’s really a very innovative city, in many different aspects, compared to many other destinations within Europe.’
De Roche has a recruiter working within her team who liaises with localized IT recruitment businesses. Around 60-70 percent of her employees are from outside the EU. She also praises the assistance provided by Rotterdam Partners, one of the partners in the national Invest in Holland network, in this process. ‘From the very first moment that we chose to locate in the city, Rotterdam Partners were onboard, and I am still very happily collaborating with them. We also work with two relocation partners to help employees settle. For employees with families, we get a lot of help from the Expat Center here, which provides lots of tips and tricks and help with finding schools and generally settling in here.’
Dutch quality of life
De Roche expresses affection for her adopted city: ‘Rotterdam feels like home. I didn’t have any problems adjusting or feeling at home here. However, people coming from more exotic parts of the world have to adjust not only to life and climate here in the Netherlands but also to adjust to this multicultural mini-society that we are building up here as a company. Lots of diverse inputs, lots of thoughts, and different mindsets mean that there is more drive in the entire thinking process.’
As a Swisscom employee of 24 years, De Roche was able to transplant the Swisscom corporate culture to the Netherlands as a foundation; however, her task of creating a holistic culture has been challenging. COVID restrictions mean that employees rarely have, if at all, been able to meet up and interact physically. ‘It’s my mission to make them Swisscom employees; however, some of them haven’t even seen the office yet,’ she explains. ‘So, it’s really hard to build up that strong community and culture. We were super-happy and excited that we were able to grow this fast, even with all these complications, with lockdowns, visas, and such.’
Giving and Growing: sustainable employer
‘The Swisscom company culture involves many of activities around sustainability, and Swisscom is a very responsible employer and runs a very successful program called “Give & Grow.” In the Netherlands, we are planning to contribute to social projects. At the moment, most things are understandably on hold. As part of our diversity drive, we also try and provide career entry opportunities for young talents and those from a weaker social stratum. Young talent provides a lot of fresh energy.’
The successful growth in Rotterdam inspired Swisscom to take the model developed there and apply it to establish a second DevOps operation in Latvia. Swisscom’s diversification strategy looks to be a winner.