Could “Made in China” soon eclipse the national cross from the famous Swiss army knife? The very suggestion is provoking a very un-Swiss uproar in the country.

Switzerland is, of course, neutral but the emblematic pocket knife is handed to new recruits starting their compulsory army service. However, the government believes its next order of knives – worth about SFr1.7m – will almost certainly require an international tender to ensure Switzerland doesn’t breach its World Trade Organisation obligations.

Although Victorinox, the domestic producer of army knives, sounds confident about defeating any rival relying on much lower manufacturing costs in a country such as China, irate army officers and nationalist politicians are taking no chances.

One of them, Alois Kessler, a lawyer and former colonel, is already challenging the interpretation of the WTO rules and has launched a nationwide petition to keep the army knife truly Swiss.

Kessler argues WTO rules exclude “stabbing weapons”. Alternatively, since the Swiss army is in any case mooting changes to the opening mechanism for the knife’s main blade, the tender could be exempted from free trade rules on grounds of national security.

But would that then require removing the famous corkscrew, cherished by every Swiss soldier for reasons that have little to do with defence?

Should have passed

Jimmy Cayne’s golf schedule has been subjected to a near putt-by-putt analysis this summer by Wall Street observers. Now all eyes are on his bridge game.

It has been the talk of Wall Street that Cayne, the chief executive of Bear Stearns, was playing golf while two of his firm’s hedge funds were imploding. Now it emerges that Cayne and Warren Spector, who was co-president of Bear Stearns until his resignation at the weekend, were in Nashville at a bridge tournament as the hedge fund problems worsened.

Cayne and Spector are great bridge players, and their love of the game was something that drew the two men together. Spector was considered heir apparent to Cayne, who is 73.

Spector kept abreast of the credit meltdown from his hotel room in Nashville, but still managed to get enough playing time to help his team win. No word on how Cayne’s team fared.

But there is talk that Cayne was unhappy that Spector wasn’t back at the office managing the crisis in person. It is good to have the same hobbies as the boss, but dangerous to forget that the rules for the boss are not always the same.

Majority rules

Fortis, the Belgo-Dutch bank, faced one of the most tense moments in its history on Monday, but it didn’t let it pass without a touch of humour.

Its investors were voting on its participation in a consortium bid for ABN Amro, and Fortis’ planned €13bn rights issue to part fund its slice of the Dutch lender. If successful, the consortium’s offer for ABN would be the biggest financial services transaction in history. Without shareholder support, Fortis would struggle to proceed with its part of the bid. So, to make sure all was running smoothly, Maurice Lippens, Fortis’ urbane chairman, asked those at the Brussels meeting to use their electronic touchpads for a trial vote before the crucial decision.

Turning on the charm, he urged them to vote on a motion to meet at the buffet for a drink and hors d’oeuvre after the meeting. “If [this decision] is negative then we really have a problem,” he joked.

In the end, 97.4 per cent were in favour of the food and drink resolution. Why, he asked, did nearly 3 per cent vote against?

Bob’s Dodge

On his first day as Chrysler’s chief executive on Monday, Bob Nardelli was bound to be asked what car he drives.

The former Home Depot chief came well prepared, although his answer was a tad vague. His first car was a Dodge Dart GT. Indeed, he took his wife on their first date in it.

Without saying what he actually drives, Nardelli added that his “fleet” includes a Jeep and a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Alan Mulally, the former Boeing executive who now heads Ford, acknowledged when he arrived in Detroit last September that he drove a Lexus, made by Toyota. But Mulally has since become a Ford fan. It’s a safe bet that Chrysler’s new boss will soon be seen behind the wheel of a Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep.

Nardelli, who faced an avalanche of criticism over his $210m severance package from Home Depot in January, was equally vague about his pay at Chrysler. “We are not going to disclose specifics,” he said.

True blue

The brand police at most big multinationals can be a humourless lot. Uniformity is their highest value, and often ruthlessly enforced. Yet there is at least one company happy to tolerate a creative tweak to its otherwise carefully managed image.

One of Observer’s spies is a graduate of Duke University, whose Blue Devils basketball team is a perennial contender for America’s collegiate championship. When this fact came up during an interview with Mike Eskew, UPS chairman and CEO, he noted that the company’s drop-box outside Duke’s Cameron stadium was the only one he had ever seen not painted in UPS’s trademark colours – brown and yellow. Instead it sports a royal Duke blue hue.

At the risk of spawning copycats across the US, Observer commends UPS for allowing Duke students to paint its brown brand blue.

observer@ft.com

Get alerts on Europe when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article