Career Story: Felix Föhn, Wauwilermoos

February 18, 2013

Professional MBA Social Management alumnus

What stages in your life have had the greatest impact on you and why?
For over 20 years, I have been involved in social and health care—as a social worker, a project manager and in various executive positions. During that time, I have been privileged to help develop many innovations. It was, however, other things that have shaped me, such as becoming a father, travelling to foreign countries with my wife, cultivating long-standing friendships or supporting and empowering my co-workers.

Did you originally want to pursue a career in a different field? If so, why is it that nothing has come of your plans?
As a 10-year-old, I dreamed—like all boys of that age, I guess—of going to Africa to explore the continent and make exciting discoveries. Very soon, however, I began to realize I wanted to work in the social field. The idea of doing meaningful work with and for people has fascinated me ever since, and so I have never stopped pursuing this goal.

How and why did you come to work in the prison sector?
In my capacity as the managing director of Swiss Labour Assistance, SLA Central Switzerland, I launched a program to provide education to all prisoners in Switzerland. This allowed me to take a closer look at the situation of prisoners - which has made me realize that issues relating to psychiatry, addiction, migration, education and unemployment clash within the narrow confines of prisons. Given that these topics have played a major role in my professional career, I almost had no choice but to become the warden of an open prison.

What has changed in your career as a result of your MBA degree? How did the program (state-of-the-art knowledge, skills, networking) support you in reaching your career goals? What concrete career opportunities (promotions, new responsibilities, etc.) have opened up for you?The MBA certainly provided the basis for a career move to yet another responsible position. Thanks to state-of-the-art theoretical knowledge and an in-depth discussion of sociopolitical trends and developments (including those outside Switzerland), I was ultimately in a position to make the change. The fact that my MBA thesis compares prison education in different countries was also helpful.

What was your biggest professional/personal success?

As a social-work professional, succeeding in building a relationship of confidence and trust with even the most difficult clients - and thus being able to help them to gradually change their lives for the better - has always made me happy.

With regard to social policy, I am proud of two professional achievements. One is that I succeeded in establishing and managing a heroin-assisted treatment program for people suffering from chronic heroin addiction in the canton of Lucerne.

The other is that my dream of providing education to all prisoners in Switzerland has started to come true. The dream developed into a project, and the project has developed into something permanent. Currently, 21 prisons in Switzerland are participating in the "Bildung im Strafvollzug, BiSt" prison-education program, and more will follow.

What are your goals for the coming year? Your goals in general? Is there still something you absolutely want to do?
My personal goal is to maintain a good balance between pursuing my career and taking time out to focus on me and my family. This year, for instance, I will take a break and travel to Australia in order to brush up on my English. 

What do you consider a “great luxury”?
Being healthy, having time on my hands and feeling inspired.

What was the last book/movie you really enjoyed?

"Die Kunst des klaren Denkens: 52 Denkfehler, die Sie besser anderen überlassen" (The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions) by Rolf Dobelli

How would you characterize your philosophy of leadership? Has it been influenced by a leadership role-model?

Authentic, transparent and consistent. I like coaching, prefer functions to hierarchies and get to know new role models all the timeLeadership and social work have one thing in common: you have to like people. This is a sine qua non for doing successful work with and for them. Apart from the necessary expertise, you need to have well-developed social skills. Values that still matter in this regard include openness, honesty, mutual trust, the willingness to let yourself be touched by people and situations, curiosity and the readiness to embrace new ideas.

How do you recharge your batteries when you are not pursuing your demanding career?
Spending time in nature together with my wife is the best way for me to relax. For instance, we go hiking and mountain biking, make ski tours, forage for mushrooms in the woods, and include regular physical activity in our daily routine. I also get energy from having a chat with my family or friends—ideally over a lovely meal and a glass of wine.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?A pearl diver in the South Pacific.
Why would you recommend the Professional MBA Social Management of the WU Executive Academy? What did you like the most?

I find it extremely enriching that the program brings together economic and social topics, issues that are of relevance to social workers and HR issues as well as microeconomic and macroeconomic perspectives. What I found the most valuable, however, was the opportunity to interact with fellow students and lecturers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Gaining insight into the situation in other European countries—or, put differently, looking beyond the national level—was also a very beneficial experience in my opinion.


My motto in life:
Make a difference and inspire people!
I can laugh about:
Bizarre texts by Endo Anaconda (Stiller Has).
Mistakes I am most likely willing to forgive:
Other people's mistakes.
I would spend my last money on:
A journey around the world!
In 20 years I will be:
Hopefully still be in good health, advocating social causes, enjoying time with my grandchildren (who have yet to be born), and savoring delicious mushroom dishes with my wife after strolling through the woods together.

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