By vocation

Reto Rostetter: the Asia aficionado

Reto Rostetter: the Asia aficionado - By vocation

Learning by doing: there are still some employees at RhB whose career could be described in this way. For example Reto Rostetter who started out as a rail resource manager in the 1970s and today travels all over Asia on behalf of the Rhaetian Railway. "I have three passports full of stamps – and an armada of souvenirs and gifts," says the Manager foreign markets and Great Britain.

Reto Rostetter is one of those people who found the perfect job by accident. He wasn’t struck on the St. Gallen traffic school or what was then Swissair or on his job as a pool attendant. He wasn’t passionate about becoming a rail resource manager either, or station master as it was called back in the 1970s: he learned the job because it was the sensible thing to do. "I spent ten years working at various stations, but then I got absolutely bored with it." And so it was by chance that Rostetter applied for the vacancy in sales in 1985 that was to open up an exciting new perspective for him – although it has to be said that the job wasn’t nearly as exciting 30 years ago as it is now: "In those days, we didn’t go round cultivating customers in other countries. We were looking for customers in Switzerland."

Opening the door to Asia
It was the RhB vice-director at the time Andreas Wieland that got the train to Asia rolling: he went to Japan for Switzerland Tourism in 1990 – and persuaded RhB to start cultivating the market there. "Go!" RhB told Rostetter – and that was the start of the man from Graubünden’s passion for travelling. Although: "I had a funny feeling when I first set off for Asia – I had absolutely no idea what the culture was like," he remembers. But RhB had obviously chosen the right man for the job: Rostetter was soon reaping his first success in Japan. To be followed by successes in China, Korea and India. "India was another world all together. In preparation for the trip, I had bought myself the book "CultureShock! India" – but my first trip to India still turned out to be a shock. I hadn’t expected the dirt and the poverty to be quite so prevalent. But the people were very friendly and affable. Now, I love going to India." In the meantime, Rostetter is naturally an expert on, and a lover of, Asian culture: "Back then, I suppose I could have just about starved, but now I love Japanese and Korean food." And the languages? A few years ago he spent three months learning Chinese and Japanese at the same time – but that just led to chaos. "I have basic language skills in Japanese, I can get by. Otherwise they all speak English – although the Japanese are not nearly as good at speaking English as the Chinese and the Indians." And this is by far not the only difference between the three cultures …

«Trusting relations with partners are very precious.»
Reto Rostetter

Japan is not Korea is not China
Reto Rostetter spends 40 per cent of his working time in distant countries, and has done for 30 years now. "From August to October, I am effectively in Asia all the time," he says. And how does he find the 'Asians', that do not exist as such as a people, on his travels? "The Japanese are reserved and reliable: if you’ve got a signature, you know things will pan out. The Chinese on the other hand seem more rough and ready – and the following saying certainly applies to the Chinese: once the contract’s signed, you can start negotiations. I would say the Koreans are likeable rascals– and the Indians are very outgoing, always cheerful and laugh a lot." The most important 'souvenirs' for Rostetter, alongside Chinese vases, Indian wood carvings and Japanese talismans, are good and long-lasting acquaintances. He sees those as being more important than the product itself: "Friendly and enduring relations with business partners are precious – it’s often the only way to get a contract signed."

The future is in China
A lot has changed since Reto Rostetter started cultivating markets. Technology has made everything easier, says the 62-year-old, both office work and travelling. The dimensions of his work have changed, too: what started out with two posts in Travel Sales (today Market Cultivation Switzerland / International), has grown to a setup of six employees taking care of 14 different markets for RhB. In Rostetter’s case this means: looking for and training locals for the branch offices – for example in Shanghai, Mumbai or São Paulo, doing the annual planning, monitoring the budget, drafting travel programmes, visiting customers locally and liaising with foreign media. "And incidentally that’s not a task to be underestimated – in May 2015 alone, I had seven TV teams from my markets here in Graubünden."
The markets have changed, too. Japan is currently a little weaker at the moment because of the yen. But India is going really well and Great Britain too is a major market for RhB – the British love trains. "In the medium term, China and Korea will cover the gap left by Germany and Italy. In fact, generally speaking, China is the future – bookings for 2016 have increased fourfold," says Reto Rostetter. The secret of success: keeping your promises. "RhB has got what people are looking for: wonderful nature and two beautiful trains – the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express. What’s important is to ensure the trains are always state of the art and that we can offer a successful product at a fair price. That’ll convince our Asian guests." The next trip to China is in October, and then he heads off to Great Britain. "What I miss when I am travelling? My wife of course – and my motorbike."