We mourn the passing of Andy Rihs

Andy Rihs

A big heart has stopped beating. Andy Rihs has left us for good, and we are finding it extremely hard to understand and accept it. In Andy, we have not only lost a great friend with tremendous foresight and an extraordinarily creative spirit, but also a multitalented and passionate entrepreneur who left a distinctive mark on Sonova.

The third of four children, Andy was born on November 2, 1942 and grew up on the shores of Lake Zurich. After his father decided in 1966 that it was time for him to do a “real” job and to stop enjoying himself in Paris so much, Andy teamed up with his partner Beda Diethelm and joined AG für Elektroakustik. Together with his brother “Jöggi” Rihs, the three pioneers developed and shaped the company Phonak, now known as Sonova. Business was soon booming and the company first had to relocate from Hombrechtikon to Zurich, then to Feldmeilen, and finally to Stäfa to secure enough space to expand.

We all knew Andy as a very approachable person with a great sense of humor, grand visions, and ambitious goals. He knew how to inspire and motivate his business partners and colleagues and offer them attractive prospects. He was never scared to take necessary risks in business if it meant moving up to the next level. He was never the kind to set his sights low. And if an idea failed to take off at the first attempt, this gave him precisely the incentive he needed to try again – and to successfully overcome any obstacles this time round.

Needless to say, memories of the milestones in which Andy was heavily involved instantly spring to mind: doing business in humble conditions in the early days, numerous innovations for hearing solutions such as Claro, the first fully digital hearing aid, and founding Phonak Communications. In the 1980s, the company began to establish its first foreign distribution companies and was floated on the stock exchange in 1994 to generate funds for investments. It then took its first steps into retail in the 1990s, opening its own audiologist’s stores, and construction work on the production facilities in Asia started shortly after the turn of the century. Finally, the Group advanced into cochlear implants almost ten years ago.

“I did it my way” – this sums Andy up completely. He often thought outside the box and explored different dimensions and horizons than others. When it came to innovation in particular, his ambition gave the company a dynamic drive that set it clearly apart as a technological leader.

He created a working culture based on trust, in which every employee was valued equally. In everything he did, he was always keen to stress that he could not have done himself what he demanded of others and that he was utterly reliant on the right people. This made his well-known slogan “ohni Lüt gaht nüt” (“nothing happens without people”) much more than a nice saying – it was the slogan that formed the very basis for the corporate culture: employees saw themselves as a team that wanted to achieve something great together. Today’s “Sonova spirit” is thus the “Andy spirit” too, and even today the slogan can frequently be heard within the organization.

Phonak, which became Sonova, has developed into a highly successful, market-leading enterprise that now boasts sales of more than CHF 2.5 billion and a global workforce of over 14,000 employees. Throughout almost 50 years, Andy played an instrumental role in this with enormous energy and conviction, including spending many years as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors.

As a passionate entrepreneur, Andy also supported many other companies in a wide variety of industries, including numerous start-ups, whether as instigator or long-term investor. His wit, optimism, zest for life, and willingness to take risks were always infectious and were constantly keeping us all on our toes. However, he also understood when to celebrate achievements as a team. Admittedly, the bon vivant side of his personality could be infectious too. After completing a challenge, such as a cycle tour on Mont Ventoux in Provence, it was time to celebrate fittingly in the evening at his hotel, La Coquillade, with excellent wine.

His entrepreneurial drive was not confined to day-to-day business: the enthusiastic sports fan loved to get involved in cycling and soccer. A few days ago, he told me he wished that he could be at the game where Young Boys Bern were definitely winning the championship title. He also hoped that one of his riders from the BMC cycling team would win this year’s Tour de France.

Unfortunately, his strength left him, so we can only hope that his dreams will come true even though he cannot be there – he more than deserves it.

I am sure that his spirit will live on.

Robert Spoerry, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sonova