Brothers Peter and Max Dätwyler founded the Dätwyler Foundation in 1990 with private funds. Even today, this grant-giving foundation based in Altdorf receives sizeable sums from the dividends of Pema Holding AG. This approach, making use of founder privileges, is not to be found anywhere else in Switzerland.
The Dätwyler Foundation can look back over a record year: this Uri-based foundation paid out 3.5 million Swiss francs in funding in 2021 – more than ever before. The bulk of this money was used for projects in the canton of Uri or to benefit the population living there. The fact that the Dätwyler Foundation is now one of the biggest grant-giving foundations in Switzerland is down to Peter and Max Dätwyler. These two brothers took up the operational management of the industrial firm Dätwyler Holding AG in 1958, and set up the foundation in 1990 as part of succession planning. As part of this, they opted for a clever legal solution: they moved their holdings to the newly founded Pema Holding AG, its name a combination of ‘Peter’ and ‘Max’. Since then, it has been the owner of Dätwyler Holding AG, alongside its public shareholders, and has been fully owned by Dätwyler Führungs AG. Pema Holding is the majority shareholder of Dätwyler Holding. Using the ‘founder privileges’ (now called ‘special privileges’) set out in the Swiss Code of Obligations, the brothers were able to claim sizeable amounts of the dividends. In 1990, these claims were assigned to the new foundation. Today, the special privileges remain a key source of the foundation’s assets. Plus, both founders contributed private funds to the foundation upon its establishment.
Feasible thanks to waiving assets
This is the only instance in Switzerland where this solution has been used, and it was only possible thanks to Peter and Max Dätwyler and their families waiving their assets, says Susanne Döhnert, Managing Director of the Dätwyler Foundation. ‘They wanted to separate power from capital.’ As the brothers assigned their founder privileges to the foundation, it became the recipient of dividends disbursed by Pema Holding AG. Plus, in the unlikely event of a liquidation, the foundation would also receive benefits from Dätwyler Holding AG.
In their case, the term ‘corporate foundation’ does not really apply: ‘The company and the foundation are two independent, legally separate constructs,’ she emphasises, even though the name and its location in Altdorf would make people think that there’s a connection, especially in their home canton of Uri. And, of course, the hope is that the activities of the foundation have a positive impact on the company’s image, while, in turn, the company consistently points people making requests in the direction of the foundation.
A focus on culture
From the off, the Dätwyler Foundation was a nonprofit grant-giving foundation set up for ‘eternal’ existence. ‘The founders were also concerned that the nonprofit work carried out by the Dätwyler industrial family in the canton of Uri is not forgotten,’ says Susanne Döhnert. Dätwyler Holding AG is now an internationally active industrial supplier with more than 8000 employees around the world, but it remains headquartered in Altdorf. The foundation has deep roots in the local area, preferring to support projects in the canton of Uri and neighbouring regions. To ensure the board of trustees can be flexible and have its own focus, the brothers deliberately chose a broad purpose for the foundation. Currently, the foundation is focusing on supporting cultural endeavours, but over the past few years, it has also supported projects in the fields of the environment, education, sports and science.
Major development and new opportunities
The Dätwyler Foundation has experienced explosive growth since it was set up: it gave out 100,000 Swiss francs in funding in its first year, but this figure is now more than three million. Founder Max Dätwyler died in 2020. When he was still alive, he provided the foundation with other assets that enabled it to tap into new opportunities. Plus, the Dätwyler Foundation now has a broad portfolio of real estate that ensures consistent returns. This development led the foundation to redesign its offices in 2021 and expand them to include two specialist departments, focusing on funding activities and real estate. Incidentally, the Dätwyler Foundation does not just provide funding in response to requests: it carries out its own projects, too. For example, last year, it launched the ‘Garden culture’ series and Uri school trips, in collaboration with Uri Tourism. The Altdorf ‘Kaffeechränzli’, a traditional coffee afternoon for older residents, and generational projects with the Uri retirement home are also popular projects run by the Foundation.