1958 I The story begins
We were in the midst of the First World War when Dr Viktor Girtanner sees the light of day in Lucerne in 1915. He laid the foundation for the future by studying chemistry at ETH Zurich. One day, his path crossed with financial expert Hermann Baehni. Together, they delve further and further into the plastics sector and finally establish Kunststoff AG Sarnen in 1958. Initially, they diligently produced nappies and paddling pools made of plastic foils, among other things.

On a train journey – so the legend goes – a conversation arose with a fellow passenger in which Dr Girtanner received a hint that foamed plastic materials had a high potential for the future. The idea of investing their assets in a foam factory was born. Thus, two years later, foam production was taken up and the range expanded to include products such as cool boxes and insulation boards.

The two founders set the course for a company that developed into a global player and one of the most important employers in the canton of Obwalden. They knew how to skilfully combine entrepreneurial spirit with social commitment. This participative-patronal management style of the early years was characterised by high esteem for the employees. Taking into account a healthy pursuit of profit – the vital objective of every company – profit maximisation, on the other hand, was clearly rejected. “The human being”, Dr Girtanner said, “is worth more than any economic goal. The human being is at the centre.”


From 1960 I Family atmosphere from the beginning

Dr Girtanner’s declared goal was the synthesis between profitability and humanity. His view was: “Everyone has a burning desire to mean something, and participation in the workplace is the basic prerequisite for entrepreneurial success.”

His way of thinking shaped the management. Programmes from his time include the possibility of discounted share purchases for employees, a solidarity programme for times of crisis, the permanent inclusion of a representative of the employee shareholders on the Board of Directors, the linking of the bonus to the dividend and the creation of an employee council.

After his retirement, Dr Girtanner’s thirst for knowledge was far from quenched, so he went on to study theology and worked as a hospital chaplain in Lucerne. He passed away in 2001 – at the ripe old age of 86. With the loss of Dr Viktor Girtanner, the canton of Obwalden has undoubtedly lost one of its most important industrial pioneers, a company founder from the very beginning, whose economic decisions and actions were always characterised by high ethical principles of a social market economy.


From 1991 I Growth forces changes

Over the years, Sarna Kunststoff AG has developed from a predominantly regionally active, small company into an internationally active, medium-sized enterprise that is important for the canton of Obwalden where it is located.

Therefore, the generation of turnover shifted more and more abroad and increasingly required more funding. In the meantime, the number of employees had risen to over 3000. Where before activities were previously concentrated mainly at the Sarnen site, employees now worked for the Sarna Group in various countries around the world. Consequently, in 1991, the decision was made to found “Sarna Kunststoff Holding AG” and, at the same time, to list it on the Zurich Stock Exchange. With the holding company, the subsidiary “Folien- und Schaumstoff AG” was created, among others.

Later, in 1998, the subsidiary was renamed “Sarna Plastec AG”. The change of name was accompanied by an internal restructuring into four independently operating profit centres.


"Can we still talk about a family?"

After the transfer of responsibility at the top of the company from the dominant founding father to a multi-member board of directors and group management, many of the previously established framework conditions for the practical implementation of the company culture had changed. Larger dimensions of the company, stock exchange listing, international shareholders, complexity of the structures and different subcultures of the employees forced a rethink. Some of the earlier cultural practices could no longer be maintained.

It was a time marked by change; so, in 2006, the Sarna Group was taken over by the Sika Group. The construction chemicals manufacturer was primarily interested in Sarnafil’s activities. With immediate effect, the activities of Sarna Plastec AG were no longer part of the core business of the new owner.


2007 I People remain at the centre

Two employees of the Sarna Group, Kurt Maeder and André Strasser, had long wanted to run their own company, to follow new paths, to live their own life’s calling, to be their own bosses and to launch their own products.

So, one year after the takeover of Sarnafil by the Sika Group, Kurt Maeder and André Strasser completed the management buy-out of “Sarna Plastec AG”. The basic elements that Dr Girtanner had established are still in place today – and the majority of them have been retained. The core message is still that human capital is at the heart of the business. The day-to-day work performance to achieve objectives and the company’s appreciation of employees are of equal value as the available capital. A lively corporate culture and a positive spirit are oxygen for the company. Employees appreciation should be expressed through market-oriented remuneration, efficient facilities and concrete contributions by the company such as well-developed pension instruments, social support and safety nets for emergencies and hardships.


From 2010 I Time for something new

After the MBO, the new building in Alpnach Dorf was constructed and moved into in 2010. Alpnach Dorf is the ideal location for the two entrepreneurs: It offers direct access to the motorway and is located in the heart of Switzerland.

André Strasser finally sold his shares to Kurt Maeder in 2020 at the age of 64 so that he could retire. He was the company’s Director of Marketing & Sales for many years and, therefore, played a decisive role in shaping the company. In his function as a member of the Board of Directors, the company may continue to draw on his wealth of experience.

True to the example of Dr Girtanner, Kurt Maeder continues to live the company values. It is important to him that all employees always form a harmonious and large family, in which each individual is respected and comes to work with joy in their hearts. Indeed: solidarity, humanity and responsibility for jobs always determine his actions. However, all these values are not enough to run a company successfully. Technical know-how paired with business management skills complete the overall picture. There is a reason why our customers tell us again and again that “Sarna Plastec can simply do it, no ifs or buts”. Such and similar statements make Kurt Maeder a proud entrepreneur!


Quo vadis, Sarna Plastec?

Kurt Maeder took his well-deserved retirement in August 2023. His passion, golfing, and stays at his holiday domicile in Andalusia are not missed out at the moment. However, he will continue to make his knowledge and experience available to the company as Chairman of the Board of Directors. His son, Patrick Maeder, continues to run the company in the next generation. The relationship between father and son has always been very good, but today it is closer than ever. The daily cooperation and succession planning have brought them even closer together.