Jean-Pascal Bobst: “A Man Consists of Three Entities”

“A man consists of three entities: body, soul, and spirit,” says Jean-Pascal Bobst, Chief Executive Officer of BOBST Group SA“We do not communicate with our bodies, but with a touch of our souls.


“Our relationship is a spiritual interaction, but the question is…” Jean-Pascal raises a cup of cappuccino: “When the body dies, what happens to the soul and spirit?

Jean-Pascal drinks cappuccino. He has been the head of the company, founded by his great-grandfather in 1890, for eleven years now. In 2015, the company’s turnover has made 1.33 billion Swiss francs (CHF). Few people know, but Swiss franc slightly exceeds U.S. dollar and marginally gives in to euro.

Under his leadership, a great consolidation had taken place: eight global brands, owned by his ancestors’ company, have got a single name — BOBST.

Йозеф Бобст (1862 – 1935)
Joseph Bobst (1862-1935)

Jean-Pascal plays a video. On the screen, children are building a house from boxes made of corrugated cardboard. The wall is falling, because the children have not built it very well.

Apparently, these are all young descendants of Joseph Bobst, who at the end of the 19th century began selling German consumables in Switzerland for the rapidly developing polygraphy. He took a risk, having invested all the family’s savings in the business.

But then Joseph was lucky: his son Henry invented a legendary Autoplaten® automatic flatbed die cutter. Henry sold almost 3,000 Autoplatens — an unrealistic number for one engineer’s life…

 В 1961 году Генри Бобст (в центре), изобретатель Autoplatine®, отметил продажу 1000-го высекального пресса. После его смерти в 1975 г. Компанию возглавили Жак Бобст (справа) и Бруно де Калберматтен (слева)
In 1961, Henry Bobst (center), inventor of Autoplaten®, celebrated the sale of the 1000th die cutter. After his death in 1975, Jacques Bobst (right) and Bruno de Kalbermatten (left) took over the company

Adults and grandparents appear on the screen. They help the kids to build a house, giving them boxes… But they are no longer just boxes! Some words are written on these corrugated cardboard bricks…

“Do you remember what was written on the boxes?” Jean-Pascal asks the audience when the short video has ended.

The audience was us, seven journalists, glorifying corrugated cardboard and packaging for our lives. We were trying hard to remember these words…

“Trust!.. Performance!.. Respect!..”

Trust means credibility. I see that these words are important to Jean-Pascal. They were there for a reason. Trust. What does it mean? To trust each other? Trust us, and we will trust you? To trust everyone?

I myself have issues with the trust … I would be happy if I could trust myself! To trust is to believe that a person you are dealing with will not let you down, not deceive you. He will do everything to keep you safe, bail out of trouble, and will go all the way with you. Do you have that kind of trust?

Trust is like faith, when you don’t even admit a second thought… Not like, you know, “I trust, but sometimes there’s just an idea jumping in: ‘He’s going to let you down, this bastard…” You can’t do like that.

Trust is like asking a thieving alcoholic, who had robbed you already, to pass a million dollars in cash by train to someone 1000 km away, believing that he will. You see, there is hardly any chance that he will get there at all. Still, you can’t doubt.

The root of trust is faith. It is an invisible entity. The opposite of faith is doubt. As the darkness is the absence of light, so a doubt is just the absence of faith.

So, the box with the word Trust went into action. The kids inserted it into the wall.

The next box is Performance. I don’t know how to translate it in Russian and get the exact meaning of this word. Execution. Fulfillment. Presentation. This is what they say about a football player, who does not just kick the ball, but performs the hit.

He delivers the ball where he wants, using his eyesight, experience, according to some plan. As I understand it, this means that BOBST does not produce whatever just to sell it out, but shows a superb performance.

Respect. Respect.

“Traditions are not the past. Traditions are the future,” says Jean-Pascal Bobst. “Perhaps, times are difficult in Russia, but you know that you can overcome any problem. Because you have a strength.”

“And this is not money, and not resources. This is your culture. People are strong with their culture and traditions. They give you faith that you will overcome anything, and you will win.”

Exquisite gourmet buffet at the Marriott after the briefing. Actually, you can’t say exquisite gourmet buffet, because it’s about nothing, corny journalism. If you write about a buffet, then you need to reveal the menu: tenderloins, dorados, fajitas, panna cottas… It is important for you to understand what we ate to imagine how we ate, because we ate with Mr. Bobst.

I am watching Jean-Pascal, who is only at arm’s reach… I have a thought: if in 110 years my great-grandson will lead, then it might look something like this…

What will our great-grandchildren talk about in 125 years? Bobst VIII and Tkalenko IV? Will these enchiladas and Swiss cutlets survive until then? Or they will be served intravenously…

We stand next to each other and drink cappuccino. A simple guy from the Ukrainian province and a simple billionaire from the small town of Lausanne on the lakeside of Lac Léman. We are both 51.

I think I look younger after shaving off the clumps of hair on my head.

But Jean-Pascal is leaner. I look at him, and his whole appearance seems to appeal to me, “Do your abs, Tkalenko, and do the rest of these things! Sports, sports!”

“Perhaps it’s because of cheese,” I’m ruminating, reassuring myself that it’s not because of sports.

Yes, it looks like the dairy products in Switzerland are of the better quality. I saw some Swiss cows with ferrets sitting on their backs and massaging them.

We swallow carpaccio and drink cappuccino. Jean-Pascal doesn’t talk about machinery. Truer, he talks about both digital and flexo printing machines, laminators and presses, but as if constantly emphasizing — it’s not about them, it’s about something else, try to understand!..

But what is it about? He says that the point is in people, in their attitudes to their lives and to each other. About culture and meanings, things these people live for.

“You missed one more word,” Jean-Pascal says.

The word written on a corrugated cardboard brick, which the BOBST patriarchs passed on to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren… We are trying to recall it…

What else was there? I see that Jean-Pascal knows this video to every little detail and remembers all the words from the corrugated bricks! What else was there?..


Passion? This is an emotion. A strong emotional message that can enhance everything that a person does — both creation and destruction. If the passion overwhelms the creator, he creates masterpieces. I see something special in every BOBST employee, in their eyes and smiles. They differ from everyone else… But why?

Almost 15 years ago, I started a weird new business: a magazine for corrugated packaging manufacturers. It was a very narrow niche, and I had no idea how I could survive.

I made a draft copy of my first magazine and showed it to Viktor Bazanov and other BOBST employees at some exhibition. And got a one-year advertising contract! BOBST, without knowing it, let my small business born — now it’s the online magazine!

It was a miracle. And if you know how advertising budgets are allocated to new media, then you understand that it was.

My great-grandson must tell the great-grandson of Jean-Pascal about it. Maybe, BOBST was just wrong then… But my publication came into being.

Now, if I wanted to find something I don’t like about BOBST, I just can’t do it, gentlemen. Don’t look for objectivity here. Look for it among machine owners.


“A person cannot live for a long time devoting himself only to his job,” says Jean-Pascal. “He can do that for 10-15 years at most. Then any professional is getting tired, burning out… So, if a company wants to exist longer than for 15 years, it must chase different, more significant goals, besides the plain production…”

But… Passion… For me, passion means some passionate machos at lathes.

Passionarism means commitment to some great goal, enthusiasm.

“Every month we have many opportunities to quarrel with each other and say: ‘That’s it, I am out of here, selling my share.’ And at the same time, there are just as many situations when we can take each other’s hands, unite, face challenges and fight together. After all, it’s common for all of us, isn’t it? The question is, what choice we will make.”

Jean-Pascal speaks Western U.S. English. I understand him pretty well, because for several years I have shared a shelter with a Californian. This is the language of Hollywood. Having worked for almost twenty years for his company, Jean-Pascal became a head of the BOBST office in the U.S.

Jean-Pascal takes a piece of paper and sketches a house. Then he puts a big heart inside: “This is my home. If I come home and my wife is happy, then I am happy. But if she is unhappy, then I feel bad and I ask her: ‘How do you feel? What’s wrong?’ The same is in the company: if my employees are unhappy, how can I feel well?”

What? Have you heard that?

“That is, you come to office, see Gleb or Kasia who don’t seem really happy, and say, ‘Stop, everyone, I see unhappy Kasia here! We don’t start working until we figure out, why! Otherwise we will not be able to create a super cool machine,’ don’t you?”

Jean-Pascal recalls how in 2009 he became the head of BOBST and decided to consolidate all 18 enterprises that made up his corporation, under a single brand.

“During the rebranding, we lost almost half of our turnover. It was scary. But we managed to create a platform, basis for a future breakthrough in three areas: cardboard recycling, corrugated cardboard and flexible packaging. And in 2013 we set up a history record in sales.”

To be honest, I personally was quite skeptical about the disappearance of the old famous brands from the corrugated board industry after they completely dissolved behind the short word BOBST.

But the impeccable reputation of the Swiss and the legendary quality of equipment soon won the most skeptical minds: as it turned out, under the BOBST brand everything has been selling better…

Здание штаб-квартиры BOBST в Ме, Швейцария
BOBST HQ in Mex, Switzerland

After the platform was established, a victorious procession began, with an increase not only in sales volumes, but also with almost twofold growth in net gain.

In 2015BOBST sold slightly less than in 2013, but the net profit again was almost twice as much. Jean-Pascal had a task to reduce the costs by 100 million CHF. Today the company’s personnel, fewer by 18%, annually produces 300 more machines than before.

Цифровая печатная машина для гофрированного картона, установленная в компании Model AG, Вейнфельден, Швейцария
Digital press for corrugated board installed at Model AG, Weinfelden, Switzerland

“And here’s the innovation — the order change on new BOBST flatbed die cutter takes only fifteen minutes. One-five, not fifty. This is a flatbed die cutter. And you no longer depend on the mood of an operator. Your machine makes money by itself.”

“What about digital machines? There were plenty them at drupa.”

Стенд BOBST на выставке drupa 2016
BOBST booth at drupa 2016

“We are making the fourth digital printing machine now. The point is that we enter this segment from the side of packaging, and we are primarily concerned that our customers are not just printing boxes but making money.

“Our competitors entered this business from the side of digital printing, and the packaging is a new world for them full of money. But not all of them really understand how to make money with these machines.

“Our direct interest is the success and growth of our clients as we are growing with them. And this integration is a great part of our work today. As far as I can see, Asian companies sell only cheap machinery for now.

“On drupa I approached a client who was carefully examining our seven-color flexo printer, ‘Can I help you?’ I said.

He looked at me, read my badge and said, ‘Bobst! It’s great to see you! I want to buy this line, but not for 3 million — for 200 thousand euros. Your competitors offer me the price this high.’

Новая цифровая флексографская печатная машина на стенде BOBST на выставке drupa 2016
New digital flexo press at the BOBST booth at drupa 2016

‘What do you need, I asked, a machine or profit?’

“We started chatting, and when I explained to him what he was actually paying for, he bought our printer, and paid 3 million.

drupa has almost doubled our sales this year compared to the last one.”

“This is some kind of religion, Bobstianism…”

Jean-Paul replies with unexpected seriousness:

“Religion is a set of rules or laws governing human relations. But love is not a religion, you just think how to put a person’s interests above your own, and in this way you both win.

“We are now deeply integrated into our clients’ businesses. We sit with them at the negotiating table and prove that they are able to satisfy their customers to the fullest extent.

“One day a large food manufacturer came to us willing to buy a machine. ‘How much packaging do you consume?’ I asked him. ‘Five million square meters per month,’ he replied.

‘Look, Gustav, this line makes twenty-five. If I sell it to you, then in two years, when you realize you earned nothing, you will ask me to take it back. And you will hate me for selling it to you.

‘I’ll sell you this line if I see you can make money with it. But making packaging is not your business. Here is a customer of mine who has just launched the same line, and he will gladly take on your problems.’

‘You don’t need 3 million?’ he wondered.

‘If my company were not BOBST, then I might have sold you this line and raise good money. But my great-grandfather, grandfather and dad would not understand me…’

“I wonder, for how many years did your great-grandfather project the future of his company? For 200, maybe, 300?”

“The family legend says nothing about it… But he taught us to love each other.”

By Igor Tkalenko,


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