Hayek angles actor Clooney for energy venture

Hayek knows how to bring his projects into the public eye Keystone

Swatch chairman Nicolas G. Hayek says Hollywood star George Clooney will sit on the board of a new company that is to develop clean energy systems in Switzerland.

This content was published on October 20, 2007 - 15:28

Hayek, hailed as the saviour of the Swiss watch industry in the 1980s and a driving force behind the Smart car, added that Switzerland could become the world leader in renewable energies.

In an interview in Saturday's Berner Zeitung newspaper, Hayek said that the headquarters of the new holding company – yet to be named - would be in Biel, the Bernese town where the Swatch Group has its headquarters.

The tireless 79-year-old announced in August that his Swatch Group - the world leader in the watchmaking industry – and Swiss power company Groupe E would join forces to develop and produce clean, renewable energy systems.

The aim is to provide people with electricity for both residential and transport purposes, offering the automobile industry know-how in "clean power" engines.

Astronaut Nicollier

Other prominent board members include Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, Hayek's son Nick, who is Swatch Group chief executive, Groupe E boss Philippe Virdis and a representative of a major bank.

Hayek senior, who will be chairman of the company, said he had hesitated between Clooney and former United States vice-president Al Gore for a board seat but had decided on Clooney because of a possible candidature of Gore for the White House.

Gore on Wednesday seemed to rule out a bid for the US presidency.

Clooney is no stranger to the Swatch group as he is an ambassador for its prestigious Omega brand.

Hayek appealed as far back as 1992 at the United Nations to the business elite to change their behaviour towards the environment.

"I've always been aware that we live on a spaceship. That is our minute Earth which circles a small solar system in an immense universe," he said.

"Drill holes"

"And what do we do? We drill holes in our spaceship and are destroying it, to the point that we are threatening our very existence."

"I feel therefore that every inhabitant on the spaceship has to do something against this destruction."

Hayek said that he was in a position with his money and necessary personal connections to do something.

"It's time that we entrepreneurs act. Politicians talk all the time and do very little... and [when they act] they don't do it very efficiently."

He argued that Switzerland could take a leading role in renewable energies, saying the country had "enormous knowledge" and the necessary infrastructure.

It also had no car or oil lobbies which could see a threat in them.

"As a result we can do research and development in renewable energies without car manufacturers or oil companies making an immediate threat of job cuts.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Swatch Group has, among other activities, gained experience through the development of hybrid cars, the Smart car, and solar-powered cars (with Biel Institute of Technology) for the World Solar Challenge in Australia in the 1990s.
"Spirit of Biel" won the 3005-kilometre race Australian race from Darwin to Adelaide in 1990.
The Swatch Group is also active in the Solarimpulse project led by pioneer Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard. He aims to fly around the world in an aircraft using solar power only.
Groupe E, which is number one in power distribution in French-speaking Switzerland, has gained experience through constructing industrial facilities for the production of hydrogen by means of electrolysis, and through collaboration with Michelin's research and development centre.

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New high-tech energy company

The firm has no name yet but Hayek says it will have a connection with the word "sun" or the Greek sun god Helios.

Although the company will be based in Biel, Hayek says he could envisage subsidiaries in cantons Fribourg or Neuchâtel or elsewhere.

The project will also include cooperation with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, the Hayek Engineering consulting firm and other interested parties.

An initial investment of SFr21 million ($18 million) is to be made.

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