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He may be a successful businessman, the owner of a chain of five-star hotels with a unique concept, and a member of the Swiss family that founded the Rolex empire, but Daniel Borer is still a practicing doctor. This role runs through everything he does – his attitude to health, his proactive attitude to life, and even his smile, so open and welcoming. As a businessman, he is interested in projects related to wellness and, as a doctor, he ensures that his hotels offer a healthy menu. People like him are fascinating to talk to on the subject of health, since their knowledge comes not only from books, but also from practice and experience.
Mr. Borer, the world has changed dramatically. It is becoming tougher, more ruthless and increasingly pressurized. Many people break down and give up. Being part of big business, you are certainly well aware of this problem firsthand. How can we protect ourselves from these adverse external effects?
– Yes, you are quite right. The reason for these developments lies with our misplaced focus, whereupon our job always comes first. This may bring about tragic consequences: people lose their jobs, their families, and nothing matters to them anymore, be that their friends or their children. Today, this condition is called “occupational burnout”. Depriving ourselves of positive emotions, we try to compensate for them with physical workouts, but fail to recover our lost balance.
I think every person in business should understand what kind of outside pressures they are able to stand. To do that, you have to know yourself first. Very few people are able to re-balance the situation once they have crossed the line. Most of us choose to follow the flow of events, but at the same time we are unwilling or unable to admit evident problems. We need to take a break to recover and set new priorities. Everybody independently chooses their own way to do this.
Here is one example: people often complain of psychosomatic disorders. When such a patient comes to see a doctor and is told that he or she is actually quite well, they prefer to go to another doctor, because they still feel unwell. It is a total mistake. It is counterproductive to rush from one doctor to the other. It will get you nowhere. It is much better just to sit down and think: What is happening to me? Am I too strained and is this stress is trying to find a way out? In this instance I would recommend changes to your lifestyle – this is the key to your problems.
It is important to find more time for yourself and never think of this as a weakness. You should have a chance to reflect on what really matters by saying to yourself: Stop! Am I going the right way? I think many top managers would thus gain a different view of what’s going on with them, if they were to do this. I know an executive in a large corporation who once answered this question and turned the situation around – he left big business to become a gardener. Today, he is very happy with his gardening.
– Unfortunately, people often get such things wrong and make fun of those who step back from a high-ranking post and choose to live in harmony with themselves.
– This is a mistake. Today’s society is a pyramid, and too many people rush to get on top without knowing that, once there, they will have no time left for themselves. They will not be able to feel free. An urge for personal freedom seems to be the driver pushing the businessman to grow roses and make drastic changes to his life.
– But society urges him to be a person whom he does not want to be and to wear the mask of being a “successful man”… we have to adjust.
– This is the way it is. Freedom is inside all of us, but it is only given to those who have a strong personality. If you are able to maintain your personality in spite of everything, you will never lose your freedom, but it is too challenging to do so at the top of the pyramid, where different laws come into play. Therefore, the only possible survival strategy for most people is to drastically change their lives. Find yourself a comfortable place lower down on the ladder, rather than climbing up all the time. The space is so cramped up there on top, you can hardly move; and there is a lot of space available lower down. However, few people have enough guts and courage to take this step.
– Can we develop such personal qualities in ourselves or are they inherited? How was it in your family: does your interest in a healthy lifestyle come from your parents?
– Of course, I have inherited my main priorities from my parents. I grew up in a simple environment, rather than in luxury. My sister and I were happy as children. A large garden with fruit and vegetables provided a healthy diet for the whole family. We used to get together at the table every day. Nobody had snacks on the run or a rushed breakfast: we always gave sufficient time to our meals. Mother and father taught us to know what we were eating and to take care that our meals were healthy.
My father went for a walk at four thirty in the morning every day and took me with him. We spent two hours in the woods and dropped by the bakery on our way back to bring fresh bread home. It was so tasty and crispy, the whole family shared it for breakfast… It’s good when such an attitude to meals is passed on from generation to generation.
– Do you still keep up this tradition? Do you still wake up early and go for a walk?
– Yes, I do. Like my father, I try to do something for my family every day, spend some time together outdoors. However, I prefer afternoons for this, although I still get up early. I have no time for it in the morning. Our daily rhythm has changed: some of us go to school, others to work… However, we still prepare our breakfast together and get together at the table.
– Unfortunately, most people have a different attitude to their meals. They prefer to have a snack on the run… Both students and business people have their sandwiches on the run. Mass media also discourages us from choosing the right diet.
– Yes, information flows in such amounts that it is impossible to remain objective. Television, billboards and the press keep explaining to us what we have to eat, and we believe every word of what they are saying. Some ten years ago, artificial sweeteners were very popular. Diabetics were happy to have the opportunity of eating sweet things. But suddenly it was revealed that the human body has no idea of what to do with these substances. Today, I believe the most important thing is to get rid of unnatural products and stop listening to advertising. Don’t believe what the ads are saying.
– As president and owner of Giardino, a hotel chain widely known for its healthy lifestyle concept, do you see any changes for the better in people’s choices?
– Yes, I do. Many people are becoming more aware of what they eat. They want to know what products are used in the meals offered on the menu. Many come to the restaurant to enjoy taste and quality, rather than just to eat their fill.
The cuisine in all Giardino hotels relies on the principles of a healthy diet: as few preservatives or artificial items as possible. This does not mean you will leave hungry. We offer a menu which is most beneficial to your health.
– As far as I know, you are planning a new project related to medicine. Would you tell us a few words about it?
– It involves advisory services related to matters of metabolism. Medical experts involved in the project will identify the clients’ problems and discuss possible treatment, using traditional and alternative medicines to develop a healthy diet: for example, to make a diabetic patient aware of the lifestyle issues which may solve their problems. Wellness starts from our diet.
– The Giardino chain plans to introduce Ayurvedic programs and treatment sessions…
– Daniela Frutiger is the mastermind and founder of the Ayurvedic project. This is the first time this concept has been introduced in a Swiss five-star hotel. It is not purely a treatment, as much as it is a prevention system, with healthy nutrition and a particular philosophy. The Ayurvedic practice consists of two main parts: phytotherapy and nutrition science. The word translates as “life-knowledge”.
– You are well-known as an ecological activist. I feel this is very important. You participated in your sister’s project related to bees.
– Yes, I did. Initially, we were made fun of. People said, “Do you have nothing better to do?” They thought there were much more important and relevant problems, and there was no need to spend time on this kind of nonsense. However, this turned out to be far from nonsense. We are becoming aware that all of the elements of our ecosystem are interrelated: there is no pollination without bees, and this issue is becoming increasingly relevant. There is a department dedicated to research in this area – the bee department.
– You are doing business, but your friends certainly ask you for medical advice. Do you meet with them as a traditional doctor or do you rely on Ayurvedic knowledge as well?
– My approach and advice depend on each individual case. Sometimes I go for both options. If a condition is serious, I treat it as a traditional doctor. However, sometimes it is evident that a person has to change their attitudes and take a different approach to their lifestyle or just take a break.
I think Ayurveda is great for prevention, as it helps to identify and remedy problems that are not immediately obvious. You see, the Ayurvedic treatment is more beneficial to people’s state of mind. Nobody is happy to gobble packs of pills; it is a different matter when you just have to sit down and think of your problems and the way to remedy them. Besides this, I also take into account the things that a person is willing to do.
– How do you spend your free time? Do you read books or browse the Internet?
– I love to read books, both on paper and electronically. However, I prefer paper books: I love to take them in my hands. I browse the Internet for information, as it is very convenient.
– Do you have a hobby?
– I love to fly helicopters, of all things. I have even obtained my pilot’s license! This is really terrific – such a great feeling. On the one hand, you enjoy every minute of flying, and on the other hand, Switzerland is so beautiful from the air.
– Flying a helicopter, you are exposed to risks. Are you not afraid? Today, many people are exposed to fears.
– It is no more dangerous than a ride in a car. No, I am not afraid. Moreover, flying is close to meditation for me. It is an adventure full of great sensations. Sure, there is some level of risk, but you take risks whenever you drive a car. You need to trust yourself and overcome your fears.
– Do you often travel with your family?
– Here we have so many great places to visit. There is a forest a mere 10-minute ride from my house. We often go there. We go on holidays and for a longer time, say, for a week, we take our Volkswagen California and travel across Europe, visiting, for example, France. Such adventures we remember for a long time, especially the kids: they still discuss things that happened to them during their trips.
– Do your children want to follow in your footsteps?
– My elder son is studying medicine, and this was his choice. Younger kids have different life goals now. They are free to do what they like, while they are growing up. This is one more principle that I inherited from my father. He used to say, «You may do whatever you like. The only thing you are not allowed to do is nothing».
PhD (Medicine), general therapy. Born September 25th, 1965, he has a wife and three children. Borer graduated from the University of Bern, Medical Faculty, in 1991 and received his doctorate a year later. In 2002, he became a medical professional in general therapy. He completed his studies at business schools in Bern and St. Gallen. Since 1997, he has held management positions in the health, hospitality and investment banking sectors. In 1999-2002, Daniel Borer was a member of the Board of Directors at Manufacture Des Montres Rolex SA. He is fluent in English, French and Spanish. His hobbies include water sports, vintage cars and flying helicopters (he is a wing commander).