Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny is a Swiss entrepreneur, philanthropist and advocate of sustainable development; his net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $3 billion.
Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny was born in Balgach, St. Gallen, Switzerland, on 29 October 1947 as a fourth generation member of one of the key industrial families in Switzerland and completed his Law studies with a doctorate at the University of Zurich in 1972.
From 1974 until 2002, Stephan Schmidheiny was married to Ruth Schmidheiny (Administrator of the Daros Latinamerica AG from 1974 until 2002). He has a son and a daughter with Ruth and currently lives in Hurden, Switzerland. Since 2012, he has been married to Dr. Viktoria Schmidheiny-Werner.
Schmidheiny is an advocate and leader in the field of sustainable development.
Eternit / Exit from Asbestos, Reflection and Legal Disputes
In 1972, Stephan Schmidheiny started his business career at Eternit. In 1976, at the age of 29, he was named CEO of the Swiss Eternit Group. According to his brother Thomas Schmidheiny, their father Max Schmidheiny decided to divide his industrial empire into two halves: asbestos for Stephan, cement for Thomas. As a result of this split of activities, Stephan Schmidheiny inherited Eternit.
According to his official biography, he ended the company’s use of asbestos in 1986. Five years before in 1981, Schmidheiny, then Chairman, announced Eternit’s intention to dispense entirely with its involvement in asbestos production and distribution, far ahead of the 2005 European-wide asbestos ban. Subsequently, Eternit worked to develop and fund research to develop new fiber blends to replace asbestos. In 1984, a majority of Eternit products were manufactured asbestos free.
Since 2009, due to these inherited responsibilities within his family’s industrial dynasty and despite his efforts to exit from asbestos, Stephan Schmidheiny has been involved in trials in Italy, one for environmental disaster and another for voluntary manslaughter, both connected to the employ of asbestos in the factories of the inherited company Eternit.In the first trial Stephan Schmidheiny was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment on February 13, 2012. On June 3, 2013, the judgment given in February was not only confirmed, but also increased to 18 years imprisonment for environmental damage by the Turin Appeal Court, In November 2014, it was ruled that the statute of limitations had passed. In 2014, Schmidheiny was acquitted of the charges for alleged negligent behavior in Italy. In 2015, a second trial called “Eternit Bis” began, Stephan Schmidheiny defended against the accusation of voluntary manslaughter.On November 29, 2016 the allegations raised in Eternit Bis were dismissed by the court in Turin and the case closed. Some legal proceedings regarding negligent homicide are still possible, e.g. in Vercelli, Reggio Emilia, Naples as well as in Turin
Schmidheiny has always emphasized that his involvement with the Eternit group was long before the health risks of asbestos were understood, and long before production was prohibited in Italy, this ban did not happen until 1992. He admitted in an interview in 2015 that the strain from the legal proceedings in Italy had deeply affected him. Later, however, he felt the proceedings had become absurd, especially after an Italian judge compared him to Hitler and his actions comparable with “the final solution”. Beyond the aforementioned legal proceedings, Stephan Schmidheiny set up funds for victims of asbestos-related diseases in South Africa and Italy, as these countries had no successor company to Eternit, which could bear the financial consequences of asbestos exposure.