The founder of the foundation

Founding couple Walter and Lotti Reist (1927 to 2022)

By Christoph Vollenweider, Head of Program & Publications

On a gloriously beautiful day on April 21, 1985, the Hinwil couple Walter and Lotti Reist-Gerber visited the Klara and Paul Bigliardi family at their Lilienberg estate in Ermatingen. The Reists had heard that the Bigliardis wanted to sell the estate to a real estate company that was planning to build over the entire area. Walter Reist himself was looking for a suitable property to realize his dream of founding and running a center for entrepreneurship. After a brief discussion, they agreed on a handshake and the Lilienberg changed hands. Shortly afterwards, the Lilienberg Entrepreneurial Forum Foundation was established, which quickly began planning the construction of the Entrepreneurial Forum. On April 7, 1989, the first stage was inaugurated in the presence of the then Federal Councillor Kaspar Villiger. The Forum was extended in two further stages (the Rundbau Zentrum and the Lindenguet on the other side of the road): This gave the Lilienberg its current appearance.

But who were the married couple Walter and Lotti-Reist Gerber, and what motivated them to build and operate this entrepreneurial forum?

Walter Reist

Walter Albert Reist was born in Schaffhausen on February 19, 1927. His father worked as a master foundryman at Georg Fischer Schaffhausen (GF). When Walter was four years old, he lost his mother. After his father remarried, the family moved to Schlatt in neighboring Thurgau, where his stepmother's parents ran a farm and his father set up a chicken farm. A difficult and hard time began for Walter, as he had to work hard in the fields and on the farm, especially after the outbreak of the Second World War, when all the men had to go into active service. His father got him an apprenticeship as a machine fitter at GF. Walter completed his training with great enthusiasm and keen interest. After his apprenticeship, he was immediately assigned to the design department and became a draughtsman-designer: the first course for his later professional life was set.

After the war, he devoted himself to his professional career. In 1948, the young design engineer began a part-time but exhausting course of study at the Abendtechnikum, which he completed in 1953. In the meantime, he worked as chief designer at the Daverio company in Zurich, where he invented the lubrication-free newspaper conveyor for the NZZ. As his employer was not particularly interested in this invention, but the client was enthusiastic, he decided to go it alone and founded the company Fehr&Reist AG in Dietlikon, Ferag, in 1957. His inventions revolutionized newspaper production to such an extent that Ferag quickly gained well-known publishing houses as customers and had to expand. The company then moved to Hinwil in 1963, where it began production in a new building. With growing success around the globe, the Ferag plant expanded steadily. Within a few years, Walter Reist's unique system solutions, which he continued to develop with new inventions, won him a very large international customer base, including the world's leading newspaper publishers. Ferag became the largest and probably most attractive employer in the Zurich Oberland and a sought-after training place for young people.

At an early age, Walter came into contact with the former teacher and Russian-Swiss Ernst Jucker, who awakened in him the need to devote himself to the essence of entrepreneurship. The question of what entrepreneurship actually is and what ultimately drives an entrepreneur has preoccupied Walter Reist throughout his life. He was particularly interested in holistic entrepreneurship, in which people, but also society and politics, are important. For him, the entrepreneur was always part of society; for him, entrepreneurship only lives if it is integrated into the country and society and is committed to the state and its security. In 1985, he founded the Lilienberg Entrepreneurs' Forum Foundation in order to spread these ideas among entrepreneurs and stimulate discussion, and the foundation moved into its premises on the Lilienberg in 1989. Since then, the Lilienberg has lived on as a platform for encounters between business, politics, society and culture, but also as a place for countless discussions and fruitful debates between people interested in entrepreneurship, but also in the state and society. For many years, Walter Reist was personally involved in many Lilienberg events, which radiate far beyond the borders of Eastern Switzerland. 

For his work as a successful entrepreneur, inventor and developer and for his management of the Lilienberg, Walter Reist received an honorary doctorate from ETH Zurich in 1993 as one of the very few people to come from a practical background rather than a university environment. 

After completing his training at the Abendtechnikum, Walter Reist married his childhood sweetheart from Schlatt, Lotti Gerber, on June 6, 1953, and started a family with their two children Susanne and Andreas.

Lotti Reist-Gerber

Lotti Gerber was born on April 26, 1927 in Schlatt, the daughter of Jakob and Marie Gerber. She had a happy childhood, although she had to work a lot alongside school in her father's cheese dairy and dairy business. The family also had a few pigs, which she also had to look after from time to time. Her youth was also marked by the Second World War, when many men were in active service. This meant that Lotti had to lend a hand in her father's business and take on men's work. At the age of 17, she was the first woman to drive a Peugot delivery van in Schlatt to bring the fresh milk from her father's dairy to the train station every day. As she was still a minor, she needed a special permit from the Thurgau government. During this time, she was also repeatedly employed as an ambulance driver. This time during the war, with its great uncertainty and fear, left its mark on Lotti Reist: Prudence without anxiety, the will to serve and improvise as well as her powerful dignity and calmness characterized her throughout her life. 

Lotti attended elementary school in Schlatt and secondary school in Feuerthalen. After the war, she trained as a nurse and worked for several years at the Davos Lung Center, but during this time she always kept up her relationship with Walter Reist, whom she had met at school in Schlatt. After marrying in 1953, the young couple moved into their first apartment in Thalwil and a few years later moved to Wallisellen with their children. Finally, in August 1963, the family moved into the newly built house on Schönenberg in Hinwil - practically at the same time as Ferag. Her father, who had given up the cheese dairy in Schlatt and had previously moved to Hinwil, was instrumental in acquiring the land for the company in Hinwil.

Walter and Lotti Reist very quickly felt at home in the Zurich Oberland and became involved in several areas. Walter served on the Hinwil municipal council for four years as head of finance and was able to initiate debt reduction. He also supported many different local associations and integrated Ferag employees into the public life of the surrounding area, for example through the Hinwil March. In recognition of his services to the municipality of Hinwil, as an attractive employer and as a sponsor and benefactor of many public projects and ideas, he and his wife Lotti received honorary citizenship of the municipality on their 80th birthday. 

Lotti Reist-Gerber saw herself as a "full-blooded family woman" and ensured that Walter had a beautiful home throughout his years of professional development and success, where he could always retreat to with his family and recharge his batteries. However, Lotti was rather reserved when it came to her husband's social commitments, for example in connection with Rotary, but steered the family in the background. With her level-headedness and motivational strength, she concentrated on her work with her two children Susanne and Andreas.

She found deep satisfaction in embroidery work and peasant painting and later especially in porcelain painting. She attended many courses and continued to develop, becoming a veritable artist. She generously gave away the many beautiful porcelain pieces she had made to family, relatives and friends. She also kept many of them. That is why she was also personally involved in the interior design and decoration of the Lilienberg Entrepreneurial Forum, where the fruits of her work can still be seen everywhere. 

She also had a deep affection for her grandchildren Denise and Stefan, who spent every weekend with their grandparents when they were young, as well as for her granddaughters Bianca and Alessandra, who live in the USA and whom she saw less often but loved no less. 

She went on many trips with her husband, often to the USA to visit her son Andreas' family. Boat trips and cruises all over the world were also part of Lotti and Walter's travel program. 

Walter and Lotti Reist-Gerber were a very different couple, but they complemented each other well and fruitfully. Without the help of his wife, Walter Reist would hardly have been able to make the Lilienberg as beautiful as it is today.

The following is the commemorative publication that was published in 2017 on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Walter and Lotti Reist:

commemorative publication