Le Rosey, born of bold vision

Since 1880, Switzerland's oldest, international private school has constantly innovated to be worthy of its global reputation.

Le Rosey, born from rebellion against cultural domination, continues to cultivate its difference. Philippe Gudin, the school’s director since 1980, is made of the same stuff as its founder, Paul Carnal, a visionary and daring man of action.

When Paul Carnal left his native Jura, in 1880, the Bernese were waging a sort of “Kulturkampf” (culture war). Carnal decided to settle in a more tolerant canton and leased the castle of Rosey in Rolle. Eight years later, he seized the opportunity to buy the property. He could have been content with acquiring the few thousand square meters needed to operate the small school he dreamed of founding.

Instead, this bold man put himself into debt for many years to buy 20 hectares of the vast property.“Where would we be today without this excess? He was a true visionary,” says Philippe Gudin, with a hint of admiration in his voice.

During World War II, Paul Carnal’s son, Henry, decided to keep the school open, although only a handful of students remained. “Nobody was fired. Instead, wages were temporarily halved and the sports fields converted into farmland. Henry Carnal was convinced that Le Rosey had to be ready to start up again at 100% as soon as the war was over. Events proved him right: in 1944, the students returned,” explains Gudin.

The construction of Carnal Hall (see box) is in the same philosophy: invest in the future of the school. “We need leaders who are sensitive to the qualities of creativity and openness to others," says Gudin, an educator who was once active in Scouting.

“The leaders of the emerging 21st century, faced with so many difficulties, must know how to get out of the narrow framework of consensus and conventional wisdom,” according to the December 2011 issue of the school’s newsletter Les nouvelles du Rosey.

When one sees the many future leaders who have passed through its classrooms, it must be said that the school’s responsibility seems all the greater. The Shah of Iran, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Prince Albert II of Belgium, His Majesty Baudouin I, Karim Aga Khan, the Duke of Kent and Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, all were at Rolle and Gstaad.

Winter exile in Gstaad


Indeed, Gstaad. Every winter, since 1916, the boarding school has re-located to the posh resort in the Bernese Oberland for the season’s four months. In 1916, it was a revolutionary innovation; even today, it remains unique in Europe. “We are the only school that moves its entire campus, including all students and the entire teaching staff, nearly 600 people. The move is appalling to organize, but a tradition that we hold dear and we wish to keep.”

Le Rosey began by renting a chalet in Gstaad, then a second and a third, before buying land. During the 1920s, the reputation of Le Rosey’s ice hockey team grew and, at the 1924 Olympic Games, five former players from Le Rosey were members of the Belgian, English and Swiss national teams.

Today, given the increased number of students, the campus in the middle of Gstaad has become too small and Le Rosey has decided to move to the neighboring village of Schönried. The sale of its 7800 m² plot in the heart of the ski resort is expected to finance the construction of both the new campus in Schönried and Carnal Hall in Rolle.

The citizens of Saanen, the political seat of both Gstaad and Schönried, recently accepted 96% of the future decommissioning of agricultural land concerned in Schönried. Now, it is up to the Bernese government; their decision could take another year. “And, then, any opponents (to construction) can file in court,” warns Philippe Gudin. Grown cautious about setting dates, Gudin says the Schönried campus should be operational in January 2020, “if all goes well”.

Le Rosey is an important guest of Gstaad, as Lausanne real estate promoter Bernard Nicod points out: “The resort’s reputation rests on three pillars: Le Rosey, the Eagle Ski Club and the Gstaad Yacht Club.” In the late 1980s, the director of the local tourist office calculated that over 55% of Gstaad’s tourist revenue was related to the school. “Going beyond the numbers, I think, more importantly, Le Rosey spreads the image of Gstaad around the world,” says Philippe Gudin.

When he arrived in 1980, the school had 280 students. In recent years, management has set the limit at 400. “This is the maximum threshold,” he says. “Over that number, people would no longer feel like members of a community.”

The network of Rosean alumni


More than 50% of current Roseans (or, Roséens) as they are called, are relatives or close friends of alumni. The International Association of Former Roseans (AIAR) has more than 6000 members across the world and 80 representatives in key countries and cities. Two collaborators attached to the AIAR are on site at the Rolle campus.

AIAR organizes dozens of events (trips, cruises, meetings, sports and cultural activities), directs the Excellence Club (which helps students who wish to enter American universities), works with the Active Summer Program and leads the First Job Program (which allows young people to intern for several weeks during the summer as a first professional experience). The AIAR has also created a foundation that funds, among others, a few scholarships to Rosey.

“In 1978, I wanted to take over the Bon Séjour school in Versoix, but the price was too high. Finally, with the financial support of my step-father, my wife and I were able to take Le Rosey." One of their four children, Christopher, 28, will take over the school’s direction in September 2014.

“Christophe is two years older than his four predecessors, who were each 26 years-old when taking office,” notes his father. For the fourth time in 135 years, Le Rosey will change director, that is, an average of over 33 years per generation. “Unlike many prestigious schools, Le Rosey intends to remain fully Swiss and continue to be managed by its owners, a guarantee of the quality and continuing commitment to reinvesting in the school almost all (over 95 %) of its profits.”

In 1982, the Gudins developed a 25-year plan with four objectives: establish a standard of near hotel-quality accommodation (rooms with adjoining bathrooms); create onsite apartments for teachers to accommodate families and make them want to stay; modernize and create facilities necessary for developments planned at the school (music, sports, leisure, classes); and, finally, establish technical and human resources to enable the overall development of all forms of intelligence in children.

Between 1983 and 2005, 292 rooms with bathrooms, 71 apartments, 30 classrooms, nine laboratories, eight music rooms, two concert halls and six gyms/sports halls have been created. At present, of the 28 hectares that make up Le Rosey, there are, among other things, 10 tennis courts, an indoor 25-meter pool with a wellness center (sauna, steam bath, jacuzzi), a 25m outdoor pool and a running track.

In addition to the 20 sports practiced on campus, students can study 19 foreign languages ​​and all musical instruments with, as key, two choirs, three orchestras and two theatre troupes. The head of sports at the Rolle campus is no other than Eric Pédat, the former goalkeeper of FC Servette.

In absolute rejection of the concept “degree factory”, Le Rosey gave itself a new motto in 1982: Actis virtus; that is, dreams and promise are meaningless without action. “We never stop urging Roseans to leave the virtual world on a regular basis to carry out their projects, fulfil their dreams, measure themselves against reality, focus on action.”

It is in this spirit that CASC (an anagram in French for “artistic creation, sports, solidarity and culture”) became part of the school program in 2000. To graduate to the next class, every Rosean must meet the requirements of this multifaceted program. Note that theatre-set design, photography and sculpture are some of the subjects offered in visual arts.

Solidarity Actions


In the area of social responsibility, Roseans have built a school (Rosey-Abantara) in Bamako, Mali, which opened in Autumn 2008. More than 1,200 children are currently enrolled, including 120 full scholarship students (receiving transport, meals, uniforms and books). Le Rosey is also responsible for the training of teachers and regularly offers educational materials and computers. Before the Islamic fundamentalists came to power, a number of Le Rosey students spent a week at the school to understand how some of the poorest children in Africa live.

In Switzerland, too, Roseans express their solidarity with the sick, the disabled and the elderly. During each school quarter, in both Rolle and Gstaad, students give concerts and readings or render services to retirement homes or disabled neighbors of the school.

Le Rosey also encourages extracurricular activities: major games (held every autumn between senior boys and girls for 24 hours in a remote region of Jura), dances, Ascension Thursday sports days, Saturday morning activities in Rolle (e.g., cooking, horseback riding, sailing, shooting, water skiing, etc.), Wednesday conferences (the economist Stephane Garelli, the entrepreneur Julian Cook and UBS’s chief economist, UBS Andreas Höfert, have been among the speakers), Easter travel and the “Young Entrepreneur” contest…

But, for now, all eyes at Le Rosey are on the worksite of the great center of art, culture and events. Designed by the Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi and executed by his colleague Serge Fehlmann, Carnal Hall will bring Le Rosey’s infrastructure fully into the 21st century.

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