The wave of student protests of the ‘68 movement’ that ran through European cities remained almost unnoticed at HSG. In contrast and as an alternative to the chaos elsewhere, here at HSG the orientation was towards a consensus between decision-makers and the young generation that the way to shape the future should be sought in a dialogue. Thus, in 1969 five students from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway founded the International Students' Committee (ISC) which was supposed to facilitate an exchange between business representatives, researchers and students. On 30 June/1 July 1970 this committee organised the first symposium entitled ‘First International Managers Discussion at Hochschule St Gallen’, known today as St Gallen Symposium. Among the speakers were President Kneschaurek as well as top-class managers such as M.J.P. Dennis (General Director of INSEAD) and G.A. Wegner (Managing Director of the Royal Dutch Shell Group). The occasion was rounded off with a special concert in the newly built St Gallen Theater.
The enthusiasm that the event was met with by the daily and the trade press suggested that the symposium should become a recurring event; hence a group of sponsors from industry and commerce was formed. The purpose of this group was to secure the funding of the event and thus its high quality. Since then the symposium has developed into one of the most important business events in Switzerland.
A highlight of the first symposia was the presentation of the Club of Rome study by Dr Aurelio Peccei, which was at the centre of discussions at the third HSG Symposium in 1972.
In 1974 the ISC Symposium had to be cancelled due to financial difficulties caused by the economic setback of 1974-1975. As a result, the ISC was put on a new footing. In addition to the existing sponsors, the St Gallen Foundation for Intenational Studies (SSIS) was founded as a controlling and advisory body. From then on, the sponsors ensured primarily the financial aspect of the ISC's work, while the foundation guaranteed the quality of the symposium and the professionalism of the administrative staff.
On his 70th birthday (1978), Dr Max Schmidheiny established the Max Schmidheiny Foundation at HSG for the purpose of promoting outstanding achievements in the preservation and further development of the free economy. Since 1979, the prize has been awarded on the morning of the first day of the symposium.
The most important innovation in the 1980s was the introduction of the ‘St Gallen Wings of Excellence Award’ (today ‘Global Essay Competition’) in 1989. Through the announcement of this contest, 200 students were able to qualify for participation in the International Management Symposium for the first time. The Global Essay Competition is still one of the most renowned student contests worldwide.
Since the mid-1990s, the ISC has undertaken steps to take the symposium to an international level. As part of this reorientation, a new logo was introduced and the name was changed to ‘ISC Symposium’. During this period, the ISC also provided financial support for the construction of the Executive Education Campus (WBZ). In 2005 the symposium was given its current name ‘St Gallen Symposium’.
For the 40th symposium (2010), a comprehensive new concept was developed to strengthen the intergenerational dialogue. The duration of the symposium was shortened to two days and the role of a Topic Leader was introduced who from then on, were responsible for moderating individual events. As a counterweight to the 100 invited winners of the Global Essay Competition from around the world, the number of HSG student participants was increased to include a so-called ‘knowledge pool’, which consists of 100 students who are selected and invited to the symposium by the ISC. To bring awareness of the symposium also to the Asian region, an office in Singapore was opened in 2012.
In its fifty-year long history, the St.Gallen Symposium has had some great moments, one of them being the discussion panel with the German President of the Employers Association Hanns Martin Schleyer and the DGB Chairman Heinz Oskar Vetter (1977). Remarkable speeches were delivered by Edouard Balladur, former French Finance Minister, Dr. Alfred Herrhausen, Chairman of the Board of Deutsche Bank, Dr Markus Lusser, President of the Swiss National Bank, Paul A. Volcker, former US Federal Reserve Chairman and Muhammad Yunus (2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate). In November 2006, the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was presented with the Max Schmidheiny Foundation Freedom Award (awarded in 2003). The 2003 award ended this tradition, which had continued since 1979.
Due to the renovation works that took place in the University’s Main Building between 2008 and 2010, symposia were held in a tent city next to the University’s Library.
Wolfgang Schürer, founding member of the ISC and a SSIS delegate for 25 years, once stated how he understood the basic idea of the Students' Committee: ‘The ISC is a bridge between what is taught at HSG and what actually happens in practice.’