Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny is a Swiss billionaire. He was recently sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, convicted of gross negligence in the highly publicized trial relating to the exposure of customers and employees of Eternit to asbestos. As of March 2013, his net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $3 billion.
Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny was born in Balgach, St. Gallen, Switzerland, on October 29, 1947 as a fourth generation member of the most important industrial dynasty in Switzerland and completed his Law studies with a doctorate at the University of Zurich in 1972. He started his business career at Eternit Niederurnen he had inherited and in 1976 he was named CEO of the Swiss Eternit Group. According to his brother Thomas Schmidheiny, their father Max decided to divide his industrial empire into two halves : asbestos for Stephan, cement for Thomas.
According to his official biography, he ended the company´s use of asbestos in 1986. Years later he diversified his investments, building up a multinational conglomerate of shareholdings by adding enterprises in the areas of forestry, banking, consumer goods, power generation, and the electronic and optical equipment. During this period he shaped many industries and became a renowned industrial architect. In recognition of this role, he became a member of the boards of directors of leading companies such as ABB Asea Brown Boveri, Nestlé, Swatch, and UBS AG.
In the 1980s he created FUNDES, an organization that supports the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in several Latin American countries. According to recent Swiss accounts, Stephan Schmidheiny began buying Chilean forest land in 1982, and he now owns over 120,000 hectares in Southern Chile, near Concepcion, landwhich the Mapuche Indians claim has been theirs since time immemorial. The Mapuche charge that some of the land Schmidheiny bought was stolen from them during the Pinochet dictatorship, using that regime's standard techniques of intimidation, torture, and murder.
In 1990 he was appointed chief adviser for business and industry to the secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), better known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992. He created a forum in which leading businessmen from all parts of the world developed a business perspective on environment and development challenges. This forum later became the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), an organization that today counts the world’s 160 most important companies as its members. Stephan Schmidheiny was elected Honorary Chairman.
In the 1990s he also established the AVINA Foundation, which contributes to sustainable development in Latin America by encouraging productive alliances among social and business leaders and today is a leading player in that field.
After the creation of VIVA Trust in 2003, Stephan Schmidheiny retired from all of his executive functions, including his positions in GrupoNueva and AVINA.
Negligent behavior trial
Stephan Schmidheiny and the 88-year-old Baron Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, from Belgium, were charged for allegedly negligent behavior in exposing Eternit's workers and citizens to asbestos. The legal proceeding began at the Palace of Justice, Turin, Italy on December 10, 2009. The trial was a mass civil action in which some 6,000 people were seeking damages over the deaths of around 3,000 people who worked at or lived near Eternit’s plants in Italy. After years of investigation, the Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello and his team acted on behalf of 2,619 former Eternit employees from the Italian factories in Casale Monferrato (Province of Alessandria), Cavagnolo (Province of Turin), Rubiera (Province of Reggio Emilia) and Bagnoli (Naples) and 270 family members or local residents who received para occupational or environmental exposure to Eternit asbestos. The prosecution requested the maximum sentence of 12 years imprisonment and demanded eight more years be added on the grounds that asbestos can trigger ailments decades after exposure. On July 4, 2011 at the Turin court of justice, near the end of this trial, the Prosecutor asked for a 20-year term in prison for both Stephan Schmidheiny and Cartier de Marchienne. The prosecution’s five-year inquiry determined that the two executives were effectively responsible for Eternit’s Italian operations at the time of the contaminations in the 1970s, a claim rejected by the defence team. They were both sentenced to 16 years imprisonment on February 13, 2012. Stephan Schmidheiny failed to present himself in court during the two-year long trial and was not present for the verdict.
- See "Asbestos in the Dock" blog regarding the Eternit trial
- "Audition of Thomas Schmidheiny, Turin Court, Eternit Trial". ANDEVA (in French). July 5, 2010.
- "The Generalist: Stephan Schmidheiney 2; The Asbestos Ghost". February 28, 2006.
- "AFP News: Italian court seeks 20-year terms in asbestos mega-trial". July 4, 2011.
- Baron de Cartier and Stephen Schmidheiny Sentences to 16 years, Asbestos In the Docket Blog, posted 2/14/2012
- The Bill Gates of Switzerland 
- Moral Fiber: Billionaire Activist On Environment Faces His Own Past, By David Bank, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2002. 
- Official website of Stephan Schmidheiny
- BBC Official Web site 
- Article St. Galler Tagblatt on July 6, 2011 by Dominik Straub