On the road in Austria and Liechtenstein
Austria tops my list of favorite countries visited. Its physical beauty is unmatched and every city, town, village, hamlet is a treat to ride through because people take pride
in their homes and it shows. On the downside, Austria's government-owned phone company is a rip-off. Actually, the government-run Post Office owns the phone company. Every hotel I stayed in while in Austria charged a "surcharge" for when I picked up the phone. This included being charged a surcharge to access my calling card and an additional surcharge on top of the charge for local calls. I originally thought hotels were just using the "government surcharge" explanation as convenient way get additional charges from customers while placing the blaming for the charge on the phone company.
Traverse the ring road circling downtown Vienna and from the magnificent structures lining the streets it's immediately clear Austria was a power to be reckoned with several hundred years ago when the Hapsburg family ruled much of Europe. Especially impressive are Belvedere Palace and Schoenbrunn Palace, two former summer residences of the Hapsburgs each located several miles from downtown. I've visited quite a few royal palaces and summer residences during my trek through Europe and it always strikes me as odd how these "summer residences" are usually within five miles of the main royal palace.
Radex-Heraklith Industriebeteilgungs AG
Boy, talk about decentralized management. At Radex-Heraklith, Austria's largest industrial concern with $2.2 billion in revenues, there's a total of eight people at corporate headquarters. With Vienna's famous opera house across the street, Peter Hofmann, assistant to CEO, says they're located in Vienna's most prestigious business area.
The company has leased the sixth floor of the nine-story building since 1976. During World War II the building was destroyed and was rebuilt in the 1950's.
Radex-Heraklith, the world's largest producer of high grade refractory materials, operates steel mills, cement and glass factories plus makes insulation and sealing materials.
Checking out CEO Dr. Walter Ressler's office I count five framed paintings of English hunting scenes with dogs and horses plus, touch the two plants and bouquet of flowers to see if they're real. They are. Ressler says his wife brings him fresh flowers every Monday. I mention to Ressler how he's typical European in not having any family or personal items in his office. Spending a few minutes talking with the 50-something year old Kessler I find he could have several interesting items in his office including a picture of him on the Austrian Olympic ice hockey team and his winning a Fulbright scholarship to go to school in the USA.
The square, eight feet long boardroom table has 10 light green chairs and there're two paintings on the walls, one of a company factory and the other of an Austrian landscape .
The company was founded in 1908 by an American; Henry Miller.
Constantia Industrieholding AG
Hey this is great, I only have to stroll a few doors down from Radex-Heraklith's offices to find Constantia Industrieholding, an industrial holding company with a variety of businesses. Besides being the world's largest manufacturer of yogurt caps, the company makes tennis strings for rackets, packaging materials, chipboard, laminates, ski runway surfaces, ski lifts and ski components, long term parking tickets (the kind used in airports) and watches which open garage doors. Sales in 1993 were about $1.3 billion.
Meeting with co-CEO Dr. Siegfried Bucholz I learn the reason he speaks English so well comes from having lived and worked in various parts of the USA including New York, Detroit and Charlotte. Nothing fancy here with 10 employees occupying the mezzanine floor of a six-story building built in the 1950's. Constantia has been leasing the floor for 25 years.
There's no formal boardroom with one of the meeting rooms serving that purpose. Bucholz has a picture of his wife on his desk plus three unusual pictures on a wall. Well, I guess the pictures aren't unusual it's just I wasn't expecting to see an Austrian CEO with a black & white picture of Death Valley, a picture of Wall Street in New York City and a picture of a beach scene in Puerto Rico on his office walls.
One of the problems I had when doing research on companies to visit was finding out what kind of business they were in. For instance in Steyr-Daimler-Puch's case the only information available was their name, address, revenues (9.1 billion schillings or $910 million) and that they were an "industrial group". Jeez, that could cover a lot of ground. This lack of information frequently causes other problems such as when I meet with Dr. Joseph Dellinger, the company secretary, and he says the company is 65% owned by Creditanstalt, one of Austria's biggest banks. I'm not visiting any banks in Austria because the big ones are all owned or controlled by the government including Creditanstalt.
My first question to Dellinger: was there a Mr. Steyr, a Mr. Daimler and a Mr. Puch? The company was founded in 1864 and the current name came into being in 1934 as a result of a merger. Steyr is the name of a town, there was a Mr. Daimler (he's the same GottliebDaimler as in Daimler-Benz Mercedes) and there was a Mr. Johann Puch. The company manufactures a wide variety of products including tanks for the United Nations, Jeep Cherokees for Chrysler, tractors, engines, small arms and high quality hunting rifles.
Since 1987 the company has leased the 7th and 8th floors in a nine-story building in the downtown area. Built in the 1960's, seventy five people work here but they're on their own as far as lunch since there's no cafeteria.
According to Dellinger, "it's not possible" to see CEO Dr. Rudolf Streicher's eighth floor corner office but, I do get to see the boardroom. When Dellinger tries to open the boardroom door he finds it locked, which he says is very unusual. After finding the keys we enter and it's immediately clear why the door was locked. CEO Streicher leaves tomorrow on a business trip and he's taking along some of the company's products. In this instance it's 17 Steyr Mannlicher hunting rifles in carrying cases. At $2,000 a piece we're talking $34,000 in guns so, they're neatly stacked on the boardroom table in the locked boardroom.
International Confederation of Accordionists
I'm pretty excited making my way to Dietrichgasse 51/19 because I haven't a clue as to what I'll find when visiting the offices of the International Confederation of Accordionists. I'm several miles from downtown Vienna in a residential area filled with apartment buildings. Turns out the address is in one of the apartment buildings which means the organization is run out of someone's apartment. There's a directory outside the apartment complex entrance and there's a buzzer next to each number so I buzz #19, as the 51 refers to the address of the building on Dietrichgasse. No one answers. After several minutes I buzz again. No answer. Several people in the complex are looking out their balcony windows but nobody speaks English so I'm out of luck as far as getting help from them. Looks like I'll never get to find out why the International Confederation of Accordionists is based in Vienna, Austria.
With $8.4 billion in revenues OMV, an oil & gas concern, gets the call as Austria's biggest company. However, there's a big asterisk to that since it's 35.6% owned by the government.
For being Austria's biggest company I'm surprised to find corporate offices about a mile from downtown on a not very high-profile side street. It's a three building company-owned complex built in 1956 which is when the company was founded.
Meeting with Michael Unterleuthner, secretary general, I learn 2,500 work in the three buildings with about 700 in the seven-story structure housing the executives-which is the tallest of the three.
I can't see CEO Dr. Richard Schenz's second floor middle office due to "he's in". So you think Schenz wouldn't have much of a view from his windows right? Wrong. He's got a great view of the prison located across the street.
Nothing special about the boardroom, though the orange leather chairs surrounding the U-shaped boardroom table (seats 40) are a little unusual.
Wienerberger Baustoffindustrie AG
I'm about 10 miles from downtown Vienna trying to visit Wienerberger Baustoffindustrie, one of Europe's largest makers of bricks and pipes. Revenues in 1995 were $1.2 billion. The company occupies the 17th, 18th and 19th floor of a spiffy, new futuristic 22-story building which is probably the tallest office building in Austria. I mention I'm trying to visit the company but CEO Dr. Erhard Schaschl's secretary comes out to the receptionist area and makes short work of me saying she hasn't the faintest idea what I'm doing but I should contact the company's corporate communication man who isn't in today. Unfortunately I'm not able to make another visit out here. The company also has extensive real estate holdings and I wouldn't be surprised if they owned the this fancy retail/office complex. From my peek down the halls from the reception area I spot quite a bit of modern art lining the walls.
Vienna's airport lies about 16 miles from downtown and it's halfway between the two where I find the unusual-looking head office of Austrian Airlines. Built in 1978, the large company-owned five-story structure is shaped like an "L" with the tail fin of a DC-9 plane atop. Yep you heard me right, there's this long building and attached to the rear top is a one-story curving-up structure which looks like the tail fin of a plane. The shape of the building isn't the only thing unusual about this place. Here we are only eight miles from downtown Vienna yet, surrounding and butting up to the buildings on three sides are acres and acres of farmland filled with fields of wheat, beans and corn.
Entering the building one has to have the security guard buzz you past two sets of glass doors. I get stuck between the two sets of doors while the guard asks what I want. The company should do away with making visitors stand between two sets of doors because it's humiliating.
Meeting with Johann Jurceka, communications, I learn the Austrian government owns 51.9 of the company and Swiss Air 25%. The company was founded in 1958 and it's headquartered in Vienna because it's the carrier's home base.
The 600-700 employees get use of the six tennis courts on the grounds plus there's a clubhouse with ping-pong and darts. The company's art collection consists of modern works with the paintings limited to young Austrian artists
Checking out co-CEO Herbert Bammer's top floor corner office I see he has the obligatory model planes (14 of 'em), three real plants, seven family pictures, brown sofa and chairs, a view of the surrounding farmland plus, he can see planes coming and going from the airport eight miles away.
I count three more model planes in the boardroom along with three real plants and two framed maps dated 1681 (originals?) on a wall showing Austria in 1681.
Stuck in a valley between Switzerland and Austria lies Liechtenstein, all 160 square kilometers of it. It's Europe's fourth smallest country behind the Vatican, San Marino and Monaco having become a sovereign nation in 1866 and becoming a UN member in 1990.
It's 4 PM on a Friday afternoon as I ride into downtown Vaduz, the country's second largest city with a population of 6,000. We aren't talking very big here especially when you consider the country's entire population is a whopping 30,000. Biking the main street through town (I think it's the only street running the length of town) I come across the ugly four-story concrete slab headquarters of Bil GT Gruppe. Neither security guards speaks English but seem to be telling me the place is closed for the day. I do catch an employee walking by who speaks English and I'm told the head office of the holding company is down the street. Off I go a half block to where I'm perplexed by the sign on the door saying Liechtenstein Global Trust. The two secretaries/receptionists tell me the company had a name change in 1996 and, everyone here of importance has left for the day. I do obtain an annual report which says the company was founded in 1921 and has CHf 53billion under administration. Chairman and CEO Prince Philipp von Undzu Liechtenstein's family acquired majority shareholdings in 1930. The prince is the same man who runs the country from his royal castle above the city--errr, town.
Riding several miles down the road and valley from Vaduz brings me to Schaan, the country's largest city with 8,000 residents. It's just about ready to commence pouring down rain as I reach the headquarters complex of Hilti, a manufacturer of industrial and consumer tools (lines of tools similar to Black & Decker's in the USA). So here it is 5:30 PM on a Friday afternoon and I'm really not expecting to find anyone still around. It's more of a scouting trip just so I know where it is. There're two newish-looking five-story reflective glass buildings facing each other and behind looks to be a large manufacturing facility. Since the signs outside each building aren't in English I don't know what's inside each so, I pick a building. Oh boy, there's no receptionist--only a phone with a directory of names but no titles. Not having the CEO's name (I addressed my advance material sent a month ago to the "CEO or Managing Director") I haven't a clue who to call up but, I start dialing up numbers until someone answers who speaks English. I eventually get someone to connect me with corporate communications and bingo! Michaela Wagner, corporate press and information department, answers the phone and it turns out she the one who ended up with my advance material. Though it's now 6 PM, Wagner has no qualms about taking time to answers questions and show me around the place. Wagner's a real trooper--even sitting through the 20-minute video presentation on the company (which she help produce and has probably seen dozens of times).
About 1,200 people work in the plant/headquarters. It turns out the main reception and building housing the executives are in the one I didn't initially enter. Here, the lobby area is filled with a large display of the company's product line.
Egads, walking into CEO Dr. Pius Baschera top floor corner office we find he's still at work so I kid him about being a workaholic--after all it's 6PM on a rainy Friday. He hasn't a computer but note the two pictures of his kids. Looking out his windows he could monitor the comings and goings employees leaving the parking lot below his window (he says he doesn't). Right across the street there's a large pasture and Baschera has a peaceful view of cows munching away. On the other side of the lush green valley lies Switzerland. The nearest airport is Zurich, an hour's drive away.
Entering the boardroom I see the table is octagon-shaped (8-sided), count five real plants and am initially perplexed as to why there's a map of Texas and Oklahoma here. Wagner says Hilti has operations there.