Danfoss A/S

Crossing into Denmark from Germany I've got my map out and it's definitely getting the twice over. Why? Two big reasons: the weather factor and previous experiences. It's a few days from September and I'm only now starting my incursion into the Scandinavian countries. I also have to worry about pedaling my way to companies located in off-the-beaten-track locations-only to be given the bum's rush. This recently happened to me several times in Germany. During my last trek through Denmark I also had to deal with showing up at a company's head office/factory only to find the place completely shut down for summer vacation. Two companies immediately come to mind; Bang & Olufsen in Struer (makers of those expensive audio and video systems) and Lego Systems (purveyor of toys for tots) in Billund.

Danfoss, Denmark's largest industrial concern, qualifies as one of those companies located in an off-the-beaten-track. One looks at a map and can't help but wonder why the heck this large company is headquartered in such a location. It requires leaving the mainland and making one's way across a bridge to an island and then heading 20 miles to one of the farthest points on the island from the bridge. However, as I follow the gently winding road past fertile farmlands and cozy villages to Danfoss's headquarters it's quickly obvious that the quality of life and drop-dead gorgeous scenery of this island might have something to do with why Danfoss is here.

Danfoss calls Nordborg, a town of maybe several thousand, its home but I come upon the headquarters complex several miles before the town. There's no mistaken this is the place because the 11-story head office building is surrounded by rolling farmlands and easily sticks out. Plus, it helps seeing the name "Danfoss" in big red letters atop the side of the building.

Several weeks earlier I received an E-mail from CEO Jorgen Clausen saying my letter of introduction had arrived and that the company was looking forward to my visit. It still requires flexibility on the company's part because I usually give companies a week's timeframe as to when I'll show up. In other words, they know I'm coming but not which day. I try to give companies as much notice as possible of my pending arrival which is why the introductory letters addressed to the CEOs are sent out a month beforehand. This makes it difficult for me because I'm usually over thousand miles away (on a bicycle) and it's extremely difficult to pinpoint an exact date of arrival.

The friendly guard at the gated entry waves me past and within minutes I'm in the lobby being helped by the also friendly receptionist. This building was built in 1966 and the furnishings in the lobby makes one think they're the originals. The lobby contains two glass display cases showing off a selection of the company's products and nearby stands a bust of Mads Clausen, who founded the company in 1933. A scale model of the ship Cutty Sark (1933-1983) sits inside a glass case and I make note of the three Danish newspapers on a coffee table. I'm soon given a warm welcome by Lisa Pilgaard-Jensen, Press secretary-Corporate Communications.

Danfoss, with 1998 revenues of 1.9 billion euros and almost 20,000 employees, manufactures a wide range of products such as heating & ventilating controls, valves and water hydraulics. Danfoss is also the world's largest manufacturer of compressors. Sitting in Pilgaard-Jensen's office I tell her I've seen the company name somewhere but can't place where. When she points to the heater in the office and says Danfoss makes the controls-- it hits me. I've seen the Danfoss name in little red letters when turning on the heating/air conditioning controls in hotel rooms.

I end up spending most of the day here getting a tour of the head office, seeing several production lines in an adjacent plant and taking a walk to a nearby farm to learn the roots of this company. Was there a Mr. Danfoss? Nope. "Dan" is short for Denmark and "foss" means water. Not being familiar with the company, Poul Adam Bachmann, Manager Visitors Department--who's been with the company over 30 years and a super nice guy, walks me over to a small theatre where I watch a short video on the company. Having seen hundreds of these, I give it an eight on the 1-10 scale.

In addition to the headquarters complex, several large manufacturing facilities are located in the immediate vicinity (by immediate I mean right across the street). The various buildings encompass 2.5 million square feet and sit on 166 hectares. Two cafeterias take care of the 4,100 employees working here plus, there's a guest cafeteria. How's the food in the guest cafeteria? There's quite a bit of cold fish to choose from but I elect to go for the roast beef and roast pork with gravy, several deviled eggs, a Sprite soft drink to wash it down and a tasty yogurt with fresh strawberries for dessert. The verdict? An easy two thumbs up from this hard to please cyclist.

There's no formal company art collection, smoking is allowed, the company has two corporate aircraft (a Citation and a Falcon) and there's plenty of free employee parking. It's 45 minutes to the nearest freeway and a 25-minute drive to the nearest big city-which in this case means Sonderborg, a beautiful waterfront community of 30,000 residents.

The headquarters building is one long structure but was built in three stages. The first section built in 1958, was followed by the 11-story high-rise in 1966 and finally the last addition in the mid-1980's. While touring the headquarters building we hop on a continuous moving elevator. I've only seen these in Finland, Sweden and Denmark and I can't remember the proper name but I know it's a long word and begins with a "P". One of the elevators is always going up, while the other goes down. The plusses? No waiting for an elevator or having to share the ride with a large cart. The downside? Using it first thing in the morning after a night of little sleep you might find yourself a little slow hopping on or off.

Here, normal working hours is from 9AM to 5PM but you have the option of flextime. It means you're required to be here during certain hours (9AM to 3PM) but, you can decide the other two. For instance, you could work 7AM to 3PM, 8AM to 4PM or 9AM to 5PM.

Since I never know my exact arrival time (in other words I don't have an appointment) it's usually hit or miss when it comes to my request to see the CEO's office. Today it's a miss, with CEO Clausen's being in a meeting in his 6th floor, middle office. The 51-year old Clausen is the oldest son of founder Mads Clausen, who died in 1966.

Danfoss' website www.danfoss.com contains company background and product information. Asking about a company's Internet presence is proving to be valuable insight into how the company sees itself. It's been amazing the number of companies using their country's address (.de for Germany and .ch for Switzerland for example) instead of the more global ".com" address. If you were surfing for BMW's homepage would you type in www.bmw.com or www.bmw.de?

Leaving the company grounds Pilgaard-Jensen and I take a small hike up the road to "The farm". This is the farm where Mads Clausen was born in 1905 and the home he returned to in 1933 to start his own company. It's a beautiful unspoiled setting surrounded by lush farmland. It now houses the Danfoss Museum and Danfoss Teknorama. Erik Petersen, Manager-Danfoss Museum, gives me the deluxe tour of the facilities. The Teknorama is an impressive hands-on exhibit giving visitors a chance to play with technology and learn something at the same time. I've been to literally hundreds of company museums and technology exhibits and this complex easily makes it to my Top 10 favorite list.

Before leaving I'm interviewed for an article in the company's in-house employee publication and the photographer taking the picture for the story manages to generate a big chuckle out of me. How? The picture is of me posing next to the bike, which is emblazoned with www.hoovers.com in large letters. After sizing up the bike and lettering, the photographers says, "Oh, you have a bar in America sponsoring your trip?" I chuckle and tell him maybe he was thinking of Hooters. Oh well, at least he didn't think it referred to a certain vacuum cleaner company.