Andreas Stihl AG & Co.

A half dozen hilly miles from downtown Stuttgart finds me in Walbingen, a quaint little town with a well-preserved city center of half-timbered buildings. The Neckar River runs along the downtown area and following the water for a mile leads me to Andreas Stihl, the world's largest manufacturer of chainsaws. Besides gas and electric chainsaws, the company makes industrial vacuums, blowers and long-reach hedge-trimmers (or as I call 'em-weed whackers).

The public road ends at Stihl's gated and guarded entrance. It's somewhat surprising coming across this factory complex because it's in a quiet residential area alongside the gentle flowing river. Getting off my bike I check in with the guard who also mans the visitor reception area. The guard doesn't speak English but lets me use the phone to call one of the secretaries to Hans Peter Stihl, President, and the person to whom I mailed the letter. It seems they have no record of receiving my letter but someone will be down in a few minutes to talk.

Waiting in the reception area I count seven plants (real) along with several glass display cases containing six of Stihl's power tools including a weed whacker. On the walls hang three pictures of smiling people using Stihl products.

A woman soon appears, says there's no one around to talk to me and then hands me several brochures on the company as if that'll make me happy. I explain that I didn't travel all the way from California to be handed brochures. Talking with this woman proves useless, as she couldn't care less about helping me. She declines to give her name.

According to a company brochure, the Stihl Group achieved sales in 1998 of two billion DM (84% outside of Germany) while sales of the parent company Andreas Stihl AG & Co. totaled 909 million-DM. One page in the brochure lists nine items under the heading, "Company Philosophy". Reading item number eight makes me roll my eyes: "We are convinced that important reasons for our business success are good internal and external relationships. Therefore, major importance is given at STIHL to maintaining personal contacts".