Focke & Co.

From The Netherlands it's back over into Germany. More specifically, I'm passing through the northern tip of Germany as I make my way up to the Scandinavian countries. One doesn't hear much about Bremen, population 600,000, but it's a great place and will make my list of favorite cities in Germany. Actually my destination is Verden, a town of 25,000 some 30 miles southeast of Bremen.

As mentioned before, sometimes when riding up to a company I have no idea as to what business they're in. How come? It's plain and simple: I forgot. The main criteria for making my list of companies to visit were revenues. Making the cut-off meant having at least $300 million in sales. Also, if a company had less than the $300 million required but employed several thousand employees it interested me. I made very few notes as to what business, industry or products the company made. In other words, I rely on memory. Actually, it's more fun not knowing what a company does. Then again, if need be I can whip out the laptop and log on to that all knowing resource of business information: Hoover's Online.

I'm in Verden to visit Focke & Co but, haven't a clue as to what they do. However, the address for this company "Siemenstrasse 10" has me concerned because I didn't come all this way to visit a subsidiary of Siemens. *Visit the archives to read about my disappointing reception earlier this summer at Siemens' head office in Munich.

The address brings me to a three-story red brick building in light industrial park several miles from the town's city center. Directly behind this building stands a factory. The receptionist sits in a large room enclosed in glass and opens a sliding window to speak with visitors. After explaining who I am the receptionist says to have a seat while she places a phone call to CEO Heinz Focke's office to find out who ended up with my letter of introduction mailed a month earlier. Taking a seat on one of the four black leather chairs surrounding a glass coffee table my eyes glance over to the titles of the two magazines atop the table. Oh, oh, I don't like what I see; two issues of Tobacco International, which calls itself "The oldest magazine covering the tobacco industry". If you don't know by now I'm adamantly against tobacco and the second-hand smoke I'm always forced to inhale. I resent the fact smokers assume everyone else wants to smell their smoke. Here's my solution: make it mandatory for smokers to wear a mask similar to a gas mask in which the cigarette/cigar and its fumes have no means of escape into the big air. That way they can inhale/exhale to their hearts content without bothering those around them.

Rabea Kuehn, who works in customer service, answers questions and serves as my tour guide. "What does your company do?" is the first question out of my mouth. Of course you noticed in the question asked that I didn't attempt to pronounce the name of the company--which could be embarrassing if done incorrectly. It turns out Focke & Co is one of the world's largest manufacturers of cigarette packing machines with over 6,000 of these multi-million dollar contraptions installed in over 50 countries.

Focke & Co., founded more than 40 years ago in Bremen by CEO Heinz Focke, moved to neighboring Verden for two good reason: available land and, maybe more importantly; Focke lives here. Back in 1955 Heinz Focke designed the first automatic tobacco weighing and pouch packing system. Since then the company has been on a roll being the leader in mechanical and electrical innovations in the industry.

Between the head office and adjacent plant, over 800 work here. There're no recreational facilities but workers in the plant have use of showers. Of course smoking is allowed with CEO Focke being a fancier of cigars. No, you don't have to be a smoker to work here. Case in point, Kuehn nor the receptionist are smokers.

The company's art collection is primarily modern and international in scope. I do spot a framed poster of Ronald Reagan, from his Hollywood acting days, posing in an ad for Chesterfield cigarettes. There's plenty of free parking for employees (including covered parking for bicycles) and according to Kuehn the food in the cafeteria is "good".

Bremen's airport lies 25 miles away and it's two miles to the nearest freeway. "Any unusual employee perks?" I ask. "Workers in the factory get free milk in the cafeteria", answers Kuehn.

Though we take a walk along the executive corridor it isn't possible to see CEO Focke's second floor corner office due to "he's busy". Kuehn says Focke doesn't have a computer in his office. Hmm, now it makes sense. Earlier I asked if the company had a presence on the Internet and Kuehn answered, "No". "Why?" I inquired. "Mr. Focke is concerned about security" replies Kuehn.

I can't leave Verden without mentioning the fascinating stork sanctuary located on the edge of town. Here, injured storks are looked after until they are well enough to go south. "Guests", whose injuries cannot be completely healed are taken care of all year round by the stork warden, Mr. Storch, whose name is the German word for "stork". It's private property, but can easily be seen from a road. Storks are big birds who like to nest atop tall trees and so this piece of farmland contains dozens of tall wooden poles (similar in height to telephone poles) with large nests perched atop.