Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG

The bike ride from Stuttgart to Heidelberg was a real treat as I followed the zigzagging Nectar River. Along the way I pass quite a few castles strategically perched on hilltops. It just boggles the mind that these magnificent edifices were built hundreds of years ago on seemingly inaccessible sites without the benefit of trucks, modern machinery and tools.
Heidelberg, with around 130,000 inhabitants and 25,000 students, has four claims to fame: it's home to Germany's oldest university (Heidelberg University founded in 1386), it's home to Heidelberg Castle, which in turn houses in its castle cellar the world's largest wine vat and lastly, this riverfront city is home to Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, the world's largest maker of sheet-fed and web offset printing presses.

Trains in Europe are a fast and efficient means of getting around cities and countries (unlike in America). So in many European cities being near the central train station is a prestigious location. It's about a block from Heidelberg's central station where I find the headquarters of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen. Over 1,800 employees work here and its part headquarters and part research & development. It used to be a factory site but that's been relocated to the outskirts of town.

Checking in with the security guard at the gated entry I get directed to the five-story administration building which was built in the mid-1970's. While the receptionist finds out who's my contact person I survey the scene. Visitors can sit on any of the eight black leather sofas. To the right is a two-story glassed-in room filled with some of the company's product lines including several gigantic printing presses and on the left side is a smaller glassed-in room filled with smaller machines that look like copiers. Above me is a flashing 5 feet tall by 10 feet wide screen spewing out the company's latest stock quote as well as welcoming visitors plus, there's a big rear screen projector also giving financial information. In a few minutes Marion Moormann, Corporate Communications & Public Relations give me an enthusiastic welcome.

Founded in 1850 by Andreas Hamm in nearby Frankenthal, the company moved to Heidelberg and its present site in 1896. Revenues in fiscal 1997/1998 totaled 6.8 billion-DM.

CEO Hartmut Mehdorn occupies a corner office on the top floor and as with most of the executives offices I've seen in Germany he has no personal items. Walk into an executive's office in the USA and it's the norm to find personal effects such as family photos, autographed baseballs or displays of their personal hobbies. Mehdorn has two computers in his office, one real plant and a plaque on his black desk, which I've seen in many a CEO's office. The plaque reads "No surprises". The U-shaped boardroom seats 27 in comfortable gray chairs. I count four real plants. I always touch the plants to see if they're real or fake. Many boardrooms contain fake plants because the room doesn't get much light or use.

Going into the product display room containing the giant printing presses I notice what looks to be a bus tour group coming through. "Do you have tours of this place?" I ask. According to Moorman, printers from around the world come here in groups for a look-see. Also swarming around one of the giant presses (it's at least 50 feet long) is a group of potential buyers who seem to be walking around the machine giving it the old kick-the-tires once over.

Before leaving I ask about the big flashing screen in the lobby and tell Moormann having my name up there in lights would make a great photo. The very accommodating Moormann obliges and in a few minutes the screen reads "Welcome Paul Wolsfeld from San Diego, California"; I take out my digital camera and snap a few shots. It's always neat when companies announce your arrival and some have really rolled out the red carpet for me. While going around the United States I remember visiting this insurance company in Waverly, Iowa. It's a small farming town of about 10,000 in Middle America and I could tell nothing much happens there. Why do I say that? Well, when I showed up they had big banners announcing my arrival and employees were asking for autographs.