MobilCom AG

I remember reading about MobilCom in American newspapers several years ago. The German government privatized the national phone company (Deutsche Telecom) and opened it up to competition. Back in 1991 MobilCom's Founder and CEO Gerhard Schmidt bought oodles of cheap interconnection contracts from Deutsche Telecom and as a result was offering customers cheaper rates than those charged by Deutsche Telecom to its customers.

What I'm curious to find out is why Schmidt decided to locate MobilCom in Budelsdorf, a village/town of 5,000 people about 20 miles south of the German/Denmark border. Kiel, a port city of 250,000, is the nearest big city lying 25 miles due east.

Budelsdorf has the definite feel of a small town/village as I follow the two-lane main road (and only road) through town. However, I catch a glimpse of something that indicates big changes are in the wind here; a new McDonald's. Hey don't laugh, getting a McDonald's in your village/town is a real status symbol. Continuing on, I find MobilCom's new three-story head office building on the outskirts of town
The receptionist places a call to CEO Schmidt's secretary and in a minute she's in the lobby (mobile phone in hand) telling me they have no record of having received my introductory material sent a month earlier. It's no problem here though as she corrals Stefan Arlt, who heads the company's Investor Relations department, into meeting with me.

It's a fun visit as the accommodating Arlt answers questions and gives a tour of this company-owned facility that is deciding different from the norm in Germany. Built in 1998, the building isn't so much wide as it is deep. There's a long three-story atrium running the length of the structure and the company cafeteria stands a few steps away from the front entrance and reception area. The open-office concept, which is virtually unheard of in mainland Europe, is put to maximum use here with everyone on display thanks to the use of large shared office areas and glass walls. You can stand at one end of each long floor and look clear down to the other end.

Are you a smoker? Here you have to take your habit outside the building to indulge. There's no written formal dress code with "casual" being the most common form of dress seen. There's plenty of free employee parking for cars & bicycles and it's about two miles to the nearest freeway. It's one hour by car to Hamburg's airport. Which brings me to the two main reasons why the company is headquartered here: (1) Founder and CEO Schmidt is from this area and (2) costs are much lower here than in a big metropolitan area.

Employees enjoy some interesting perks and I mean besides the free coffee in the cafeteria. If an employee completes the previous month without absence, they receive an additional attendance bonus to the value of 3.5% of the salary. The company provides every employee who wishes it a company car--the offer includes a nationwide refueling card, fully comprehensive insurance, servicing, repairs and winter tires. Then there's the perk which I was almost 100% sure the company would furnish to its employees since it's Germany's second largest mobile phone company: a mobile phone-without the monthly fee and at rebated tariffs.

CEO Schmidt occupies a first floor, glass enclosed corner office near the reception area. It's one of the very few offices in which the door can be closed. I count four real plants, a computer and a large collection of clowns. Yep, you heard me right-clowns. I count over 14 figurines of clowns and three framed pictures of clowns. Unusual? Not at all. There's the CEO of a company in London who has part of his collection of over 2,000 eggcup holders on display. Then there was the CEO of an insurance company in Lincoln, Nebraska with dozens of hippopotamus figurines in his office. Why? His last name is Hippo. How about the CEO in Cleveland who had hundreds of hotel keys on display in his office (those reusable card-like room keys now in use must have put a cramp in his collecting) or the collector of African facemasks. One of the most unusual items I've ever seen in a CEO's office (and touched before knowing what it was) would have to be the large leathery pouch-like item displayed on a counter behind his desk. It turned out to be a bull's scrotum.