Otto Versand GmbH & Co.
Four years have passed and I'm back for another stab. Atop one of buildings is the name "Otto" in big letters. Next to the guard gate is a large covered area for parking several hundred bicycles and since it's been raining on and off all day, I find comfort in knowing my trusty steed will remain dry. Why such a big number of parking spaces for bikes? Over 6,000 employees work in this block long by block wide complex.
It's the moment of truth as I enter the building and come face to face with one receptionist and two security guards. I start to identify myself but before the spiel can be finished the receptionist says she already knows who I am. She discreetly glances at a piece of paper, which I immediately recognize as a copy of the introductory postcard I sent. The receptionist directs me to another building where Detlev von Livonius, Director-Corporate Affairs & Communications, and Silke Bartke-Zeh from the company's press office greet me. Before moving on from the lobby I make note of the television playing in the lobby and the seven eight-foot tall trees scattered about.
I'm most fortunate to gain a few minutes of Livonius' time. Why? There's a small party taking place here over the weekend and he's one of the people in charge. The company's celebrating its 50th birthday this year and tents are being installed on the premises. I politely ask, "how many people are you expecting?". "Over 14,000" is the reply from Livonius. The figure includes employees and their families. My jaw drops as I let out a "wow!" and learn they'll have five massive tents, with each tent being done up to celebrate a particular decade. Hmm, I ask if the 60's tent will have mini-skirt clad dancers. Then again, I should have figured something unusual was amiss because riding up to Otto's complex one couldn't help but notice the massive red bow and red ribbon attached to the sides of a six-story building.
Founded in 1949 by Otto Werner (who will be 90 years old), the company moved to its present site in 1960 (which was previously home to cabbage fields). The surrounding area is overwhelmingly residential but back in the 1960's this was out in the undeveloped boondocks. A half-dozen buildings encompass the site including a massive fulfillment center. The later being the place where the item you picked out of the catalog is physically placed into a box and mailed to you.
posters of Joan Collins, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and
Elle McPherson (the later two definite favorites of mine) seem
to be everywhere. Why? Over the years they've modeled outfits
in Otto's catalogs.
The company's art collection is modern and international in scope-including works by that well-known middle-of-the-road artist Andy Warhol. Smoking is allowed in offices but restricted to certain areas. Hamburg's airport lies seven miles away and the nearest freeway 10 miles. Any unusual employee perks? Depending on your length of service, one gets cheaper meals, pension plans and 15% off on items in company catalogs. Since it's the company's 50th birthday this year, employees receive (according to length of service) 500 to 1,500 DM's of worth of free goods from Otto's catalogs.
It's not possible to see CEO Michael Otto's top floor office in the seven-story building housing executives because "he's busy". Michael Otto is the son of founder Werner Otto and has been CEO since 1981. My request to see the boardroom is turned down. As I would have expected this company has embraced the Internet having two E-Commerce sites: www.otto.de and www.shopping24.com.
I'm still a little disappointed in not having asked if the vast improvement in my treatment was a result of the company looking up the previous visit at www.corporatetrivia.com and finding their name atop the list of "10 Worst Receptions In Germany" in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" section of my Website.