SGL Carbon Group

One never hears much about carbon but to a wide range of industries such as aerospace, semiconductor, automobile manufacturing, environmental protection and steel, it's a valuable ingredient. Visiting the head offices of SGL Carbon Group, the world's largest producer of carbon and graphite products, involves pedaling several miles from downtown Wiesbaden to the Rhine River. Along this section of a river front road stands a complex of buildings and judging from the various signs identifying the occupants, it's a regular who's who in the chemicals industry. I wonder if these competitors have lunch with each other? SGL Carbon's offices are short way up the road from the enclave of chemical powerhouses. Actually it isn't easy to find because part of the three-story, turn-of-the-century mansion with stain glass windows is encased in scaffolding. A small plaque outside the entrance bearing the company's name let's me know I've found the place.

Entering, I find there isn't a reception area so I wander about until spotting someone. It's a little after 9 AM and my contact person Ivo Lingnau, from corporate communications, hasn't arrived yet so I'm directed to wait in a conference room. The room has a nice view of the river and barges plying the waters. How far away is the river? If I fling open the window I could toss an apple, orange or possibly even a cantaloupe into it.

Lingnau soon arrives and after answering questions gives me a tour of the place. It doesn't take long because only 20 people work here. It' a "listed" building, which is similar to being declared a historical building in the USA. Companies usually don't like the designation because it severely restricts any changes to the insides or outsides of the structure. SGL Carbon, with sales of $1.2 billion in 1998 and 6,800 employees, has leased the building since 1992.

Are you lazy? Then this isn't the place for you since there's no elevator. Lingnau has to hoof it up and down from his third floor office. On a positive note, Lingnau doesn't have to worry about CEO Robert Koehler coming up unannounced from his second floor office. Why? The wooden staircase creaks like crazy.

Come high noon, employees are on their own for filling their tummies since there's no cafeteria. Parking isn't a problem here with plenty of free parking. It's a 20-minute drive to Frankfurt Airport and the nearest freeway is "right up the road". There's no formal dress code but it's an unwritten rule that ties will be worn. Smoking is allowed in offices with CEO Koehler being partial to cigars.

Nothing special about Koehler's second floor corner office with a view of the river. His desk and chairs are black, the carpet gray and there's a photo of his wife atop the desk. I count two real plants and five tombstones. The black octagon-shaped boardroom table seats 20 and the room is set-up for Tele-conferencing.