William Prym GmbH & Co. KG

I continue heading due north following the German border to Aachen, Germany, a hopping city of 250,000, which lies where the borders of Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany intersect. From Aachen I head 10 miles east to Stolberg, a working class city of about 50,000 inhabitants located in a narrow valley. Here, I find two interesting places to visit: one being Stolberg castle overlooking the town and the other, the offices of William Prym-one of the oldest companies in Europe. From the tower walls of the castle in the middle of town I can eyeball the headquarters/factory complex of William Prym several miles away on the edge of town.

Things don't look so hot as I check in with the non-English speaking security guard manning the gated entrance. The guard calls a woman out to the guardhouse who in turns calls another woman on the phone. I explain to the woman on the phone who I am and how I sent a letter of introduction a month a go to W. Polensky, President. I'm informed he's been gone for several years. I ask if there's someone who can meet with me for a few minutes and answer questions about the head office. An unidentified man gets on the phone and says that if I wait an hour his cousin will meet with me. "No problem", I answer.

Who does this cousin turn out to be? It's CEO and Chairman Michael Prym, who's the 19th generation family member to run the firm. Originally the company was founded in Aachen back in 1530 but moved to Stolberg and its present site in 1642. Why? Religion. The Catholic dominated city of Aachen passed laws making it difficult for Protestants to do business there so, since the Pryms were Protestants and Stolberg was Protestant-oriented-it was a no-brainer.

About 100 people work in the turn-of-the-century red brick, five story administration building and about a 1,000 in the plant. Up until 20 years ago over 3,500 workers toiled at this large facility. Prym says the company found it much more economical to build factories overseas.

Speaking of factories, any idea what this company, which had revenues in 1998 of 985 million DM, makes? Off to the side of the front entrance lobby is a room filled with glass display cases. Ever wonder who makes those copper-like rivets and jeans buttons on Levi's, Wrangler and Lee pants? Or ever wonder who makes those needles used in sewing or the knitting dollies or crochet hooks? Yep, it's William Prym. The company is also one of Europe's largest manufacturers of semi-finished products of copper and copper alloys plus, produce a wide variety of items for the automotive and electrical engineering industry such as coiled spring pins.

Checking out Prym's nicely furnished, second floor middle office I notice the stand-up desk and tell him I've seen quite a few and that he has it for one of three reasons: 1) a bad back 2) was in the Navy or 3) he's antsy and can't sit still. It's number one. I guesstimate Prym to be about 60 years old. The fresh flowers on his desk are replaced every Tuesday, there's a bronze religious figurine and also a bronze bust of a man. "Who's that a bust of", I ask. It's his father. The most noticeable item though is the colorful two-foot tall paper mache dinosaur. Famous artist? Nope, his daughter did it along time ago when she was 15.

The hallway wall on the second floor is lined with unusual art: framed Picasso-like drawings on shopping bags. I ask Prym, "How's the food in the cafeteria?" and his answer of "good" is somewhat suspect seeing as how there's an executive dining room. Plenty of parking here. The nearest freeway is five miles away and the nearest airport 35 miles (Cologne).