Schweizerische National Versicherung

Offices for Schweizerische National Vericherung (Swiss National Insurance) are in three company-owned buildings on the same side of a street near downtown Basel. The six-story, fortress-like building situated on the street corner (built in 1941) is where the top executives work so that's where I make my entrance.

I'm initially taken aback upon entering this staid, conservative-looking building because lining the walls are a wide variety of modern and somewhat bizarre looking art. There's a courtyard filled with dense vegetation and amongst the shrubbery are three bronze heads on pedestals. The heads look an awful like Martians you see in movies. Also in the courtyard is a large metal ball (twice as big as a bowling ball) rolling back and forth across a large piece of copper metal.

The receptionist calls up the secretary to Rene Theler (Chairman, Board of Directors) and is told they hadn't received my letter. This is not a good sign. Lucky for me though that the receptionist calls up Claudia Busam, head of corporate communications. Ms. Busam thinks what I'm doing is very interesting and ends up giving me an extensive tour of the place.

About 500 employees work in the three buildings. There's parking for employees but they have to pay for it. Does Mr. Theler get a reserved spot? Nope, he walks to work. There's no company cafeteria but employees get coupons (vouchers) which can be used at various restaurants in the area.

Senior executives work on the second floor and Busam lets me have a peek into several of them. They all have boring views of the street outside.
The company is known for two things: its extensive contemporary art collection (limited to Swiss artists) and, its mascot; a cuddly-looking, red and green colored toy rhino. Busam tries to give me a teddy bear-size rhino but I tell her its too big. She ends up giving me a spiffy Swiss army knife, several prepaid calling cards and a hand-made wooden bottle opener.

We take a walk down the block to check out the art in the newest building and as we walk by a building she points out the life-size charcoal drawing on the side of the structure. It's of a seedy man who looks to be peering around the corner. "That's one of your pieces of art?" I exclaim, "I passed it on the way to your building and thought it was neighborhood graffiti". Busam laughs and says many people think the same thing. Inside the lobby of the newest building are several more bizarre-looking pieces of art. The creator of some of these unusual pieces of art is Jean Tinguely, who's probably Switzerland's most famous artist. How beloved is Tinguely in Basel? The city is home to Museum Jean Tinguely.

The company has over 2,000 employees and does business in six other European countries.