ABB Ltd.

During my first trek through Switzerland six years ago I visited ABB, one of the world's largest electrical engineering groups. It was a disappointing experience as I was told they hadn't received my letter of introduction and the extent of my visit consisted of a disinterested man answering questions in the lobby.

I'm back at the six-story red brick building with red trim and its location still amazes me. Downtown Zurich lies five miles in one-direction and Zurich Airport four miles in the other direction. Switzerland's superb infrastructure comes into play here as trains pass right in front of ABB's offices going in both directions every five minutes. Did I mention there's a train stop only a hundred steps from ABB's front doors? You can leave the ABB building and be at the airline check-in counter within EIGHT minutes! Or, go the other way and you're in Zurich's main train station in 10 minutes. How did I come up with these times? From my contact person, nice guy Bjoern Edlund, Group Senior Vice President-Head of Corporate Communications, who knows from first hand experiences.

Entering the building you pass through glass doors and before being allowed to pass through another set of glass doors one has to check-in with a receptionist sitting behind a glass partition. Then again, if your visit is prearranged you can use the "virtual reception" kiosk located between the two sets of glass doors. Type in your name, company contact person and it'll issue you a card allowing entrance into the building. I waste10 minutes trying to use the thing. I find out it doesn't work unless your contact person enters your name prior to your arrival. I have no clue who my contact person would be until the friendly and efficient receptionist makes a few calls and finds out Edlund ended up with my letter of introduction sent to CEO Jorgen Centerman.

A new building has been added on behind this one and now over 450 employees work here. The company subsidizes employee parking, there's a company cafeteria as well as executive dining rooms and if you're a coffee drinker, free coffee is a nice perk. There's no recreation facilities on-site but several fitness centers in the immediate area. Childcare is available, smoking is allowed in offices and the company's modern art collection is international in scope with a preference to European artists. It's 15 minutes to the nearest freeway and there's no formal dress code with Fridays being "casual" day.

I can't see CEO Centerman's top floor corner office due to his having visitors. However, down the hall I check out the boardroom. The elongated wood table seats 12 and I note the two fake plants. Hmm, they also had fake plants in the waiting area of the lobby.

Company headquarters sits on a former factory site. Since I was here six years ago this area has seen quite a transformation with new office and retail buildings. From my travels I've seen this happen many a time: a large company makes a commitment to a worn, rundown or depressed area and it sparks a renaissance. Not that this area would fall into any of those categories.

Revenues in 2002 were $23 billion with 156,000 employees.