Andre & Cie

Privately held Andre & Cie, was until very recently, one of the world's five biggest grain traders with an estimated $6 billion in annual revenues. The super secretive company has been owned and run by four generations of the equally secretive and super wealthy Andre family for 123 years. Well, evidently somebody messed-up big time because Andre & Cie is now in bankruptcy and will soon cease to exist. Not to worry though since this minor detail (bankruptcy) won't deter me from dropping in and having a look/see.

Andre's headquarters occupies a prime secluded spot near Lausanne's city center. Why do I say secluded? This seven-story office building seems to have been plopped smack down in the midst of a completely residential area. Apartment buildings, many of them turn-of-the-century, surround the building and several massive trees (as tall as the building) on the front grounds help make the structure stand out even less. Near the building entrance, half hidden by shrubbery, is a small sign with the Andre & Cie name. The building has a 1960's look about it.

The automatic sliding doors don't slide open when I attempt to enter the building. Peering through the glass it looks like the large reception area has been dismantled and furnishings removed. There's not a soul in sight. Could Andre & Cie have cleared out? I find a buzzer and try it. A woman's voice comes on and asks what I want. I explain who I am and how I sent an introductory letter to CEO Friedrich Sauerlander a month ago. It turns out Sauerlander's been long gone and the CEO who replaced him has been long gone also. Well, it's lucky for me that the woman, Dorothee Cusin, is curious about what I do and that she persuades her boss (Claude Waelti) to meet with me.

Waelti, one of formerly 25 directors, says it was only a year ago that about 350 employees worked in this building with a total of 1,400 worldwide. Now, there's only a skeleton staff of 15, primarily working on selling off company assets.

The large lobby features huge pictures windows affording visitors a spectacular panoramic view of Lake Geneva and the Swiss and French Alps in the distance. The lobby is basically barren except for two large stone sculptures, which look like they belong somewhere on the grounds. Actually they do. A while back the company's extensive art collection was auctioned off and the two stone pieces unbought. One sports a price tag of 8,000 Swiss francs and the other 10,000 Swiss francs. One only has to see them to know why they're unsold. The other piece of unsold art is the massive tapestry hanging on the wall behind where the receptionist used to sit. Done by Abakanowizc Magdalena in 1978 and untitled, this ten foot high, 40 foot long piece of art can be described in one word: ugly. I'm not kidding you it looks like a big piece of orange shag carpeting. The price? Make an offer. Actually, the building is for sale and though it was built in 1962, they'll get a bundle for it. Why? Location, location, location and knock-your-socks-off views. I tell Waelti I heard Philip Morris International was interested in buying the building but he wouldn't confirm it. There's a parking garage for 250 cars though it seems graffiti artists having taken to spraying the outside walls with their (as usual) undecipherable words.

Though 350 people worked here it was void of a company cafeteria. "No cafeteria, why?" I ask somewhat mystified. According to Waelti the Andre family didn't believe it was up to them to furnish such amenities. There was/is a dining room and terrace on the top floor for entertaining visitors. We go up for a look and boy, the views of the city, lake and mountains from the outside terrace is just sensational.

Though now empty, Waelti accommodates my request to see the former boardroom and Chairman Henri Andre's former office--both on the fifth floor. Scale models of ships used to adorn the walls in the boardroom and all that remains now are the barren shelves. Henri Andre's corner office afforded him terrific views of the city and of the Lake Geneva with the French Alps in the distance.

If Andre & Cie hadn't been so super secretive and more involved with the community would its demise have garnered more sympathy from the media and the general public? Who knows. I do ask Waelti one final question: If Andre & Cie were healthy and I showed up, would somehow have met with me? Waelti answers, " I'm pretty sure".