ATEL



Olten, with a population of 17,000, lies about 30 miles due west of Zurich. It's home to Aare-Tessin Ltd. for Electricity (ATEL), an energy company that operates throughout Europe. Its principal activities are electricity trading and energy services-somewhat similar to Enron. The company's roots go back to 1894. Revenues last year were $2.7 billion with 7,800 employees. Motor-Columbus AG, a Swiss company, owns 56% of the company's shares.

It's a fun visit thanks to the enthusiastic reception extended to me by Rolf Schmid, Head of Public Relations and Public Affairs. Corporate offices are comprised of a three building complex a stone's throw away from a river running through town. The tallest structure towers eight stories, the oldest building was built in 1950 with the newest in 1990. Over 300 employees work here.

There's free parking for employees, smoking is allowed in offices, there's no formal dress code, no recreational facilities and only cold sandwiches are served in the lunchroom-though lunch vouchers are given for area restaurants. Any unusual employee perks? Discounts of 25% off electricity.

My tour includes a walk through the energy trading floor and a look in the seventh floor boardroom--with the boardroom table seating 16.

CEO Allesandro Sala occupies a corner office on the third floor. He's got a great view of the river and Olten's old town on the other side. I count two real plants and one computer. On a wall hang a framed enveloped addressed to the company and dated 1894-I wonder if it was a payment or maybe a complaint? The most unusual item in Sala's office would definitely be the fuselage from a Swiss military jet. The significance? Sala was a former military pilot.