Converium Holding AG

The negatives far outweigh the positives as to why I resist making appointments with companies and instead, just show-up within a specified period of time. However, as you'll read in this story making an appointment can sometimes be rewarding.

Before my visit to Converium, the world's eighth largest reinsurer (revenues of $2.5 billion), I received an e-mail from Michael Schiendorfer, Media Relations Manager, saying he's my contact person. Schiendorfer also listed several dates and the times he would be available to meet with me. I was glad to know who to ask for but wasn't keen on setting up a time. Why? With two weeks to visit 50 companies in the Zurich area it would be an almost impossible task setting up 50 separate appointments.

I show up at the seven-story Zurich lakefront building and ask the two friendly receptionists to contact Mr. Schiendorfer. Waiting here isn't a hardship as I have several English publications to peruse including Business Week, The Economist and the Financial Times. There's also a colorful Frank Stella sculpture in the lobby. Done in 1990, it's titled "The Pequod Meets the Samuel Enderby of London". Near the reception desk stands a computer and monitor but my attempt to use it proves futile as I'm told it isn't working. Darn, I wanted to get those baseball scores, oops, I mean punch up the latest stock quotes.

Schiendorfer shows up in the lobby and asks why I didn't respond to the dates and times offered in his e-mail. I explain how I have 50 companies to visit in the area and my years of experiences have found setting up appointments to be severely flawed. He doesn't have time today but Schiendorfer says to call him later at 1PM and he'll let me know then if he can set up a time for tomorrow. When 1PM rolls around I find a payphone and call the number given. It doesn't go through. So, later in the afternoon I drop by Converium again and explain to Schiendorfer how I did call but it wouldn't connect. In a somewhat skeptical tone he says to come by at 10AM tomorrow AND, to be on time.

Boy, that dig about being on time really hurts. I'm a fanatic about being on time. Matter of fact that's one of the reasons I loathe making appointments. For example, normally I would start visiting companies at 8 AM but now with this 10 AM appointment I can't. Why? One reason is that I never know how long a visit will take. Sometimes it'll be over in 10 minutes and others I'll spend the whole day at a company. Most times I have to wait in the lobby until someone is available to meet with me-these waits can sometimes last several hours. Some visits are very extensive including getting a tour of a factory, being taken to lunch, being introduced to various department heads and so on. Then, there's the possibility of having a breakdown or mishap getting from one company to another causing me to be late for an appointment. Earlier this summer I was in Geneva, Switzerland visiting watchmaker Rolex. I had been told the company was like Fort Knox with few outsiders allowed in. After my questions had been answered I was offered a tour of the watchmaking area. Unfortunately I had to decline. Why? Earlier I had reluctantly made an appointment with another company for later in the day and not wanting to cut it close I had to forgo the tour.

So, it's almost 10AM the next day and I'm in Converium's lobby. The receptionist calls up Schiendorfer and I plop down in one of the lobby seats. A woman comes over with a camera and says "he'll be right down". She doesn't identify herself but I assume she's with Schiendorfer in Media Relations and will be taking pictures for an in-house employee newsletter. Then this man walks up, introduces himself and takes a seat next to me. I assume he's also from Media Relations. Still waiting for Schiendorfer to appear I make small talk with this man for about 15 seconds when it suddenly hits me, he had introduced himself as Dirk Lohmann. Glancing down at my clipboard notes I see that's the name of Converium's CEO! Almost immediately I blurt out, "oh jeez, I just realized you're the CEO". Lohmann had heard I'd be here at 10AM and wanted to meet me. He ends up being my tour guide.

Built in the 1960's the building formerly housed IBM. Converium, spun out of Zurich Financial Services last year, had the place renovated and moved in. Now it's home to 300 employees. It's a great location with Lake Zurich directly across the street, upscale shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse right around the corner, the central train station a 10-minute walk and, headquarters for Zurich Financial, it's former parent, only a few blocks away.

Smoking isn't allowed in offices and though there're are no on-site recreational facilities-showers are available and so are massages. The top floor houses the company cafeteria with management and workers alike eating together plus, great views of Lake Zurich from the tables. There's a wine cellar, not in the basement though but on the top floor. There's quite a bit of art scattered throughout the building with most of it modern and international in scope. The company's logo is a helix (coil) above the Converium name. According to company literature, the helix "expresses our flexibility, agility and openness to connect with our business partners".

CEO Lohmann occupies a sixth floor corner office with a nice straight out view of Lake Zurich. I note the desktop computer, one real plant, four tombstones and a colorful ceramic turkey. Ceramic turkey? Lohmann says it's from one of his kids.

The boardroom sits adjacent to Lohmann's office. The oval-shaped table seats 14 and I count two real plants.