During my first trek through Switzerland back in 1996 I visited
EMS-Chemie Holding. Offices were on the 9th and 10th floor of
a drab 13-story building in downtown Zurich. I remember being
buzzed-in to enter the offices and then being told by a not very
friendly receptionist that 'we aren't interested in meeting with
you". When I asked why, I was told "we don't want publicity".
It was a thoroughly unpleasant encounter, enough to place EMS-Chemie
of my list of Ten Worst Receptions in Switzerland (go to The
Good, Bad and the Ugly section on my homepage).
So, it's six years later and I'm dropping by to see if things
are different. Actually, I'm now familiar with longtime CEO Christoph
Blocher. He and his company have been in the international spotlight
(intentionally I might add) the past few years due to his nationalistic
views. I find this particularly ironic because six years earlier
I was snubbed because they didn't want publicity.
EMS-Chemie manufactures polymers and fine chemicals and does
business globally. Revenues last year were $720 million with
2,700 employees. Though publicly- listed, Blocher controls 84%
of EMS's voting shares-essentially making this his private company.
EMS-Chemie has moved. I'm in Mannedorf, one of those small lakefront
villages dotting Lake Zurich. It's about 12 miles to Zurich's
city center. Head offices are in a four-story building directly
across the street from train tracks. From their front door I
could toss a grapefruit onto the tracks. It looks more like a
converted apartment building than offices. Only a small plaque
near the entrance identifies the place as EMS-Chemie. You have
to buzz a buzzer to enter. When you enter it's the copy machine
room-no reception area. There's no elevator and I hear the steps
of someone coming down the stairs. I explain to the woman who
I am and what I do. She says CEO Blocher works out of his home,
an estate not too far way. A man comes down. The man says there's
no way I'd get onto Blocher's grounds and "he doesn't like
outsiders". "I want to visit the head office, is this
the place?" I ask. Yes, I'm told. Evidently they have to
ask a Mr. Eberlie who isn't in now so I tell the two I have several
other companies in the area to visit so I'll return later in
I return later in the day and guess what? The woman, who won't
give me her name, says, "they don't want to participate".