Franke Holding AG

Riding up to Franke Holding's headquarters I know little about this privately held company other than they've done over 5,000 kitchen installations for McDonald's in Europe. Corporate offices are found in Aarburg, a village of 500 inhabitants, about 30 miles west of Zurich. Not to be confused with the nearby town of Aarau, which I almost did.

It's not hard finding headquarters thanks to the company's name (white lettering on an orange backdrop) in big letters atop several of the buildings. The reception area is in what looks to be a brand new spiffy-looking three-story stainless steel and glass building. The modernistic building could pass for a museum.

Two receptionists man the reception desk and on a wall behind them there's a large map of the world with red dots signifying Franke facilities. Jeez, they're lots of red dots. After a short wait Natascha Widmer, Head of Corporate Communications, and Patricia Boerner, an American also in Corporate Communications; give me a warm welcome. Thanks to these two ladies it ends up being an enjoyable visit.

We head upstairs in the reception building to a huge showroom displaying Franke's wide range of products. Wow, on display are row after row of kitchen systems, then washroom and sanitary equipment. You know those stainless steel containers for dispensing beer (kegs) and soft drinks? Franke makes them. Franke is also involved in tooling manufacturing, coffee machines, food service equipment and metal construction. Hey, that explains the buildings here being stainless steel.

I'm given a fact sheet on the company and am amazed to learn Franke had revenues last year of $912 million with over 5,200 employees. Before leaving the showroom we stop by a break area for a coffee or a soda. I pass on the coffee but ask to have a look at the coffee machine. Yep, it's a Franke machine.

Was or is there a Mr. Franke? Hermann Franke founded the company back in 1911 in the northeastern Switzerland town of Rorschach. In 1935 the business was moved to Aarburg. In 1939 Walter Franke took over after the death of his father. In 1975 Willi Piepper, a friend of Walter Franke, took over the group of companies. Since 1989 Michael Piepper has run it.

Corporate offices are in a four-story building built in 1998. It's next door to the reception/showroom building. About 50 people work here. About 500 employees work in the adjacent factory. Employee parking is free and plentiful, everyone eats in the company cafeteria, smoking in offices is allowed but discouraged and the company's art collection is modern and international in scope.

It's 40 minutes to downtown Zurich and ditto for Zurich Airport, five minutes to the nearest freeway, there's no formal dress code, there's covered parking for commuting cyclists and on-site recreational facilities include two tennis courts. Any employee perks? Free coffee.

The boardroom contains an elongated table that seats 22 and the walls are lined with pictures of company facilities around the world.

CEO Michael Piepper occupies a top floor corner office with a view of trains passing along the building and, he can see ruins of the castle that sits up on a hill in Aarburg's village center. I don't see a computer or real plants but maps of the world and Europe hang on a wall. The most unusual item in Piepper's office is the framed drawing of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I'm told he worked in Philadelphia for a while and must have done something right as he was given a key to the city.