Givaudan SA

Back in 1996 during my first trek through Europe I visited Roche, the Basel-based pharmaceutical firm. I received a great reception and even recall the name of one of the fellows from corporate communications who showed me around, Peter Wullschleger. Flash forward to 2002 and I'm visiting Givaudan, spun off from Roche in 2000. Who ends up showing me around? None other than Peter Wullschleger, who's now in charge of Investor Relations at Givaudan.

The company's address; 5, Chemin de la Perfumerie, might give you a clue as to what Givaudan does. With revenues of $1.5 billion, it's the world's second largest fragrance and flavor manufacturer (IFF in NYC is the largest). There's a pretty good chance Givaudan was responsible for the fragrance or flavor of your favorite perfume, cologne, soft drink, ice cream, hair & skin care, soup, fruit juices or household cleaners.

Headquarters lies about a half-dozen miles from downtown Geneva at one of their factories. Actually, considering 750 employees work on the site, it's a rather low-key affair. Why? It's sort of tucked away in a small valley next to a river with heavy forest growth on the other side of the river. Directly across the street from the plant entrance a vineyard covers the hillside.

Can't get on the property unless you past muster with the people at the guard gate. After receiving my visitor's badge I walk back to my bike and almost trip over a cat. It turns out the cat has the run of the place and is an unofficial mascot.

The head office is a six-story concrete slab building built in the 1960's. Scattered around the reception area are eight large glass display cases filled with a mind boggling array of consumer products-whose fragrance or flavor is a result of you know who. Off to one side is a whole separate room filled with a zillion kinds of perfumes. Okay, maybe not a zillion.

Wullschleger says he's been through this before and knows what I want so he immediately whisks me down the hall to see CEO Juerg Witmer's office and the boardroom. The white carpeting in Witmer's third floor corner office creates quite a contrast because the furniture is black. He has a desktop computer as well as two real plants. The smell in his office definitely ranks as one of the most unusual. Why? He's a pipe smoker and there's a collection of perfume bottles on a shelf. The combination of the two seems to have created a pretty good smell. His view? Not much to see from the third floor. There's also white carpet in the boardroom. The elongated-shaped table seats 14 and there's one real plant.

The company has been on this site since it's founding back in 1896. There was a Mr. Givaudan. Roche bought the company in 1963. Given a tour of the grounds I count at least a half dozen distinct smells coming from various parts of the plant. There're no fitness facilities, smoking is optional, there's plenty of parking for cars and bicycles and, no formal dress code. There's no corporate art collection but, there's an antique perfume bottle collection. Any employee perks? Yes. At the company store employees get famous name perfumes at a greatly reduced price-though it's not in its original bottle.