Helvetia Patria Holding

Helvetia Patria, Switzerland's fifth largest insurer with $3.1 billion in revenue, calls St. Gallen home. This compact city of 70,000 inhabitants lies in the northwest corner of Switzerland.

Founded in 1858, Helvetia Patria has its headquarters not in the downtown area but on the hillside overlooking the city. It's a steep climb to get there but one passes drop-dead gorgeous turn-of-the-century villas hugging the hillsides. Headquarters stands a stone's throw away from the University of St. Gallen campus. From what I've heard the university's business school is ranked as the best in Switzerland.

It's a fun visit thanks to the warm and enthusiastic welcome showered on me by Daniel Schlaepfer, Head of PR and Investor Relations Director.

If one had an overhead view of this place you'd see a five-story building shaped like a cross. Built in the 1970's, this cross-shaped structure has just seen the addition of a newly completed wing to its one side. On its backside, work is in full swing on the construction of a new parking garage (hence the large crane in the background of the photo accompanying this story).

About 500 employees work here. Everyone (including executives) eats in the cafeteria, which by the way features colorful red and green dining tables. With the university next door, parking is tight--though that will change after the parking garage is completed. Smoking in offices is optional, there's no formal dress code, no corporate aircraft, there's covered parking for cyclists who commute to work and the company's art collection is international in scope. Though there're no on-site recreational facilities, showers are available for runners and cyclists.

Located on a steep hillside, it's a quick five-minute bus ride to the city center with buses passing frequently thanks to the university next door. It's an hour to Zurich Airport or 25 minutes to the local St. Gallen Airport. Employee perks includes discounts on company insurance products as well discounts on products offered by company partners.

CEO Erich Walser occupies a spacious fourth floor corner office with large picture windows. I note his desktop computer and lack of plants. His view? Walser walks me out outside his office onto a wooden deck and the resulting view is fantastic. It's a great panorama of the city center, nearby mountains and Lake Constance 10 miles in the distance.

The boardroom on the fifth floor features an unusual oval-shaped yellow plastic-like boardroom table that can be raised or lowered into the ceiling.