International Watch Company SA


International Watch Company (IWC), headquartered in Schaffhausen (population 35,000), evidently goes to the beat of a different drummer. Why? How else do you explain its location in northern Switzerland a few miles from the German border. All the other major Swiss watch companies make southern Switzerland their home. It's not like high-end watchmaker IWC hasn't been around for while having been founded here back in 1868 by Ariosto Jones, an American.

I find IWC's headquarters next to the Rhine River and two minutes from Schaffhausen's city center. It's a three building complex of connecting buildings built in the early 1900's. The tallest structure is four stories. Two friendly receptionists man the counter in the tiny reception/lobby area. There's an IWC wall clock hanging on a wall. Receptionist Beatrice Rohner tries to track down who ended up with my letter of introduction sent a month ago. I addressed the letter to the Chief Executive Officer since I wasn't able to find his/her name anywhere. I also check to see if Ms. Rohner is wearing an IWC watch. Yep, it's one of their Portuguese models with the huge face-they start out at about $5,000 and continue upwards to $50,000.

Though my letter isn't found, things work out fine thanks to the accommodating Andrea Schellmoser from Public Relations. About 380 employees work here. If you want to drive to work then you have to pay to park here. Smoking in offices is optional, conference rooms are named after various watches and there are no recreational facilities-though in the summer employees go swimming in the adjacent Rhine River.

There's no company cafeteria but plenty of eating-places in the city center a two-minute walk from here. Break areas in the buildings serve free soft drinks and coffee. It's 30 minutes to Zurich Airport and three minutes to the nearest freeway. Any unusual employee perks? Up to 60% off on watches. Looking through one of IWC's catalogs I see one can snap up a platinum Grande Complication timepiece for a cool $217,000.

Schellmoser finds the keys and takes me for a walk through the watch museum. Plenty of spiffy-looking watches on display.

CEO Georges Kern occupies a middle office on the third floor. The room is furnished in black and white. There's a tall cactus plant, a laptop computer, picture of his kids, paintings from his kids and signed posters by tennis player Boris Becker and cyclist Jan Ullrich. Kern's view out his window? The church directly across the street.

In 2000 IWC became part of Richemont, the luxury goods group.