Kaba Holding AG

I'm three miles from Zurich Airport and the area is a mixture of industry and farmland. It's no problem finding lockmaker Kaba's offices thanks to the two Kaba signs atop the five-story building. Actually, when giving directions the easiest way would be to say they're located almost directly across the street from McDonald's Golden Arch Hotel. Yep, this four star property is McDonald's first foray into the lodging business. Connected to the hotel is a McDonald's restaurant.

Kaba, with revenues of $477 million and 6,800 employees, is the world's largest maker of key blanks (5 million a day), key coding machines and transponder keys. When staying at a hotel it's very possible the key system used by the hotel will be by Kaba, since the company is #3 in the business. It's also #2 in the world in security and automatic doors plus, it's the market leader in high-security locks.

There's a building access system outside the entrance; you know where you slide a card/punch a code to gain access to the place after hours. Yep, it's a Kaba system. I check in with Lise Steiger, the friendly receptionist. While Steiger calls up CEO Ulrich Graf's office to find out who ended up with my letter of introduction, I take the time to admire the beautiful safe holding center court in the lobby. Back in the 1800's the very wealthy used safes to safeguard their valuables but for some not just any old safe would do. Built in 1873, the heavy doors of this four-foot tall beauty have been opened up to show the interior. Inside are dozens of little compartments with the exterior of each compartment adorned with intricately sculptured gold figurines.

My contact person turns out to be Jean-Francois Wulpillier, Chief Communications Officer. The receptionist says he's on his way to lunch and I can join him or come back in an hour. Hmm, I just ate at the McDonald's across the street (couldn't help myself after going inside to check out the Golden Arch Hotel). I end up tagging along with Wulpillier while he eats. Where do we go? Maybe a hundred yards down the road to a sandwich shop. Why? It's the company cafeteria. This sandwich shop is part of a former Kaba factory. The factory building has been divided-up and rented out to a variety of tenants.

My first question to Wulpillier-was or is there a Mr. Kaba? Neither, it's a made-up name. Kaba occupies the third and fourth floors of the five-story building. Parking for the 30 employees is plentiful, there's no formal dress code though ties are required for meetings. Founded in Zurich, the company traces its roots back to 1862. That explains the company's logo of two lions standing up holding a key between them-lions are part of Zurich's coat of arms. It's 10 miles to downtown Zurich and almost two miles to the nearest freeway.

CEO Graf's corner office is void of locks and safes but contains an interesting antique time clock. The table in the boardroom is doughnut-shaped and seats 18.