Leica Geosystems might be a good-sized company with revenues
in fiscal 2002 of $529 million, but try finding its headquarters
town of Heerbrugg, Switzerland on a map. I had to purchase several
maps before I'd find one showing this village of several thousand
near the Austrian/Swiss border.
Founded in 1921, Leica Geosystems develops, manufactures and
distributes surveying, positioning & guidance systems and
industrial measurement systems. Headquarters is a four-story,
1950-ish building in a 10-building complex on the edge of town.
This site was formerly an embroidery factory.
Several receptionists man the reception desk. A bowl of apples
sits alongside a plaque on the counter. The plaque reads, "Less
Smoking More Smiling". Boy, I agree with that. It's been
an eye-opener as to the number of smokers here in Switzerland.
I'd say it's double the 27% figure put out by the government.
What I dislike is non-smokers like myself having no rights-you're
stuck having to endure the smoke of smokers everywhere. On one
of the walls in the reception area hangs a six-foot tall color
picture of Mt. Everest. Why? It's surveying and measuring systems
manufactured by Leica that help determine the true height of
summits like Mt. Everest.
Though almost 1,000 employees work here it's vacation time (July)
and CEO Hans Hess is gone along with just about every other person,
management or otherwise. I'm in luck though as Teresa Belcher,
Editorial Assistant Corporate Communications, finds time to answer
questions and show me around.
Employee parking is plentiful, smoking is allowed in offices,
there's no formal dress code and employees get to buy company
products at a substantial discount. CEO Hess occupies a second
floor, middle office with an unexciting view of other company
buildings. I note the parquet floor in his office along with
the one plant (real).
Belcher walks me to a building across the street for a view from
its roof. The view allows one to see how the various buildings
here have been built in stages over the years but also to see
the adjoining farmland and neighboring villages. Belcher is Australian.
How did this lovely Aussie end up here? Belcher was a nanny for
a family living near Leica's headquarters. Falling in love with
Switzerland she was looking for an opportunity to stay and applied
for a job at Leica. She got it.