Leica Geosystems AG

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.