Oettinger IMEX AG
on a busy street a block from Basel's main train station and
right outside the headquarters of Oettinger IMEX. Locking my
bike means having to place it on the not very wide public sidewalk.
Oettinger six-story building butts up to the sidewalk running
next to the street-meaning, if I lock my bike up against Oettinger's
building it's within three feet of the cars passing by and within
easy reach of passing pedestrians. Oh well.
About 80% of privately held Oettinger's $1.7 billion in revenues
comes from tobacco and smokers' accessories marketed primarily
under the Davidoff name. The remaining 20% come from other products
under license such as writing instruments, fragrances, cognac
and leather goods.
Upon being buzzed into the 1930's building I take a deep breath
and hope for the best because as regular readers know, I dislike
tobacco and it's not just because it turns my eyes red, gives
me a headache and stinks up my clothes and body.
I explain myself to friendly receptionist Katherine Tissot and
then take a seat on one of the three black leather chairs in
the small wood-floored reception waiting area while she finds
out who ended up with my letter of introduction mailed a month
earlier to CEO Reto Cina. Reading material includes magazines
such as European Cigar Journal, Cigar and, Cigar Aficionados.
Amazingly, the place doesn't reek of tobacco then again it's
only nine o'clock in the morning. There's a glass display case
containing Davidoff perfume and Davidoff cigars. On a coffee
table there's a silver gadget used to clip off the end of a cigar.
However, unlike many of the cigarette companies I've previously
visited, visitors aren't offered free cigarettes or cigars. On
the walls hang four framed pictures of a turn-of-the-century
cigar store with the name Max Oettinger on the outside. Max Oettinger
founded the holding company of the Davidoff brand, Oettinger
AG, in 1885.
My contact person turns out to be Ernst Schneider, Chairman;
who was CEO from 1961-1998. The 80-year old Schneider is a delightful
person and it's an enjoyable visit partially due to his great
sense of humor.
About 200 employees work here. There's no company cafeteria but
snacks are served, smoking is allowed in offices (duh), there's
no formal dress code, it's five minutes to the nearest freeway
and, ten minutes to Basel's city center. There's no corporate
art collection though there's a collection a cigar paraphernalia.
Any employee perks? Cigars at cost. You also don't have to be
a smoker to work here.
Near Schneider's office I spot a sign that reads, "thank
you for smoking". There's lots of personal nik-naks in Schneider's
second floor middle office along with one real plant, fresh flowers,
pipes, no computer and, four paintings done by family members.
During our talk Schneider lights up a big cigar (it's 9AM). It's
his favorite-Davidoff #3 cigar.
Later in the day I drop by the Davidoff cigar store in Basel's
city center and ask about the price of a Davidoff #3. They aren't
cheap, 31 Swiss Francs each ($21). It turns out to be the second
most expensive cigar in the store.