Oettinger IMEX AG

I'm 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.