Pargesa Holding S.A.
In Pargesa Holding's latest annual report it states the company's
strategy is based on several principles including: "concentrating
the portfolio on a limited number of major holdings, with the
aim of creating long term value" and "seeking to exercise
control, or major influence, over the companies in which the
Group holds interests". Well, Pargesa sure does have some
major holdings. How about 25.1% of German media giant Bertelsmann,
53.9% of Imerys-one of the world's largest mineral processing
companies, 3.3% of TotalFinaElf-one of the world's biggest oil
companies, 7.1% of Suez-the French water, energy and waste giant
and, 100% of Orior Food-one of Switzerland's biggest food processors.
The two big names behind this company are Paul Desmarais Jr.
and Baron Frere. Desmarais is a very big name in Canada where
he controls a wide variety of companies (insurance, utilities)
including one of the country's biggest insurers Great West Life-who
I visited in Winnipeg during my trek across Canada. Frere is
a big name in Belgium and controls GBL (Group Bruxelles Lambert).
So, since both carry the top title of Executive Director and
neither lives in Switzerland, I wasn't expecting to find much
at the Geneva address.
The address is in Geneva's Old Town area. The cobblestone street
is steep and when I find the address I'm not very impressed by
the outside wall. Then again, I haven't entered through the two
massive doors that open up onto a courtyard and a very impressive
four-story villa. Several small plaques on the building's exterior
let's me know several tenants share the place.
Stepping inside I
find no reception area or receptionist. I get the attention of
accountant Mark Keller working in another room. I explain what
I do and just as I suspected, Keller says there's only a half
dozen people working here--all in finance.
Just out of curiosity I ask if this several hundred year-old
building has a history. It does. Back in the 1800's when France
ruled Geneva, this is where the French government's representative
lived. Unfortunately, Pargesa hasn't done a very good job of
keeping their part of this historic building in pristine condition.
Computer set-ups, file cabinets and boxes here and there without
any thought sure disappoints. Keller does give me a peek in which
used to be the former grand salon and it still has its grandeur
despite no furniture.