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.