Ricola AG

Laufen, a quiet town of 5,000 inhabitants 15 miles southwest of Basel, is home to one of Switzerland's most famous names; Ricola-the maker of those herbal lozenges. I've been impressed with the fact they seem to be available everywhere in the world I've traveled. Very little information is available on the company so, not knowing who's who; I mailed my letter of introduction a month earlier addressed to "Chief Executive Officer".

Riding into Laufen I stop at Ricola's one and only factory on the edge of town mistakenly thinking it's also the headquarters. The aroma of herbs is definitely in the air as the non-English speaking woman points me down the road.

It's somewhat of a letdown coming upon Ricola's two-story headquarters on the side of the main road going through town. Why? It's right on the side of the road: there's the 1940's building, a sidewalk and then the street. One could stand at Ricola's entrance and extending a broom-touch passing cars.

There's a large display next to the reception counter showing samples of the company's various products. There's now a range of over 45 herbal specialties to supplement their sugar free pearl drops, instant teas, cough syrup as well as the original Ricola Swiss herb candy.

A few minutes after explaining myself to the receptionist, the secretary to CEO Felix Richterich steps into the lobby. She remembers the letter and says to take a seat while she finds someone to meet with me. It's August (vacation time) and not many people are here. I look out the rear of the building and see a fishpond area then, behind that, a spiffy-looking, modernistic two-story glass structure. Wow, from the street side you'd never think there would be such a building tucked behind. Lots of paintings line the walls of both buildings.

Markus Vogt, Head of Marketing & Sales Overseas, gets corralled into meeting with me. It turns out to be a nice visit thanks to the accommodating Vogt who's in charge of marketing Ricola in the US. Vogt's been with the company over 20 years. I tell Vogt I've seen Ricola everywhere I've traveled but when I have a sore throat I turn to competitor Fisherman's Friend because their extra strength drops really are strong.

Twenty-five people work in the head office. The new modernistic building in the rear was built in 1999, and, the 1940's building in the front used to be home to a car dealership. There's a public parking lot directly across the street, smoking isn't allowed in offices and there's a company cafeteria. The family-owned art collection is contemporary, modern and international in scope. It's 25 minutes to downtown Basel, 15 minutes to the nearest freeway, 40 minutes to Basel Airport and one hour and fifteen minutes to Zurich Airport.

In 1924 Emil Richterich bought a small bakery here in Laufen that specialized in confectionery. The company grew and in 1930 Richterich found Confiseriefabrik Richterich & Co. Laufen. Later, Richterich & Co. Laufen was shortened to Ricola. Current CEO Felix Richterich is the grandson of the founder. Revenues for this family-owned concern total $152 million with 350 employees.

CEO Richterich's modest second floor corner office in the 1940's building contains a computer, a family picture and an unexciting view of the cars passing by on the main road through town.