Montres Rolex S.A.

About a mile from Geneva's city center I find the three building complex of privately held Rolex (estimated revenues $350 million). It's really not too hard finding the place because the buildings are clad in reflective gold-colored glass plus, there's the familiar Rolex name in big green letters atop the tallest structure. The neighborhood is very diverse with apartments, an auto dealership, a big ice skating rink and Swiss military barracks within a block.

Entering the tallest building (built in 1965) I'm immediately taken in by the large and very elegantly furnished lobby with its dark mahogany wood floor. Five huge vases of flowers are scattered about the sitting area along with several dozen magazines including Forbes, Vogue, Paris Match, Elle, Business Week, Der Spiegel, Newsweek and Fortune. You sort of feel like you're in the lobby of a five star hotel. On a far wall I spot a plaque with the face of Hans Wilsdorf (1881-1960), who founded Rolex back in 1905. On the receptionist's counter there's a receptacle containing individual cigarettes (Marlboro) and next to it there's a small box filled with matchbooks-with the Rolex named stamped on each.

The friendly receptionist makes a call and I'm soon in the office of Dominique Tadlion, Head of Press Relations, but not before having the receptionist show me her watch. Yep, it's a Rolex. However, it's not hers. The company gives each employee a Rolex to wear and when they leave the company they turn it in. However, once a year employees are allowed to purchase a watch for themselves or a family member with a special rate of about 40% off the retail price.

On either side of this nine-story building are two four-story structures, one was built in 1981 and the other in 1997. Why did Rolex move from the city center back in 1965? They couldn't get permission to build such a tall structure. About 1,300 employees work here. The grounds are beautiful with several fishponds and ceramic tile pools encircling the buildings.

Parking is at a premium with your name put on a waiting list, there's a cafeteria, smoking is optional, it's a 10-minute walk to the city center and a 15-minute drive to the Geneva airport. I can't see CEO Patrick Heiniger first floor office but do get a look in the boardroom. Located at the far end of the lobby, the black boardroom table seats 10 and there's a picture of founder Hans Wilsdorf along with a large tapestry hanging from the wall. But, the most interesting item(s) in the boardroom are the over 200 watches and enamels in glass display cases. These had been collected over the years by Wilsdorf.

Though offered a tour of the watch making facility I unfortunately had to decline due to my having made an appointment to visit another company later in the day.