Saia-Burgess Electronics Holding AG

Approaching the medieval town of Murten I can hear the town's siren blaring away letting the locals know it's high noon. Swiss towns of this size find most shopkeepers pulling their blinds down and heading home for a two-hour lunch. Murten overlooks a beautiful lake and in the summer the population swells from 5,000 to over 20,000.

Several blocks from the still walled-in medieval city center and directly across the street from the train station is where I find the three-story, sand-colored head office building of Saia-Burgess Electronics Holding (1,700 employees, 2001 revenues-$289 million). Obviously built in the 1930's or early 1940's the building doesn't exude much pizzazz though the huge wall clock pasted on the front of the structure does give it a certain charm. Amazingly, the wall clock is probably more than 60 years old yet still sports the correct time.

Entering the building you get the feeling you're in a time warp with furnishings at a minimum and the décor unchanged since its construction. The receptionist calls CEO Daniel Hirschi's secretary, who steps out to the lobby and says she's not familiar with the advance letter I sent three weeks earlier. Then again, her boss has been traveling for several weeks and just returned today. Though he's not in now, the secretary checks Hirschi's desk and returns holding the letter and news clippings I mailed. Fortunately I'm in luck as Hirschi's secretary checks with CFO Preben Sundenaes and corrals him into meeting with me.

I ask Sundenaes why this manufacturer of switches, motors, electronic timers and counters has its offices in Murten. Answer: it was founded here. The executives plus staff number five and add the 15 R&D people working in the back part of the building for a total of 20. Smoking is allowed in the offices-though none of the executives smoke, parking isn't a problem (there's even parking for bicycles), the company has no corporate art collection (no big surprise) and no corporate aircraft. When asked, how far is it to downtown? Sundenaes answers, "20 minutes by car". By that he doesn't mean downtown Murten but downtown Bern (Switzerland's capital). When lunchtime rolls around executives have to hop in their cars and drive to a company facility about a half-mile away. Less than a mile away in the same direction is a large Saia-Burgess factory employing 500 workers. Executives eat in the same cafeteria as the factory workers.

Before my visit I had checked the company's website and told the personable Sundenaes how impressed I was with its clarity and content ( I also kid Sundenaes about the no-frills atmosphere of the building and he replies how it's functional and serves its purpose. Asking to have a peek at CEO Hirschi's office turns out to be a surprise as Sundenaes informs me we are in his office. Boy, nothing fancy or of note about his digs though there's a glass display case containing various company products and, lining the wall behind his desk there's a series of photographs done by somebody dear to him-his wife. The view from his first floor middle office? The side of the building next door. The company's boardroom doubles as a conference room and as with everything else here it's spartanly furnished and functional.