Sandoz Family Office SA

During my travels around the United States I visited some of the country's biggest foundations including the Rockefeller, S.S. Kresge and Ford Foundations. My receptions at Rockefeller (NYC) and S.S. Kresge (Troy, MI) were positive experiences but the Ford Foundation (NYC) visit was a disaster with me basically being told to get lost.

According to a Financial Times article read and clipped out back in 1999, the Sandoz Family Foundation ranked as one of the world's ten richest foundations. Where did it get its money? Edouard Marcel Sandoz, son of the founder of the Sandoz pharmaceutical firm, founded the Sandoz Foundation in 1964. In 1996 Sandoz merged with Ciba to form Novartis. The Sandoz Family Foundation's 4.2 percent stake in Novartis was worth a cool $5.1 billion.

The Sandoz Family Foundation ( has holdings in an amazing array of businesses. Besides pharmaceutical and agribusiness (it's Novartis stake), it owns or controls several five star hotel properties (Hotel Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Riffelalp Resort in Zermatt), a private bank (Banque Edouard Constant), a luxury watchmaker (Parmigiani) and interests in telecommunications (Interoute) and Internet companies.

Next door to Lausanne lies Pully, ranked one of the wealthiest communities in Switzerland. It's here in a former dye factory/former museum at the lakefront that I find the family offices.

The front part of the long two-story building houses a local theatre group. The rear part a law firm. The reception area is quite unusual because of the hardwood floor, piano and movie posters lining the walls. I explain myself to the receptionist, she makes a call and I'm quickly told the office secretary is too busy.

Returning the next day I encounter another receptionist, who by the way is just as nice as the one the previous day. I explain who I am and what I do and she makes a call. After a few minutes on the phone she hangs up. I'm then informed that it's a very small office with her and only two other people. Plus, I'm told the office secretary has no time for me and there's really nothing to see. "You mean none of the family members have an office here", I ask "No", she answers, "the head of the family spends most of the time on his ranch in Argentina".

I was hoping someone could explain to me the differences between Swiss and American foundations. The Sandoz Foundation seems to be a family tool for making investments as opposed to doing charitable work. Are there tax benefits?

About those movie posters on the walls. The receptionist says they're part of the world's largest collection of movie posters and they belong to a museum in Lausanne.

Well, there are benefits to working in small offices. The second receptionist gets to bring her poodle to work with her. I enjoy a few minutes of chasing the playful dog around the furniture and watching the pooch go slip-sliding about as he failed several times to gain traction on the slippery wooden floor.