Serono International S.A.

Serono, with revenues in 2001 of $1.38 billion and 4,200 employees, is one of the world's biggest biotechnology companies. I was expecting more of a high-profile facility but the five-story head office building sits tucked away on a side street several miles from downtown Geneva.

The reception area, manned by two receptionists, is bright and airy with a hardwood floor. Visitors can plop down on eight orangish-colored chairs. Two flower arrangements center the coffee tables with five plants scattered about the room. There's a Time magazine and a slew of The Economist magazines to peruse. As I've mentioned before if I was stranded on an island and could have only one magazine, The Economist would be it.

Marc Aubert, Manager Media & Public Relations, and I head to the cafeteria where he answers questions. Serono rents this building but in 2003 plans to move into a brand new place. Where? Behind this head office building is an old factory (not Serono's) and it'll soon be torn down. Directly across the street from Serono's front entrance is a five-story research facility and between the two there's a total of 500 employees.

There're no recreational facilities here although the Lake Geneva lakefront is only a block away. Smoking isn't allowed. As I've mentioned many times, as a general rule, if the CEO smokes then smoking is allowed in the offices. If the CEO does not smoke, then it's usually banned. CEO Ernesto Bertarelli is not a smoker.

There's no corporate art collection, cyclists have covered parking, there's no formal dress code, it's five minutes to the nearest freeway and a ten-minute drive to the airport. Meeting and conference rooms are named after constellations and planets.

I can't see CEO Bertarelli's top floor corner office because he's in a meeting. The boardroom contains no plants with the black boardroom table seating 12.