During my first trek through Switzerland six years ago I visited
a slew of companies in Zurich including heavyweights such as
Swiss Life, Zurich Financial, UBS and Credit Suisse. How could
I have neglected to visit Swiss Reinsurance, the world's second
largest reinsurer with $20 billion in revenues and 8,600 employees?
If memory serves me right I think either UBS or Credit Suisse
held a big stake in the insurer and therefore, in my eyes, relegated
Swiss Re to just being a subsidiary and not worthy of a visit.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Swiss Re's headquarters complex occupies a prime and prestigious
site directly across the street from the Lake Zurich lakefront.
Hmm, in which of the buildings would CEO Walter Kielhoz hang
his hat? It would definitely be the impressive five-story edifice
built in 1913. Those two fierce-looking lion statues standing
guard over the entrance says it all. However, not knowing which
building houses the main reception area I elect to try the eight-story
building next door mostly because there's a covered parking structure
where I can lock up my bike.
Wow, this parking structure contains a real nice area for commuting
cyclists to store their bikes. It's large, well lit, nicely fenced-in,
covered from the elements and security cards control entry. It's
also very clean. Many times I see areas like this reserved for
cyclists and they are dark, dreary and dirty. Hey, there's even
an air hose and it works!
I check in with the two very friendly receptionists and take
a seat in the large lobby as they try to track down who ended
up with my introductory letter sent a month earlier to CEO Kielhoz.
Lobby reading material includes a booklet on Swiss Re's art collection-some
of which is scattered about the room. As I'm skimming through
the booklet it all of a sudden hits me, that three-story red
metal sculpture out front of this building is eerily similar
to a multi-story, red metal sculpture outside one of the buildings
at arch rival Munich Re's headquarters complex in Munich. Since
Swiss Re's building was built in 1969 and Munich Re's is newer,
guess who copied whom?
Initially I receive bad news saying they hadn't received my letter
but it turns out well as Henner Alms, Head of Group Media Relations,
and Samantha Whiteley, Media Consultant, turn up to answer questions
and show me around.
They can't break down as to how many employees work in the headquarters
complex but over 3,000 work in the Zurich area. If employees
want to drive to work it'll cost them to park here, smoking isn't
allowed in offices, and the company's extensive collection of
contemporary art is international in scope. It's about a mile
and a half to the nearest freeway, 20 minutes to Zurich Airport
and there's no formal dress code.
The company's dining facility is a separate lakefront building
with an excellent view of the lake. It's here that I learn of
an employee perk: free coffee, croissants and ice cream.
All the buildings here are connected via covered walkways. I
still remember my visit to adidas-Salomon's spiffy new campus-like
headquarters in Germany and how they hadn't quite finished building
the new dining facility located some distance from the main building.
I recall asking if they were going to build some kind of covered
walkway out to the dining hall and was told no. Yep, it must
be quite a sight in mid-January when it's bitter cold and snowing
to see employees high-tailing it through the elements to grab
a bite to eat. I guess they pull a Nike and "just do it".
I'm out of luck in seeing CEO Kielhoz's office as he's on holiday.
With some companies if the CEO is on vacation it's possible to
see the office because he isn't around. With others it's the
opposite, if the CEO is on vacation they don't want people in