Valora Holding AG

There's a good chance when you stop at a kiosk to grab a newspaper, candy or cigarettes in Switzerland you'll be doing business with Valora Holding. The company operates almost 1,500 kiosks and, as a wholesaler, supplies 5,000 private kiosks, food shops and gas stations with newspapers, magazines, food and non-food items. Valora also has kiosks in Germany, Luxembourg and, provides photo processing and distribution in seven countries in Europe and the USA. Revenues in 2001 were $1.75 billion with 9.600 employees.

Headquarters is a blah-looking, eight-story, late 1950's building about five miles from downtown Bern. It's a mixed-used area with lots of lower-end apartments and industrial companies.

Surprisingly, there's no bowl of candy on the receptionist's desk but there's a silver vase with lilies. The small lobby contains a flat screen television monitor showing company info and there's quite a few magazines to peruse while you wait. Unfortunately for me, the magazines (Billanz, Der Spiegel, Facts, Focus) are all in German.

Stefania Mistell, Head of Corporate Communications, answers questions and gives me a tour. About 100 people work here but Mistell says the company is looking to move in the near future. Parking isn't a problem, smoking is allowed in the offices and the company cafeteria is located on the top floor. One of the reasons for being here is its location: two minutes to the nearest freeway and four minutes to the nearby train stop.

CEO Reto Hartmann's modest sixth floor corner office contains family pictures and one real plant. The view? Train tracks run behind the property.

Leaving, I kid Mistell about the funny-looking sculpture in the lobby. It's an antique horse plow shovel with several unrelated contraptions attached to it. The plaque reads "Valora Management School 1, November 2000". I assumed it was suppose to be a joke as in making fun of all those corny works of art one sees in museums. Wrong. Mistell says the company does have a management school and this was a class project. Oops.