Everything surrounding my visit to Victorinox, maker of the "Swiss
Army Knife", turns out to be a real pleasure. Urs Wyss,
Director of Marketing, sent a nice email acknowledging receipt
of the letter of introduction sent to CEO Charles Elsener, Jr.
In the letter of introduction I gave a 10-day range of dates
for my anticipated arrival and Wyss responded with a day by day
detailed analysis of what dates would be good for him. The bike
ride from Lucerne to Ibach-Schwyz is fantastic as I pass through
several picturesque valleys, each complete with a lake lined
with idyllic villages. The sky is a bright blue and the temperature
in the low 80's-perfect for cycling with the shirt off.
Switzerland is divided into cantons (similar to states in the
USA) and the Canton of Schwyz is one of the smallest. The biggest
town in the Canton of Schwyz is Schwyz, with a population of
10,000. The city center is gorgeous with beautiful medieval buildings
surrounding the large medieval church. Only a few blocks from
here stands the head office/factory of Victorinox.
Actually, parts of the five-story head office/factory complex
are rather ugly. It was built in three stages, first during World
War ll., then during the 1960's and finally 1975. The reception
area is in the large company store that is open to the public.
This store gives you an idea as to the amazing array of knives,
cutlery and watches the company produces. Though Victorinox "Swiss
Army Knives" are sold in 120 countries around the world,
every single knife is made in this, the sole factory (over 100,000
About 1,000 employees work here. Wyss has no problem with my
calling this a "company town" since it's true. Matter
of fact, nearby are 120 company-owned and built apartments that
are rented out to Victorinox employees. Founded in 1884 by Karl
Elsener, this family-owned company with over $188 million in
revenues, has never laid off an employee. Actually, the Elsener
family only owns 10% of the shares with the major part of the
shares held by the Victorinox Foundation.
The dress code here is very casual with the wearing of shorts
to work not raising an eyebrow. Smoking isn't allowed in offices,
no recreational facilities (though there are showers) and the
nearest airport (Zurich) is an hour's drive away. The snow-capped
jagged peaks of the Rigi and Mythen mountains, which are names
of several of the meeting rooms, surround this valley. There's
no corporate art collection but there is an antique knife collection.
Employees get 30% off products in the company store.
After a tour of the factory we stop by to see the offices of
CEO Carl Elsener Jr. He isn't in but his father, 80-year old
Carl Elsener Sr. is and it's no big deal since they share the
same office. Elsener Sr. has handed the reins over to his son
but still comes in every day. Matter of fact, until a few years
ago, Elsener Sr. rode his bike to work. The office they share
is very no-frills and plainly furnished. I do note several religious
artifacts about the room and several small stained-glass pieces
hanging from the windows. I ask Mr. Elsener Sr. to show me his
watch to make sure it's a Victorinox. Yep, it's a V-7 model.
How close is the company to its roots? Founder Karl Elsener opened
his cutlery workshop here back in 1891. The current headquarters/factory
is a mere block away from that workshop. Wyss doesn't let me
leave empty-handed as we walk back to the company store and I'm
told to pick out anything I want. I opt for one of their new
multi-purpose knives that comes with a screwdriver attachment
specifically designed to be used on laptop computers---such as
the one lugged around on my bike.