Victorinox



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 a day).

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.