Blancpain SA

Wow, Blancpain really likes keeping their head office under wraps. No signs are visible on the exterior of the four-story structure. A massive steel door painted brown with a small glass porthole greets people trying to enter the building. The formidable-looking entrance gives nary a clue as to the building's occupant with no name listed next to the doorbell. There's no name listed on the mailbox because there isn't even a receptacle for mail. It's not until I stand on my tiptoes and peer through the glass porthole and see a Blancpain watch display inside that I know this is the place.

A block away lies the lakefront of Lake Geneva. Three miles away from here will bring you to Lausanne's (population 120,000) city center. However, Blancpain isn't located in Lausanne but in Paudex and Pully, adjacent lakefront towns. In the photo accompanying this story you see the four-story light yellow-colored head office building. Near the bottom of the photo there's a fence. The fence runs alongside a small creek. The head office is in Paudex. However, I took the photo from the company's other four-story building (who's exterior is also void of any identifying names) located less than a hundred yards away but in neighboring Pully thanks to the creek being the official dividing line between the two towns.

After being buzzed into the building and checking in with the receptionist I'm soon meeting with Nicoletta Merlin, part-time assistant to CEO Marc Hayek. My questions are answered as we sit in one of the three meeting rooms. Two of the rooms are named after towns Blancpain has/had facilities: Villeret and Le Brassus. Lake Geneva is also known as Lac Leman and that's why Leman is the name of the third meeting room.

A total of about 60 people work in the two buildings. Merlin isn't sure when the main building was built but says Blancpain has occupied it for at least 10 years. The immediate area is surrounded mostly by apartment buildings. Parking is scarce but employees can park several blocks way in a public parking lot next to a lakefront public swimming pool complex. Though there're no onsite recreational facilities Merlin says in the summer one can stroll down to the lake or public pool for a swim.

Smoking is allowed in offices (CEO Hayek is a smoker), it's 35 minutes by train to Geneva's airport, there's no formal dress code and no company cafeteria though there's a break room area (microwave) with a table for sitting outside in the other building. Any employee perks? Being part of the Swatch Group allows employees to purchase watches at a discount from any of the various Swatch brands.

CEO Hayek occupies a second floor middle office. The walls are beige, the furniture black along with a brown parquet floor. Nothing hangs on the walls, note the laptop computer and lack of any personal nik-naks or watch paraphernalia. The view out his window? A row of a half-dozen towering pine trees located only a few feet from his window block what would otherwise be a great view of Lake Geneva.