Montres Breguet SA

One could toss a tennis ball from the front steps of Breguet's spiffy-looking head office into the calm waters of nearby Lake de Joux. Built in 1996, the three-story, L-shaped building is tucked away behind a five-story hotel. The hotel, which looks to have been built in the early 1970's and contains maybe 30 rooms, fronts the main (and only) road running through the village of L'Abbaye. A creek runs behind Breguet's offices and there's also a small lakefront park adjacent to the building.

I know I've found the right place thanks to the good-sized sign above Breguet's building entrance. Upon entering the reception area I find Marie Nussbaumer, Public Relations, Communications and Marketing Assistant, already waiting for me. How's this possible? Well, before going inside I had been walking around the property snapping pictures and it seems the receptionist saw me and evidently was aware of my pending arrival.

I end up having to talk fast as Nussbaumer has a meeting to go to in a few minutes. About 80 people (mostly administration) work in the building. Watches aren't assembled here but in a factory (300 employees) up the road. There's plenty of employee parking (I spot quite a few cars with French plates), smoking is allowed in the workplace, it's an hour's drive to the nearest airport (Geneva), 25 minutes to the nearest freeway and there's no formal dress code.

Some employees scoot home for lunch, others can eat or heat something up in the break room (microwave) or, wander over to the hotel restaurant next door. The same options apply to executives. Any recreational facilities? One can go swimming or sailing in the lake. Some winters find the lake frozen solid enough to go ice-skating. Any employee perks? Special prices on Breguet watches. Does the company have a watch museum? Yes, it's located in Paris.

My request to see CEO Nicolas Hayek's corner office is denied as Nussbaumer says its off-limit (he isn't here today). I should have known. Mr. Hayek, CEO of Breguet, is also Chairman of Swatch Group, which acquired Breguet in 1999. I remember visiting Swatch's head office in Bienne back in 1996 and being told the same story about seeing his office. Nussbaumer says the cigar smoking Hayek occupies a corner office with a view of the lake.

So much for getting a feel of the corporate culture at a company's who's roots go back to 1775 as I never make it past the lobby. Before leaving I ask the receptionist for a look at her watch to see if she's wearing a Breguet. This is a first, it turns out she doesn't wear a watch. The company's website: