Maurice Lacroix SA

A few days after mailing my letter of introduction to CEO Philippe Merk I received an e-mail from Gabriela Malaise, Public Relations Manager for Maurice Lacroix. I had mistakenly sent the letter to the company's watch factory in Saignelegier instead of the head office in Zurich. Ms. Malaise wanted to know which place I was planning to visit. I responded by saying Zurich wasn't on the schedule and was visiting other watch companies in the same region as Saignelegier, an out-of-the-way village. I asked if the factory was historically significant. Malaise says the factory was recently given a complete renovation and is worth making a visit. Sounds good to me.

There's not much happening as I arrive in downtown Saignelegier, population 2,500. Then again, it's lunchtime and typical Switzerland where every place shuts down from noon to 1:30 PM while workers hightail it home for lunch. I show up at Maurice Lacroix's three-story building near the edge of Saignelegier and it's closed.

Checking back in an hour I'm greeted by Serge Barrabas, Technical Director, and the man responsible for running the place. Barrabas is like a proud father showing off a newborn as I'm given a top to bottom tour of this impressive state-of-the-art facility. Jeez, and I thought Ms. Malaise was just spinning PR hype when she said this place was state-of-the-art. Though the buildings go back a hundred years, they've basically been gutted and rebuilt from the ground up during the past few years.

I'm very impressed with the computerized inventory retrieval system. Most of the watch companies visited keep watch parts in file cabinets, drawers or warehouse-like storage rooms. Here, there's a big metal enclosure similar in shape to an elevator shaft. You type the part needed into the computer and then robotics takes over. Within the minute a tray appears bearing the part needed-even telling you where on the tray it's located.

There's plenty of parking for the more than 90 employees--with cyclists enjoying covered parking. Smoking isn't allowed in the workplace, there's no formal dress code and it's two and a half hours to Zurich's airport and almost two hours to Basel's airport. Though no cafeteria, the few employees who don't go home for lunch can eat theirs in a brightly decorated breakroom. Any employee perks? After three months employment employees are allowed to purchase up to two watches a year at a 50% discount.