Metalor Technologies SA

Though Neuchatel hugs the shores of Lake Neuchatel, many in this city of 40,000 inhabitants reside on its steep hillsides. It's in a mixed-use area with residential housing that I find the six-story head office building of Metalor Technologies. The blah-looking 1970's building stands directly across the street from one of its factories and about three miles from Neuchatel's city center. Metalor, with revenues in 2001 of 275 million Swiss francs (about $210 million) and 1,400 employees, refines metals. Not just any metals but precious metals such as gold and silver-the kind used in watches. Besides supplying the watch industry with these metals it also supplies the dental trade with dental alloys and, manufactures electric contact components.

It's a few minutes after 8AM when I enter the small lobby. I note the four blue leather chairs and the name plaques on the conference rooms doors off to the sides (Gold, Platinum and Palladium rooms). A month earlier I mailed my letter of introduction to CEO Hans-Juerg Schaer and ask the receptionist to call up his secretary to find out who ended up with the letter. The receptionist says Mr. Schaer isn't in today and his secretary (Mrs. Rello) is pregnant and might or might not be in later today. I ask the receptionist to check with public relations or corporate communications, the two most likely places my letter ends up, but she says they have neither. After about 10 minutes of watching her come up blank I give her background material (postcard/letter and news clippings) and say I'll be back in the afternoon.

I've returned and it's now about 3PM. A different woman is manning the desk. To my dismay the receptionist in the morning left no information for her replacement. I go through the whole spiel again. This receptionist calls up Ms. Rello and there's no answer. She makes another call and I'm then put on the phone with a man who doesn't identify himself. I explain who I am and what I do. The man says, "they are the only two people who can help you"-meaning CEO Schaer and his secretary. I explain how this is a one shot deal for me and won't have a chance to come back. This man keeps repeating the same line over and over "They are the only two people who can help you". I ask, "Is it possible to check around to see if someone knows about my letter?" His answer, "They are the only two people who can help you". I ask, "You don't have a public relations, corporate communications or public affairs department?" His answer, "They are the only two people who can help you". I say, "I don't understand why you won't try and help me" His answer, "They are the only two people who can help you". Wow, what an unhelpful and very unpleasant man. Upon getting off the phone I ask the receptionist for the name and title of the man. His name is Roland Held and he's a company lawyer.

Metalor's roots reach back to 1852 and has had its current name since 2001.