Parmigiani Fleurier SA

Route planning is very tricky. Having been doing this for 17 years I've become pretty good at it. However, problems do arise.

Here's how it basically works: after compiling the list of companies to visit, maps of the countries I'll be visiting are spread out on a table (this year it's only part of Switzerland). A red marking pen is used to color each town where there's a company to visit. I then plot a route. This year has been complicated by the fact many of the companies being visited are located in the Jura Mountains and in somewhat isolated valleys. What does that mean? Well, for example, from the map it looks like the towns of Le Locle and Les Ponts-de-Martel are only six miles apart. However, the map doesn't tell you (as I found out) they're separated by several mountainous valleys requiring long climbs. So, instead of being a quick half-hour bike ride it turns into a several hour journey. This will mess up a day's planned schedule.

I tell you all of the above because it relates to the disappointing visit to watchmaker Parmigiani Fleurier in Fleurier, a town of maybe 3,000 inhabitants. I had received an email from Katia Della Pietra, assistant to CEO Emmanuel Vuille, letting me know my letter of introduction to CEO Vuille had been received. I emailed Pietra back with the specific day I expected to arrive (in the letter of introduction I normally give a seven to ten day time frame). Visiting other companies in the region I found the terrain much more difficult than anticipated and ended up having to email Pietra back telling her I wouldn't be showing up as planned but, would be coming through Fleurier in two weeks.

It's a nice hot mid-July day when I show up at Parmigiani Fleurier's four-story building about a half mile from downtown Fleurier. Directly across the street is the town's hospital. I'm assuming it's a hospital because it looks like one and, the name of the street is Rue de L'Hopital. Parmigiani's building has a 1930's-1940's look to it and makes me think it might have at one time belonged to the hospital.

Construction workers are doing something to part of the building as I try entering the front doors. The doors are locked but I can see people walking around inside. A woman unlocks the doors and though she doesn't speak English I understand what she's trying to say-they're closed for vacation. Aw jeez, why didn't Pietra tell me? I ask the woman if Ms. Pietra is around or someone who speaks English. A man shows up. I explain who I am. The man turns out to be CEO Vuille. I ask if he or someone else has a few minutes to talk to me. Vuille answers with a "no". I'm told to return in August (several weeks away) when they reopen. I try explaining how I'm on a bike and this place isn't easy to reach. Vuille repeats that I have to come back in August. Well, I guess it's my fault as Pietra probably assumed I would contact her before showing up. Though not happy with the way Vuille dismissed me that's the way it sometimes goes.

In 1996 the Sandoz Family Foundation, one of the world's ten biggest foundations, bought 51% of Parmigiani Fleurier. In 2002 I tried several times to meet with someone at Sandoz 's Pully, Switzerland offices but was given the brush off.