During my first trek through Switzerland in 1996 I visited Richemont's
lakefront offices in Zug and received an excellent reception.
So why am I making a return stop to this luxury goods group with
2002 revenues of 3.6 billion Euros? Several reasons. Richemont
recently relocated its headquarters from Zug to Geneva plus,
it owns quite a few well-known luxury watch brands. Those visited
include Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Baume & Mercier
Though the move from Zug to Geneva is only a couple hundred miles,
I'm curious if I'll notice any subtle cultural differences as
Zug sits in northern Switzerland, the German-speaking part of
the country, while Geneva lies in southern Switzerland, the French-speaking
part. The rooftop terrace of the Zug office included a gas barbecue
grill; will I find it transplanted to Geneva?
I'm less than two blocks from Geneva's main train station on
a tree-lined street filled with turn-of-the-century buildings.
An unassuming five-story building houses Richemont offices. Small
gold plaques with the Richemont and Cartier names let me know
I'm at the right place. One of those one-hour photo places occupies
a street-level shop next to the entrance doors. It's not that
it's a bad area but then again it's not what one would call a
prestigious or snazzy address.
You can't enter the building without being buzzed-in. It's eight
in the morning and no one answers the buzzer. A woman arriving
to work punches in the code and after telling her I'm visiting
Richemont she says to follow her. After hiking up a flight of
stairs it's buzzer time again as one has to be buzzed-in to the
After checking in with the receptionist I give the place the
once over while sitting in a small waiting room with three chairs.
I note the Jaeger-LeCoultre wall clock and the brown burlap sack-like
carpeting. An internal spiral staircase leads back to down the
first floor. Four coffee table-size books, a watch magazine (Chrono
World) and 12 Cartier publications provide visitors with reading
The visit turns out to be just as exceptional as the one in Zug
thanks to Deborah Johnstone, assistant to CEO Johann Rupert.
I quickly learn why only mostly Cartier reading material is available
for perusing in the waiting area even though Richemont owns a
stable of other well-known names such as Dunhill, Montblanc and
Van Cleef & Arpels. Cartier already had their offices here
and Richemont is basically subletting space. That's why it's
all about Cartier in the reception/waiting area.
How many people made the big move Zug to Geneva? Six, so we aren't
talking major upheavals here. Richemont occupies a floor in an
adjacent but connected building. The modern art (including various
sculptures) scattered about the floor look vaguely familiar and
they should since the art as well as furnishings were transported
from the Zug offices. Hmm, same furniture, same art as well as
taking over space already occupied by one of its brands--shareholders
in publicly traded Richemont sure can't complain about the company
unnecessarily spending money.
Meeting rooms are named after watches, there's no cafeteria but
a coffee-making area, smoking is allowed in offices, it's a five-minute
walk to Geneva's city center and 10 minutes to nearest freeway.
Being within two blocks of the main train station means one can
waltz over, hop on a train and be at Geneva's airport departure
counter in 10 minutes. Employees who commute to work by bicycle
enjoy covered parking.
It's no problem getting a look in CEO Rupert's third floor corner
office. Why? Well, that's where Johnstone and I are sitting as
we go through the questions (Rupert isn't in today). A glass
coffee table surrounded by blue chairs and a comfortable blue
sofa give the room a formal look. I count one plant (real), note
the television, small metal sculpture and don't see a single
watch or wall clock. Hmm, I wonder which watch Rupert wears?
The view out his window? Pretty boring as there's a similar-size
building directly across the street blocking his view.
The boardroom table was brought along from Zug. The elongated
oval-shaped, leather-topped table is made out of pear wood and
it's a real beauty. I count 16 chairs. A Baume Mercier as well
as a Jaeger LeCoultre clock make sure board members know the
time. Johnstone points out the china used for coffee & tea-yep
it's none other than Cartier.
Website: www.richemont.com. Oh, and I don't see that gas barbecue