Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA

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 and, Jaeger-LeCoultre.

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 reception area.

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 material.

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: Oh, and I don't see that gas barbecue grill anywhere.