Witschi Electronic AG

Though only five miles from Bienne, it feels like a whole different world here in Bueren an der Aare, a picturesque little town of 3,000 inhabitants. Coming into the town center, traffic has to take turns passing through a historic single lane wooden covered bridge.

I'm here to visit Witschi Electronics, the dominant player in the field of testing and measurement equipment for the watch industry. The headquarters/factory stands about two blocks from the city center and the three-story red brick building is long (maybe a block long) and narrow. Why is the building so narrow? It turns out an English watchmaking company built the structure back in the 1800's. With the narrow building it allowed more light into the place-good if you're a watchmaker sitting at your desk trying to see what you're doing.

Upon reaching the reception desk I don't even have to open my mouth as receptionist Sabrina Tavoni recognizes me from the news clippings sent with my letter of introduction. In a few minutes I'm given a warm and enthusiastic welcome from CEO Andreas Blaesi.

About 65 employees work here. The building was bought in 1989 and it's a protected structure. Different countries have different words for describing historic buildings--in England they're called listed buildings. Being designated a historical significant structure severely limits changes an owner can make to the exterior and many times to the interior.

I'm given an extensive tour of the facility and one gets the feeling employees are part of a of a family. Blaesi's easy rapport with employees might have something to do with one of his former positions at the company, head of human resources. We drop by Friedrich Witschi's office for a visit, his family founded the company in 1947. I guessimate Witschi to be in his 60's and his office is more like a workshop as we catch him fiddling around with an instrument box.

Wandering through the production area for test instruments Blaesi instructs me to take off my watch. It's then placed into an ALC 7000, a watch leak test instrument. The machine verifies that the watch is as waterproof as it says it is (it's stamped on the back). Some of the machines here aren't cheap as I'm shown one going for 400,000 Swiss francs (about $300,000).

There's a nice cozy break room with an outside terrace, which could pass for a Starbucks. There's no formal dress code, no smoking in the workplace, it's about a mile to the nearest freeway, 80 miles to Zurich Airport and there's plenty of employee parking-including covered parking for commuting bicyclists.

CEO Blaesi occupies a second floor middle office. I count three real plants. The view out his window? Tall trees which block the view of nearby train tracks.

Website: www.witschi.com