Geberit International Ltd.

Ever see a name and go, "hey I've seen that name somewhere". Well, Geberit is one of those. What does this company with $917 million in revenues and over 5,400 employees do? Ever use the restroom in a restaurant, hotel or the office building you work in? There's a good chance Geberit makes the sanitary systems (toilets).

It's been raining like crazy all morning as I make my way to the outskirts of Jona, a small town lining the shores of Lake Zurich. Downtown Zurich lies about 20 miles northwest. Several miles from Jona's city center and near the lakefront I spot a new and modernistic building with the Geberit name on it. Thankfully there's a big awning over the entrance as I strip off my soggy rain gear (jacket, pants, hat and booties). Going into the building I learn it isn't the head office but only a showroom–the head office is across the street next to the factory. Jeez, because it's raining so hard this means putting on my wet rain gear again just to go across the street. In the picture accompanying this story you can see the five-story head office building to the right of the people walking with umbrellas.

Checking in with the receptionist I ask her to call up CEO Guenter Keim's office to find out who ended up with my letter of introduction sent to him a month ago. Oh, oh, it's not good news as I'm told nobody is available. I still don't know if that means my letter was received and nobody has time or are they saying they never received the letter. I explain to the receptionist how this is a one-time deal for me as I won't have an opportunity to return. She gets back on the phone and in a few minutes Roman Sidler, Director of Corporate Communications, appears in the lobby. Sidler says he's in the middle of a meeting and wants to know what I want. I explain sending a letter a month ago to CEO Guenter Keim and Sidler says he "vaguely" remembers it. Now, right there I know things aren't going to go well. Why? How many letters (with news clippings) come across this guy's desk about an American cycling around the world visiting corporate headquarters? Anyway, Sidler says he's in a meeting, then has lunch and won't be back until 2 PM. It's now 11:45 AM and I tell Sidler I don't mind waiting (after all what else I'm I going to do--it's pouring rain outside, it's lunchtime and I have no other companies to visit in the area). Sidler pulls out his mobile phone and tries calling his office but evidently everyone in his department left for lunch. Sidler suggests I call him later in the day about my questions when I'm back in Zurich. I respond by saying, "the whole idea behind this is to physically visit a company's headquarters otherwise I could be back in California doing all of this via the telephone". Finally I say, "look, I'll just take a pass on visiting your company". There's definitely not a look of disappointment on Sidler's face when he hears that. I'm thinking why would I wait around here for two hours to probably end up having a five minute talk in the lobby with such a disinterested person? Plus, as we were conversing I watched workers heading for lunch and wondered why didn't he suggest I go have lunch in the company cafeteria?

The company's root date back to 1874. The reception waiting area contains three large glass displays filled with company memorabilia such as an accounting ledger from 1898, a factory photo from 1921 and a photo dated 1910 showing their then, state-of-the-art toilets. On the other side of the waiting area stand five more glass displays. These displays show the latest company products such as flushing systems and plastic pipes.