Habasit AG

I'm about five miles from Basel in an industrial park located in suburban Reinbach. It's here that I find the head office/factory complex of Habasit. What does Habasit, with 2003 revenues of $333 million and 2,200 employees, manufacture? Belts. I'm not talking about the kind you wear but those found in power transmission. Ever see pictures of industrial bakeries where the baked goodies travel along conveyor belts? Habasit makes those. In tobacco factories the tobacco travels along conveyors and processing belts. Habasit makes those too. In tire manufacturing plants the rubber travels along various kinds of conveyor and processing belts. Yep, Habasit again.

Entering the four-story building I check-in with the receptionist and explain who I am and how I sent a letter of introduction a month earlier to CEO Giovanni Volpi. I ask if she can call Volpi's secretary to find out who ended up with the letter. "Do you have an appointment?", asks the receptionist. "No", I answer. "I can't help you unless you have an appointment", replies the receptionist. I protest, "But how can I make an appointment if I don't know who to make an appointment with?–that's why I'd like you to call Mr. Volpi's secretary". For the next few minutes we go back and forth. The receptionist isn't budging. Exasperated and ready to give up and go out the door, I tell her "look, I'm on a bicycle and this is a one time visit for me--once I leave here I won't ever be coming back". Phew, she relents and makes the call.

While she's on the phone I give the lobby the once over. On one wall hangs a framed picture of Fernand Habegger with the dates (1921-1992). He and his wife, Alice Habegger-Flick, founded the company back in 1946. She is still the company's Vice Chairwoman while their son, Thomas Habegger is now Chairman. How did this family-owned company get its name? Habasit combines the letters of the family name (HA–from Habegger), the first domicile was Basel (BAS) and, the ending of a name for synthetic materials: bakelit (IT).

In a few minutes I'm meeting with Christelle Althaus, Assistant to the CEO, and Carole Hartmann, Public Relations. I find out yours truly made a big mistake. It turns out Hartmann sent an e-mail a month ago acknowledging receiving the introduction material and that she was my contact person. Dumb me forgot to make a note. It's an enjoyable visit as the two ladies answer questions and show me around the place.

Founded in Basel, Habasit moved out here in 1959. An aerial view taken back then shows farmland completely surrounding the site–now it's all built-up with a mixture of industry and housing. A block-long Habasit factory stands across the street from the head office. About 400 people work in the head office/factory complex. Parking is free and plentiful. Smoking isn't allowed in the workplace though there are break areas for lighting up. There's covered parking for commuting cyclists, no formal dress code and it's two minutes to the nearest freeway. The company cafeteria serves hot food, it's 30-minutes to Basel's airport and there're no onsite recreational facilities/showers. Scattered throughout the building is an extensive and colorful collection of art. It's primarily modern and international in scope.

Chairman Thomas Habegger occupies a second floor corner office. I note the two plants (real) and computer. The view out his window? An unexciting view of the factory. CEO Volpi occupies a middle office down the hall from Habegger. I count four plants (real), one computer and a large cardboard sign on a wall with hundreds of signatures on it. What's with all the signatures? It's a card signed by employees when Volpi first retired from the company. The view out his window? Also a view of the factory.

Company website: www.habasit.com