Max Felchlin AG

It's nice being back in Schwyz, a picturesque town/canton of about 7,000 inhabitants. In the USA we have states, in Switzerland they have cantons. Schwyz is one of the country's smallest cantons. I cycled through here a few years ago visiting Victorinox, the Swiss army knife maker, and have never forgotten the beauty of this valley and its spectacular mountain scenery.

Several times I stop and ask locals how to get to chocolate maker Max Felchlin's offices. They don't speak English but see the name and address on my questionnaire. I end up at the factory on the edge of town instead of the head office near the city center. It's an honest mistake as the large factory building sits alongside a main road leading into town and is a visible landmark to the locals.

A side-street in a residential area dead-ends at a very large house. Built in 1924, this three-story mansion was formerly founder Max Felchlin's home. Now, it's company headquarters for this producer of chocolate to bakeries, catering enterprise and industrial users. Revenues last year were 30 million Swiss Francs (about $22 million) with half coming from exports to the USA.

On the nearby main road was a small sign directing visitors to this place but, there was also a sign for a sculpture garden. Walking around the mansion to the front grounds of the property I come upon more than a dozen sculptures scattered about the place.

Entering the mansion I find no reception area. I spot a man working in a room and tell him I'm looking for General Manager Christian Aschwanden (that's who I sent my letter of introduction to a month earlier). It turns out he is Aschwanden and has my letter sitting on his desk.

A good time is had thanks to the hospitable Aschwanden. Twenty-five people work here. Parking is plentiful, smoking in the workplace isn't allowed, there's no formal dress code and it's a 10-minute walk to the city center. There're no recreational facilities –though you could get your exercise from going up and down the stairs (no elevator--in Europe it's no big deal but in the USA the law would require one). There's no cafeteria but a break room (microwave) and even an outdoor BBQ set-up. One can eat lunch on an outside terrace or at tables set out near the sculpture garden with its great view of the surrounding valley. It's three minutes to the nearest freeway and an hour's drive to Zurich's airport.

Why does Aschwanden have his office near the front door? Is it to keep tabs on the comings and goings of employees? Nope, it was formerly the office of the CEO before him (that would be the son of founder Max Felchlin). The company's roots go back to 1908. I count two real plants in Aschwanden's corner office along with a family picture. This is a first for me; a white bird cage with fake birds inside hangs from the ceiling–it's from Aschwanden's predecessor. The room next to Aschwanden's office used to be the mansion's formal dining room, now it doubles as a meeting room and boardroom----complete with large working fireplace. I mention having been in three boardrooms where there's a crystal ball in the middle of the table. Aschwanden shows me a wood face mask carving watching over the table and says it's called Haetti, God of the Budget.

Before heading off I'm given a large, heavy (must weigh a couple pounds) slab of milk chocolate cleverly packaged and boxed to resemble a suitcase stamped with various famous destinations around the world. Company website: