Unless you're in the international business community you've
probably never heard of Compagnie Financiere Tradition. This
Lausanne-based firm does business in 16 countries, has over $620
million in revenues and 1,800 employees. What do they do? Tradition
acts as a broker in over-the-counter (OTC) and regulated markets,
earnings commissions from negotiating trades and facilitating
counter party transactions. That might explain why 75% of its
1,800 employees are brokers.
Though the company was founded in Lausanne (population 120,000)
back in 1959, it keeps a low local profile. No signs or name
plaques decorate the exterior of nine-story, chocolate-colored
headquarters in the city center. Having visited over 3,600 companies
I've become pretty good at judging a building's age. This one
was definitely built in the 1960's because chocolate-colored
buildings with smoked window exteriors were in fashion back then.
Entering the curved building I find neither a reception area
nor a receptionist but, a small sign directing visitors up to
the seventh floor. I'd already received an e-mail from the company
saying they've received my letter of introduction and that my
contact person would be Magali Citerne, receptionist. I've been
visiting companies for a long time and sometimes I've felt offended
when a company designates the receptionist as my contact person.
Why? It makes me think they think I'm so insignificant and unimportant
that it need not go any further up in the chain-of-command. Some
of the time it has turned out to be true (that I've been deemed
insignificant) but other times it has been a smart move by the
company. Why? Receptionists man the front line (greeting visitors
in person and on the phone), have contact with a wide variety
of company employees and, ones who have been around for a while
know the building inside and out. Anyway, I end up having a nice
reception and extensive tour of the place thank to the charming
and informative Magali Citerne, who's been with the company 12
About 60 employees work here. Senior management gets covered
parking, smoking is permitted in the workplace, there's no formal
dress code, no recreational facilities, it's 45 minutes to Geneva's
airport and five minutes to the nearest freeway. There's no cafeteria
but, a break room with vending machines. However, there is full
kitchen facility. The founder of the company (Andre Levy-who
retired in 1994) used to employ a personal chief to whip up his
I can't see the top floor office of CEO Patrick Combes. Why?
It's locked because he spends most of the time in Paris. Why?
Publicly-traded Tradition is essentially a holding company and,
is in turn, 75% owned by Paris-based Viel & Cieof which
Combes is the boss. Next to Combes' office is an outside terrace
and Citerne and I step outside for a look. The view is fantasticoverlooking
the city, the lake and in the distance, France and the French
Alps on the other side of the several miles wide lake.
Nothing special about the boardroom on the top floor. The decor
and furnishings, like most of the building, is from the late
1960's or early 1970's. The boardroom table seats 12, there's
one small tree (real) and on a wall hangs a large oil painting
of Allinghi, the sailing vessel responsible for Switzerland recently
corralling the America's Cup.
Before leaving I'm given a walk-through of the small trading
floor (about 30 brokers).