Group Colruyt

Publicly-traded Group Colruyt, with revenues in 2004 of $4.6 billion and 10,000 employees, is primarily an operator of discount grocery stores in Belgium and France. I visited a few stores and the word "no-frills" would aptly describe them. Drab concrete slab exteriors and stark interiors with concrete floors are the norm.

As I was leaving Kraft Foods Belgium in Halle (population maybe 30,000), I was told the offices for Colruyt were located next door. Turns out it's a huge Colruyt distribution center with the head office located about five miles away on the opposite end of town.

Headquarters is a complex of connecting gray concrete buildings with the tallest being five stories. Most look like they were built in the 1970's. Forty chairs (lined up inches apart) fill the small and sparsely furnished reception area. A Pepsi vending machine sits in one corner and I count four plants (fake). Smoking is allowed in the waiting area. One of the two receptionists calls up Edda Uytterhaegen, secretary to CEO Jeff Colruyt, and then hands over the phone. I explain who I am and how I mailed a letter of introduction with news clippings to CEO Colruyt a month ago and wanted to find out who ended up with the letter. Ms. Uytterhaegen says she opens Colruyt's mail and never saw such a letter. She says I should resend the letter and I explain I'm in town visiting 30 companies in the Brussels area and this is my only opportunity to visit the company. Uytterhaegen agrees to come to the lobby and I spend 10 minutes pleading my case but to no avail. She repeatedly says I need an appointment to speak with anyone and declines to check with Corporate Communications. I leave.

I bet you anything that the letter was received and it probably came a day when Ms. Uytterhaegen was away. Why do I say this? From my many years of past experiences.