KBC Group

The rain is coming down hard as I cycle up to KBC's headquarters located about a mile from Brussels' city center. The good-looking, nine-story edifice stands directly across the street from a working canal. Boy, I wasn't expecting to find one of Europe's largest bank/insurance companies (2004 revenues of $25 billion and 51,000 employees) located next to a canal with barges floating past.

I don't even get a chance to explain who I am to the two friendly receptionists as they greet me by name. My letter of introduction sent a month earlier to CEO Willy Duron ended up with Viviane Huybrecht, Head of Press Office. It turns out to be an extensive and excellent visit thanks to the delightful Huybrecht.

The building is home to over 2,500 employees and I'm surprised to learn it was built in 1995 because it looks brand new. Once past the reception area you can't help but be impressed by the humongous atrium. Why was the headquarters built here? KBC employees were scattered around town in various buildings and the company was looking to consolidate everyone into one location. Plus, it didn't hurt that KBC already owned the property.

The 875 parking spaces helps take care of employee parking and the company runs a shuttle service to a nearby train station (it's a 15 minute walk). Want to pedal to work? Hey, it's no problem here as cyclists get covered parking as well as separate showers and lockers for men and women. The company cafeteria on the lower level is bright and inviting, there's no smoking in the building and the company's art collection is primarily modern and mostly Belgian artists. It's 20 minutes to Brussels National Airport and 10 minutes to the nearest freeway. Any unusual employee perks? Besides special rates on bank services the company offers free child care in July/August.

Joining us on our walkabout is Marc Van Pottelberghe, the company's archivist. We end up somewhere in the lower bowels of the building for a look into a room holding a wide variety of company memorabilia including old bank ledgers dating back to KBC's origins in 1889 and advertising posters. What caught my eye however were the long racks of dresses that look similar to what airline stewardesses wear. What are they doing here? It seems twice a year the receptionists are given new uniforms to wear and I'm staring at a collection of past uniforms dating back more than 50 years.

Nothing special about the boardroom with the table seating 14. CEO Willy Duron occupies a corner office on the 8th floor and lets me interrupt a meeting for a quick look/see. I count two plants (real), don't spot a computer and note the framed photo on Duron's desk of his grandson sitting on a sailboat. The view out Duron's window? The downtown skyline as well as watching birds diving into the canal.

Company website: www.kbc.com