S.A. Confiserie Leonidas

It's raining like crazy and there's no awning outside the headquarters/factory of Leonidas so I pedal into a covered warehouse stall used by trucks making deliveries. I'm in full rain gear and I guess it's quite the sight as several workers from the factory come up to me to find out what I'm up to.

I send out my letters of introduction to companies a month before my anticipated arrival and address the letter to the CEO. Sometimes it requires calling up the company to find out his or her name. In this case, I remember calling Leonidas and asking for the name of the CEO but the woman who answered the phone refused to tell me. So, I addressed the letter to the "Managing Director or Chief Executive Officer"

Leonidas' three-story red brick building looks like it was built in the 1960's. Close by stands a modern, good-looking multi-story glass building with the name "Nestle" emblazoned on it. Boy, nothing like having the world's largest food and chocolate company looking down on you. Leonidas however isn't exactly small potatoes, with over 1,700 sales outlets in more than 40 countries. Leonidas is Belgium's best-selling brand of pralines (chocolate) and half of its 58 million Euros in revenues comes from exports. The reception lobby/waiting is very small, sparsely furnished with six blah-looking blue chairs for visitors. Three glass display cases are filled with company products including chocolates, cookies, jams and ice cream.

I'm given an unfriendly reception by the receptionist sitting inside a glass enclosure. I explain who I am and how I sent a letter of introduction over a month ago to the CEO. I ask the receptionist, who I guess to be in her late 20's, if she could call up the CEO's secretary to find out who ended up with my letter. I'm curtly told that neither is in. I ask if she could check with public relations or corporate communications to see if they have the letter. "I haven't time for you!" is the receptionist's abrupt reply. A look of disbelief comes over my face upon hearing her response. Why? Well, maybe it's because no phones were ringing for her to answer, no one else is around to be helped AND, laying open right in front of her is one of those gossip magazines. I've obviously interrupted the receptionist's reading time. I bet she's the one I talked to several months earlier when I called to obtain the name of the CEO and the woman refused to divulge his name.

I persist and explain how I'm visiting over 30 companies in the Brussels area and this is my only opportunity to visit the company. After further pleading she finally relents. Laki Sechidis from Logistics and Natacha van Devoorde, a Product & Communication Assistant, step into the lobby. Jeez, neither seems keen to participate and we speed through the questions in three minutes.

About 50 work in the head office and 150 in the factory in the rear. The company, founded in 1913, has been at this site since 1975. There's no employee parking, no parking for bicycles, no smoking in the offices, no recreational facilities, no formal dress code, no corporate art collection and the company cafeteria serves only cold sandwiches. It's 10 minutes by metro to the city center, 10 minutes to the nearest freeway and 20 minutes to the airport. Any employee perks? 30% off on company products.

Couldn't see the CEO's office or even the cafeteria. Matter of fact I don't get past the reception area. I do find out the CEO's name: Dirk Jackxens. Most chocolate companies have samples for visitors in the reception area. Not here. Upon leaving, most chocolate companies like to load me down with samples of their wares. Not here.