SWIFT (Society for
Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication)
A month before my anticipated arrival at a company I mail a letter
of introduction to the CEO. Two weeks after sending one to CEO
Leonard Schrank of SWIFT I receive an email from John Chavez,
Chief of Staff, in which I'm told "Unfortunately, security
considerations do not permit us to accept any drop-in visits
to our facilities". Boy, that sounds like a brush off. In
my 18 years of travel I can count only about a half dozen times
where I was contacted before my arrival and told I wasn't welcome.
So, who and what is SWIFT? Is it some government agency? Nope.
Is it a military defense contractor involved in some classified
project? No. SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank
Financial Telecommunication. It's a co-operative owned by more
than 7,600 financial institutions in over 200 countries. SWIFT
employs over 1,700 people and revenues in 2003 totaled more than
577 million Euros. All this informative was garnered from SWIFT's
website: www.swift.com. But
it still doesn't answer the question, what does SWIFT do? Its
software and messaging services lets financial institutions transfer
funds and talk to each other.
All we're basically talking about here then is a software company
owned by banks. So, what's the big deal and why the lame "security
considerations" excuse by Chief of Staff Chavez? Heck if
I know but responding to Mr. Chavez's email turns out be futile
since he won't or refuses to acknowledge my emails.
Here's what I wrote:
Dear Mr. Chavez: I
was disappointed to receive your email declining to meet with
me due to "security considerations". Boy, I thought
having visited more than 3,700 companies would give me a little
bit of credibility. Unlike publicly-held companies, privately-held
concerns don't have to talk to anyone and that's what makes my
travels so unique as I've been pretty successful in gaining entry
to low-key companies that normally fly below the radareither
intentionally or unintentionally.
From your company's website I've learned you're a co-operative
owned by financial institutions. Revenues of 577 million Euros
and over 1,700 employees isn't exactly small potatoes. Heck,
I bet if I saw a list of your members I've probably visited more
than 300 of them.
Over the years I've garnered quite a large worldwide following
from the business world. My website also receives a large number
of visits from job seekers doing research on potential employers.
For example, SWIFT's headquarters is in La Hulpe. Is it a windowless
concrete slab of a building in the town center, a glass building
in an office park or maybe a complex of buildings in a campus-like
setting on the outskirts of town? Is there a company cafeteria?
Does everyone eat together or do the executives have their own
dining rooms. Is there employee parking? Is it free? I've been
to five companies where everyone from the CEO on down wears a
name tag. Are there onsite shower facilities? Is there a dress
code? Granted this kind information isn't earth-shattering but
tell me where else can someone find this independent kind of
background information on companies and their cultures?
As far as security considerations. I'm interested in visiting
where the CEO hangs his hat, not your operations facilitiesthough
now that I think about it that might be interesting. Over the
years I've visited a multitude of defense contractors and also
had untold number of tours of "sensitive" company facilitiessuch
as the secure bunker-like grid rooms of utility companies and
gold melting rooms of watch and metal concerns. Heck, I've even
been taken into the bank vault in Atlanta where the secret formula
for Coca-Cola is kept.
I'd like you to reconsider your decision. Either way I'm going
to be cycling by your place for two reasons. The first is to
be able to say that I saw with my own two eyes your head officeeven
if it's only from a nearby public street. The second reason is
that I'm going to be in the area anyway as I'm visiting Systemat
in nearby Lasne.
I'm visiting more than 30 companies in the Brussels area and
to be honest, I thought NATO would be the one place I might have
trouble meeting with someone. Yours truly, Paul Wolsfeld
when arriving at SWIFT's guarded gated-entry in suburban La Hulpe,
located about a dozen miles south of downtown Brussels. The surrounding
area is hilly with lots of forests and from some of the big estates
I cycled past you don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure
out this is where many of Brussels' well-to-do live. Very little
can be seen past the guard gate thanks to dense trees and vegetation.
I explain myself to the friendly security guard and ask if he
could call Mr. Chavez or his secretary. The guard says he isn't
allowed to call Mr. Chavez directly but has to go through the
receptionist. In a few minutes I'm given the news that Chavez
nor his secretary is in. Hmm, sounds suspiciously convenient.
I decide to ride around the perimeter of the property. Jeez,
two miles later and I still haven't cycled the perimeter. I do
however come across a private indoor tennis court complex with
four tennis courts and learn (thanks to a local) that it belongs
to SWIFT. Continuing my ride around the perimeter I find the
place is completely encircled by a thick forest of trees preventing
(I guess) lookie-loos like me from seeing anything. SWIFT was
founded only in 1973 and these thick thickets of mature trees
couldn't have matured that soon. Riding around the rear perimeter
provides a possible answer as I come to a second (gated and guarded)
entry. I can hear little kids laughing and screaming on the other
side of a ten foot high wall that looks be over 100 years old
and deduce it must be a company swimming pool. I can also see
the top of an old house. Hmm, now it makes sense, the property
was formerly a very large estate and the old house was probably
the servants quarters. I bet somewhere in the middle stands a
large palatial mansion and Chavez doesn't want me to write about
it. My hunch is further proved when I come across a huge public
park on the other side of the road. The well-kept park grounds
seem to go forever and so does the large lake on the property.
After biking about a quarter mile from the park's entrance I
can spot a spiffy-looking chateau on a high point (picture
1), (picture 2), (picture
3). Yep, this area is definitely large estate country and
SWIFT must have bought one.
End of story" Not quite. No, I didn't hire a hot air balloon
to fly over the place (however, if anybody out there does do
a flyover please let me know what you see). Cycling back to Brussels
and only about two miles from SWIFT, I come across a complex
of white painted buildings which looks like it used to house
some turn-of-the-century factory. The entrance to the place is
gated and manned by security guards. Guess what it says on a
sign near the entrance. Yep, you guess it---SWIFT. (Picture
of white buildings).