n.v. Umicore s.a.

Umicore, with 2004 revenues of 7.1 billion Euros and over 11,000 employees, produces and recycles advanced materials. Its specialty is recycling precious metals but it's also one of Europe's largest copper producers, one of the world's top three producers of automotive catalysts and the world's number one in zinc specialty products.

Headquarters for Umicore is a low-key, six-story building on a quiet side street in Brussels' city center. No splashy signs on the sides or atop the building are found here About two minutes after snapping the picture accompanying this story it started to rain so I went inside and received permission from the receptionist to wheel my trusty steed to a warm, dry spot in the underground parking lot.

A vase of flowers (real) sits atop the reception desk. Four (fake) eight-foot tall climbing plants sprinkled with fake metal flowers are scattered about the reception area. A computer monitor displays the company's stock ticker.

Couldn't ask for a better person to meet with than Eddy Cornelis, Communications Manager. Why? Besides being a nice guy he's got experience with the company—as in 34 years worth.

About 300 people work here. It's a designated protected (listed or historic) building which most companies dread because it severely restricts what can and can't be done to the structure. Senior management gets to park in the basement but employee parking elsewhere is subsidized. Conference rooms are named after metals, the company cafeteria serves hot food and there's covered parking for commuters who bike to work. It's six miles to the nearest freeway, a five minute walk to Brussels' famous grand square and 10 miles to the airport. There's no corporate aircraft, smoking isn't allowed in the building, on-site recreational facilities are nil and, there's no formal dress code (casual Fridays are allowed).

CEO Thomas Leysen occupies a second floor corner office. All the furnishings are either black or white. I count 14 tombstones (34 is still the record), five framed family pictures, one computer and zero plants. Leysen likes hippopotamuses which explains the five miniature hippos and two camels. Leysen also has a sense of high adventure as seen in the framed photo of him trekking on foot near the North Pole. The view out his window? The building's courtyard.

The boardroom contains hardwood floors, the boardroom table seats 28 and three framed company stock certificates hang on the walls. Umicore was founded in 1906.

Company website: www.umicore.com