Bally Management Ltd.

Italian is one of Switzerland's four official languages and Lugano, which lies near the Italian border, is the largest city in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland with a population of 50,000. I cycle 10 miles from Lugano to the cozy village of Caslano (population 3,500) to find shoe manufacturer Bally.

Formed way back in 1851 by Carl Franz Bally, the high-end shoe company was bought by the big American private equity fund Texas Pacific Group in 2001. Revenues totaled $409 million in 2004.

I come upon a Bally factory a bit more than a stone's throw away from picturesque Lake Lugano. The low-key one-story building looks to have been built in the 1950's and I'm not sure if this is also the head office. Walking around to another side of the building I find the reception area and it's a lot more modernistic than the exterior. Before meeting with anyone it's pretty much a no-brainer to figure out why Bally moved its head office here from the Zurich area after being bought by Texas Pacific. Bally probably already owned this property PLUS, it's less than 50 miles to Milan, Italy-THE fashion designing capital. Checking in with the friendly and helpful receptionist I explain mailing a letter of introduction a month earlier to CEO Marco Franchini. In a few minutes I'm meeting with Pius Allemann, Global Training and Development Manager.

Though Allemann hadn't seen my letter of introduction and had no clue as to what I do he extends a warm welcome and it turns out to be an excellent reception. About 350 people work here in the head office/factory. Employee parking is free and plentiful, the partially-subsidized cafeteria serves hot entrees and smoking isn't allowed in the workplace. It's a mixed area with residential housing mixed in with small businesses. There's no corporate art collection but there is a Bally shoe museum-however it's located near Zurich. There's no formal dress codes, it's a 10 minute drive to Lugano airport and 15 minutes to the nearest freeway. Any unusual employee perks? Workers enjoys a 50% discount off Bally accessories.

A second floor was added on to a wing of the factory and that's where management is ensconced. CEO Franchini occupies a corner office with hardwood floors and a view of the lake. The blank white walls in Franchini's office match his white desk and chairs. A hardwood floor and bare walls are also found in the nearby boardroom. Red chairs surround an elongated boardroom table that seats 20. Before leaving I also do a spot check on my host's (Allemann) feet. Yep, he's sporting Bally shoes.

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