这就是美国第三大私人企业玛氏[Mars，仅次于嘉吉（Cargill）和科氏工业（Koch Industries）]的全球总部，平淡得让人吃惊。去年全球销售额约为330亿美元（合2,046亿元人民币）——这是我们从玛氏那里打听出来的——在财富500强中该公司应该位列前100名，排在麦当劳（McDonald's）、星巴克（Starbucks）和通用磨坊（General Mills）之前。玛氏有7.2万名员工，其中逾三分之一在美国[弗吉尼亚州麦克林的总部只有约80人；玛氏的总部太小了，以至于雀巢公司（Nestlé）董事长到访时还以为走错了地方]。玛氏为人和动物提供种类繁多的产品，而且都很有代表性——从倍受青睐的巧克力产品M&M's和士力架（Snickers）到箭牌（Wrigley）的黄箭（Juicy Fruit）和Lifesavers，从宝路（Pedigree）和伟嘉（Whiskas）等宠物用品再到Uncle Ben's速煮米（Converted Rice）。该公司称每天有2亿名消费者购买它的产品。但尽管在文明社会有如此之广的覆盖面并如此深入地抓住了消费者的腰包，玛氏仍是世界上最神秘、最远离人群而且最不为人所了解的跨国企业之一。
该公司仍是纯粹的家族企业，目前由福利斯特•马尔斯（Forrest Mars）爵士三名年纪最大的后代掌管。从父亲富兰克林•马尔斯（Franklin C. Mars，1943年去世）手中接过玛氏的管理权后，福利斯特开始把这家公司打造成一个糖果帝国。可以说这个家族异乎寻常的神秘，也可以说它让人纳闷的孤独，这取决于你问的是谁。但你无法询问马尔斯家族的成员，他们上一次有人接受采访还是在老布什当政期间。三位负责人都是亿万富翁，据说他们的富有程度在美国都能排进前20名左右。如果就马尔斯家族的某个成员去询问员工的话，他们的反应就好像你是在打探他们独有的巧克力制作工艺一样。玛氏对员工的官方称呼为“合伙人”，而员工有时自称为火星人（Martians）。在这些火星人的世界里，他们最快速的反应就是神经高度紧张的公关人员在有人提出关于马尔斯家族成员的问题后表示这不符合规定。和玛氏相比，电影《查理和巧克力工厂》里的那座工厂就显得再平常不过了。
Sshh! Don't look suspicious. Keep your head down. We're on our way to a really secret organization in suburban Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. As we drive along Dolley Madison Boulevard, don't bother looking at the razor wire, tall gates, and armed guards on the right. Everybody knows that's CIA headquarters -- there's a marked sign out front (and a gift shop inside, at least for employees). No, we're going a couple more miles and hanging a left until we reach a squat, rust-colored two-story building with meager windows, a PRIVATE PROPERTY sign, no identification, and all the character of a brick storage shed. The front door is locked. Some locals have called the place the Kremlin. In the upstairs reception area, you'll see half-a-dozen portraits of the owners and their relatives. Admire them if you like, but taking photos of the portraits is strictly prohibited.
Welcome to the astonishingly modest world headquarters of Mars, the third-largest private company in the U.S. (behind Cargill and Koch Industries). With about $33 billion in global revenue last year -- we talked it out of them -- Mars would be in the top 100 of the Fortune 500, ahead of McDonald's (MCD), Starbucks (SBUX), and General Mills (GIS). It employs 72,000 people, more than a third of them in America. (Only about 80 work in the McLean, Va., headquarters; it's so small that when the chairman of Nestlé once paid a visit, he thought he was in the wrong location.) Its diversified galaxy of brands for man and beast are iconic -- from chocolate favorites like M&M's and Snickers to Wrigley's Juicy Fruit and Lifesavers to pet-care products like Pedigree and Whiskas, as well as Uncle Ben's Converted Rice. The company says it does 200 million consumer transactions a day. But despite that reach across civilization and into customer pockets, Mars is among the most secretive, insular, and little understood multinational companies around.
It is still 100% family-owned -- now by the three elderly offspring of Forrest Mars Sr., who launched Mars onto its trajectory as a confectionery colossus after taking over the business from his father, Franklin C. Mars, who died in 1934. That family is either extraordinarily private or weirdly reclusive, depending on whom you ask, though asking them isn't an option, since the last time any family members gave an interview was during the administration of Bush 41. The three owners are all multibillionaires -- each is reportedly among the 20 or so richest Americans. Ask employees -- while officially called "associates," they sometimes refer to themselves as Martians -- about a member of the Mars family, and you're about as likely to get a revealing answer as if you'd asked about the proprietary process in which they stamp "m" on the little colored candies. The shortest time interval in the Martian universe is that between when you ask about a Mars family member and when someone on the astronomically high-strung public-relations team snaps to attention and rules the question out of order. Mars can make Willy Wonka's workplace appear downright normal.
What becomes striking is that Mars is in fact a sweet company at which to be an employee. For the first time, the company has made it onto Fortune's annual U.S. roster of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. At No. 95 on the 2013 list, Mars boasts employees who love not only the products they make but also the office culture and the company's long-standing principles. That might seem surprising on the face of it. After all, punching in every day at most Mars sites -- the president has to do it too -- can seem anachronistic, even if the time clock is now a digital screen; if you're late, you get docked 10% of your pay. While compensation is very good in comparison with that of competitors, Mars offers neither stock options nor company-driven pensions. Its work sites are utilitarian rather than comfy. There are no Foosball tables or sushi chefs. "A lot of really good companies invest in the wrong architecture," says Paul S. Michaels, the nonfamily president of Mars. "Does it add value for the consumer [for] Snickers bars to pay for marble floors and Picassos?"