On the road in Minneapolis

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area was an important starting point for me because it was home to 17 of the companies on my list and, is located way the heck up toward the Canadian border. I wanted to make sure I got through the area before winter came.

As I mentioned in my Seattle/Portland segment, mapping out the approximate location of the various corporate headquarters prior to my arrival was difficult because many of the companies used post office boxes as their mailing addresses. What was even harder to find out were the street addresses of companies which didn't even use P.O. boxes but, went simply by their names: Honeywell's address is Honeywell Plaza, Minneapolis, MN; Pillsbury's address is Pillsbury Center, Minneapolis, MN; and Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing is 3M Center, St. Paul, MN. Why am I making a big deal about this? There were 17 companies to visit in four days and they were spread all over the place and the weather forecast was calling for heavy rains the whole week.

I arrived in Minneapolis, Sunday, September 7, 1986, and, after picking up some maps of the area, I checked into a hotel and proceeded to pinpoint the locations of the various companies. Monday was suppose to be the only rain-free day of the coming week so I wanted to take advantage of that prediction and visit General Mills, Carlson Companies, Cargill and Super Valu Stores, which were all located in suburbs west of downtown Minneapolis.

General Mills

General Mills is located in Golden Valley (population 23,000), a suburb about eight miles west of downtown Minneapolis. Doesn't the name Golden Valley conjure up an image of rich fertile land? The green grass grounds blended in nicely with the greenish-glass buildings comprising the headquarters. The receptionist in the lobby gave me the extension number to call David Nasby, Director of Community Affairs. Our conversation was short and Nasby told me to make an appointment and come back to see him another time. I tried to explain to him about my tight schedule and how it was supposed to rain the rest of the week but he showed no flexibility. I made an appointment to see him on Tuesday. Making an appointment was bad news for me because it meant I would have to bicycle out this way again and it restricted me as to what companies I could arrange to visit before or after my appointment with General Mills.

Carlson Companies

Carlson Companies is one of the largest privately held companies on my list. Curtis Carlson started the Gold Bond Stamp Company back in 1938 and 50 years later it's a huge conglomerate. Radisson Hotels, TGI Friday's restaurants, and Ask Mr. Foster Travel are the most widely known. About a half dozen miles further west of General Mills on State Highway 55 is the headquarters. A big sign out near the road announces "Carlson Companies, Inc." and below that, "World Headquarters." For a company with over $3 billion in revenues, the headquarters looks rinky-dink. The two-story building looks older than its 20 years. The reception/lobby area is very tiny and the receptionist sent me across the street to an annex building which house public relations and the Radisson Group. Thomas Jardine, Vice President, Public Relations/Public Affairs, was the man who answered my questions. I must have caught Jardine at a bad time because he acted like he was in a hurry. Made me feel like I wasn't worth any of his time. He did tell me Carlson Companies was planning to move into new headquarters in 1988.


Cargill is the largest privately held company in the United States. Revenues in 1985 were over $32 BILLION dollars. To give you an idea as to how big, Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States had revenues of only $16 billion dollars. About 20 miles west of downtown Minneapolis is Wayzata, home to Cargill. As I rode my bike up the driveway entrance to Cargill, a sign stating, "No snowmobiling" greeted me. You really don't see much from the main road because of all the trees. Yet, behind all of the trees is a 400,000 square foot, three-story office building (called the "Office Center") and connected to it, via an 850-foot passageway partly below ground and partly above, is a 63-room replica of a French chateau known as the Headquarters Office. What a place! The receptionists were very nice. (I make mention of the receptionists because I'm finding the way they treat me correlates to the type of reception I receive from a company.) Allan Holbert, Public Relations, was a super host and tour guide. One of the reasons you don't see any buildings from the main public road is because an evergreen farm of some 150,000 trees planted since 1944 by Cargill occupies much of the 288-acre site. The 63-room French country home was built in 1930-31 by Rufus Rand, Jr., a prominent Twin Cities native and grandson of the founder of Minneapolis Gas & Light Company. Cargill bought the property in 1945 and moved its headquarters there in 1946. The chateau contains 14 specially designed fireplaces found throughout the building. There are 16 bathrooms and a circular staircase. The boardroom has no boardroom table; it is set-up more like a sitting room, with chairs scattered around the room in a circular fashion. The building's walls are 17 inches thick.

The Office Building was completed in 1977 and isn't too shabby-looking itself. It consists of four connecting pavilions surrounded by three stories of office and work areas. Adjacent to the building is an 870-space parking ramp. There are about 1,200 employees at Cargill's corporate headquarters and it is unbelievable how well it blends in with the residential area surrounding it. This company reminds me of another classy company I visited earlier: Weyerhaeuser.

Super Valu

Lake Minnetonka wasn't too far from Cargill and several people told me to be sure to ride around the lake and check out some of the fancy homes and estates complete-with private docks. It's a beautiful area. Right after leaving Cargill, I had called Super Valu Stores in Eden Prairie and was connected to Rita Simmer, Public Relations Manager, who told me she didn't have time to see to me. She did have time to answer some of my questions over the phone. I mentioned to her that if everyone only had time to talk to me over the phone, I could have stayed home in San Diego and done it all over the phone. I ended up riding over to Super Valu after going around Lake Minnetonka because I was somewhat in the area, (Super Valu is about 17 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis) and, I had to physically see for myself what their headquarters looked like. I mean, someone could describe it to me for hours or show me hundreds of pictures but, nothing beats seeing something with your own eyes. I arrived around 5:30 p.m. and of course, everyone had gone home. Super Valu's headquarters is a long, modern-looking three-story building. I was impressed because I had already visited several food wholesalers (including West Coast Grocers in Portland, which I found out had been acquired by Super Valu), and was expecting a dumpy building in a lousy area. The building had been built in 1980 and was situated on 70-acres. The grounds are beautiful and includes a small lake/pond.


Tuesday morning found me hightailing it to St. Louis Park, a suburb about 5 miles west of Minneapolis and home to Nash-Finch, another food wholesaler/retailer. A two-story building built in the 1930's or 1940's in an industrial area serves as corporate headquarters. The reception/lobby area was smaller than the one at Carlson Companies and I thought THAT one was tiny. I met with Tony Wald, Director of Human Resources. He took me to a room and we went through my questionnaire. Afterwards, I asked Wald if I could see the CEO's office and he replied, "You're in it." Real plain offices. The boardroom table in the boardroom consisted of two tables put together. A no-frills place. It had been raining when I showed up and, after taking off all of my rain gear I had walked in with my shorts on and didn't feel under-dressed at all. There are about 200 employees and no cafeteria.


Honeywell's corporate headquarters is in Honeywell Plaza, which is in turn, located in the inner-city area of Minneapolis or about 10 miles from downtown. The rain was really pouring when I arrived there. The place is HUGE. A couple of new buildings connect to an old building, which overlook a large, park-like area out front. Shelley Potter Burger, Manager, Corporate Public Relations, was the one who answered my questions and showed me around. I had lunch in the cafeteria and the meatballs were lousy. (There are 3 cafeterias.) The tallest building is eight stories. I noticed a lot of closed-circuit security cameras indoors and outdoors. Probably had something to do with Honeywell not being located in the nicest part of town. I wasn't allowed to see the CEO's office or boardroom but was overall treated very warmly.

Left Honeywell in heavy rain and made my way back to my hotel room in downtown Minneapolis. I called up General Mills and asked if it was possible to change my appointment from this afternoon to tomorrow, (Wednesday). Nasby's secretary said it would be no problem. I left my bike in the hotel room and made my way to the Skywalk. The Skywalk is an above ground, elevated covered walkway connecting various buildings in downtown Minneapolis. In other words: winters are so nasty around here the skywalk is a necessity.


Dayton-Hudson occupies 4 floors (11-15) in the 51-story IDS building, the tallest structure in Minneapolis. Thomas Langenfeld, Director, Corporate Public Relations, was the fella who met with me. Nice guy. Your typical office space. I wasn't able to see the CEO's office or boardroom because they were undergoing renovations. I was expecting to find corporate offices above one of their department stores. They have over 1,200 stores: Target, Hudson's, Mervyn's, and B. Dalton Booksellers.

Northern States Power

Northern States Power is a utility company. The corporate headquarters building is nothing special. I never got past the lobby area. Barb Braun Halverson, Media Representative, came down to the lobby and did a poor job of answering my questions. She didn't know the answers to most of my questions and didn't seem to care. The main lobby receptionist was cold and not very helpful.

International Multifoods

International Multifoods leases space in a high-rise building with their name on top of it. I was given an extremely poor reception. Linda Keillor Berg, Manager, Employee Communications and Community Affairs, was the one I saw. She "didn't understand" what I was doing and said she didn't have time for me. I left her my questionnaire and told her I would get back but, was so put off by the way she treated me, I never did return.

First Bank System

Woke up Wednesday morning and found it raining again. I used the skywalk to visit First Bank System. Headquarters is in one of the towers of Pillsbury Center. Talked to Patricia Goodwin, Vice President, Corporate Communications. Nice person. First Bank has an impressive corporate art collection. The art is frequently rotated to the various floors. Next to each painting or sculpture is a small plaque or card naming the piece, who did it and when. Many companies just hang-up pictures and don't tell you anything about them.


Norwest, a bank holding company, has their corporate offices in the Peavey Building in downtown. Norwest's corporate headquarters building burned down several years ago and it is in the process of building a new skyscraper which will be two feet shorter than the tallest building in town-the 51-story IDS building. Noticed no security, not even a receptionist. Talked to Harold Webster, Vice President.


Pillsbury is headquartered in Pillsbury Center. The complex was built in 1981 and the 2,200 employees have over 550,000 square feet to work with. Does Pillsbury own their building? Nope. They lease space from builder/owner Gerald Hines. I waited in the lobby area for about half an hour and was then told nobody could see me. I left my questionnaire to be filled out and sent to me. It was. The receptionist was not helpful.

Called Mr. Nasby and asked if I could reschedule my visit to General Mills because of the rain. I got a rude awakening. Nasby said he had wasted enough time with me and wasn't going to let me change my appointment. What a jerk! His remarks really bothered me. General Mills has over 60,000 employees but, because of my dealings with Nasby, my perception of the company was that of a cold, abrupt, not friendly organization.

Harvest States Cooperatives

Wednesday afternoon found me on my bike riding to St. Paul to visit the headquarters of Harvest States Cooperatives. This was my first visit to a co-op and I had no idea what to expect. According to a media fact sheet I was given, Harvest States is a regional marketing and supply cooperative serving more than 200,000 farmers and ranchers in the Upper Midwest, Pacific Northwest and adjoining areas. In 1985, Harvest States had total revenues of almost $3 billion. Who says farmers don't have clout?

Built in 1938, the 3-story Art Deco building sits quietly in one corner of a busy intersection. The building looked sad. Maybe it was because it was a cold, dark, drizzly day outside. You have to get up close to the building to appreciate the intricate detailing. The man who answered my questions at Harvest States was drab. Over 500 people work at the corporate headquarters and the ones I saw all, to me, seemed drab. What a drab place to work.

Land O'Lakes

About 15 miles northwest of downtown St. Paul is the suburb of Arden Hills and that's where Land O'Lakes is headquartered. Land O'Lakes is another regional farmer cooperative. Over 350,000 farmer-members own and control the company that had over $2.4 billion in sales in 1985. For some reason, I had envisioned the headquarters of the farm co-ops to be "mom and pop"-type operations with offices in plain-looking office buildings. Boy, did Land O'Lakes set me straight. The 3-story structure built in 1980 sits on 55 acres and is surrounded by beautiful, well-kept grounds. The 300,000 square foot building houses over 700 employees. In the main lobby area are pay phones but, what's unusual about the phones is; when sitting down to place a call--you sit on actual tractor seats. Part of the building houses corporate offices and the other part is for research. I got to see their antique butter dish collection and was taken to the cafeteria to see one of the perks of working at a dairy co-op; employees get free ice cream.

The boardroom table is huge. Why? Thirty-six directors and advisory members make-up the Board of Directors.

Hanging around the outside of Land O'Lakes was a large flock of Canadian geese. According to what I was told, the geese are regular visitors to Land O'Lakes and are welcomed with open arms. However, they make a heck of a mess on the sidewalks, parking lots and grounds that I'm sure the gardeners don't appreciate.

North Oaks wasn't too far from Arden Hills so, I made a slight detour to check out the suburb listed in Rand McNally's book, "Places Rated Almanac" as being one of the most affluent suburbs in the United States. Signs saying, "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" greeted me as I turned off onto the road which leads to North Oaks. It was a rainy day and, since no one was at the information/guard shack, I assumed it was okay to ride around. North Oaks is a strictly residential area comprised of homes built around a lake. The first homes I saw weren't too impressive but, the further I went around the lake, the nicer the homes. I was about halfway around the lake when I spotted a sheriff's car parked on the side of the road. I stopped and talked to the officer for a few minutes. The officer told me North Oaks was a very wealthy community and was home to people such as Walter Mondale. As we continued our talk, the officer mentioned I was trespassing and that he should write me up a ticket. Says he writes about thirty a month. I said it might be a neat memento to have received a ticket for trespassing in one of the affluent suburbs in the U.S. and asked the officer how much was the ticket. He said, "$30.00" and I said, "Oh, forget what I just said," and shortly thereafter made an exit.

The St. Paul Companies

Thursday morning found me in downtown St. Paul visiting the headquarters of The St. Paul Companies, a property and casualty insurance company. The 5-story, greenish-glass building was built in 1960, with an addition built in 1984. David McDonell, Senior Public Relations Officer, handled my visit. Security guards at both main entrances said I couldn't park my bike outside the door. Ended up having to lock it up in the company-parking garage. Was shown their antique fire mark collection. Back in the 1800's, houses which were covered by fire insurance were marked with an insurance company's logo or identifying mark to let firemen know whether to put out a fire or not, hence the name, "firemark." I was impressed by the size of their research library.


3M's headquarters is about 20 miles from downtown St. Paul on a 425-acre site. It looks like a college campus with about 20 to 30 buildings. Most of the buildings looked to be about 20 years old. Went into the main lobby area and was eventually met by Ben Marsh, Creative and Information Services Manager, Public Relations Department. I was very disappointed in the way he treated me. He acted like he was in a hurry and was very indifferent. All of his answers were, "Yes", "No", or "I don't know." Went through the questionnaire sitting in the main lobby area and took about 5 minutes. Later, when I looked at his business card, I couldn't believe he was in public relations. A couple of minutes before Marsh came to the lobby, I had been talking to a lady who ran her own public relations firm in Minneapolis. When I told her about the tour and nice reception I had received at Cargill, she was impressed. She told me Cargill is usually closed-mouthed. I should have gotten her business card and talked to her about 3M to find out if the way I was treated was normal for them. In case you're wondering, 3M stands for Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing.


NWA, the parent company of Northwest Airlines, is located in a hangar at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. Before I started on this trek, I had heard stories about NWA having a "no frills" headquarters and the stories are true. There is a security guard at the entrance and a receptionist. Neither one of them was friendly or helpful. Kevin Whalen, Manager, Public Relations, was the fellow I ended up seeing, and he reminded me of the way the receptionist and security guard had acted. What an unfriendly place. Before I talked to Whalen, I used the men's room to change from my riding shorts into some long pants and guess what, the doors on all of the bathroom stalls had been removed. I guess it keeps peopled from taking a magazine or newspaper in there and spending half an hour reading. My questions were answered as we sat in the lobby area and that's as far as I was allowed. Building/hangar has no windows and was very dreary-looking. Have been headquartered in the hangar since 1959 and were to be moving into a new headquarters building next month. Very disappointing visit to a company which is supposedly in the service-industry business.

Control Data

Control Data is located about a mile from Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. It's a 14-story, greenish-gold colored glass building. Noticed a baseball field behind the parking lot as I rode up. Sign near the front entrance says, "Control Data World Headquarters." Met with Duane Andrews, Program Manager, Corporate Public Relations, in the main lobby reception area. Andrews seemed genuinely interested in my project and asked me a lot of questions. My requests to see CEO's office and boardroom were declined. Don't know if it would have made any difference if I had told Andrews I was using a book published by Control Data as one of my sources for my list of the largest privately held companies.

George Hormel

By 6:00 a.m. Friday morning, I was already on the road in

order to make Austin, Minnesota, a small town 120 miles due south of the Twin Cities and home of George Hormel, the food processing-meatpacking company. Rain slowed me down and I arrived in Austin around 6:00 p.m. I had been leery about visiting Hormel because of the long, drawn-out strike between workers and management that had made national headlines because of the violence. The address I had for Hormel was a P.O. box but, I had no problem finding corporate headquarters because Austin (population 23,000) isn't a very big place. Matter of fact, I guess you could call it a company town since George Hormel is far and away the biggest employer. Offices are in a long, single-story orange brick building. A chain-link fence surrounds the grounds. A sign on the property near the front reads, "Hormel, Corporate Offices." I talked to the security guard and left a questionnaire with him to give to someone in public relations on Monday because I sure as heck didn't want to wait around Austin the whole weekend just to visit an ordinary-looking building. As I was taking pictures of the headquarters outside the fence, I saw various notices hung along the fence. The notices were temporary injunction orders against the strikers. About four blocks from corporate headquarters is a huge Hormel plant. Looks new and modern.

From Austin, Minnesota, I made my way south toward Des Moines, Iowa. Not too long after leaving Austin, I quit seeing dead frogs in the road. Riding from the Twin Cities to Austin, I had seen