Student Loan Marketing Association
Monday morning found me in the Georgetown section of Washington visiting the corporate headquarters of the Student Loan Marketing Association, better known as, "Sallie Mae", a federally chartered, stockholder-owned corporation. How big is this company? This company whose stock is traded on the NYSE, has assets of over $20 billion and ranks amongst the twenty largest non-bank financial services companies in the country. Revenues are about $1.5 billion. The company leases space in a red brick building which originally was the site of a foundry. The building, which seems to be about six stories tall, looks pretty new and the name, Sallie Mae, is on a wall outside the main entrance. I waited about an hour in the lobby area before finally speaking with a disinterested Ross Kleinman, Director, Corporate Communications. Didn't know answers to many of my questions and didn't seem interested in helping find out. He had no idea of the number of employees at headquarters, square footage, or the age of the building. I was told the corporate art collection is limited to local artists and everyone has to find their own parking. No cafeteria but, vending machines. There are no restrictions on smoking and the company has no corporate aircraft. When I left there, I sure felt like it had been a waste of time. Kleinman scored 5 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE I was sent an annual report as requested. A short note was enclosed by Kleinman telling me there were approximately 400 employees at corporate headquarters. I did notice after perusing the annual report; the Board of Directors is made up of 21 members-about the same as some of the farm and dairy co-ops I visited.
After leaving Sallie Mae, I poked around the Georgetown area going in and out of various office buildings-checking out building directories to see what type of businesses are located in this desirable area. My wandering led me to the offices of Regardie's Magazine, one of my favorite magazines. As I mentioned earlier in this book, I love reading business magazines and periodicals and that was one of the reasons I started my news clipping service called, Preppie Gadfly Services. Until my current visit, I had never been to Washington, D.C. (I know, it's kind of embarrassing, 35-years old and NEVER been to Washington, D.C.). But, several years earlier I had read an article about this monthly business publication out of Washington called, "Regardie's" so, I sent my subscription in. The magazine started coming and I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was kind of a cross between Forbes Magazine and the National Enquirer. Anyway, I subscribed to over 150 newspapers and magazines from around the country and I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of my ten favorite magazines, my ten favorite columnists and ten favorite "Letters to the Editor" sections. My top three favorite magazines were: Manhattan, Inc., Forbes, and Regardie's. I sent each of the three magazines a kind of a fan letter telling them how much I enjoyed their magazine and enclosed a list, ranking my favorite magazines in order of preference. My subscription to Regardie's was only for a year yet, a year after my subscription had expired, I was still receiving the magazine. So, I decided to walk into the offices of Regardie's to see what their offices looked like, to see if I could meet Mr. Regardie and to find out why I was receiving the magazine free. Well, my intentions were short-lived as I entered the hectic reception area and was quickly told by the receptionists, Mr. Regardie wasn't in the office and they had no idea why I was receiving the magazine for free and if I left my name with them, someone would look into it. Hmmm, I thought I had been receiving the magazine free because of the fan letter I wrote to him but, what if there had been a computer screw-up and my name was supposed to have been erased off the subscription list a long time ago but, no one had caught the error. Do I leave them my name? Do I tell them the story of why I think I get the magazine for free? Nope, I did some quick thinking and in the process, a saying came to my mind, "if it ain't broken-don't fix it." With that thought, I turned around and said my good-byes.
Potomac Electric Power
Potomac Electric Power, known as "Pepco" to the locals, is headquartered in a ten-story building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Built in 1973, over 1200 employees work in the 556,000-square foot building. Does Pepco own the structure? Nope. They have a long-term lease from the owner, George Washington University, whose nearby campus consists of buildings and no grounds. I met with Nancy Moses, Manager, Media Relations Department. Offices and furnishings are pretty much what I expected from a utility company-functional, nothing fancy. Vice presidents on up, and department heads get reserved parking spots. There's a cafeteria but, no formal or executive dining areas. No art collection and CEO W. Reid Thompson smokes cigars, which might explain why smoking is allowed anywhere. The company has no corporate aircraft and has shower facilities for joggers. I did get to see the boardroom and the CEO's office, which by the way, is a corner office with a nice view down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol Building. Moses scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
MCI Communications is headquartered in downtown Washington, D.C. in a 12-story building. I found out there's a height limit in Washington, D.C. and evidently twelve stories is the highest you can go. Out front, above the entrance to the building, are the letters, "MCI." I met with Kathleen Keegan, Manager, Public Relations, Corporate News Bureau. Keegan didn't know answers to most of my questions. Senior management gets reserved parking spots and there are no restrictions on smoking. I did get to see the boardroom but, I wasn't able to see the CEO's office although walking through the halls I saw CEO William McGowan, who from newspaper reports I had read was, recovering from heart surgery. I did get an interesting answer to my question of, why is MCI headquartered in Washington? I was told it was because the offices of the FCC are only a half block away. I was given a MCI T-shirt. Keegan scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE I was disappointed in that Keegan never followed up and sent me an annual report or answers to the questions I asked.
Federal Home Mortgage Association
About three miles from downtown Washington is the 3-story, red brick, colonial-style headquarters of the Federal National Mortgage Association, or better known as "Fannie Mae." The company's name is embedded in a short, red brick wall near the street. The building looks like it belongs on a college campus or could pass for a private prep school. Fannie Mae is a stockholder-owned, congressionally chartered corporation which, like Sallie Mae, is traded on the NYSE. How big a company is it? In terms of assets, Fannie Mae with about $100 BILLION, is the third largest corporation in the country. Revenues are about $10 billion. I met with Janice Daue, Public Relations Specialist, in the large lobby area. The place reminds me of a bank. About 1000 employees work in the 250,000-square foot, company-owned building which was built in 1979 and sits on a 10-acre site. The central section of the facility is a direct replica of the Governor's Palace in colonial Williamsburg. I saw the boardroom and got to see the CEO's corner office on the second floor which has a terrace. There's a cafeteria, formal dining and no corporate art collection. There are 245 parking spaces with vice presidents on up, getting reserved spots which doesn't take a genius to figure out parking is tight if over 1000 employees work there. Smoking in the building is optional and the company has no corporate aircraft with Dulles Airport being twenty minutes away and National Airport about ten minutes. Daue scored 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
Marriott Corporation is located about seven miles north of Washington, D.C., in the suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. The area looks to be some kind of a business park with Martin Marietta, another company on my list, located several blocks away. It looks like a new wing is being added onto the existing buildings which appear to be six or seven stories tall. The name, "Marriott Corporation" is atop the building in big letters. The main lobby area was kind of plain-looking, nothing like the lobbies in Marriott Hotels. I noticed a bank branch, a gift shop and a credit union in the lobby area. The receptionist put me on the phone to a lady in public relations, who told me they were busy and I should have an appointment. I told the lady my circumstances and was told she would get back to me. I noticed while I was waiting in the lobby, the receptionist also dabbles in security because there were four or five monitors at her desk. The woman in public relations had made me feel like I was a pain and, after waiting in the lobby for thirty minutes, decided they were brushing me off and started to leave. Just as I was going out the door, a lady walks up and gives me a press kit (annual report, etc.), on the company. Her whole attitude was a turn-off. It was like; how dare you show up here without an appointment, we're busy people and haven't got time for peons like you. Of course, she was too busy to talk with me and as I rode off, my perception of Marriott went down several notches. *NOTE Going through the material the unnamed public relations lady sent me, the total square footage, including the addition they were working on, is 869,642-square feet, with 4000 employees working in the completed headquarters. I'm still curious as to whether they own or lease the property.
Martin Marietta, as I said earlier, is located a few blocks away from Marriott in a four-story, concrete and glass structure. The name, "Martin Marietta" is on a pretty good-sized sign located near the street. The property backs up to a freeway with a pond and ducks visible on the grounds behind the building. I went into the lobby and checked in with the receptionist who called up Public Relations and was told by them to tell me; no one was available to talk. I asked the receptionist if she could find out if the CEO had received my postcard and, according to the receptionist, this is what transpired: the receptionist called up the CEO's secretary, who evidently was familiar with my postcard and she (the CEO's secretary), after talking to the receptionist, called up public relations. After public relations and the CEO's secretary conferred, public relations called the receptionist in the lobby and said no one was available to see me AND my postcard said I was supposed to be arriving the 20th, 21st of September and today was only the 15th and if I wanted to make an appointment for next week...Boy oh boy, I felt like I was getting the runaround. I didn't catch the name of the receptionist but, she was super in her efforts to help me. Well, in my book, Martin Marietta, a big defense contractor, hadn't done anything to disprove their secretive image. Showed no flexibility.
Geico, an insurance holding company whose primary subsidiary is Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), is located in the wealthy suburb of Chevy Chase about ten miles north of downtown Washington. A brown, wooden sign near the street says, "GEICO and Affiliates" and lists the following, "Government Employees Insurance Company, GEICO Life Insurance Company, GEICO Government Employees Financial Corporation and GEICO Indemnity Company." The building is set back quite a ways from the street and you have to drive down a long driveway. Entering the grounds, another brown, wooden sign says, "GEICO and Affiliates Insurance-Financing Sales and Service Customer Parking" as I passed several large parking lots. From a distance the building looks dumpy and as you get closer, it doesn't look any better. I met with Kathi Rowzie, Public Relations, who told me the company-owned, eight-story, 680,000-square foot building was built in 1961. The place inside and out looked like nothing had been repaired or changed since 1961! The main lobby area is also where the people off the street can come in and inquire about insurance and it had the atmosphere of going down to the motor vehicle department to get your driver's license renewed. Over 2200 employees work in the building and everyone seems to be the minimum wage type. I don't mean to sound harsh but, there was a definite lack of professionalism which I had somewhat come to expect in dealing with people at corporate headquarters. Definitely, the dumpiest corporate headquarters I've visited so far. The chair I sat in as I talked with Rowzie had a big rip in it. There are no recreational facilities although walking around the 20-acre site during lunch is popular, parking is reserved on seniority, there's a corporate art gallery which is named after the past chairman, and the company has one corporate aircraft. I was taken up to the executive floor and got to see the boardroom which looks more like a conference room and the CEO's office. The executive floor wasn't much to look at with the furnishings from the 1960's. Rowzie scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
GEICO might have dumpy headquarters but, the 20-acre site must be worth a mint because next door is a shopping area with some well-known names: Neiman-Marcus, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. What's funny though is the whole area surrounding GEICO which, besides the shopping area, includes a slew of high-rise apartment buildings; looks like it was built the same time as GEICO's headquarters building (1961) and it looks like the whole area is due for renovations. I spent about an hour riding around the residential areas of Chevy Chase because in Rand McNally's book, "The Places Rated Almanac", they listed the 74 most affluent suburbs in the country and one of them is "Chevy Chase Section Four." I didn't know what the heck "Section Four" meant so, I just rode up and down various residential areas.
Leaving Chevy Chase, I headed out to McLean, Virginia, a suburb about fifteen miles northwest of Washington, and home to Mars, Incorporated.
Mars, Inc. had been one of the companies I wrote to about sponsoring my trek. I knew Mars was a privately-held company, had about $6 billion in revenues and produced such well-known consumer products such as Kal Kan dog food, Uncle Ben's Rice, M&M's Peanuts, Snickers, Milky Way and Mars candy bars. I also knew from reading an interesting cover story in the August 1986 issue of Regardie's Magazine by Ronald Kessler called, "Candy From Strangers, Inside the Sweet, Secret World of the Mars Family" about the company being very secretive and very close-mouthed. I had written a letter to Forrest Mars, Sr., Chairman of the Board, on June 17, 1987. On June 25, I received a reply from Miss S.A. Heffelfinger, Administrative Manager. She acknowledged having my letter forwarded to her for a response and in a nice, cordial way told me Mars wasn't interested in sponsoring my odyssey. The letter went on to say, "It is our long-standing policy, as a privately-held company, not to grant interviews or plant tours. Nevertheless, to thank you for your interest in our company, to support your efforts, and in particular, to recognize the fact you're gathering information the hard way--by bicycling to get it--I have asked our M&M/Mars division to send you (under separate cover), free coupons for some of our nutritious, high energy, all American favorite candy products." I was impressed with Mars' quickness in responding to my request and the nice personal letter form Miss Heffelfinger. I was still planning to visit their headquarters though, because I wanted to physically see what their corporate headquarters looked like.
Right smack in the middle of downtown McLean is the unassuming, unmarked, 2-story, red brick headquarters of Mars. You walk in the first floor of the building and, right in front of you as you enter, is a sign which says, "Mars Incorporated Visitors Take Elevator." To the right is the elevator, to the left is the entrance to a travel agency called, "Gant Travel Agency." I got into the elevator which had three buttons; ground floor, first floor and second floor which was a little confusing because I couldn't tell when I walked in the building if I was on the ground floor or first floor so, I pressed the button for the second floor. When I came out the elevator doors on the second floor, it looked like I was in the main reception area and about 100 steps in front of me I could see two women sitting behind desks. As I started to walk toward the two women, I spotted a plaque on the wall near the elevator which said, "The Five Principles of Mars" and as I started to read it, the one receptionist in a loud, forceful voice said, "Can I help you?" several times in a tone which said, I wasn't supposed to be reading the plaque and what do you want at the same time. I walked up to the lady and gave her one of my postcards. She said, "Here, didn't you get this!" and from the top of her desk handed me a copy of the letter Miss Heffelfinger had sent me and, underlined in yellow marking pen was the part about, "It is our long-standing policy, as a privately-held company, not to grant interviews or plant tours." After looking at the letter, I said, "Gosh, you don't have to be so abrupt", and with that comment, the nasty receptionist gave me a big, phony, wicked smile and the other receptionist next to her gave a startled look. I mentioned to them I was in the area to visit another company and was just curious as to what their headquarters looked like. I also mentioned I hadn't received the free candy bar coupons which were supposed to be sent to me under separate cover and the nasty one in a sarcastic tone said, "Well, we sent them to the address on the letter." Boy, was I steaming as I got on the elevator! She has got to be the biggest b---- I've met on the trip! I couldn't believe the way she treated me! I got on my bike and rode around the building. Behind the structure is a good-sized grassy, park-like area enclosed by a picket fence. In the enclosure I noticed quite a few trees, a bird feeder and a picnic table. Right across the street is an Exxon gas station and a Roy Rogers restaurant. As I was snapping pictures of the grounds, I realized I hadn't seen any kind of a parking lot and that's when I noticed a red garage door on the back of the building go up and a car drive out, with the garage door closing again. As I sat at the Roy Rogers eating a hamburger, I thought about the various ways the receptionist could have handled my visit and I couldn't get that wicked grin she gave me out of my mind. After eating my burger, my steam had simmered down and I figured the best way to get even would be to boycott Mars products. I know you're probably laughing at me but, I decided to never again let M&M Peanuts touch my lips, even though they're (whoops) WERE my favorite chocolate candy.
I wasn't lying when I told the receptionist at Mart I was in the area to visit another company because Primark, a holding company whose primary subsidiary is Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, is located on the 7th floor of a new 11-story office building. Although the address I had said the company was in McLean, the booming area the building was located in is known as "Tysons Corner." There must be at least thirty new high-rise office buildings up, or going up in the Tyson Corners area and almost every structure seemed to have a company's name atop the building, except for one housing Primark. I was told by the receptionist on the 7th floor, "The man who could talk to you isn't in." I left one of my questionnaires with the receptionist and asked if she could ask him to fill it out and mail it to me. I was a little disappointed because I had usually found companies which own utility companies are generally located close to the utilities service area and Primark, located in Washington, D.C., isn't exactly next door to Michigan. *NOTE I never did get a response from the company.
I spent the night in a nice new Comfort Inn in the suburb of Herndon, Virginia, about twenty miles west of downtown Washington. I hadn't planned on staying in the boonies but, I had no choice; every hotel in Washington was booked up because of the weeklong celebration of the 200th birthday of the signing of the United State Constitution. I had spent the previous night in a Compri Hotel in Gaitherburg, a suburb about 25 miles north of downtown Washington. The Compri Hotel is a new chain by Doubletree Hotels and is a super place to stay but, it is a two-hour bike ride from downtown Washington. The Compri had a few extra touches not found at other hotels; between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m., complimentary late night snacks such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies and apples are served in a lounge-like area, which in the morning is where you eat your cooked-to-order breakfast. There's a good-sized reading area stocked with current business publications which is divided into smoking and non-smoking. My room was memorable because there was plenty of lighting in the room. There's nothing worse than a room with 40 or 60 watt bulbs. When I had sent letters out to various hotels around the country asking for complimentary accommodations on an "if space is available basis", Washington area hotels and motels had been very responsive to my request. The letters I had received from the elegant Park Hyatt and the spiffy-looking Sheraton Grand on Capitol Hill were for naught because they were booked up. The J.W. Marriott, flagship of the Marriott chain, did put me up for one night and the downtown Ramada Renaissance accommodated me for two nights. I spent quite a bit of time visiting the various hotels trying to get lodging and actually, it was pretty fun checking out the ambiance and lobbies of various hotels. Below is a list of hotels I physically visited inquiring about the possibility of complimentary accommodations:
Crystal City Marriott, Crystal Gateway Marriott, Gaithersburg Marriott, Tysons Corner Marriott, Sheraton Crystal City Hotel, Days Inn/Rockville, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Hyatt Regency Bethesda, The Mayflower, Embassy Square Hotel, Crowne Plaza/Rockville, Omni Georgetown Hotel and, the Westin Hotel.
Wednesday morning I rode back into downtown Washington and made my way to Arlington, Virginia to visit USAir Group. The address I had was on Jefferson Davis Highway and after the hassle of dealing with zooming traffic and torn-up roads, I found the building. There's a small sign with the company's logo over the entrance to the high-rise office building. I couldn't find a listing on the building directory telling me where the main reception area was or where the public relations department was located, so I just kind of wandered around asking people if they could direct me to public relations. Finally, after asking three people, I was told I was in the wrong building and corporate headquarters was in a hanger at Washington National Airport, about half a mile away. What an idiot. Before I went into the building, I had taken about half a dozen pictures of the building and it wasn't even the right building! I made my way through the congested airport terminal and found Hangers 11 and 12. Boy, the outside of the two-story structures sure looked dumpy, with paint peeling off the walls in numerous places. The reception area is very cramped but, the receptionist is a friendly, helpful lady. I ended up going upstairs to the office of David Shipley, Assistant Vice President-Public Relations. He told me the offices were no-frills and functional and they were definitely that. They had been located in the hangers for about fifty years and leased the space from the FAA. About 1200 people worked in corporate headquarters which included people at the other building I had visited. The place is very functional, so much so, there isn't even an elevator. No corporate art collection, no cafeteria (there are vending machines), no recreational facilities and, no separate fleet of corporate aircraft. Before I entered Shipley's office, I used the "executive washroom" on the second floor and told myself I had seen nicer bathrooms in train and bus terminals. After looking inside several offices, nobody can accuse management of wasting money on office furnishings. Officers on up, get reserved parking spots and I did notice closed-circuit cameras. Shipley scored 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
I was really looking forward to my visiting Gannett. I had started reading "USA TODAY" since its inception and liked it. I remember reading a story somewhere about the demographics of the people who read "USA TODAY" and I fit the bill: I was in the age group (I think it was between 25-40 years old) they were going after, I like short, concise stories, I liked statistics and charts and wanted a good sports section. I had written a letter to CEO Curley of Gannett, dated May 24, 1987, wondering if Gannett would be interested in financing or sponsoring my trek. On June 1, 1987, I received a reply from him. The letter said Gannett wouldn't be interested in financing my project and that several years earlier they had sent a columnist around the country to write about "the mood of the country." He also mentioned Al Neuharth, the Gannett Chairman, was currently going around the country by bus and writing about the "mood of the country." He wished me luck and that was that. Having sent dozens and dozens of letters to various CEO's around the country asking for funding or sponsorship, I was impressed with Curley's letter for several reasons: 1) He acknowledged my letter which is more than I could say for many of the CEO's I wrote to; 2) it was a personal letter signed by him as opposed to some of the form letters I received with a stamped signature; and 3) the speed in which he responded-several companies I wrote to took months to respond.
I showed up at their twenty-something story, futuristic-looking headquarters building in Arlington, about a stone's throw from Washington. Near the top of the building in big letters is the name, "Gannett." I noticed a temporary awning outside the main entrance to the building. I asked the security guard what was going on and he told me Gannett was celebrating the fifth anniversary of "USA TODAY" and had a big party here last night, whose guests included President Reagan. I made my way to the reception area where the indifferent receptionist told me I needed an appointment. After giving her my spiel about having been doing this for over a year and how I've been pretty successful getting people to talk to me even though I show up without an appointment, she connected me to an unnamed lady in public relations. This public relations lady started to lecture me over the phone about showing up without an appointment and went on to tell me no one was available to talk to me in the office because they were attending various functions having to do with "USA TODAY's" fifth birthday. Boy, I sure was surprised by the total lack of flexibility shown by one of the largest news gathering organizations in the world. I was planning on leaving town this afternoon and I had intentionally left Gannett as one of the last companies to visit because I didn't think I would have any problem getting someone to talk to me. *NOTE I received a press kit in the mail from Gannett, besides having an annual report, it contained a whole slew of articles concerning "USA TODAY's" fifth anniversary but, did not contain my questionnaire or any information at all about their corporate headquarters.
Leaving Gannett, I rode by the Lincoln Memorial and guess who I ran into?-the Japanese bicyclist I had met in Huntington, West Virginia. We exchanged greetings and took pictures of each other standing in front of our bikes which were in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Washington Post Company
On my third visit to the Washington Post Company, I was finally able to catch Guyon Knight, Vice President, Corporate Communications. In my two previous visits I had been told he wasn't around and he was THE person I was supposed to talk with. The outside of the 10-story, company-owned building looks pretty much like all the other buildings in downtown Washington. Over the main entrance in black letters is the name, "The Washington Post." There's a security guard inside the entrance and you check-in with him. Knight couldn't have been much older than me and didn't seem interested in what I was doing. Many of the answers to my questions he didn't know. I'm sure the building is huge because on the first floor is the printing press for the Washington Post newspaper. The company has been at the site since 1960. He didn't know how many employees were at corporate headquarters but, there are reserved parking spots and, whether you get one or not, depends on the person's "function." The company's art collection is composed of Washington artists. There are no recreational facilities, no restrictions on smoking in the building and no corporate aircraft. There's a cafeteria and vending machines but, no executive dining room. I wasn't able to see the CEO's office which was kind of disappointing because the Washington Post Company is the first corporation I've visited with a female as the chief executive officer. I did check the reception area on the tenth floor to see what periodicals were on the coffee tables and sure enough, I saw Newsweek Magazine, with no issues of Time Magazine in sight. I told Knight about my lousy reception at Gannett and how I generally seem to be getting guarded receptions at media companies. (See Chicago Tribune, Knight-Ridder and Gannett.) Knight scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
I tried for the third time to see someone at the corporate headquarters of Perpetual Corporation, the privately held company headed by Joe Allbritton. If you recall, when I was in Houston, Texas I mistakenly went to a building there thinking it was corporate headquarters and found out it was only the office of a real estate subsidiary. Perpetual Corporation has interests in newspaper publishing, TV broadcasting, insurance, real estate, banking, funeral homes and cemeteries. I wasn't too surprised to find headquarters is located in the bank Allbritton owns; The Riggs National Bank. Three times, I went into the building and checked-in with the security guard stationed by the elevators which take you up to the offices in the 10-story structure and three times, he was told to tell me no one was available to talk to me. Hmmm, I had the feeling I was getting the runaround. Even though I heard stories about Allbritton being somewhat of a recluse, I had thought I might get to talk to someone because the postcard I send in advance to the various CEO's announcing my arrival, lists my name and address and my address reads I'm from La Jolla, California. I know for a fact Allbritton owns a home in La Jolla and is known to occasionally visit in the summer during the Del Mar horseracing season.
It was late afternoon and I had to make a decision, do I spend the night in Washington (which meant riding 25 miles to the suburbs to find a place to stay), or do I start riding to Baltimore, my next destination (about 40 miles north) and take a chance of having to ride into a strange city (read, having to go through ghettos), around dark or, do I catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore leaving Union Station in about one hour?
Giant Food, Inc.
Washington's Union Station is a monster of a building but, most of the structure was blocked off or closed because evidently they were doing major renovations. Being a buff of train stations, I was naturally disappointed. Sitting on the train heading to Baltimore, I also thought about how disappointed I was in not visiting the headquarters of Giant Food, Inc., a supermarket chain based in Landover, Maryland, about 15 miles northwest of Washington. As I mentioned earlier, I would send my postcard to the CEO of a company about a week to ten days before my anticipated arrival and sometimes, after the postcard had trickled down to the appropriate person, I would get a message from my message service back in La Jolla to contact that person when arriving at the company. Well, Giant Foods was the first company to respond to my postcard with a letter. The letter was from Barry Scher, Vice President, Public Affairs, and, after acknowledging having my postcard referred to him by CEO Israel Cohen, he said in his letter to, "Please contact me by telephone when you are in the area. While I will be unable to see you in person, I am sure we can discuss your needs over the telephone." Hmmm. I read that two ways: 1) I would call him up and he would set up a time for me to talk to one of his underlings, or 2) he was trying to tell me not to physically show up but, instead, do what I was doing over the phone. My original plan was to just show up and play it by ear but, the way I looked at it, Giant Foods, Inc., lucked out. I also left Washington disappointed in not having the time to ride out to Middleburg, Virginia, to check out billionaire John Kluge's 6000-acre spread or Jack Kent Cooke's estate.
I got into downtown Baltimore around 5:30 p.m. and immediately set out to find a place to stay. Before my arrival, I had read several articles about Baltimore's rejuvenated and renovated Inner Harbor and, it really is a spectacular area with several large complexes of shops and restaurants lining the harbor area. I was getting concerned because I had checked with the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, the Inner Harbor Marriott and they were all booked up. I couldn't even get a room if I paid for it, let alone trying to get a complimentary one. The four chains named above had been pretty good about accommodating me for free but, the reason I couldn't get a room anywhere was because there was a big regional fire department convention in town which would explain my seeing an unusually large amount of fire trucks around the streets. The front desk person at the Omni told me there were rooms available near the Baltimore-Washington Airport, about ten miles away. One of the bellmen asked me if I had checked with the Lord Baltimore Hotel about a block away and I said, "No, is it a dump?" He shook his head so, off I went. Well, it seems the Lord Baltimore Hotel is part of the Clarion/Quality Inn chain and I had written to them about complimentary accommodations and, after looking through my saddlebags for my batch of letters from hotels agreeing to accommodate me, found one from the Lord Baltimore. Fortunately, the Lord Baltimore had a couple of "no-shows" and were able to put me up. Baltimore is something like the 13th largest city in the country with 760,000 people and I had heard it had pretty rough parts of town but, the Lord Baltimore was the first hotel I had stayed in which had closed-circuit cameras IN the elevators.
Thursday morning, September 17, 1987, I showed up at the headquarters of Commercial Credit in downtown Baltimore. The building looks to be about twenty stories tall and probably built in the early 1960's. It looks very similar to the Alcoa's headquarters in Pittsburgh in that the outside looks like its sheathed in aluminum. I went into the lobby area and explained to the security guard/receptionist what I was doing. I told him I usually end up talking to someone in the public relations department. The guard told me public relations was in New York City and I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, between you and me, Sanford Weill (the CEO), is a New Yorker and he comes here once or twice a week, he's moving the whole operation to New York." I asked the guard if he was sure because I didn't want to get to New York City and have someone there tell me I should have spoken to so and so in Baltimore. The guard said he was sure. It made sense what he had told me because from the various stories I had read over the years about the cigar chomping Weill, he loved being where the action is and it sure ain't in Baltimore.
Right across the street from Commercial Credit are the offices of The Times Mirror Company-owned, Baltimore Sun newspaper. I thought it would be interesting to talk to the editor of the Business section of the newspaper to find out if he knew about Weill's "move" to the Big Apple. The lobby receptionist connected me to the secretary of the Business editor who, after listening to me explain who I was and what I was doing, put me on hold. A few minutes later, the Business editor's secretary came down to the lobby and told me her boss was busy and wasn't interested in talking to me. Hmmm. The way I looked at it, the newspaper was missing out on two stories.
Baltimore Gas & Electric
The 21-story, company-owned Baltimore Gas & Electric headquarter's building was built in 1916 and connected to it is a 15-story tower built in 1966. Total square footage for the two buildings is about 400,000 square feet, with 278,700 square feet being in the original structure. I met with a super nice man, John King, III, Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Board. What really stuck out in my visit to their headquarters were the various appliances such as televisions, washers and dryers for sale in the lobby area of the building. I told King I had visited dozens of utilities and this was the first time I had seen such a thing. He told me many utility companies on the East coast have been doing it for years. He also said Baltimore Gas & Electric was established in 1816, which makes it one of the oldest utility companies in the United States. Baltimore Gas & Electric is the largest combination electric and gas company in the United States which has no labor union. Approximately 2000 employees work at headquarters, with company officers getting reserved parking spots. There's a company cafeteria but, no executive dining rooms. There's no corporate art collection and no recreational facilities. The airport is twenty minutes/fifteen miles away and the company leases two helicopters.
McCormick & Company, the spice manufacturer, has a big plant near the Inner Harbor area and I guess one of the things the locals do is try to guess which spice the company is manufacturing on a particular day because the smells drift through the downtown area. Near the McCormick plant is the new Baltimore Convention Center which even has several Seward Johnson sculptures near the entrance. These sculptures by Mr. Johnson are life-like, it's uncanny. One is of a painter painting a picture and the other is of two men eating lunch on a bench. It reminds me I forgot to tell you I saw two more of Mr. Johnson's works outside a new retail/office complex along the Potomac River in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. One was of a family strolling along the esplanade and the other was of a young man sitting on a bench with his head on the lap of a girl, complete with a portable radio next to them.
I got a rotten reception from USF&G, an insurance holding company whose main subsidiary is United States Fidelity & Guaranty. The fortress-like structure which looks to be about thirty stories tall and about ten years old, is located downtown. The only person in the large lobby area is a security guard/receptionist, who after telling what I was up to, said I needed an appointment and refused to call up public relations or let me use a phone. I called up public relations from a pay phone across the street and got a hold of a woman who told me to come back tomorrow. I went back the next day and had another run-in with the same jerk of a security guard who refused to call up or allow me to use a house phone to call up public relations. I went back across the street to a pay phone, called up and was told the lady I talked to yesterday was out and no one could talk to me. Hmmm. Either the lady I talked to yesterday forgot to leave a note with someone else about my arrival or else it was intentional. You won't catch me buying their insurance.
Black & Decker
Black & Decker is headquartered in Towson, a suburb about ten miles north of Baltimore. Leaving Baltimore to get to Towson, I passed by the campus of John Hopkins University. I arrived at the guard gate of Black & Decker's campus-like setting around noontime. The guard called my name in and I was told to come back at 2:00 p.m. Returning at the designated time, I was directed to the headquarters building, one of about half a dozen on the 21.3-acre site. As you enter the property, a small sign greets you with, "Welcome to World Headquarters." Out near the street is a good-sized sign which says, "Black & Decker." I met with Charles Costa, Vice President, Administration, in the reception/lobby area of the two-story, 50,000-square foot administration building which was built in 1970. About 500 employees work in the company-owned complex which includes about half a dozen buildings with a total of 288,000 square feet. The company has been at the Towson location since 1916, with the site at one time being a manufacturing facility. The tallest structure is three stories. According to Costa, there's "plenty" of parking for everyone, with corporate officers getting reserved parking spots. There are no recreational facilities, one corporate aircraft, a cafeteria and an executive dining area. I did get to see the CEO's office and boardroom. The boardroom was pretty typical in that it had pictures of past Chairmen on the walls which included several Blacks and several Deckers. I did notice quite a few benches scattered around the grounds which wasn't that unusual except for the fact they were painted a bright orange which is the same color orange used in Black & Decker's familiar logo. Costa scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
Leaving Towson, I headed north a few miles to check out Hunt Valley. This area was hopping with lots of new construction. A good way to tell if an area is hot is by seeing what the hotel situation is like. Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites and Courtyard by Marriott had new properties in the area and those hotel people seem to know what's what. McCormick & Company, the spice company, had only about a billion dollars in sales and thus, wasn't big enough to be on my list but, their headquarters was somewhere out in Hunt Valley. I couldn't find their headquarters but, I knew it was close by because I could smell various spices in the air.
Taking the backroad to Wilmington, Delaware from Hunt Valley (about 70 miles), was terrific. Beautiful countryside with lots of rolling hills and farmlands. Reminded me a lot of the countryside in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, then again, I was only a few miles from the Pennsylvania border.
My arrival in Wilmington was met with disappointment because I wasn't expecting such a run-down downtown. Wilmington, Delaware's largest city with 70,000, has a lot of seedy areas. This is the city where hundreds, thousands of corporations incorporate? This is where I'm always reading about big decisions being made in Federal Courts concerning big corporations? I was surprised to find only two hotels in downtown Wilmington; Radisson Hotel Wilmington and the Hotel DuPont. I arrived at the Radisson on a Saturday and assumed I would have no trouble getting a room. It seems there was a big wedding and the hotel was undergoing renovations so I got stuck in a smelly, dark, old room which sure wasn't up to the high standards I had started to expect from Radisson. It was the kind of room where the carpet was so crummy you wouldn't dare walk barefoot. Being able to walk barefoot in a hotel room is one of my criteria for grading a place. Even though I was given a complimentary room for Saturday and Sunday night, I wasn't happy staying in that depressing room so, I wandered over to the historic Hotel DuPont which is located next door to the headquarters of the DuPont Corporation which, from what I understand owns the hotel. I spent about half an hour being interrogated by Jacques Amblard, Manager, Operations, as to why he should give me a complimentary room at his hotel. I told him about my doing a side project on the corporate traveller, my reason for being in Wilmington (to visit four companies), and how I was extremely disappointed in my accommodations at the Radisson down the street. Evidently, I convinced him because I had a great room at the Hotel DuPont Sunday night. Besides it being a grand hotel, it set the record for having the most "perks" in the bathroom: two baskets each containing a shower cap, lint mitt, facial bar, bar of glycerine, mouthwash, small bottle of (ugh) English Leather cologne, bottle of shampoo, bottle of bath gel, bottle of hand and body lotion, bottle of conditioner, a vanity pak-which had cotton balls and ear cleaners and a fingernail file.
Columbia Gas System Corporation
Monday morning found me about three miles northwest of downtown Wilmington visiting Columbia Gas System Service Corporation, a natural gas utility. The company-owned, two-story building is located in a residential area which has some big estates; one of which is the Alfred DuPont estate, an unbelievable 300-acre spread with humongous gardens which is now some kind of a hospital or home for children. Anyway, a small sign is visible from the street which says, "Columbia Gas System." After checking in with the receptionist, I met with Bruce Quayle, Vice President, Corporate Communications. About 225 people work in the 130,000-square foot building which is set back quite a ways from the street. Quayle, showing me the company has a sense of humor even at its own expense, told me about how gas lights were originally installed to line the driveway leading to the headquarters but, during the energy crunch a few years ago, changed over to electric lights because it was cheaper. There are no recreational facilities, no corporate art collection but, there is a cafeteria and an executive dining area. Parking is tight with only 200 parking spots for the 225 employees, with officers getting covered reserved spots. I did get to see the boardroom and I was walked by the CEO's office because he was busy. The company has three corporate aircraft and there is no company flag flying outside. The company's logo is a domino with three dots and the name, "Columbia Gas System" inside the domino. The three dots stand for customer, stockholders, employees. The building has one elevator. Quayle scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company
I headed back to downtown Wilmington to visit the four massive buildings which made up the corporate headquarters of E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company. I met with Clinton Archer, Senior Public Affairs Specialist. Over 9000 employees work in the four buildings which comprise two million square feet of space. The DuPont Building which houses the Hotel DuPont and the Playhouse Theater, is the oldest of the four, with the first section built in 1907 and the last section in 1930. The first section of the Nemours Building was completed in 1939 with the second section opened in 1941. The Brandywine Building was dedicated in 1972 and the Montchanin Building was purchased from the Wilmington Trust Company. All the buildings are connected by underground passageways with the DuPont and Nemours and the DuPont and Montchanin being also connected by eighth-floor bridges. The tallest building is seventeen stories. As far as parking is concerned, everyone is on their own with the CEO being driven to work by a chauffeur. Believe it or not, there are no cafeterias and formal dining rooms but, there are vending machines. The corporate art collection is comprised of Delaware artists, the most famous being the Wyeths. I didn't notice very much security and the company has ten corporate aircraft.
How big are the buildings? So big that Archer, who has worked for the company for years, got lost trying to take me to the boardroom. The boardroom is spectacular, with ceilings at least thirty feet high and the room is furnished in a very traditional manner. Oil portraits of past chairmen line the walls in the boardroom and the hallway going into the boardroom is lined with pictures of past directors. We did go by the Chairman's office, Richard Heckert, and I picked up one of his business cards. During my tour of the place, I noticed most of the offices were functional, nothing fancy. Even though DuPont has no recreational facilities at the headquarters, the company owns three golf courses and an executive golf course. Archer scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
A couple of blocks from DuPont is the spiffy-looking headquarters of Hercules, a diversified company with interests in chemicals, plastics and aerospace. At one time back in 1912, it maintained its headquarters in the DuPont Building because it was owned by DuPont but, because of antitrust action, DuPont had to divest itself of Hercules. Now, headquarters is in a company-owned, 700,000-square foot, 12-story structure built in 1984. What's the address of the building? Hercules Plaza. The first floor of the building houses retail shops and food places, along with the visitor reception area. You take an escalator up to the second floor where corporate office space begins. When entering the building, you can't help but notice the 12-story atrium which contains over 4000 plants. Above the main entrance embedded in stone is the name, "Hercules" and above that is a giant clock. The back of the building abuts a state park of which the company donated the land. I met with Paula Savini, Writer/Associate Editor, Public Relations Department. I was told it wasn't possible to see the CEO's office on the 8th floor or the boardroom on the 9th floor. There's a formal dining room and a cafeteria, with the latter being located on the first floor and open to the public. There are no restrictions on smoking. The company has an extensive art collection with over 500 pieces, most of it contemporary. In the visitor's lounge is a bronze statue by Annabelle Eckels called, "The Women of Hercules." The art in the building is stationary and located throughout are sculptures, tapestries, ceramics, glass, paintings and sketches. The collection also includes works by N.C. Wyeth, Peter Hurd and Norman Rockwell. Outside the main entrance is a kinetic sculpture by Kenneth Davis which has three solid marble spheres, weighing three-quarters, one and a half and three metric TONS, rotating on a film of water. It's a real eye-catching piece of art. Some of Hercules's products were used in the construction of the building but, since many of the company's products aren't sold commercially, they are not highly visible. For instance, Herculon olefin fiber was utilized in the upholstery, panel covering, carpet and carpet tiles. Also, paper products using Hercules paper chemicals were used in various construction materials. It's a good-looking, high tech building and I wish I would have had a more extensive tour. Savini scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
I went about 3-1/2 miles north of downtown Wilmington to Beneficial Corporation, a holding company whose principal businesses are insurance and banking. A small sign which says, "Beneficial Corporation" greeted me as I made my way through a heavily wooded corporate park area to the main entrance of the low slung, red brick structure. As I rode up to the entrance, a security guard pulled up in a car and asked me what I was doing on the property. After explaining to him, I went inside and a very unfriendly receptionist called a lady, who came out and told me the executive offices and public affairs department are located in Peapack, New Jersey. She wrote down the address and sent me on my way. Was I the only one who had never heard of Peapack? Nope, she said she had no idea where it was. Hmmm. Seems to me the company needs practice in greeting visitors.
After spending a few days in Wilmington and having had a chance to ride around some of the nicer areas, this city of only 70,000 but home to four companies on my list, is quite an impressive place. A sign as you enter town says it all, "Wilmington's A Place to Be Somebody."