Tele Danmark

The address I have for Tele Danmark, Denmark's formerly state-owned phone company, is in Arhus (northern Denmark) and so that's where my letter of introduction was sent. Several weeks later I receive an email from Benny Dam saying he's my contact person and how he's looking forward to showing me around the Copenhagen office. Copenhagen? The head office is suppose to be in Arhus. From my experiences in Europe the past few years I can figure out what happened: politics. Some countries don't like having all the major government-run agencies such as the post office and phone company located in one city or part of the country and so they "spread the wealth". In the Netherlands for instance, before the post office/phone company was recently split-up, they were located not in the financial/government hub of Amsterdam/The Hague but, way up in out-of-the-way Groningen, located in the northeastern corner of the country. Methinks with US phone company Ameritech (now SBC) taking control of Tele Danmark the guys at Ameritech (SBC) said " to heck with being in Arhus" and moved back to Copenhagen, the financial/government center of Denmark. Thank goodness for email, otherwise I would have continued northward to Arhus for naught and at a cost of several days of wasted biking.

The head offices for Tele Danmark isn't located where one would expect it to be. Though close to the city center it's not in the business district nor near government offices but next to the university (unlike Denmark's biggest bank, Den Danske Bank, which just happens to be across the street from Denmark's central bank). University buildings (some several hundred years old) are scattered about for several blocks in a mixed-use area and Tele Danmark's turn-of-the-century red brick structure could easily be mistaken for one. Except for a tiny plaque near the door there's no signage outside and initially I think the building is empty because there's nobody going in nor out. I ring the entrance bell and get buzzed in to the reception area. I inform the receptionist of my appointment to meet with Benny Dam and then ask if there's a more secure place for my bicycle. Copenhagen's a great city and probably has more bikes and bicyclists than any other city in Europe but I've been repeatedly warned about keeping a close eye on my bike. Matter of fact, this is the only city where I've been more concerned about being hit by a bike than by a car. When one stops at a stoplight it's not unusual to have 20 to 30 cyclists lined up behind you eagerly waiting for the light to change. Anyway, it's when directed around the block to the back of the building that I realize just how deceivingly big this place really is. This red brick building (built in 1908) turns out to be the tip of an iceberg for a complex of interconnected buildings and courtyards housing almost a thousand employees.

The lobby with its wood floor is formal yet cozy. While waiting I take a seat on one of 12 chairs gracing the waiting area. A half-dozen plants adorn the coffee tables and visitors can peruse the Financial Times and three Copenhagen newspapers. A framed picture of the Queen of Denmark hangs on one wall and there's a marble bust of a man near the reception desk. I ask the receptionist to identify the man in the bust but she doesn't know. Jeez, the bust stands right across from the receptionist's desk and having to look at it day in and day out one would think she'd be curious to know his identity. I later learn it's Hans Christian Osted.

You name it and I get to see it at Tele Danmark's headquarters thanks to the terrific tour given by super nice guy Dam whose business card reads "Head of Office Corporate Communications-Customer Relations". How extensive is the walk about? We literally go from top to bottom and from old to new. In the early part of the century one of the buildings formerly housed the central switchboard for Copenhagen and it's down we go into the bowels of the building including a section along a dimly-lit dirt path to have a look-see at old cable lines. Not wanting me to think the company isn't on top of the latest technology, Dam points out cables carrying fiber optic. Thankfully Dam has worked at the corporate offices for over 20 years and knows his way around the maze-like complex of buildings and courtyards. The view from one of the rooftops is a welcome sight because it allows for an overview of the surrounding area. The nearby streets are narrow, winding and buildings are built right up to the sidewalks-making it easy for visitors to get confused and/or lost. An amusing touch to the red brick building is the dozen or so gargoyle-like figurines attached to the sides of the structure. No, they're not faces of famous scholars, scientists or politicians but just regular town folk.

The decor in the cafeteria isn't anything to write home about but the food is great (receiving the coveted two thumbs up sign of approval from me). Employees can wash down their lunch with free soft drinks and coffee. Speaking of company perks, employees receive a 25% discount on their phone bill. Parking is at a premium here with the 115 spots allocated according to seniority and need. Copenhagen's airport lies six miles away and the nearest freeway two miles. Oh, and did I mention Tele Danmark had revenues in 1998 of $5.3 billion, has over 16,000 employees AND was founded in 1881 by an American?

CEO Henning Dyremose occupies a spiffy-looking second floor corner office. I don't see a computer but count three family photos, a bronze of a child, five real plants, a fresh arrangement of flowers, a framed map dated 1840 showing the layout of an industrial area and, a bowl of fresh fruit. The white walls, tall ceiling and chandelier give the room a certain elegance. What brand of phone does the head of Denmark's largest telecommunication company use?-it's a portable by Bang & Olufsen, better known as the Danish manufacturer of the high-end stereo systems.