On the road in Scotland
Though it's far and away Scotland's biggest city with a population of 1.2 million, it's known more for the cultural arts and it's international airport than being the business center of the country. I'm visiting only two companies headquartered in Glasgow as opposed to 10 in Edinburgh, the capital and a much smaller city of 400,000 people.
Scottish Power and Clydesdale Bank
It's open season on the regional utility companies in the UK and it seems you either gobble or get gobbled up. Scottish Power is a gobbler and is in the middle of a battle with a US utility to take over Manweb, another UK utility. Scottish Power leases one floor in a fairly new (1991) riverfront building in downtown Glasgow. Though Colin McSeveny, media relations manager, gives me a warm welcome there's not much to write about the place. CEO Ian Robertson's top floor middle office has a riverfront view, one real plant, one fake plant, a computer and a picture of a power plant hanging on his wall. With 1994 revenues of 1.7 billion pounds, profit 274 million pounds, it's Scotland's largest industrial company.
Things were going well during my visit to Clydesdale Bank until Peter Ramsay, manager-media relations, mentions the bank being a subsidiary of National Australia Bank. Taken aback I ask, "Did that happen recently?". "Back in 1987", he answers. Rats! When doing the research on companies to visit the various books used listed Clydesdale Bank as a parent company. Now, it turns out it's a measly subsidiary of the 49th largest bank in the world and part of the largest foreign bank operating in Britain.
Speaking of rats. The 60-something year-old security guard in the lobby of the blah-looking, six-story Clydesdale headquarters in downtown Glasgow takes the record for having the most tattoos seen in a corporate office. On one arm there's a large tattoo of a rat wearing a vest and on the other arm there's a woman.
Clydesdale Bank gets it's name from the nearby Clyde River. Clydesdale Bank, along with The Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland, are the only three banks in Scotland allowed to issue their own banknotes.
Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Society
I show up at the six-story, black reflective glass offices of Scottish Amicable Life in downtown Glasgow only to learn the insurer has twin head offices. There's this office and the other in Stirling, a community of about 50,000 people 30 miles north of here and that's where Managing Director Roy Nicolson (according to Anne Borland, his secretary in Glasgow) spends the majority of his time. Hmmm, this sounds a little suspicious because it's usually the other way around: Many companies located in small towns keep their registered offices there to show they're still part of the community or have small town "roots", while in reality executives work out of offices in the action-packed big cities. Never-the-less, the next day I head out to Stirling to visit the fourth largest mutual life assurance company in the United Kingdom.
The rain's coming down hard as I check in with the security guards in their walk-in visitor's center a hundred yards from Scottish Amicable's five building complex. A freeway serves as a buffer on the left side of the property and the peaceful slow-moving River Forth on the right side of the 90-acre site. A 200-foot high craggy volcanic rocky outcrop running along the backside serves as a natural boundary line in the rear.
Just as the company's name implies, everyone here is amicable, including my contact person; Jim Mitchell, General Manager (Corporate Services) and Secretary who's been with the company 30 years. Mitchell's one of the senior executives in the company. Roy Nicolson, who's title is Managing Director would be equivalent to CEO in the USA. Mitchell would be an Executive Vice President.
When entering the property I noticed several dozen big buses sitting in parking bays near a big parking lot. I mean it looks just like a big bus terminal facility. I ask Mitchell about it. Over 1,500 employees work here and it turns out the company formed it's own transportation system to ferry employees to work.
Why the company ended up here? After the dark days of World War 11 the company realized it needed a safer and non-urbanized setting for business records. The company bought the property (known as the Craigforth estate) in 1952 which included a mansion house. Earliest records show that in the 14th century the estate once belonged to King Robert Bruce. A mansion has occupied this site, with it's magnificent views of nearby Stirling Castle (see sidenote) for over three centuries. The current mansion is the result of extensive rebuilding both after a fire in 1931 and after its purchase by Scottish Amicable.
Various buildings have been built over the years with the most recent, a four-story structure in 1992. Recreational facilities includes a golf putting green, snooker, Ping-Pong and jogging around the grounds (shower facilities are available). The beautiful well-maintained grounds have deer, fox and other small animals as frequent guests.
Conference rooms are named after the view from the room. From the Ochil Hills Room you can see the nearby Ochil Hills, from the Castle Room, the spectacular Stirling Castle and from the Wallace Room, the 220-foot high National Wallace monument. You know Braveheart, the new movie with Mel Gibson? He plays Sir William Wallace (1267-1305) Scotland's greatest freedom fighter. The monument was erected by public subscription in 1869.
Nothing special about Managing Director Nicolson's middle office but I do note the computer. Lots of wood in the boardroom, including the four piece rosewood boardroom table and matching wood ceiling. A painting, "Tulips in Blue Jug" by F.C.D. Cadeil highlights one wall.
It's 25 miles to the airport in Edinburgh and 30 miles to Glasgow's. Revenues in 1994 were 1.6 billion pounds and profit 737 million pounds.
SIDENOTE My bicycle is programmed to automatically stop at all castles. Since arriving in Europe I've visited several dozens. On a scale of 1-10, 13th century Stirling Castle is an 11. The strategically located, cliff-top fortress commands the surrounding countryside. The area history is fascinating. Sieges, deceit, murders, royal marriages and the such have all happened here.
On the road in Edinburgh
The Standard Life Assurance Company
Boy, standing on the sidewalk outside The Standard Life Assurance Company's head office in downtown Edinburgh and looking either way down George Street I count at least a half-dozen or more insurance companies with similar turn-of-the-century office buildings. It looks like the who's who of the insurance industry here. Standard Life's stately-looking, four-story structure standing on the corner probably beats them all though in being the oldest. Founded in 1825 (less than a mile away), the company moved to its present site in 1839.
While the receptionist gets hold of Heather Scott, press officer, I wander around the small lobby area before settling into one of the 12 old, but comfortable, crankily brown leather chairs. Several newspapers (Financial Times and The Times) and magazines (Economist and Investors Chronicle) lie on a nearby coffee table. Several potted palms add pizzazz to the room and there's a framed picture on the wall of Queen Elizabeth when she visited here in 1991. She signed the picture, "Elizabeth R". I learn the "R" means reigning. On another wall is a framed, six-foot long interpretation of "The Wise and Foolish Virgins". Huh? Scott explains. Above the main entrance on the exterior facade there's a stone sculpture based on the parable of the ten virgins. It was completed in 1901 by John Steell. The interpretation on the wall gives the low down on the "demurely clad maidens".
From the outside the building doesn't look very big and my eyebrows raise when Scott says they have two cafeterias and 1,500 employees work here. Several connecting buildings have been added on over the years to the backside and it stretches more than a city block.
Managing Director Scott Bell's wood paneled, middle office fronting George Street has the traditional look. There's a faux pas fireplace which goes with the wood floor and lining the wall behind his desk are several very large book cases. What's on the shelves? Old volumes of the Statistical Society of London dating back to 1832 and issues of Assurance Magazine going back in 1838.
The boardroom, overlooking prestigious St. Andrew's Square, carries on the traditional theme with lots of wood and a marble bust of William Thomson, who ran the company from 1837-1874.
Standard Life, with 31 billion pounds in assets, is the largest mutual insurance company in Europe.
World Curling Federation
I know zilch about curling. Let me correct that statement: I saw a snippet on television once. It was guys on one end of an ice rink skimming large heavy circular rocks (with handles attached) along the ice to the other end and seeing how close they could get to a marker.
Offices for the World Curling Federation consists of two rooms on the third floor of a three-story townhouse near downtown Edinburgh. Mike Thomson, company secretary, and one of only two employees answers my questions. "So, why is the Curling Federation located in Scotland", I ask. "This is where curling started and was organized", he answers. The first evidence of curling in the world was found in Scotland in the 16th century. The famous Stirling Stone with the engraved inscription 1511, provided the first written reference to the sport.
Canada, Scotland and the USA are home to the majority of curlers in the world. How big is curling? On July 21, 1992, the International Olympic Committee granted official medal status to Men's and Women's curling, to take effect no later than the Winter Olympic Games of 2002, with an option for 1998 at Nagano, Japan. In June of 1993 it became official; Curling will be in the 1998 Olympics. I ask how much the curling stones weigh. Here's what it states in the World Curling Federation Official Handbook I'm given: "No stone, including handle and bolt, shall be of greater weight than 44 pounds or of greater circumference than 36 inches or of less height than 4.5 inches".
Curling may be played indoors or outdoors. One would think this sport would be limited to cold-weather countries. On the contrary, thanks to hockey arenas and skating rinks, World Curling Federation members include the U.S. Virgin Islands Curling Association, Mexican Curling Association and the Australian Curling Association.
The offices are pretty uneventful until Thomson takes me into the office/meeting room and points out the two large 8 foot by 10 foot oil paintings on the wall. One, by Charles Hardie in 1899 shows a whole town in Scotland watching a curling match on a frozen-over river. The other, by Chare Lees in 1853, shows a similar scene. One painting has been valued at 100,000 pounds and the other 80,000 pounds.
The Royal Bank of Scotland plc
Built in 1941, the seven-story headquarters of The Royal Bank of Scotland LOOKS like a bank's head office and fronts St. Andrew Square, THE prestigious business square in downtown Edinburgh. I like the heavy wooden entrance doors containing wood carvings of Scottish coins but, it would be a neat idea to have carvings of bank overdrafts on one of the doors. Why? It was back in 1727 when The Royal Bank of Scotland introduced bank overdrafts to the world.
It's a fun visit to Great Britain's sixth largest bank and the 101st largest in the world (49 billion pounds in assets) thanks to Alwyn James, the friendly, enthusiastic head of public relations.
CEO George Mathewson's second floor corner office has a straight-out view of the square and contains some mighty strange items. No, I'm not talking about the fireplace or the 9 inch by 12 inch ink/brush drawing by George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) of cottages in the countryside. It's the blazing red phone on his desk and the colorful two-foot tall Scottish Lego man which interests me. Turns out the bank helped Lego with some financing and Mathewson received the Scotsman as a gift. What's with the hot-line phone? According to James, the red phone is one of the most recognizable advertising symbols in the UK. Several years ago the bank started Direct Line, which sells car insurance over the phone. Direct Line now insures over three million and is the UK's largest private sector insurer. As a memento I'm given a watch with, you guessed it, a Direct Line red phone in the face piece.
As mentioned in the Clydesdale Bank story (see Glasgow), Royal Bank of Scotland is one of three banks in Scotland allowed to print their own money. That explains the picture of the Note Burning room. Between 1728 and up to 1992, the bank regularly burned their old money in the Note Burning room. Besides the watch, I also get a paper weight. It's not your ordinary paper weight though. Similar to a tombstone, this contains a limited edition Robert Louis Stevenson bank note inside. Several years ago the bank commissioned a commemorative bank note to honor the author of such stories as Treasure Island.
Heading up to the fifth floor I take a look in Lord Younger of Preswick's corner office, also overlooking the square. He's Chairman of the bank. On one wood paneled wall hangs the stuffed head of a stag (deer) which he shot. On another wall hangs an oil painting of an old sailing frigate, the H.M.S. Diana. I ask if Preswick likes to sail or is a history buff, which might explain the significance of the ship. No on both counts. I learn from Preswick's assistant that the sole reason for the picture being on the wall has to do with the fact his wife's name is Diana. Hey!, on his desk there's a Robert Louis Stevenson commemorative bill just like the one I received. I ask about the model silver ship on a shelve. The bank used to have a ship called the Otter Bank which sailed between islands off of Scotland taking care of locals banking needs. The company also had a plane called the Flying Banker which also island hopped on a regular basis serving customers in hard to reach, almost remote areas.
Taking the stairs down to the lobby we pass four strange-looking chairs kind-of tucked away to the side. Each chair has a silver-backed frame and two brown leather cushions for backing. Besides looking ugly, the chairs also look uncomfortable to sit in. What's more they definitely don't fit in with the decor of the place. James says they're called Barcelona chairs and were the "in thing" when they were bought back in 1970. So why are they keeping the chairs around? Well, it might have something to do with the price they paid back in 1970: $12,000 EACH.
The best part of the visit involves going several doors down to Dundas House, the historic and impressive main banking branch. Built in 1772, the Ravelston stone, three-story Georgian villa originally was the home of Sir Lawrence Dundas, member of Parliament for Edinburgh. In 1825 the bank purchased the house. In 1857 the bank's head office was redesigned and included the construction of a banking hall. Now I've literally seen hundreds and hundreds of banking halls but, this is a real beaut-especially the spectacular dome and it easily makes my top five list of most beautiful banking halls. The dome, made up of five concentric tiers of glazed stars, 24 in each row, they progressively diminish in size toward the central glass cupola.
The company's art collection contains contemporary and modern art, primarily restricted to Scottish artists. How extensive is my tour? James and I climb a ladder to the roof where James points out various points of interests around this beautiful city. Unfortunately I can't see the boardroom located in Dundas House because it's in use but, I make an appointment the next day to have a look.
The boardroom, located on the second floor of the Dundas House, was the former dining room. It's very traditional. There's a fireplace, a large chandelier, green chairs and, seven oil portraits of past governors of the bank in the 1800's. The security guard who brought me in the room had never been inside before. It turned quite embarrassing because when we attempted to leave--we found there's no door knob on the door we entered! She ended up having to yell for the security guard downstairs to let us out.
Bank of Scotland
Leaving the Royal Bank of Scotland in the "New Town" area of downtown Edinburgh I head across a bridge and into "Old Town" to visit one of their fierce rivals, the Bank of Scotland. The address is quite unusual, it's simply The Mound.
In the 1700's, Edinburgh was one of the most densely populated cities in the world. To relieve congestion "New Town" was built on a ridge to the north of the existing built-up area. The Mound is an earth causeway built at the end of the 18th century to link the Old and New towns. In other words: The Mound is a pile of dirt.
Bank of Scotland, with assets of 34 billion pounds, is a VERY old bank. Established in 1695 by the Parliament of Scotland, it's the oldest commercial bank in the United Kingdom still operating under its original name. In 1806, it built a seven-story head office on The Mound and this site has retained that status ever since. It's a pretty impressive-looking building, especially at night when the statue symbolizing Fame atop the dome lights up.
Two people answer questions and show me around. First, it's David Miller, Executive Assistant, and then Allen Cameron, Archivist Chief, who gives me a tour of the neat company museum in the basement.
A large 15 foot by 6 foot oil portrait of Viscount Melville greets you upon entering the very formal lobby. Melville was governor of the bank from 1790 to 1811. Actually I end up seeing all kinds of oil paintings of past governors and they seem to come in various sizes. If one's bigger than the other does that mean he was more important?
The boardroom on the fifth floor goes back to 1806. Wow, if only the walls could talk. The room gives off a sense of tradition and history. A nice big chandelier centers the room and there's a fireplace and 24 leather chairs plus, a barometer on a wall. Looking into a meeting room called the Committee Room I note the grandfather clock keeping the correct time, not bad considering the clock dates back to 1720. Nearby is a glassed-in display containing the actual document issued by the Parliament of Scotland in 1695 setting up the Bank of Scotland. I don't get to see CEO Sir Bruce Pattuloo's office because he's in a meeting.
Back in 1772 there were 31 banks in Scotland each issuing its own banknotes. Now only three have permission: Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank.
The company museum in the basement contains a potpourri of company memorabilia. There's a wrought-iron bank chest from around 1710, about 30 rifles and muskets on display (many employees belonged to local militia), troy weights, a 17th century bullion chest and a selection of old notes and Scottish coins including forgeries. According to Archivist Cameron, at one time there was a shooting range in the building as well as a wine cellar and housing quarters for employees.
Scottish Widows' Fund & Life Assurance Society
I don't know, maybe it's the name of the company or their unusual billboards and commercials I've been seeing but, I'm eager to visit Scottish Widows' Fund & Life Assurance Society. With over 18 billion pounds in assets, the mutual is Scotland's fifth largest company, United Kingdom's fifth largest insurer, Europe's 17th largest life insurer and Europe's 52nd-biggest investment house.
Scottish Widows has been running a television advertising campaign featuring a gorgeous model dressed in black. The model wearing all black-including a black veil over her head, says nothing as she wanders through a maze of green hedges as a male voice-over talks about the company's products. On billboards a facial shot of her is shown. The blue of her eyes sparkle, the lips are painted a bright red and most of her black hair is tucked under the black shaw/veil. Yes, I'm smitten.
Well, I'm two miles from downtown Edinburgh and guess I shouldn't be surprised to find their 4-story headquarters a black reflective glass structure. I don't know though, maybe they're carrying this mourning thing too far.
Entering the building via a concrete plank over a pond I note the "No smoking" on the outside of the door. I spot several orange cones normally used in streets for traffic control floating in the pond. The receptionist says kids have been tossing them in the pond which, by the way, contains carp.
Judy Fulton, Assistant Manager-Communications, gives me a warm welcome and tour of the place. But, the first question she fields from me is: "Who's that gorgeous model in your commercial?". Fulton laughs and says it's a relatively new advertising campaign and has been very successful. "That's great, but who's the model?" I ask again. Fulton says the model has been receiving quite a bit of fan mail. Getting the feeling she's sidestepping the question I blurt out, "Yes, but who is she?!" "We're trying to keep her mysterious so we aren't telling anybody" she answers. Aw shucks.
Well, business is good because they've outgrown this hexagon-shaped structure built in 1976 and a new headquarters in downtown is currently being built. Over 2,000 employees work in the Edinburgh area with over 1,500 of those in this building.
The boardroom seems to be keeping in line with the use of black by having it's boardroom table and sixteen chairs in that color though the carpeting is blue. A red tapestry containing plants, birds and trees by Anne Redpath highlights a wall.
Though CEO Mike Ross isn't in his second floor middle office his secretary, Shelia Porteous, graciously takes Fulton and I into the room for a look. Upon entering I see a framed picture of the beautiful model in the commercials hanging on a wall behind Ross's desk. Porteous points to it and says, "that's _____ ______, the model in our new advertising campaign". I look at Fulton, who looks at Porteous and says, "You weren't suppose to reveal her name". Meanwhile, I have this huge grin on my face but, being the nice guy I am I say, "Oh, don't worry about it, I won't mention her name".
Ross has quite a few photographs including a photo of him with the King of Spain, another with an important-looking fellow from China and one of his wife. I also note his computer and issues of that boring-looking periodical: Assurance magazine.
Christian Salvesen PLC
This seems like an odd place for a headquarters and it's even odder still, to have what looks to a harpoon gun mounted on the grounds. I'm about three miles north of downtown at Christian Salvesen's 4-story headquarters. Across the street is a small university campus and surrounding the company's headquarters site on the other sides are several sports playing fields, then residential housing. I ask Peter O'Malley, Group Public Relations Manager, first about the site. Located in the area are several private schools and this is where all the schools have their playing fields (used mostly for soccer). Back in 1971 one of the schools sold off a piece of land to Christian Salvesen. Okay, that sounds reasonable but, what's the deal with the harpoon gun? O'Malley's says it has to do with the company's past. Back around the turn of the century Christian Salvesen was the world's largest whaling company.
The company has been out of the whaling business for years and nowadays has an international spread of businesses: Aggreko (a subsidiary) supplies packaged electric power for permanent, emergency and standby applications and is the world's largest supplier of power. Christian Salvesen is into vegetable processing (company factories process over a third of all the frozen green vegetables in the United Kingdom), manufactures facing bricks and, develops and manufactures pollution control equipment (such as those booms used in cleaning up oil spills). Christian Salvesen also distribute goods via trucks all over continental Europe, the UK and the United States. They're the fourth largest cold storage operator in America with over 40 million cubic feet of capacity. Revenues in 1994 were 646 million pounds, profit 78 million pounds. The company was private until going public in 1985.
The company has pared down over the last few years and now occupies about 45% of the building with 78 employees working here.
There's no formal corporate art collection but, lots of historic photos of company operations. I can't see CEO Chris Master's office due to a meeting going on in his third floor corner office. The boardroom on the first floor contains a bronze wall plaque of the founder.
John Menzies plc
Boy, I usually talk fast but visiting retailer and periodical distributor John Menzies I have to talk even faster. Liz Ball, secretary to Managing Director Ranald Noel-Paton isn't subtle about wanting to make this quick as I hurriedly go through my questions in the fifth floor reception area.
John Menzies operates the Early Learning Centre, a chain of almost 200 toystores, Universal Office Supplies, wholesale supplier of office stationery, John Menzies Retail, over 250 stores in Great Britain selling newspapers, candy, greeting cards etc. and, John Menzies Wholesale, the largest wholesale news distributor in Great Britain. Revenues in 1994 were 1.25 billion pounds, profit 38 million pounds.
The company has leased space in the building for 20 years. Located on Princess Street, the city's premier shopping street, there's a John Menzies Retail store on the first floor. About 20 employees work in the corporate offices and Ball says the company will be moving when the lease is up shortly.
I'm in and out of the place in six minutes and believe it or not that includes a quick walk down a flight of stairs to see the boardroom. Founded in 1833 by John Menzies, the current chairman of the company is now John M. Menzies, the 68-year-old great grandson. The boardroom contains a grandfather clock, two real plants and oil portraits of past Menzies's who've run the company.
Dunedin Fund Managers Ltd.
A two mile walk from downtown gets you to the three-story offices of Dunedin Fund Managers. Based in Edinburgh, with offices in London and Chicago, the company's sole business is investment management on behalf of its clients. We're talking over 5.5 billion pounds worth of funds.
John Wood, one of 12 directors, answers questions and shows me around the leased offices. Over 80 employees work here. It's a mixed-use area, mostly residential with a cemetery and school a block away. Nothing worth noting at this privately-held company though the company's corporate logo contains a Japanese brush stroke drawing of picturesque Edinburgh Castle, which sits on the high point overlooking the city.
Scottish & Newcastle plc
Downtown Edinburgh has what's known as the Royal Mile. Up on a ridge at one end of the mile sits the impressive and formidable fortress Edinburgh Castle. At the other end sits the Palace of Holyrood House, a palace fit for a queen. Which is true because Queen Elizabeth and entourage usually make a pitstop at the palace as they make their way up to her grand Balmoral estate in northern Scotland near Aberdeen.
It's right across the street from palatial Holyrood Palace where I find the four-story headquarters of Scottish and Newcastle plc. Founded in 1749, the company operates three main businesses. Its beer division is the largest brewer in the UK and one of the six biggest in Europe. Scottish and Newcastle's retail division operates over 2,600 pubs and restaurants. Its leisure operates over 25 parks, each set in 400 acres of natural forests.
I'm surprised to find the small reception/lobby area void of any product displays. Makes me think they aren't proud of their beers. Cameron Walker, Corporate Public Relations Manager, agrees with me and says he's been working on getting permission from the powers that be to put up a display.
Almost 500 employees work here, which over 100 years ago formerly housed one of their breweries. Speaking of beer, employees get a voucher for a free case of beer every month.
Walker's second floor office window fronts the narrow two-lane street which separates Scottish & Newcastle from the walls of Holyrood Palace-not more than 30 feet way. There's a sidewalk on each side of the street. I mention this because Walker regales me with a funny story which happened to him several years ago when European heads of state met at the Holyrood Palace for a summit. Days before the meeting security had been tightened in the area and many Scottish & Newcastle employees planned to take the day of the actual meeting off because traffic problems and such would be horrendous. Walker and other employees had to wear three separate identification badges to get into their building. So the day of the meeting Walker left home for work an hour earlier than usual to compensate for the traffic crunch this was going to cause. Guess what, there's was hardly any traffic so, he arrived at work around 6:30. He's in his office sipping on a cup of coffee when he just happens to look out the window. On the sidewalk on the other side of the street, not more than 30 feet away, he sees Prime Minister John Majors walking with French President Mitterwald with their wives following behind. By chance Mitterwald and Majors look up and make eye contact with Walker. They wave so, he waves back. Within 30 seconds two burly-looking armed men come crashing through his office door demanding to know who he was. He fumbles with the three badges around his neck and shows them. Without saying a word they leave. Boy, sounds like a good reason to go grab a beer.
The wood paneled boardroom looks pretty traditional with its mahogany table and walls lined with portraits of past executives. Hey wait a minute! this is very unusual, there's a portrait of a woman amongst them. Turns out she's Mrs. Grizel Cochrane Younger (1731-1821), wife of a company founder.
No sign of any beer nik-naks in CEO Brian Stewart's wood paneled middle office. I like his double-sided partners desk, note the family picture and lack of computer.
Exiting the building, I'm stopped by Walker who proceeds to load me down with several varieties of beer they brew including, McEwans 70 Scottish Ale, Coors Extra Gold, McEwans Export and Gillespies Malt Stout.
Revenues in 1995 2.0 billion pounds, profit 198 million pounds.
General Accident PLC
Riding 50 miles north of Edinburgh puts me in Perth, a community of 60,000 inhabitants which at one time was the capital of Scotland. Insurer General Accident, with 1994 revenues of 5.2 billion pounds, profit before taxes 453 million pounds, has called Perth home since its founding here in 1885.
Headquarters sits on a side of a steep hill several miles from downtown. Biking up the private road leading to the five-story building I pass a security guard in a kiosk who yells out, "Are you Mr. Wolsfeld?" After answering, he directs me to continue onward.
Outside the entrance there's a small fish pond on either side of the walkway and I spot quite a few large carp cruising around. Each pond gets its own kinetic stainless steel sculpture by John Wyllie.
Waiting for me as I enter the building is Shelia Crouch, secretary to Group CEO Nelson Robertson. It's a fun visit thanks to the well-prepared Crouch. Walking around she frequently refers to the batch of notes she's made to identify the author of a particular piece of art we pass along the way. The company's art collection consists mostly of Scottish artists and is a mixture of sculptures, tapestries and landscape paintings. Entering the property you pass by a large stone figure by Ronald Rae and is a sculptured representation of General Accident's motto, "Moneo et Munco", which loosely translates into "I warn and I protect". The 14 and a-half ton block of granite shows a father-figure protecting a child.
Measuring 30 foot-long by eight feet-high, the ceramic mural in a hallway area is reputedly one of the world's longest version of this art. Created by Mike de Haan, this modern hieroglyph, made with salt-glaze tiles, portrays the contemporary setting of General Accident at the time of its move into this building.
The office building is not some much tall (five-stories) as wide, with level 3 being 393 feet long and 323 feet wide. Over 1,000 employees work here.
In a glass display near the lobby is a picture of Queen Elizabeth signing a guest book at the building's opening in 1985. She signs it "Elizabeth R". I learn the "R' means regina or reigning monarch.
The 45-acre site contains probably the most impressive employee sports complex I've seen in Europe. Located a chip shot away from the main building, there're three outdoor tennis courts, snooker, two indoor squash courts, an indoor basketball court, an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, a lawn bowling field, hockey field and a well-kept putting green.
CEO Nelson Robertson's top floor corner office with its brown sofas and chairs is all business. I don't see any personal effects, books, magazines or a computer. Though he's high up a hill, Robertson can't see anything out his window because tall trees block the view.
The boardroom definitely has the feel of wood. The square donut-shaped maple boardroom table has rosewood inlay with the maple wood ceiling matching the boardroom table and the rosewood inlay matching the rosewood wall paneling. Hanging on the walls are several works by James Morrison. Primarily a painter of landscapes, Morrison is known for the speed in which he paints. He dates his paintings with the DAY, month and year.