On the road in London
With over 100 companies to visit London is my single biggest stop in Europe.
Imperial Chemical Industries PLC
When starting in a big city it's always a good feeling when the first company visited gives me a great reception. Chemical giant Imperial Chemical Industries gets the call.
Situated on the road that runs alongside the Thames River, Imperial's imposing eight-story, stone and granite-clad head office has a fortress look about it. The two 20 foot-high cast bronze entry doors, each weighing two and a half tons, does nothing to dampen the fortress image. About halfway up the exterior of the building I count a dozen sculptured heads and haven't a clue as to who they are and why they're there. Down the road about a half mile lies England's Houses of Parliament.
Well, so much for a warm welcome. Receptionist Neil Peet makes several phone calls and comes up empty-handed in finding out who ended up with my advance material. I leave additional material and decide to return in several days.
My return visit doesn't fare much better. Claire Louis Bean, group public affairs, steps into the lobby and makes a half-hearted attempt to answer questions. Though the outside was built in 1928, the insides were gutted in 1985 and finished three years later complete with addition of a new eight-story atrium.
I'm given a booklet on the building showing various floors after the renovation in 1988. Several pictures show off the wood paneled executive floor and a blurb next to one photo reads "Many eminent statesmen, politicians and business leaders from all over the world have walked this corridor". Evidently regular people like myself don't get the same opportunity because my tour of the place consists of walking from the reception desk across carved marble floors to the exit.
Before leaving the offices of one of the world's largest chemical companies (1994 revenues 9.2 billion pounds, profit 188 million pounds) and the world's largest maker of explosives, I ask about the 12 sculptured heads on the sides of the building. Turns out they're all chemical pioneers: Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) the first man to weigh the earth and the first to recognize hydrogen as a chemical element, Joseph Priestly (1733-1804) discovered soda water, oxygen, ammonia, nitrous oxide, hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), John Dalton (1766-1844), Baron von Lieberg (1803-1873), Marcelin Bethelot (1827-1907), Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), Dmitry Mendeleyev (1834-1907), Ludwig Mond (1839-1900), Alfred Mond (1868-1930) and Sir Harry McGowan (1874-1951).
The financial center of London, formally known as "The City", encompasses a one square mile area. I find Prudential Corporation's head office about a half-mile from The City. It's a stunning six-story, block-long by block-wide, terra cotta gothic-style structure built in stages beginning in 1876. This is one of those landmark buildings where you find yourself standing across the street marveling at its beauty.
The reception area contains a monster-size fresh flower arrangement on a stand along with six square-shaped red chairs. Two receptionists and a security guard greet visitors. This is my lucky day, it's 9:59 am and in one minute I get to hear the fire alarm
go off. Every Monday morning at 10 am the fire alarms in the building are tested.
Off to the side of the reception area you enter a six-story atrium. Perched on a second floor railing I spot a peacock and trying to get up at it are two big dogs. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the peacock is made from steel, copper and 48 pieces of interlocking colored glass. The dogs, cast in bronze and weighing 300 pounds each, are life-size and modeled on actual lurcher dogs. The artist, Sally Mathews, specializes in animal sculptures.
Showing me around are Dean Maszlin, building services supervisor, and Peter Traynor, group archivist. Prudential, with 63 billion pounds under management, revenues of 11.7 billion pounds and 1994 profits of 406 million pounds, is the largest life insurance company in the United Kingdom. Does Prudential, founded in 1848, have any connection with the big insurance company of the same name in the USA? Nope. Matter of fact, Traynor says the company thought it a compliment when the Newark, New Jersey-based insurer took its name.
Prudential's head office is a Grade 2 listed building. This means it's a designated historic structure and alterations inside or outside the building are severely restricted. Making changes in a Grade l building would be virtually prohibited.
About 600 employees work in the 460,000 square foot structure with Prudential occupying one-third and several tenants occupying the remaining space.
Taking a stroll through the basement brings us to the old Muniment Room. It's here where deeds and securities were stored. Entry was via two doors and a drawbridge. All that's left of the room is the massive 27-ton door. When built in the 1930's, it was the world's biggest safe. When workers were dismantling the room they originally intended to dispose of the door. The hinges on the huge door jammed and couldn't be budged. Several months later an employee as a lark sprayed WD-40 on the hinges and a minute later the door smoothly opened. I mention this because I'm from San Diego and it's the headquarters for WD-40. Last year WD-40 celebrated it's 50th birthday and was asking users to send in product testimonials. However, this story pales in comparison to the woman who wrote in and swears spraying parts of her body with WD-40 relieves her arthritis.
The fourth floor holds the boardroom and CEO Peter Davis's
large corner office. Though he hasn't much of a view, I'm impressed with Davis having not one but, two computers.
I ask Maszlin if there's anything unusual about Prudential's head office such as it's a former cemetery site or there's a helipad on top. His answer: there's a ghost in the building. How does Maszlin know this? First hand experiences. He initially started out as a security guard, which meant working the late shift. For some unexplained reason a certain elevator would suddenly start upward and then come back down. Elevator repairmen have been called in several times to explain the spontaneous ups and downs yet, everything is always in working order. What's the word on who's the ghost? Consensus says it's a former messenger. I run the ghost story by archivist Traynor and he says it's poppycock. Then again, he's never been in the building at 3 am and seen the elevator take off on its own.
The British Petroleum Company p.l.c.
British Petroleum is an easy company to visit because it's a block away from Bloomberg's London office. This means I can leave my trusty two-wheel traveling buddy in a secured environment at Bloomberg instead of wasting time looking for a safe place to lock it up. People have been telling me to be extra careful with my bike in London because it's notorious for bicycle thefts.
My reception is warm and visit fun thanks to Roddy Kennedy, head of group media & publications, and Dr. David Nicholas, press officer. BP is very familiar with Bloomberg Business News and Kennedy says the CEO walks down to Bloomberg's offices several times a year to do the Forum interview.
Like Imperial Chemical's head office, BP's nine-story stone-clad headquarters was built in the 1920's. But, unlike Imperial Chemical's fortress-like exterior, BP's building has an elegant, regal look to it. The company was headquartered in this building from 1925 until 1967. BP then moved a short distance away to a high-rise. In 1986 a developer (Greycoat) bought this building and extensively renovated to the tune of 36 million pounds (much of the high cost can be attributed to it being a Grade 2 listed building). In 1991 BP moved back in.
This is the first time I've seen a well head in the lobby of a building. What's the well head's significance? In 1911 BP was the first company to strike oil in the Middle East, Iran to be more specific. On display is the original well head, which was in operation from 1911 until the well was sealed in 1926. A historical note: From 1925 to 1954 the company's name was Anglo-Persian Oil Company (though the company's roots go back to 1909).
Over 500 employees work here and a nifty little perk is the free lunch. As a general rule, I've found most cafeterias are located on the first floor or basement. Here it's on the seventh floor. There's also a fitness room with an extensive selection of exercise machines.
The sleek, modern, wood paneled boardroom on the third floor has the power look to it, which befits being one of the world's largest oil companies. Revenues in 1994 were US$51 billion, profit US$2.4 billion. It's an elongated table seating 20 in comfortable black leather seats. A painting by Graham Sutherland called, "The Red Tree" hangs on a wall. This being a Grade 2 building means having to go through lots of red tape. The new, modern boardroom came at a price: Before it could be built the original boardroom had to be reconstructed in it's original state somewhere else on the property. Where is it? In the basement. The stately former boardroom is a real beaut and it's complete with large windows on both sides. Of course, if one were to open up these windows, one would find a blank wall.
CEO John Browne fourth floor corner office contains over 30 tombstones, a Reuters screen, computer and a pre-Colombian figurine.
Heathrow Airport is an hour away via the subway and the nearest freeway, the M-25, is 10 miles away. The company has no corporate aircraft.
Going through my list of questions with companies I always ask, How far are you from downtown?. In most cities downtown means the financial and shopping center. In London I'm getting mixed opinions. Some answer it's The City, the one square mile financial district. Others answer by saying the West End. Located about three miles from The City, the West End has the ritzy shops, hotels, government buildings (Houses of Parliament), lots of company head offices and theaters.
A maroon-colored granite clad 17-story office building in the West End houses B.A.T. Industries. Built in 1976, it's a low-key head office for a company with over 40 billion pounds in assets and 1994 revenues of 21 billion pounds, profit 1.2 billion pounds. B.A.T., with operations in over 90 countries and 173,000 employees, operates in two main businesses: insurance and tobacco. In insurance it owns Farmers Group, the fourth largest property and casualty insurance company in the USA, Eagle Star, one of the UK's largest general insurers and largest motor insurer (by premium income) and Allied Dunbar, the UK's fifth largest life insurer. In tobacco it owns Brown & Williamson, the third largest tobacco company in the USA and British-American Tobacco Company. In 1994, B.A.T. produced more than 572 billion cigarettes, achieving a 10.6% share of the world market.
Michael Prideaux, director of group public affairs, gives me a warm welcome and for that matter, so do the security guards. The guards insist my bike be brought in and secured in a storage area near the elevators. Parking it I notice another bike. Turns out the front basket equipped cycle belongs to The Rt. Hon. The Earl Cairns, the 55 year-old Vice Chairman (who's been designated to become the next Chairman), and an avid cyclist who regularly rides his bike to the office.
Pretty small head office staff here with only 100 employees. B.A.T. occupies floors 10-17. There's a 13th floor and surprise!, that's where the boardroom's located. Well, actually it isn't much of a surprise. Insurance companies are not superstitious and I remember visiting a half-dozen insurance companies in the USA where the CEO's office AND the boardroom were located on the 13th floor. The table seats 20 and directors sit in brown leather chairs.
Employees enjoy several perks here: free lunch and a free carton of cigarettes every month. The view's great from the cafeteria on the 16th floor.
Company tobacco memorabilia abounds here from an antique five-foot tall cigar store Indian to 200-year old tobacco jars to volumes of old cigarette ad posters. Displayed in a glass case is a facsimile of The Doomsday Book-which is essentially the first census taken in England. Back in 1084 William the Conqueror commissioned (ordered) the undertaking. The end result being The Doomsday Book.
Chairman Sir Patrick Sheehy's corner office on the 14th floor affords a super view of the area. I count three real plants, a fresh flower arrangement, picture of his wife, 10 tombstones, a computer, the obligatory cigarettes for visitors and, an original Salvador Dali painting of a woman. What's with the Dali painting? Back in the 1960's and 1970's the company owned several perfume and fragrance houses. One, Lentheric, wanted a perfume that would "appeal to women everywhere". So they went to 12 of the world's best-known painters and commissioned them to paint their ideal of feminine beauty. Some of the painters include Pietro Annigoni, Peter Blake, Padamsee, Ruskin Spear, Robert Ladou, Paul Davis and William Dargie. Of course me being a Salvador Dali fan, I think his is by far the best. Oh and guess what, the imaginative and savvy marketing people called the new perfume; Lentheric 12. Sounds more like something I'd take for a cold.
British Telecommunications PLC
I guess you could call British Telecommunications the British equivalent of our AT&T. Until 1984, it was owned by the government. Last year's revenues were 14 billion pounds, profit 1.7 billion pounds.
The outside of BT's 10-story headquarters looks very unimpressive. Matter of fact, if not for the company sign out front it could easily pass for a typical 1970's hotel with a 10-story atrium added to the front side at a later date to enclose it.
Before entering I notice a plaque on a wall which states on this site in 1896 Guglielmo Marconi made the first public transmission of wireless signals.
Things are done in two's here. Two doors bring you into the building where you encounter two receptionists, two security guards, two small sofas and two television monitors in the small reception lobby.
Pat Hayes, secretary to Ian Ash who's director of corporate relations, greets me warmly and invites me up to her desk to answer questions. The 283,000 square foot structure is much bigger than it looks from the street with over 1,000 employees working here.
Down the hall from Hayes is Managing Director Michael Hepher's office (similar to our CEO) and the boardroom. I don't get to see either because they're "both in use".
Nothing unusual to report here though the fitness center contains two squash courts and badminton.
Londonís financial district
Until I mention otherwise, the following companies visited all reside in The City of London, the square mile financial center. It's a remarkable area filled with spiffy new buildings and listed structures hundreds of years old (listed buildings are similar too historic or heritage buildings in the USA). There're different degrees of listings: a grade 1 listing means the exterior or interiors can't be altered. A grade 2 is less restrictive and so on.
Commercial Union Assurance Company PLC
It's very enjoyable walking around The City if for no other reason then to just read the names of the various streets. A few include Cheapside, Cornhill, St. Swithin's Lane, Lime Street, Pudding Lane and one of my personal favorites; Undershaft. Yep, it's at 1 Undershaft where I find Commercial Union Assurance Company's 30-story black-glassed headquarters. Built in 1969 and co-owner, over 1,200 employees work here occupying 60% of the building.
Founded 175 years ago Commercial Union with revenues of $8.6 billion and profits of $349 million in 1994 ranks as one of the 15 largest insurers in Europe.
Though seeing CEO John Carter's 22nd floor corner office is off limits because "we just don't do that", D.R. Briggs, controller of engineering-premises department (he's in charge of the building), zips me up to the 23rd floor and a peek at the boardroom. The circular table with cherry wood paneling on the walls is very traditional. What's untraditional is the view out the window: next door they're finishing rebuilding NatWest Tower, the tallest building (42 stories/600 feet) in the City of London which was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in April of 1993. Briggs says he was here when the blast went off and Commercial Union had many of its windows shattered.
National Westminster Bank Plc
Talk about location, location, location. Right smack across the street from National Westminster Bank is the entrance doors to the Bank of England. With assets over $158 billion, NatWest is one of the "4 big boys" in the UK's banking world (Lloyds, Barclay and Midlands--the later now part of HSBC). Founded in 1658, NatWest has been around for a while and so has its presence across the street from the Bank of England. It's been on the site since 1837 and the current seven-story listed structure has been around since the 1920's.
Boy am I lucky, who better to tell me about the history of the head office then Finona Maccoll, group archivist and a neat lady. Over 600 employees work here but, it's only a select few who get to go into the bowels of the building where Maccoll takes me. Actually I have to correct that statement, during the Second World War many employees took shelter down here when the Germans bombed the city. We're three or four levels below ground and what's here? Behind large locked steel cages are thousands and thousands of company archive items. My favorite is the World War 11 parachute Maccoll pulls out of a box. What's the significance? There's a bomb attached to the end. During the war, Germans would throw parachutes out of planes with bombs tied to the end. This particular one landed outside the front entrance and fortunately didn't explode.
Maccoll 's office is chalk full of interesting company memorabilia including an extensive banknote collection, the second oldest surviving English check (1659), a property deed from King Edward the 6th (1540), an 1845 banking almanac, a 1690 bank ledger and a night watchman's clock (1872).
Royal Insurance Holdings PLC
Also occupying digs directly across the street from the Bank of England is Royal Insurance, one of Europe's 15 largest insurers. Revenues in 1994 were $4.8 billion, profits $342 million and assets $9.3 billion.
Walking into the lobby of the six-story company-owned structure, visitors are greeted by a 10 x 20-foot wall map of the world done in copper and gold leaf. Roy Randall, head of group corporate relations, answers questions and shows me around. About 110 employees work here. CEO Richard Gamble used to be the CFO at British Airways which explains the pictures of four Concordes. I also note his computer, two real plants and a painting of South African scenery.
When I ask Randall to describe the company's at collection he says "from 1800's onwards" which might have something to do with Royal Insurance being founded in the early 1800's.
Sun Alliance Group plc
Sun Alliance Group, the oldest insurance company in existence that still transacts business in its own name, also has its head office across the street from the Bank of England. The eight-story building was built in the 1920's and has been updated over the years. It's not a very impressive-looking structure when you consider Sun Alliance is one of Europe's biggest insurers and has been around since 1710. Revenues in 1994 were $4.9 billion, profits $249 million, assets under management 24 billion pounds.
It took six visits and over a dozen phone calls before I was able to get together with Mike Jones, head of corporate affairs. I would have continued dropping by to see if Jones was available to meet with me but was sternly told by security after the sixth visit not to come around again unless I had an appointment.
About 400 employees work in the building. Some of the halls are lined with antique firemarks and we pass the company's first strongbox from 1710. The boardroom with its O-shaped table, fireplace, two chandeliers and wood paneled walls looks pretty much the norm in the world of insurance. The company's art collection consists of 18th century paintings of seascapes and landscapes.
It's around lunchtime when showing up at merchant banker Schroders and I catch Donald Cameron, director, just before he's leaving. The company leases space in a blah-looking eight story structure and Cameron can't pin down the number of employees in this building but says over 1,200 work in the London area. Employees get free lunch. I can't see CEO Bischoff's corner office on the top floor because "he's very busy". The boardroom contains a donut-shaped table and note the Marc Chagall painting on the wall is an original. Revenues in 1994 were $616 million, profit $132 million and $11.3 billion in assets.
Robert Flemings Holdings Ltd.
Headquarters for merchant banker Robert Flemings lies on Copthall Avenue but it reminds me more of an ally than an avenue. It's a large modern seven-story, company-owned structure built in 1986. Over 1,000 employees work here and my contact person John Manser, chairman, says everyone gets a free lunch. Fitness facilities include two squash courts and an indoor pool. Founded in 1872 the company's revenues in 1995 were $409 million, profit $120 million. My meeting with Manser takes place in a small conference room. I ask how come we don't meet in his office. Is it filled with important papers lying about or does he have personal affects he doesn't want me to see? Nope, it's because he doesn't have an office--he shares a big room with about half-a-dozen other executives and their desks are within several feet of each other.
Cookson Group PLC
Louise Atkins, public relations assistant, answers questions during my visit to Cookson Group, a manufacturing concern with four main divisions: ceramics, electronic materials, engineered products and, plastics.
Cookson leases space in a recently built 6-story building. The 80 employees get a free lunch and they also get to occasionally see a woman ghost on the third floor. The security guard says during the last century the Cross-Keys Inn was located on this site and it's said, it's the ghost of the woman who ran the inn, which is periodically seen. The security guard, easily nearing 80 years old, has personally seen her. I myself think it maybe someone from the small cemetery that butts up to one side of the building. Yep, here you have some of the most expensive property in the world and in the middle of all this hustle and bustle lies a cemetery filled with people who died several hundred years ago.
Lots of family pictures in CEO Richard Oster's fourth floor corner office but, no computer. Revenues in 1994 were $1.4 billion, profit 15 million.
Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust
Getting into this modern, good looking 11-story edifice requires having my backpack searched by building security personnel. A scanning device is run over the bag, which the guard says will pick up any explosive material. It's then up to the eighth floor where Lorna Robey, secretary to CEO James Ogilvy, answers my questions and gives me a quick tour of Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust's offices even though she's busy. A three-foot by five-foot oil painting hangs in the reception area. It shows a harbor scene filled with ships in 1855
Founded in 1868, exactly 278 employees work on floors 7 & 8, leased by the company since the building opened in 1991. Conference rooms have names like the European room, Colonial room and African room.
Lloyd's of London
If one had to generalize the insurance industry as a whole in two words those words would probably be "conservative" and "traditional". One would think Lloyd's of London, an insurance underwriters society (1994 premium income of 9.5 billion pounds) which has been around since 1688, would epitomize those two words. Right? Wrong. Having visited over 2,500 companies, Lloyd's of London's head office will easily make my top ten listing of Most Unusual Looking Headquarters Building.
Built in 1986, the 13-story, 348,000 square foot structure has become a landmark and is known by a variety of unofficial names. Richard Keene, Manager-administration communications department, tells me the top three: the oilrig, the oil refinery and, the percolator. An oil refinery has towers, ladders and pipes going up its sides in a hodge podge fashion. Well, believe it or not that's what you've got here. Instead of the traditional method of hiding all the interior workings of a building, it's been put on the outside for the whole world to see. This includes several bright blue service cranes, which hang atop the structure giving it a feeling the building hasn't been completed, stainless steel staircases winding up the sides and the glass elevators.
Entering, I don't quite know what to make of it. You're welcomed into this modernistic-looking facility by doormen decked out in red coats with long tails--wardrobe worn a hundred or two hundred years ago. As Keene walks me around I learn 89,000 square feet of the Lloyd's owned building is leased out. Keene says this is the largest freehold building in the City of London (though many a company or residence in the London area may own their building or home-the majority don't own the land underneath, long term leases up to 99 years are the norm). Between 2,000 and 2,500 employees work here and in the old headquarters, a 125,000 square foot structure built in 1958 and located directly across the street. Matter of fact, the company cafeteria is located in the basement of the old head office. Members of Lloyd's eat lunch on the lower ground floor in a dining room called the Captain's Room.
There's a huge atrium (93 meters) in the center of the building and going up its sides are escalators which cris-cross up to each level. Usually escalators are a dead giveaway to a building's age. The 1960's were the glory years for escalators and nine times out of ten when I walk into a building and see an escalator it turns out it was built in the 1960's. In the center of the marbled floor atrium stands a large wooden rostrum (from 1928) housing the Lutine Bell. The bell is wrung to warn of the most important announcements for the market. Two rings for good news, one for bad. The bell came from the French frigate La Lutine, which was surrendered to the British at Toulon in 1793. The British used it to transport gold and silver bullion from Yarmouth to Hamburg. On October 9, 1799 she was wrecked off the Dutch coast and the whole crew was lost. Lloyd's carried the full underwriting cost --somewhere between $500,000 and $2 million. The bell was recovered in 1859.
Though it's a thoroughly modern, somewhat futuristic-looking building, the past hasn't been forgotten. The two-story tall committee room (boardroom) on the top floor is a definite monument to the past. The immense room with its 35-foot high ceiling was designed by 18th century English architect Robert Adam and was moved from its former site at another Lloyd's building. Walking into the room one first notices the beautiful Cuban mahogany floor and gold leaf trim along the walls. The oblong table with it's mahogany chairs seats 24. On one wall hangs an 8 x 6 foot painting from 1701 of the ship Royal Sovereign. On another wall hangs a 10 x 6-foot oil painting from 1674 of ships. Atop the faux fireplace sits a small clock dated 1698 and also two black boxes with small black balls which were used in secret voting (where the term "blackballed" originated). Probably the most unusually item is the framed picture of the Queen Mother hanging on a wall. Not Queen Elizabeth but her 90-something year old mom, who Keene says is an honorary member of Lloyds.
Rothschild Continuation Ltd.
Seemingly intentionally tucked away down a side alley I find the offices for merchant bank Rothschild Continuation (N M Rothschild). Entering the marbled floor lobby one can't help but notice the large 10 x 10 foot painting of founder Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) and his family. There's also a huge 12 foot by 25 foot Belgian tapestry from late 17th or early 18th century hanging on a wall showing Moses striking a rock. Lots of newspapers to read while waiting including the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, The Independent, The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.
Things get weird when James Yates, one of 38 executive directors, steps out to the lobby and informs me I have to send in my "request" to Alan Graham, company secretary. I tell Yates I sent advance material several months ago to the managing director of Rothschild. No, Yates says I have to send it again this time to Graham. I try to give Yates the material but he refuses to accept it. The guy is a very unfriendly and unhelpful. I finish up in London in four days, which means there's no time to mail it in and follow up on it. Of the four remaining big independent merchant banks (Flemings, Schroders, Rothschild and Hambros) Rothschild is the only one to give me the bums rush.
Legal & General Group PLC
Almost on the fringe of The City of London sits the ugly 13-story head office of Legal & General Group, one of the biggest insurers in Great Britain with assets of 29 billion pounds, 1994 revenues of 4.4 billion pounds and profits of 111 million pounds.
Built in 1963, the company-owned structure looks its age. About 100 employees work here with the company occupying only floors 10, 11 and 12. Sumitomo Bank is the building's main tenant. Terry Harman, Technical Supervisor-Building, shows me around and, answers questions.
Can't see CEO David Prosser's 12th floor middle office because "he's in" but I check out the boardroom with its cherry wood oval-shaped table and green carpeting. Hanging on a wall there's a oil portrait of John Adams, first chairman of the company from 1836-1856. Also hanging on the wall there's the company's first policy draft from 1836 (when it was founded).
Well, after I tell Harman about competitor Prudential having a ghost in their head office Harman fesses up and admits they have one here also. It's the ghost of a monk, which roams the basement of the building.
Smith & Nephew plc
I hope the ornately decorated wrought iron fence encircling the outsides of Smith & Nephew's headquarters is an indication of what 's an inside. Fronting the Thames River near the Victorian Embankment the three-story late Victorian style mansion has a definite regal look.
Walking inside I'm greeted by a floor done of marble, jasper, phorphyry and onyx laid in geometrical patterns. The walls are paneled in oak, the fireplace is Italian marble, there's a stain glass-ceiling overhead and then there's the most incredible-looking wood staircase I've ever seen. On the newl posts of the staircase I see beautiful three-foot tall carved wood figures. Who are these seven masterfully carved wood figures? They represent the chief characters in Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers".
The friendly receptionist calls up CEO John Robinson's secretary, who greets me in the lobby and says they received my advance material but Mr. Robinson hasn't done anything with it. I give her the number where I'm staying and she says she'll get back to me. Before leaving, the receptionist hands me a booklet on the history of the place.
It was built in 1895 as the residence of William Waldorf Astor, the great grandson of John Jacob Astor-one of America's first mega-rich people. William Waldorf became a naturalized British subject in 1899 and before dying in 1919, had attained the status of Viscount Astor of Hever (which had something to do with the 13th century Hever Castle he also owned in Kent).
After thumbing through the booklet, which is full of pictures showing the halls, rooms and galleries, I can't wait to see the place. The Great Hall, which was Astor's living room measures 71 feet by 28 feet and stands 35 feet high. Beams in the Great Hall are done in Spanish Mahogany and walls paneled in pencil cedar surmounted by a frieze in which 50 carved heads of characters famous in history and fiction are displayed. Before entering the building I noticed a weather vane shaped like a ship atop the mansion. The booklet says the beaten copper ship is a model replica of the Caravel in which Columbus sailed to America.
Returning to my hotel later in the day there's a very disappointing message from Robinson's secretary saying, "Smith & Nephew doesn't want to participate". Ouch, that hurts but you won't find me reaching for one of Smith & Nephew's bandages. Founded in 1896 by Thomas James Smith and his nephew Horatio Nelson Smith, the company manufactures and markets healthcare products such as transparent film dressing, surgeons gloves, feminine hygiene brands and eye and ear implants in over 90 countries. Revenues in 1994 were $950 million, loss $54 million.
J. Sainsbury plc
Having visited dozens upon dozens of supermarket chains I've found the majority to be headquartered near one of their distribution centers or in office parks faraway from high-priced city centers. So what is J. Sainsbury, the oldest and England's biggest food retailer doing having their head office near the Thames River and only a mile from the expensive City of London? Karen Fielder, company archivist, says the company has been on this site since 1891. Back then, this was convenient to the Thames wharves, the railway terminal and, wholesale markets across the nearby Blackfriars Bridge. So, it was home to the company's warehouses and offices. Matter of fact, in Fielder's memorabilia filled office there's a left handed butcher's block from the early 1900's which was used for slicing, dicing and carving meat back before the head office was used exclusively for offices. Probably the most unusual item in her office is the leather lunch box from the 1900's with the velvet lining inside. What's its significance? John James Sainsbury (1844-1928), who founded the company in 1869, brought it to work with him (undoubtedly filled with all kinds of goodies such as Twinkies and BBQ potato chips). Built in 1912, the seven-story structure is part of a complex of several additional Sainsbury buildings (built in the 1960's) located across the street. About 2,000 employees work in the three buildings.
After entering the building and checking in with the receptionist, one is sent to a separate waiting room/lounge area. I count 20 people in here, most seem to be salespeople meeting with Sainsbury buyers. If one gets really bored waiting there's a television screen to watch who's only programming is to show traffic tie-ups in the London area.
Nothing special about the boardroom on the sixth floor and there sure isn't anything special about CEO David Sainsbury's view from his fifth floor office. The building's a square with an inside courtyard and he gets to look across the courtyard to the backside of the building. I find this amazing especially when you consider David Sainsbury is one of the world's wealthiest people worth several billion dollars. I count four real plants, note the computer, pictures of cats (he has two) and mounted on a wall--maps of England and Great Britain. David Sainsbury's great-grandfather founded the company.
The company operates almost 400 Sainsbury supermarkets and also owns Shaw's Supermarkets in the USA.
Royal Dutch/The "Shell" Transport & Trading Company
Boy, I'm having trouble getting someone to meet with me at Royal Dutch/The "Shell" Transport & Transport Company, the world's largest industrial company. I've already visited The Hague headquarters of the Dutch part of this monster-size concern and my lackluster reception there was a two thumbs down affair. I'm on the Thames riverfront several blocks down from Sainsbury's offices and most locals would call this the undesirable side of the river. On the other side you've got Parliament, City of London, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, theater district--all the good stuff. Shell's 24-story headquarters is not so much tall as it is bulky. When Shell moved into it's new building in 1960 it secured bragging rights to having the largest office building in Europe (1.8 million square feet). The complex is made up of seven separate wings, joined by 2-inch movement joints (allowing buildings to move separately as they settle in the Thames clay).
Shell's headquarters has become a target of protesters over the company's involvement in Nigeria. What does this mean? It means the company has security people standing OUTSIDE the building entrance screening visitors going into the reception entrance. Since I've been here three times I've become very familiar with the eight black lobby sofas (each seating three) and the various receptionists. I seem to be get the run-around every visit and it's proven this time when over the lobby phone a public relations person says they didn't receive the additional background information I left with them during my previous visit several days ago. One of the receptionists gets upset when she hears this because she says she personally handed the information to them. Again, Iím informed no one is available. Hmmm, what's a guy to do? Well, several days pass and I'm back for a fifth visit but this time I might have an ace up my sleeve. I check in with the receptionist and guess what, Gavin Choyce, head of communications, is going to meet with me. One of the first things Choyce mentions upon meeting with me is that he saw the write-up I had over the weekend in The Sunday Times. Ah-ha! just as I suspected. You see, in the Sunday Times article mention was made of the terrific reception received at British Petroleum and, "but visits to Shell have been thwarted several times by red tape".
My visit with Choyce is fun, he's very personable and has a great sense of humor. Over 2,400 employees work in this dated but Goliath of a building. No superstitions here as I note the 13th floor button in the elevator. Work hours are 9am to 5:30pm.
In one of the world's most expensive cities, employees get several perks such as free lunch and use of a very impressive array of recreational facilities. How about an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool with high diving platforms and bleachers for 300 spectators or, four squash courts, a rifle range and, not one but two full-size basketball gyms. Oh, I forgot to mention the downside to eating lunch in the cafeteria: the somewhat obstructed view. You see, the cafeteria's a huge room with large picture windows and covering the windows are steel mesh curtains. What's the purpose of these ugly gray steel curtains? To stop bombs.
Shell has an extensive art collection and it's eclectic to say the least. One of the most unusual is the large sculpture by Marini of an equestrian figure (supposedly a horse) which occupies space in a hallway, which seems definitely out of place in this conservative realm.
For security reasons I can't see any of the four group managing director's offices but I do see the Walnut room, a meeting room used by the executives and contains an oil painting of Sir Marcus Samuel, who founded the company in 1897.
How big is this place? Big enough to house a 350-seat theater in the basement and have employees stage full plays. The complex covers seven acres, contains 7,000 windows and seven miles of corridors. The company has four corporate aircraft.
More on the road in London
The RTZ Corporation PLC
London has loads of squares (Hanover Square, Berkeley Square) and circuses (Piccadiliy Circus, Oxford Circus, Finsbury Circus) which seem to be favorite spots for companies to congregate. The squares always seem to have a small fenced in park in the middle and ditto for circuses except the later seems to be circular (as in a circus arena) and sometimes has a monument instead of a park in the middle. A St. James Square address is probably one of the most prestigious addresses a company in London can have. The RTZ Corporation, an international mining concern has one. Also in St James Square are two other companies I'll be visiting later: Grand Metropolitan and Polygram.
What's the lure of St. James Square? Location, location and history. Several blocks away lies Buckingham Palace, the 600-something room home where Queen Elizabeth hangs her hat--oops I mean crown. Closer still is St. James Palace where Prince Charles (the queen's son and heir apparent to the throne) manages to make do with a smaller pad (it looks to have ONLY 100 rooms). Across the street from Prince Charles lives the 95-year old Queen Mother (mother of Queen Elizabeth) in her own palatial palace. Anyway, the development of St. James Square and it's beautiful town houses came about in the mid-17th century for the obvious reasons: the desire of the aristocracy to be near the Court of King Charles ll at St. James Palace.
With 1994 revenues of 3.9 billion pounds, profit 612 million pounds, RTZ is the world's biggest mining company. Yet, there's no name outside the six-story town house identifying the place. Entering is like walking into a fancy hotel lobby. The receptionist, sitting behind a big desk, looks more like a concierge. The floor is marble and the walls oak paneled. Oil paintings of London in the 1700's hang on the walls. A glass display case containing rocks and minerals (malachite, quartz and baryte to name a few) is off to the side. Another glass case contains a book I've seen before, "De Re Metallica" by Georguis Agricola (1494-1555). Western Mining Corporation in Melbourne, Australia also had a copy of this book on display in their lobby. It was the first systematic treatise on mining and metallurgy.
Hey this is great, my bike gets an invitation to be brought inside and stored in a side room. Wheeling the bike through the lobby produces double-takes from waiting Japanese businessmen.
I'm directed to an upper floor via an elevator but, one can't use the elevator unless the receptionist accesses it with a swipe card. Stepping off the elevator I'm introduced to someone who says, "hi, I'm sorry I haven't much time because I have to get to Parliament. If you don't mind why don't we talk in the car on the way over". He then hands me his card. It reads, "Lord Holme of Cheltenham CBE, Director External Affairs & Human Resources, The RTZ Corporation PLC".
Soon we're in the back seat of a company car with the driver weaving his way through heavy London traffic to Parliament several miles away. Knowing zilch about titles I ask Lord Holme how he got his. Seems there're are two ways of becoming a Lord. The queen bestows the honor for services to the country (which is for life) or, it's inherited-being passed on from generation to generation. The 58-year Holme obtained his the first way. Unfortunately though, when he dies his title goes with him.
Arriving at Parliament, Lord Holme invites me inside for a quick tour. It's pretty neat being quickly ushered through all the security checkpoints with Lord Holme saying, "he's with me". Passing the cloak room he points to the half-dozen wheel chairs and says, "I'm a youngster compared to some of these". It's true. I see dozens of old men (all of them Lords) just hanging around like it's their private club. The building is unbelievably beautiful with wood paneling mixed with wood carvings everywhere. You definitely get a feel of history and tradition here. Though I'm very impressed with what I see I'm somewhat disappointed to find being a Lord isn't exactly the same as being a US Senator. While they're only 100 US senators, there're over 1,200 Lords.
Though the driver's taking me solo back to RTZ offices, Lord Holme made arrangements for me to see the boardroom and Chairman Sir Derek Birkin's office. About 220 employees work in the 100,000 square foot building, which was rebuilt in 1960. Nothing special about the boardroom. Birkin's middle office has a view of the park in St. James Square and contains a double-sided partners desk, a fresh flower arrangement, no computer and neither rocks nor minerals.
RTZ stands for Rio Tinto Zinc, the name of a mine.
I'm in Portman Square, another reputable business address, visiting Guinness. With 1994 revenues of 3.5 billion pounds, profit 641 million pounds, Guinness is the world's largest alcoholic drinks company if ranked by operating profit. Johnny Walker Red Label, Johnny Walker Black Label, Gordon's gin, Tanqueray gin, Dewar's White Label and Bell's are some of the company's brands. In beer, Guinness is one of the world's 10 largest brewers.
Built in 1984, Guinness occupies six floors in the seven-story building, which is home to 150 employees. The top floor is occupied by Emerson Electric, the St. Louis, Missouri-based manufacturer.
Waiting in the lobby to meet with Murray Loake, head of media relations, I sit down into one of the four brown leather chairs. After checking out the glass display case filled with various company brands of liquor and beer I start writing down all the titles of books lying around the coffee table. There's the "Guinness Book of Sitcoms", "Guinness Who's Who of Heavy Metal", "Guinness Encyclopedia of Ghosts & Spirits", "Guinness Book of Helicopter Facts & Feats", Guinness Who's Who of Jazz", "Guinness Who's Who of Soap Operas", "Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music" Jeez, I give up. Thumbing through a company brochure I learn Guinness Publishing boasts a list of over 160 titles. Hmmmm. I wonder if my collection of company visitors badges would make one of their lists.
It's back to cafeterias in the basement here with theirs being called, "The Conservatory". I don't get to see CEO Tony Greener's sixth floor middle office because "we don't do that". The boardroom on the second floor has a well-stocked bar next to it and of course I check the various brands of liquor and beer to make sure a competitor's brand hasn't snuck in. Loake fesses up and says the sherry isn't their own brand because they don't make a sherry. The boardroom contains oil portraits of past members of the Guinness family. Guinness was founded in 1759.
Christie's International PLC
Christie's, with 1994 revenues of only 167 million pounds, profit 10 million pounds, doesn't qualify to be on my list of companies to visit but, its worldwide reputation makes it worthy a stop.
Headquarters is a five-story, company-owned building located a stone throw away from prestigious St. James Square. Meeting with Victoria Coode, press office, I learn the company isn't one to move around much having been located on this same site since 1823. Then again, Christie's did have to move for a time after suffering a direct hit during the Blitz in 1941.
Corporate headquarters also encompasses the company's main auction house which means entering the premises one gets to check out the various items coming up for auction. In several days a collection of works entitled "Post-War and Contemporary British Art" will go on the block so, Coode and I wander the various rooms. My favorites are the two paintings by swimming pool painter David Hockney (estimated to fetch $7,500 to $10,000 each) and the giant-size bronze horse by Elizabeth Frink. Conceived in 1978 and cast in an edition of two, it's titled "Horse". Coode says the eight-foot long horse (estimated sale $160,000 to $200,000) is one of the largest items ever displayed in the "Great Room". The largest auction room, called the "Great Room" is a hexagon-shaped. Why? With eight walls you can hang more pictures.
We enter a small room where a stamp auction is in progress I ask if I have to be careful about scratching my head or touching an ear lobe lest I unknowing become the proud owner of stamps. Coode says I've been watching too many movies.
The 300 employees here get a nice perk; free lunch in the cafeteria. I was curious as to whether Christie's would have a corporate art collection. Yep, it comprises about 20 works at the present, mainly by young British artists. Christie's buys around four a year. When you consider the type of business the company is in and being founded way back in 1766 by James Christie; 20 works isn't a heck of a lot for a 229-year old company.
Lots of interesting items in CEO Christopher Davidge's middle office including 10 family pictures, a paper weight with a piranha fish enclosed in it, 10 Southeast Asian wood figures, four toy model cars (2 of them Mercedes) and two gavels. Because buildings in this area are scrunched together he hasn't much of a view out his window sitting behind his double-sided partners desk.
The General Electric Company PLC
The posh Mayfair area with its luxurious townhouses ranks as one of London's toniest areas to work and live. So it's quite a surprise riding up to The General Electric Company's six-story offices and finding a dumpy-looking building. Built in 1963 and home to GEC since 1968, the interior and exterior look as though nothing's been done since it was built.
Don't think I'm the only one who says this place is the pits. My contact person Sara Morrison, head of community affairs, mentions it right off the bat. She says GEC's lease is soon to expire and in all probability will be moving.
GEC with 1995 revenues of 10 billion pounds, profit 714 million pounds, has no historical connection whatsoever to General Electric, the Fairfield, CT-based behemoth. However, like its counterpart in the USA, GEC makes consumer goods and is a good-size defense contractor.
One hundred and ten employees and one dog work here. Earlier, while waiting in the lobby, I saw Morrison return from walking her dog. Morrison says Jeremy, whom she describes as a "mongrel" has been accompanying her to the office for years and pretty much has free rein in the place.
Boy, the boardroom, located on the top floor definitely makes my Top 10 list of ugly boardrooms. The walls are barren and in desperate need of a paint job and the furnishings are sparse, dated and cheap-looking. ** NOTE** I later find out GEC austere headquarters is well-known in London and the company seems to relish the image of not spending shareholder's money on opulent surroundings.
Managing Director Lord Weinstock's middle office on the sixth floor is nothing special though I make note of the half-dozen horses paintings (he owns horses) and his lack of computer.
Zeneca Group PLC
Directly across the street from The General Electric Company sits the six-story townhouse headquarters of Zeneca Group, a pharmaceutical and healthcare company that was spun off from chemical giant ICI in 1993.
Meeting with Brian Griffen, personnel manager, in the company's well-appointed lobby I mention visiting GEC's spartan offices and how the difference between the two is like night and day. Griffin says many visitors are welcomed here and the surroundings help project the image of a successful concern.
Unfortunately, Griffins says I showed up the worst week possible because managers are here from all over the world doing budget presentations. Which means seeing CEO David Barnes second floor corner office, boardroom and meeting rooms are out of the question. Almost 100 employees work here. Though the company has been here since 1993 and occupies the whole building, it only leases space. Revenues in 1994 were 4.5 billion pounds, profit 443 million pounds.
Rank Organization PLC
Off a side street in a mostly residential area near Mayfair I find The Rank Organization. The whole one side of the block is filled with beautiful white Georgian terrace townhouses and the company's offices are inside one of these five-story beauts.
A tiny plaque outside identifies the place. Inside near the reception desk a large six-foot tall oil painting of Queen Elizabeth in her early 30's hangs on a wall. Also on a wall there's an image of a strong man striking a giant gong. I ask the receptionist about the image and she gives me one of those "your kidding!" looks. It's the company's famous logo. The Rank name in Europe's movie industry compares to Paramount, Warner, 20th Century-Fox in the USA. The strong man striking the gong is what movie goers have been seeing for over 60 years at the start of a Rank-produced movie.
I meet with nice guy Mike Livingston, group personnel director, who gives me an overview of the company's diverse interests. Besides being the UK market leader in bingo and social clubs, casinos, nightclubs, amusement centers and the world's largest supplier of video duplication services, Rank operates over 300 cinemas, is the world's largest booking agency (bands, cabaret performers, musical acts, speakers), owns and franchises Hard Rock cafes around the world (with the exception of the west of the USA and a small number of other countries), owns 29% of Rank Xerox, 50% of Universal Studios Florida and owns Pinewood Studios, the largest film studio in Europe (it's where most of the James Bond and Superman flicks were filmed).
Rank has had its offices here since 1984 and only leases space. How tricky was it for Rank to get permission to place its offices in this residential townhouse? Signing the lease, Rank agreed to the top floor remaining an apartment. It's now rented out to Rank, which uses it to house visitors and visiting Rank employees. It's a very well-to-do area with a Middle East sheik living next door.
About 60 employees work here in the Grade 2 listed building. I can't see CEO Mike Gifford's first floor corner office because "he's busy". I don't leave empty-handed though as Livingston presents me with a compact map of London and a Hard Rock Cafe Madrid cap. Hard Rock recently opened a place in Madrid, Spain.
At BTR, the industrial manufacturing giant, I have my first disappointing experience in London. BTR is a biggie, with 120,000 employees in over 40 countries and 1994 revenues of 9.1 billion pounds, profit 871 million pounds. BTR manufactures a slew of products such as batteries, sealing systems, power transmission components, diesel engines, conveyor belting, air moving devices, water measurement equipment, transformers and power semiconductors. The company also owns consumer oriented businesses such Dunlop Slazenger International (golf clubs, tennis balls and raquets).
The four-story red brick building has a late 1950's, early 1960's look to it and there's absolutely no name on the outside identifying the place. It fronts a so-so square, who's neighbors include a hospital and mostly residential apartments. I note the exterior security cameras as I lock up my bike.
The receptionist is very friendly, that is until Patsy Blacklock, secretary to CEO Alan Jackson, tells her via the phone to relay to me the message "we don't want to participate". When I ask, "why?", the receptionist says she doesn't know and refuses to let me ask Blacklock.
Lloyds Bank PLC
Just as I suspected, headquarters for Lloyds Bank, one of the UK's biggest with 81 billion pounds in assets, lies within a block of the Bank of England (their equivalent to our Federal Reserve Bank). Going through Europe I've noticed the big banks like to be within spitting distance of their country's central banks.
The eight-story structure, one of those grandiose banking edifices built in the early 1900's, contains their main branch with its grand banking hall. To me though, what's more impressive is the building directory in the lobby. Why? It points out what floor the CEO resides. I never see that anymore, especially in big cities and at big bank. The overwhelming main reason being security concerns.
I've been placed in a closed room off to the side of the banking hall waiting to meet with someone. After several minutes a man walks in, shakes hands and gives me his card. It reads, "Derek Harper, Inspector (Special Investigations)". Oh, oh. "What kind of inspector are you", I ask. "Fraud", he answers. Now, can imagine what kind of thoughts are racing through my head? I'm thinking, maybe they never got my advance material and they think I'm a phony trying to pull some kind of scam or maybe I'm trying to get inside info on Lloyds recently announced merger with TSB Bank down the street. Whew, I'm wrong. Harper says everyone else is busy (including the press office) with the Lloyds/TSB merger and he's been designated the one to meet with me.
About 500 employees work here. Harper isn't sure this is a listed building but, says the Art Deco-style elevators and banking hall are listed.
I'm finding company cafeterias in London are either in the basement or the top floor. Here it's the top floor. I can't see CEO Sir Brian Pitman's fourth floor office (with a view of the Bank of England) but, do get to see the large boardroom. Actually, visiting the boardroom turns out to be somewhat of a disappointment because I really can't get a feel of its grandeur. Why? The room is overflowing with porcelain dolls, candle holders, flowerpots, needleworks, pottery, bread baskets, quilts, oil and water color paintings, tapestries and much more. Is this the company's corporate art collection? Not exactly. It's the 47th exhibition of The Arts & Crafts Society of Lloyds Banks who's membership is open to the active and retired staff of the bank, their husbands, wives and children.
Revenues in 1994 were 2.1 billion pounds, profit 797 million pounds.
Standard Chartered PLC
When visiting banks and insurance companies I'm always keen on knowing if they own or lease their head office. Why? Banks and insurers generally lean toward the conservative side and to me, by owning their headquarters it shows stability and roots. Finding out they lease space gives me that "here today, gone tomorrow feeling".
With assets of US$ 53 billion, Standard Chartered is the sixth largest bank in the UK. Revenues in 1994 were US$2.6 billion, profit US$371 million.
Nothing special about Standard Charterís seven-story head office in The City. Built in 1990 and home to roughly 200 employees, it might have something to do with the company just leasing space.
The lobby is small and it's manned by three security guard/receptionists. Lining the walls in the small waiting room are 32 framed pictures of bank branches from the late 1800's and early 1900's. However, these aren't your normal, everyday-looking bank branches because most are from former far flung bank outposts in India, Africa and China. Commanding center stage in the waiting room stands what looks to be a beautiful antique Chinese combination desk/dresser.
Nothing interesting to report here though, Christopher Makin, communication manager, mentions Standard Chartered being the largest bank in the Falkland Islands.