More on the road in London
Boy, talk about stability and longevity. How many companies can say they've occupied the same site in The City since 1750? Food, drinks and leisure company Whitbread can. From 1750 to 1976 Whitbread brewed beer on the site. In 1976 the brewery was closed and Whitbread turned the complex into its corporate offices.
This is great, I walk in and the receptionist knows who I am. I spot one my news clippings sent in advance sitting on her desk. Richard Prescott, Media Relations Manager, gives me a warm welcome and tour of the neat place.
Whitbread, with 2.8 billion pounds in revenues, brews beers such as Heineken, Stella Artois and Boddingtons, operates over 1,600 pubs and 800 restaurants such as T.G.I. Friday's and Pizza Huts and owns lodging chains such as Travel Inn.
The 250 employees get free lunch. Where? At the King's Head pub located directly across the street (a company-owned pub). Employees can also catch a drink at the two other company pubs located streetside at either end of the headquarters property site.
The boardroom, located on the second floor of the three-story building, contains an oval-shaped table, fireplace, wood floor and a portrait of Samuel Whitbread, who founded the company in 1742.
The chairman's second floor office has a TV/VCR, family pictures and of all things; a boomerang.
What's the best part of my visit? It's not the drinking glass or T-shirt given to me. It's seeing the fancy red and gold ornate carriage used every year for the Lord Mayor Show. Though very few people live in the square mile area of The City, there's a Lord Mayor. It's mostly a ceremonial post. The highlight of his one year reign is a parade through the streets known as the Lord Mayor's Show which dates back to 1422 and is held to swear the oath of allegiance to the Monarch. Whitbread, since 1955, stores the carriage on the its property and supplies the six immense shire horses used to pull it.
It takes five visits to the head offices of Bass, the big hospitality (Holiday Inns), beer, tavern operator (over 2,600), betting shops, bowling and betting hall concern but I'm finally able to meet with someone. The very unfriendly receptionist easily makes my listing of worst receptionists in Europe. During one visit, she actually yelled at me for repeatedly dropping by the Mayfair office without an appointment. Lucky for me I'm in London for over a month because the first opening for Susan Donavon, Operations and Media Relations Manager, to meet with me is three weeks into the future from the time of my fourth visit.
A lobby plaque tells me the six-story, red brick with stone dressing structure was built in 1908. Originally the St. Petersburg Hotel and then the Canadian Officers Hospital, it was renovated in 1990 and Bass moved here in 1992. Magazines and newspapers on the coffee table in the small reception area include Leisure Week, Time Magazine, Bass Brewers News, Financial Times and The Times. In a corner sits a marble bust of M.T. Bass, who founded the company.
Boy, I don't know what I've done but Donavon's lackluster greeting lets me know she isn't very keen on meeting with me. Sitting on a lobby sofa we speedily go through my questions with Donavon showing absolutely no interest. About 70 employees work here. I can't see the boardroom and CEO's office because I'm curtly told "we don't give tours". Donavon refuses to tell me what floor CEO Sir Ian Prosser is on or even if he has a corner or middle office. Overall, not the type of reception I was expecting from the world's largest single brand (Holiday Inn) hospitality company. Revenues in 1994 were 4.5 billion pounds, profit 364 million pounds.
Grand Metropolitan PLC
On a scale of 1 through 10 my visit to Grand Metropolitan is an 11 thanks to Jeff Slater, Vice President and Director-Compensation and Benefits.
Located in prestigious St. James Square, the six-story Palladian-style townhouse headquarters has plenty of history. Built in 1771, it remained home to various different well-to-do families until 1920. One of those families was the 14th Earl of Strathmore, who occupied the house from 1906-1920. His daughter, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, now Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, spent much of her childhood here. From 1920 to 1991, several companies occupied the building including Eagle Star & British Dominion Insurance and The Distillers Company. Grand Metropolitan has been here since 1991.
Slater, an American, gives me an enthusiastic welcome and extensive tour. Over 130 employees work here.
Employees get free lunch at the head office of one of the world's largest consumer goods companies. Heard of Burger King, The Pillsbury Company, Pearle Vision (prescription eyewear), Pet Incorporated, Heublein, Cinzano and International Distillers? All under the Grand Met umbrella. Revenues in 1994 were 7.9 billion pounds, profit 450 million pounds.
Much restoration has been done and the interior of the place is drop-dead beautiful. One gets the feeling this is a special place while waiting in the very formal waiting room with it's chandelier and half-dozen paintings from the 1700's. Various rooms are still known by their original names. The Music Room has Arabsque stucco wall panels portraying musical instruments (pipes, trumpets) and molded recesses above the doors framing pictures by Nathaniel Dance of the muses with tambourines and triangles. The Second Drawing Room is really grand with its gilded barrel vaulted ceiling by Zucchi with inset paintings of allegorical scenes, and apsidal ends, resting on a heavily gilded cornice. The walls are hung with silk and punctuated by windows, doors and large pier glasses.
The Gun Room with five mounted muskets from 1801 is something you don't see everyday at a corporate headquarters and so is the fact Grand Met has a butler. The formal dining room, with its fireplace, is quite grand.
CEO George Bull has a second floor middle office with a straight-out view of St. James Square. No family picture are evident and I see one real plant.
We do drop by The Gallery (cafeteria) so I can check to see if employees get to pig out on Haagen Dazs, one of Grand Met's companies. Yep, the good stuff is there.
Cadbury Schweppes PLC
Berkeley Square, in the fashionable Mayfair area, ranks right up there with St. James Square in terms of prestige. It's here I find the nine-story headquarters of Cadbury Schweppes, the big beverage and confectionery concern with 1994 revenues of 4 billion pounds, profit 261 million pounds.
From the late 1700's to 1904 the site housed a hotel. In 1904 prestigious apartments were built. In 1989 it was redeveloped into office accommodations with the Grade II listed Edwardian facade of Portland stone saved. Dora McCabe, the amicable Group Public Relations Manager, says the company has occupied the building since 1993.
As expected I find a glass bowl filled with chocolates in the reception area but, I valiantly restrain myself from partaking. Why? I have no self control. It's like trying to eat only one potato chip. The marbled entrance is nice and so is the wood floor in the waiting area. Framed in glass on a waiting room wall is an unwrapped bar of chocolate. The plaque below it says this was the first Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar made by the company's Cadbury Poland plant. Magazines and newspapers on the coffee table includes The Economist, European Markets, The Times, The Financial Times, Banking Technology, Boardroom, and The New Commercial Times.
Over 130 employees work here. The boardroom contains an oval-shaped table with a bowl of chocolate biscuits (a Cadbury product of course) in the center of the table. I like CEO David Wellings' double-sided partners desk in his fourth floor middle office. Because his desk is faced the other way he can't look out onto Berkeley Square. He has one real plant, no computer, six pictures of animals and a small refrigerator next to his desk containing a whole slew of cold Cadbury Schweppes beverages. Though their brands includes Schweppes, Canada Dry, Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, Crush, Sunkist, Squirt and other regional brands, I'm disappointed he doesn't have a can of my favorite which I know they own: A&W root beer. McCabe gives me the okay to snatch several cans from Wellings's fridge to try.
There was a Schweppes (Jacob Schweppe) and a Cadbury (John Cadbury). Cadbury and Schweppes merged in 1969. I also don't leave empty-handed, being given a box of chocolates. Unfortunately I end up giving the box of chocolates to someone at Bloomberg's London office. Why? I hate dark chocolate and that's what I was given.
A small discreet plaque outside the front door of the six-story townhouse off of Oxford Circus lets you know you've found the head office of Allied Domecq, the world's second largest spirits company and fourth largest retailer in the world.
Allied Domecq, with revenues in 1995 of 8 billion pounds, profit 410 million pounds, owns Dunkin' Donuts, the world's largest donut chain with over 4,100 stores, Baskin-Robbins, the world's largest ice cream store chain with over 4,000 outlets and 4,100 pubs in the UK. In spirits, Kahlua, Beefeater Gin, Tequila Sauza, Harveys, Ballantine, Teacher's and Canadian Club are a few of the company's famous brand names.
Michael Crofts, Corporate Communications Manager, gives me a warm welcome and tour of the place in spite of not seeing my advance material which hadn't trickled down to him from CEO Anthony Hales office.
Allied has leased the building since 1990. The walls of the small reception area and hallways contain quite a bit of colorful modern art. The company's art collection consists primarily of British artist from 1950 to 1980.
Computer equipped CEO Hale looks out his second floor window to the offices of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) across the street. Nothing special about the rectangular table in the boardroom and nary a donut in sight.
Guardian Royal Exchange PLC
It's not that unusual when entering a building to be greeted by doormen/security guards but, when they're wearing green coats and tails, one definitely takes notice. That's the situation for visitors when visiting insurer Guardian Royal Exchange's head office smack dab in the center of The City. Next door neighbors include the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange.
The building, known as The Royal Exchange, makes my top 10 list of neatest buildings in London. Since 1569, there have been four Royal Exchanges built on this site. This was the place where merchants from all over Europe could come and sell their wares and buy English goods in return. The current exchange was built in 1844 and with its eight gigantic Corinthian pillars and portico modeled on that of the Pantheon in Rome, one can't help but be impressed by this majestic-looking structure.
Jo Ruckman, Communications Editor, walks me around the five story structure, which is only partially occupied by Guardian. With over 16 billion pounds in assets and 1994 revenues of 3.7 billion pounds, Guardian is one of the UK's biggest insurers.
Besides working in a landmark, the 100 employees get free lunch and a chance to see historic items such as the specially woven tablecloth Queen Elizabeth lunched on back in 1571 during her visit to the exchange. *NOTE the date is 1571 and it's not the current Queen Elizabeth. Also displayed on walls are antique fire marks and fire buckets.
The wood paneled, second floor boardroom with its walnut oval-shaped table, hand-made carpets and three chandeliers impresses me.
Formerly the site of St. James Theater, Inchape leases a six-story building a stone's throw away from St. James Palace (home of Prince Charles) and near Buckingham Palace. Built in 1958, and occupied by Inchape since 1989, about 90 employees work here according to Mary MacLennan, Corporate Affairs Officer, for this international services and marketing group.
Inchape is the world's largest independent importer & distributor of motor vehicles, bottles Coca-Cola in several countries including Russia, operates the world's second largest testing organization (petroleum, commodities, minerals etc.) and has the largest independent shipping agency network in the world. Revenues in 1994 were 6 billion pounds, profit 141 million pounds.
Nothing much to write about here. The cafeteria sits on the top floor and employees get free lunch. CEO Charles Mackay has a third floor corner office with family pictures and computer.
I was starting to think it was a conglomerate conspiracy after conglomerates BTR and Hanson gave me the bums rush. That's not the way it is at Tomkins, once I get past their concrete barriers and inside their high walled-in complex about eight miles from The City.
You know those barriers used at government buildings, the ones where the concrete slabs come up from under ground? That's what you have to pass as well as getting the entry gates to be swung open before one can enter the premises and make your way to the six-story red brick building. Built in 1979, the company-owned structures houses 60 employees.
Anthony Spiro, Director-Corporate Affairs, is in a VERY good mood. Company stock has been going up all morning after Tomkins announces an agreement to buy privately-held Gates Rubber, the Denver, Colorado-based, billion dollar in revenue manufacturer of rubber automotive products. Of course, I mention the stock's probably going up because I'm visiting his company and I also mention my visiting Gates Rubber about six years ago. I distinctly remember Gates's extensive western art collection and, the woman taking me up to the boardroom who made a point of showing me the men's bathroom off to one side and the lack of a woman's bathroom.
Tomkins's two receptionists are very friendly and the lobby walls are lined with glass display cases showing the wide range of products made by Tomkins's various subsidiaries. Lawn mowers, handcuffs (world's largest manufacturer), PVC pipe fittings, bread and other bakery products, handguns (Smith & Wesson), bicycles (Murray), snowblowers, conveyor systems, wheels, axles and temperature sensing devices are just a few of Tomkins's products. Revenues in 1995 3.7 billion pounds, profit 208 million pounds.
I can't see CEO Greg Hutchings's office because he's in a meeting but, the boardroom atop the roof is different. It looks like a converted greenhouse and one actually has to walk onto the roof to reach it. The view's of The City in the distance is great. Spiro says there's no reason for the company to be in the high-rent district and transportation from here is great with the London Underground and a rail station within a block.
Spiro's office contains a very unusual framed picture and it gets quite a chuckle out of me when he explains the story behind it. For the annual report, the company instructed USA subsidiary lawn mower maker Murray (Ohio) to send them a photo of a typical Midwestern family backyard summer scene with dad cutting the grass on one of the company's driver mowers and kids and animals playing in the background. What Tomkins got from Murray was a backyard scene of dad cutting grass sans kids and animals. When Tomkins called up about the photo they were told Murray company lawyers advised against having kids and animals in the same photo because of legal ramifications. Spiro thought this was ridiculous and had the staged photo on his office wall sent to the lawyers. What does the photo show? It's a typical Midwestern family in their backyard with dad cutting the rich green grass on a sit-down Murray mower except there's a small girl laying on the ground in front of the oncoming mower and a boy is posed with a baseball bat getting ready to slug the mower and animals are loose everywhere.
On the road in London
London definitely makes my listing of the world's great cities. I do however, find myself being on the cautious side after visiting a company in St. James Square. Exiting the building I noticed police cordoned off the whole square. Being the inquisitive type I asked what was going on. A briefcase had been left near the park area and nobody's taking chances. How has that affected me? Well, the other day I was riding my bike through The City (financial district) and spotted a pouch in the street. The pouch looked like it might contain something of value. However, rather than stop and take a look, thoughts of the IRA and bombs came to mind and I found myself not stopping. Which brings me to something else I've noticed: The streets of The City are void of trash cans or litter containers which I learn make great hiding places for bombs.
So, here you have London, one of the world's most important financial and cultural centers yet, it still manages to hang onto to old roots and traditions. There's no better example of this than the quaint sight of quart-size milk bottles left outside the doors of homes AND businesses.
With the back wall of Buckingham Palace across the street I guess you could say Hanson's head office has a prestigious location. Scaffolding is up around the 9-story building so I can't really get a look but, I'd say the place was built in the 1950's. I count 18 sofa seats in the lobby area as I wait. After 25 minutes I'm starting to get upset. It's not the waiting, it's the fact the lobby area is the designated smoking area and employees are coming down here and lighting up their stinking cigarettes. The smelly scene is not a pretty sight for visitors. Then again, what should one expect from a company owning Imperial Tobacco, Britain's second largest manufacturer of tobacco products.
Hanson, with 1994 revenues of 10.8 billion pounds, profit 1 billion, is a good old-fashion conglomerate. Though Hanson is demerging non-core US businesses, it still consists of seven major businesses: chemicals, coal, building materials, cranes, tobacco, forest products and propane.
My wait turns out to be in vain as Aviva Gershunny-Roth, head of corporate communications, steps out to the lobby and says, "we don't want to participate". I tell Gershunny-Roth I'm upset because this is the same company that has been running ads in business magazines for years telling interested investors to call or write for an annual report and information on the company. As I tell Gershunny-Roth, "instead of writing or calling for information I've showed up in person". Gershunny-Roth says they're "too busy". I respond with, "I'm going to be here a month, nobody has 10 minutes over the next month to meet with no?". She responds with a "no".
Abbey National PLC
Abbey National used to be a major player on the building society scene. However, that changed several years ago when it did something unheard of: converted over to a bank. What's changed? Not much because its 94 billion pounds in assets makes Abbey National one of the big boys in the UK banking industry.
One doesn't go to The City to find Abbey's head office but, about five miles away near the West End area. Built in 1932, the eight-story, belltower-clad edifice has a combination Art Deco/California Mission-style look to it.
Gug Kyriacou, Press Officer, greets me in he lobby and it's then I find he also lays claim to a more important title; official Secretary to Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Abbey National's headquarters address, 221b Baker street, was home to Sherlock Holmes throughout his illustrious career. What does all this mean to Kyriacou? Lots of letters, over 100 a week, arrive from all over the world. They're mostly from young kids who've become acquainted with the great detective exploits. Then again, the heaviest mail comes around Sherlock Holmes's birthday. It's Kyriacou's job to handle all the correspondence.
I decide to do some sleuthing myself as Kyriacou gives me a tour of the modestly furnished offices that are home to 800 employees. The top floor houses the boardroom and it's pretty much the norm with portraits of past chairmen hanging on the walls, a horseshoe shaped-table, eight real plants and a grandfather clock. The rooftop garden isn't anything fancy.
Trying my best to make Holmes proud, I feverishly look around trying to unearth some fascinating tidbit about Abbey National's headquarters. It's tiring work so I ask Kyriacou for some water. I'm given tap water and comment how great it tastes. I mention this because I've found London tap water to be awful. Kyriacou says a 635-foot well under the building supplies them with their own water supply. He goes on to say that in 1981 a bottling plant with a capacity of 50,000 half-liter bottles was installed in the rear of the building and up until a few years ago the public could buy bottles of 221B Sparkling Table Water. Boy what a great return for the bank, you go inside and give 'em your hard earned dough and they give you back something dug up from under their building.
WPP Group PLC
With 1994 revenues of US$2.2 billion, profits US$73 million, WPP is the world's largest advertising company or as Feona McEwan, Director of Corporate Communications, puts it, "largest marketing services company". Head office for this behemoth company is a small, very discreet, former two-story home on Farm Street in the ritzy Mayfair area. One wonders how this well-to-do street, which is only several blocks long, ended up with such a name. All I see are expensive turn-of-the-century townhouses, which many have been converted into office.
Not much of a lobby as I make note of the magazines on a coffee table. It's all trade publications: Advertising Age, Adweek, PR Week and Marketing Week. Nary a sign of a Readers Digest.
About 20 people work here and it's been home to the company since 1988. I learn WPP stands for Warren Plastic Products, a shell company used for acquisition purposes.
I can't see CEO Martin Sorrell's office because "financial papers are all over the place". I ask McEwan if Sorrell has any unusual nik-naks in his office. She says he has a baseball bat. I ask if I can see if it's signed by anybody famous. She retrieves it. We look at it and I try to decipher the names of the half-dozen people who've signed it. Hmmm, could it be Ernie Banks and fellow Cubbies? or members of the Bronx bombers? Intrigued, I get McEwan to promise to ask Sorrell about it when he returns to the office tomorrow.
Well, so much for Hall of Fame personalities signing the bat. Turns out it was given to Sorrell by several employees, who signed it using their best impersonations of a doctor's undecipherable scribble.
British Gas PLC
British Gas occupies an 18-story waterfront building several miles from The City (lest you forget what I told you earlier the square mile financial center of London is known as The City). London isn't a city of towering edifices so, the building fronting the Thames River really stands out.
Built in 1971 and formally known as Rivermill House (the former site of a mill), the building is leased by British Gas. Over 300 employees work here and yes, there's a marked 13th floor.
Oh, oh, I check the greenery in the lobby and find the two plants are real but, the two tall trees are fake. Not to worry though because the people I meet with are all the genuine nice type. The three include Peter Wood, Corporate Communications Manager, Kay Wilkins, Community Relations Manager and Peter Sanguinetti, Director of Corporate Affairs.
Turns out one of the main reasons the company is headquartered in this spot has to do with the most of the government regulatory bodies the company deals with are located within several blocks. British Gas was privatized by the government in 1986. Revenues in 1994 were 9 billion pounds, profit 737 million pounds.
The company cafeteria, located on the 17th floor, affords great views in any direction. Checking out CEO Cedric Brown's top floor office with its orange furniture and blue rug I count four family pictures and four real plants.
British Steel PLC
Not far from British Gas and fronting the opposite side of the Thames River sits the 10-story, ugly-looking head office of British Steel. Built in the 1950's, the company-owned, sad-looking structure should be torn down to put it out of its misery.
British Steel was formed in 1967 and privatized by the government in 1988. The company has been in the building since 1982 and is home to 250 employees. The most interesting item in the building is the eight-foot long, solid steel cannon we encounter in a hallway as Michael Hitchcock, Media Relations Manager, takes me up to the boardroom. Built in 1862, the mean-looking weapon fired 20 pounders.
Revenues in 1995 were 6.2 billion pounds, profit 316 million pounds.
Still riding along the Thames River I come across Unilever's beautiful head office. Built in 1930, the impressive eight-story stone-clad structure is similar in style and age to British Petroleum's and ICI's head office complete with the seemingly mandatory figurine sculptures atop the columns.
Entering the lobby with its art-deco motif I pass two three-pound brass cannons guarding the entrance and stain glass windows. On a wall hang two six-foot tall portraits in elaborate gold leaf frames. One is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England and the other Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. I guess it's a way of reminding visitors this is a multinational company with dual headquarters (the other is in Rotterdam where I received a great reception). Revenues in 1994 were 30 billion pounds, profit 1.5 billion pounds.
On another wall hangs a 15 foot by 15 foot Nigerian woodcarving and nearby is a life-size bronze of an American eagle on a branch with it's wings spread. Nearby there's a five-foot tall bronze of Nata Raja (dancing king). Michael Haines, Press Office, says when the building was opened subsidiaries around the world sent works of art from their country. The eagle was sent by its Thomas J. Lipton subsidiary in the USA, the bronze dancing king from Hindustan Lever Ltd. in India and the stain glass windows in the entry from Germany. The company does have a corporate art collection primarily contemporary and limited to young UK artists.
Walking around the floors we pass an antique ice cream cart in the second floor lobby. Conference rooms are named after areas of the world the country does business in such as the Guinea, Nigeria and Iberia rooms. Over 900 employees work here and in a newer building (1981) next door.
Very impressive and elegant fourth floor boardroom with its wood paneling, 40-foot high ceiling and fireplace. Oil portraits of past chairmen hang on the walls and founder William Lever's 12 foot by 6 foot portrait is noticeably larger than the rest. The table is horseshoe-shaped and there's a Dutch grandfather clock to the side.
HSBC Holdings plc
Who says I don't know what I'm talking about? As I've mentioned many times before, receptionists set the tone for the company. Experience has taught me there's a correlation between how a receptionist treats me and the kind of reception I'll receive. Case in point: my reception at HSBC Holdings. With over US$314 billion dollars in assets and over 3,000 offices in 68 countries, HSBC Holdings is the UK's largest financial company. (Midland Bank and Hong Kong Bank are it's two biggest banks).
Headquarters is a 11-story, blue reflective glass building fronting the Thames River in The City. Originally built in 1985 to house employees for its Midland Bank subsidiary, it was commandeered in 1993 when HSBC relocated its head office from Hong Kong to London. A total of 450 people work in the place.
The large atrium is quite impressive and so are the 16 bronze seagulls in real water fountains swooping down to catch bronze fish. The two receptionist are not friendly at all and make me feel as though I've interrupted them with something trivial and unimportant.
Waiting, I spend a few minutes looking at the two glass display cases filled with old bank notes and pictures of old head office buildings from around the world.
Colin Roberts, Internal Communications Manager, comes out to the lobby and says no one is familiar with what I'm doing. I mention my letter probably being in the building somewhere and ask if I could come back another time after he's had a chance to track it down. Roberts says we should sit down and go through the questions now. I get the feeling he wants to do it now so he doesn't have to deal with me at a later date. Though I really appreciate his sitting down to answer questions, my reservations about going through with it at this time later prove to be right. My request to see the CEO's office, boardroom, cafeteria or anything other than the lobby is rejected because of "security purposes" and "having no advance warning of your visit". I leave on a sour note telling Roberts, "I've traveled halfway around the globe to visit you and all I get to see is the lousy lobby. I was expecting something more from one of the world's biggest banks."
Tate & Lyle PLC
Hugging the Thames River and only a three-wood shot away from the Tower of London and the beautiful Tower Bridge is where I find the head office for Tate & Lyle, the world's largest sugar company.
The unexciting-looking, five-story structure has a 1970's look to it and has been home base to the company since 1978. The company only leases space and about 100 employees occupy the third floor. In the lobby of the building I notice a bronze bust of someone and ask the security guard who it is. He hasn't a clue. I ask David Dale, Manager, Group Corporate Communications, when he greets me. It's Henry Tate, one of the co-founders, who merged his company with Abraham Lyle's back in 1921. So how come Abraham Tate doesn't get a bust? Turns out his is in the third floor reception area. Neither one has a name plate. I guess it's one of those situations where the employees know or better know who they were.
Displayed in glass cases near the third floor reception area are various solid silver sugar dishes used by various kings of England. There's a set of two silver tea caddies and a sugar bowl used by King George II in 1739 and a silver sugarbox used by King Charles II in 1675 plus there's a set of three sugar castors used by King George I in 1718 and another set of three castors used by King George the 3rd. Boy, I guess they didn't have those plain sugar packets back then.
This building site has quite a bit of history. It was on this site where London's first medieval Custom House was built for Geoffrey Chaucer, who was Comptroller of Customs and Exise in 1374-86, and was still working here when he began writing Canterbury Tales. Originally known as Wool Quay, I find it very interesting to see it's name has somehow evolved into Sugar Quay. Hmmm, must of had to do a lot of sweetening up to get that done.
Chairman and CEO Sir Neil Shaw has a great view down the Thames River from his office. I make note of the telescope (which doesn't work), the computer, five toy trucks, four real plants (no sugar cane), several African woodcarvings and a globe.
Practically across the street from The Tower of London lies the company-owned, eight-story headquarters of merchant banker Hambros. The company traces its roots back to 1839 when it was founded by Carl Joachim Hambro, a Dane. Total gross income for 1995 was 780 million pounds, with gross assets of 8.7 billion pounds.
Laura Blake, Assistant Director-Corporate Communications gives me a tour of the reddish granite-clad edifice, home to 500 employees.
Nothing special about CEO Sir Chips Keswick's 7th floor corner office and I notice it's lacking a computer.
Most interesting part of the building is the roof garden on top that features a real grass regulation croquet court. Employees have inter-department tournaments.
Barclays Bank PLC
One of the newest buildings in The City houses the head offices of Barclays Bank, one of the big boys in international banking with over 162 billion pounds in assets. Built in 1994, I never really get a good look at the 18-story, company-owned structure before entering because it's too close to other buildings. I mention this because meeting with Anne Strickland, Group Hospitality Manager, I ask if employees or locals have any nicknames for the 300,000 square foot granite and glass clad tower. She right away comes up with two: the mosque and the phallic building. I'm somewhat taken aback until Strickland shows me a picture. About halfway up the building are several overhangs with gold leaf trim which do give it the "mosque" look. As for the other nickname, well, the 18-story tower has a dome atop and there're two similar-looking smaller towers with domes-one on each side of the big tower giving it that phallic-look.
Over 1,800 employees work here and I guess the executives don't have ego trips because the company occupies only the first six floors. As Strickland mentions, the top floors can be rented out for top dollar oops, I mean pounds.
Being 305 years old, the bank has lots of history and seen more than its share of mergers and acquisitions over the years. Parts of several floors in the building have marble plaques embedded with the names of various financial institutions which have become part of Barclays such as The Colonial Bank in 1836 and Cox & Company in 1914. The first floor houses the fancy executive dining rooms. My favorite room has to be the one using the original oak paneling from a nearby house, which was built after the Great Fire of London in 1666. David Barclay purchased the house around 1733 and six monarchs, including George III, are recorded as having visited the room to watch the Lord Mayor's procession (an annual parade for the Lord Mayor of London). It represents the decoration of a principal room of a well-to-do City merchant in the reign of Charles II.
The boardroom on the fifth floor contains an oval-shaped table along with bookcases lined with old bankers magazines plus, there's a 1759 company annual register.
I'm surprised at CEO Martin Taylor's small, unassuming, bare bones office. I'm also surprised to see a miniature Wells Fargo Bank stagecoach near a window. I'm from California and used to bank with Wells Fargo Bank, which uses the stagecoach as it's corporate logo. Turns out it was given to Taylor as a result of a business dealing the two banks completed.
Boy, over the years I guess parts of the world have gone soft. Did you know until 1832 the statutory punishment for forging money in England was the death penalty?
No big signs on the building telling me I've found the head offices of the world's largest pharmaceutical company. Though GlaxoWellcome occupies space in a good-looking newish (late 1980's) eight-story building in prestigious and expensive Berkeley Square it's a pretty low-key affair. Meeting with Martin Sutton, manager-corporate communications, I'm somewhat surprised to learn the company occupies only floors three and four and has around 90 employees here. Sutton says the company has a huge research/office facility about 15 miles northwest of here in Greenford.
No employee cafeteria here but, there're loads of food places nearby. I can't see CEO Sir Richard Sykes corner office because "he's busy" but Sutton mentions Sykes has two brass microscopes in his office. Checking out the boardroom I note the oval-shaped table, stained glass window and paintings of past chairman hanging on the walls. Shelves in the boardroom are filled with past issues of Charlers Journal , medical reference books dating back to 1872. Also in the room, a mid 19th century portable apothecary box.
Reuters Holdings PLC
I guess you could say my visiting Reuters Holdings is akin to someone from Pepsi going to Coke's head office and asking to be shown around. You see, Bloomberg LP and Reuters are fierce bitter rivals in supplying electronic financial news and data with Reuters, (Goliath), making it known that it intends to squash Bloomberg (David), the brash upstart.
Reuters, with 1994 revenues of 2.3 billion pounds, profit 348 million pounds, ranks as the world's largest providers of news to broadcasters and newspapers, its main competitors are Associated Press, Worldwide Television News and Agence France Presse.
It takes five visits and a half-dozen phones but, I eventually get to meet with Peter Thomas, head of corporate relations, in the company's grade 2 listed building on infamous Fleet Street. In its heyday, Fleet Street was home to all the newspapers in London. Built in 1937, the nine-story company-owned building along with space in nearby buildings houses between 800 to 900 employees. I don't get to see CEO Peter Job's office but Thomas says Job has three computers: a Reuters, a laptop and a desktop. The company's art collection consists mostly of 18th and 19th century landscapes, mostly by English artists. There's a pub in the building.
I definitely give Thomas points for showing some class in agreeing to meet with me. It would have been very easy for him to tell me to get lost. I've been wondering if the shoe was on the other foot where I was with Reuters and was visiting Bloomberg, what the reaction at Bloomberg would have been.
Real tacky treatment at BAA, which owns and operates seven United Kingdom airports including Heathrow and Gatwick. The British government a few years back privatized BAA (British Airports Authority). Revenues in 1995 were $1.8 billion.
One would think BAA would be headquartered at one of its airports. Nope. It's a spit away or right across the street from Victoria Station, one of London's main railway stations. Walking into the eight-story building which houses a variety of tenants I have to pass muster with the security guards. A guard calls up CEO Sir John Egan's secretary to find out who's my contact person. Egan's personal assistant, Sarah Oeworthy, tells the guard to tell me they aren't interested in meeting with me. Hmm, I ask the guard if I can speak to Oeworthy. He calls up Oeworthy again and she tells the guard to tell me she isn't interested in talking to me. Boy, I never expected to be treated like this here. The guard says not to take it personally because "they're like that". Thanks to the two guards I find out BAA occupies four floors in the building.
Though David Stevens, deputy secretary for Courtaulds, an international chemical company with 1995 revenues of 2.1 billion pounds, says they hadn't received my advance material I'm impressed with his flexibility and spur of the moment decision to sit down in the marbled lobby and let me ask him questions. The company leases space in an almost new (built 1992) four-story building in the West End area of London. About 100 employees work here. On the way to the boardroom we past CEO Sipko Huisman's top floor all glass corner office and I see him busy at work and note his use of a computer. Surrounding the tan colored marbled boardroom table are 14 black cloth chairs. There's one painting hanging on a wall. It's by Arthur Burgess in 1928 called "A Queen and Her Satellites" and shows various ships surrounding a large yacht.
Courtaulds Textiles PLC
Several miles down the road from Courtaulds I visit Courtaulds Textiles, which was spun off in 1990. It's the UK's largest producer of lingerie and underwear with a quarter of its sales (1994 revenues one billion pounds) coming from supplying retailer Marks & Spencer with clothing and home furnishings.
There're are two receptionists sitting behind the counter as I enter the five-story red brick building. One of the receptionists, Peter Alden, says the company had received my advance material but was told to say no one had time to see me. Talking to Alden a little further I find out the receptionists were instructed to "politely tell him no one has time". Boy, talk about passing on the dirty work to someone else.
The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
The six-story head office of The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (or P&O) near Buckingham Palace looks old from the outside and as Stephen Rabson, librarian, informs me, it IS old, having originally been built in 1824 as a townhouse. P&O have leased the building for the past 100 years.
P&O operate in a variety of businesses. It's world's biggest ferry operator between Britain and the continent and its Princess Cruises is one of the world's three biggest cruise ship operators. The company does bulk and container shipping, property development, construction and is in the house building business.
The 70 employees get free lunch and get the chance to see lots of ship paraphernalia scattered about the building. When one enters the building there's a three-foot long scale model of the cruise ship Oriana on display (built in 1990). The company's original charter from 1840 is framed and hangs on display and on a stairway is a ship's bell from the 1853 ship "Cadoz". The most interesting item though is the collection of old letters. One of P&O's first businesses in 1840 was obtaining contracts to deliver mail via its ships to port cities such as Falmouth, Vigo, Lisbon (Portugal), Cadiz (Spain), Alexandria (Egypt), Gibraltar and Hong Kong. Many in the collection of over 100 letters are well over 100 years old.
On a wall in the boardroom hangs an oil painting by William Fawcett of the company's first steamship back in the early 1800's. There's also an officer’s sword from 1827 and an 1890 globe. The boardroom table itself is comprised of six small tables forming a square.
It's a tacky reception at Pearson but I've come to expect lousy treatment at media companies. Pearson with 1994 revenues of 1.6 billion pounds, owns the Financial Times newspaper, book publishers Addison Wesley Longman plus Penguin books. Pearson also owns 50% of The Economist magazine and several well-know tourist attractions: Madame Tussaud's and Warwick Castle.
The company occupies floors 3-7 in a new eight-story building opposite the Museum of Man. The receptionist and security guard contact one of the executive secretaries, who steps into the first floor lobby. The unsmiling and not very nice woman refuses to shake my hand and treats me as though I'm some kind of crazy man. She says to "write in again" and turns around and leaves--refusing to give me her name. The security guard and receptionist are also puzzled by the bizarre treatment but at least they give me her name: Nuala Nangle.
I call up later in the day and make an appointment via his secretary to meet with Duncan Campbell Smith, director public affairs, next week.
A week goes by and I show up at 10 AM for my appointment. Smith's secretary says it's a very bad time to show up. Pearson with several partners put in a bid for a new television channel being made available by the government and today at 10 AM the winner will be announced. Understandably I leave. Later that night while watching the news I learn Pearson's group won. I call up the next day to see about making another appointment and Smith's secretary says to "just forget about it " because there's too much going on.
***** I'm a newspaper and magazine freak which I guess goes back to my owning a news clipping service. I subscribed to over 100 newspapers and magazines and companies and/or individuals would pay me, to scan these publications for mentions of them, their companies or whoever. One of the more frustrating problems in Europe is my not being able to read the local newspapers. However, one doesn't have that problem in newspaper happy London.
In the USA I religiously read the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Forbes magazine. In Europe the Wall Street Journal 's European edition is a poor imitation of it's sister publication (there's way too few stories). The Financial Times takes the crown as far and away the best business (English-speaking) newspaper in Europe. As far as newspapers in London, the best all around newspaper believe it or not is a tabloid, The Evening Standard (Monday-Saturday).
Ranking of the top five papers in London:
1. Evening Standard
2. The Financial Times
3. The Times
4. Tie between The Daily Telegraph and The Independent
The Sunday Times, published separately and only on Sunday is owned by The Times (Rupert Murdoch) and is far and away the best Sunday paper. Since being in Europe I've fallen in love with The Economist magazine. The writing is first rate and it's analysis and perspective of what's going on in the world is absolutely top notch. The International Herald Tribune newspaper (half-owned by the New York Times and half by the Washington Post) publishes six days a week and keeps me updated with business news in the USA. The USA Today International edition (five days a week and only two thin sections) keeps me updated on sports. The only problem with the last two is being able to find it the same day with many cities carrying the newspapers a day behind.
Thorn EMI PLC
Visiting Thorn EMI turns out to be a lot of fun thanks to Colin Woodley, the amiable director of communications. Tucked away in ritzy Hanover Square in a five-story black-glassed building with blue trim it's a very decentralized company with only 33 employees working here. Revenues in 1995 were 4.5 billion pounds for this consumer goods rental store operator (Rent-A-Center in the USA and Radio Rentals in Britain), owner of HMV music stores and, its EMI subsidiary is one of the world's largest music companies.
Founded in 1897, the company has leased the 43,000 square foot building since 1986. I make note of the two fake plants in the lobby. The current company is a result of a merger in 1979 between Thorn Electrical Industries and Electric &Musical Industries Ltd. The company has no CEO and I can't see the boardroom or Chairman Sir Colin Southgate's fourth floor office due to their being "in use" though Woodley invites me back another time when they're not in use.
There's no cafeteria but employees have use of a small kitchen. Work hours are 9am to 530 PM and there's no formal company dress code though "smart casual" is what Woodley calls appropriate.
Reed International PLC
What a lousy first visit to Reed International, publisher and information provider, in their beautiful mid-Victorian mansion located in the Mayfair area. The receptionist is busy and completely ignores me for five minutes as I stand in front of her. Who's she on the phone with? She's ordering lunch. I then talk to co-chairman Ian Irvine's secretary who thinks I want a donation. After explaining AGAIN, I'm told to contact Nicholas Jones, director of corporate affairs. He isn't in so I come back another day.
I come back several days later and wait in the lobby to meet with Jones. There's lots of reading material on the coffee table including Farmers Weekly, Commercial Motor, Computer Weekly, Estates Gazette, Amateur Photography, The Tax Journal, New Law Journal and Electronics Weekly, all of which according to Jones are Reed Elsevier publications. Reed is the UK's leading publisher of consumer magazines with over 74 titles including Bride and Homes & Gardens. Reed Elsevier is one of those companies (Unilever, Royal Dutch Shell) which have dual head offices in separate countries. I visited Reed Elsevier's Amsterdam offices earlier in the year and had a very tacky experience.
Jones answers my questions sitting in the lobby of the seven-story, 50,000 square foot building of which Reed leases three floors. Built in 1903, it's been home to the 40 employees since 1989 but Jones says they'll be moving in the near future. I don't get to see any of the company offices because Jones says, "we just don't do that". "Is it me or do you say that to everyone" I ask. "We don't take anyone up stairs" Jones replies.
Trafalger House PLC
I'm always curious as to whether a construction company built its head office or leases space in someone else's building as if one of theirs isn't good enough. Though Trafalger House built its ugly eight-story building near Berkeley Square in 1956, it's now only a tenant leasing floors three, four and five. Originally built as a hotel, the company has been in the building since 1975.
Tom Smith, head of corporate communications, answers my questions. Not only is Trafalger in the construction business but they also own Cunard (Royal Viking cruise line) and are in the house building and engineering businesses. Nothing worth noting about the nondescript place which is home to 110 employees. Revenues in 1994 were 3.8 billion pounds.
With 1994 revenues of 3.7 billion pounds, BICC is the world's second largest manufacturer and supplier of cable. The company occupies the fourth floor of a turn-of-the-century 10-story building in Mayfair. BICC stands for British Insulation Caledon(??) Cables. About 40 employees work on the floor. I meet with Tim Sharp, director-corporate communications. Can't see CEO Alan Jones office due to his being in a meeting and the boardroom is dull with pictures of past company projects hanging on the walls.
Blue Circle Industries
I was expecting to find a concrete edifice upon arriving at Blue Circle Industries, after all, besides manufacturing bathroom and heating fixtures, they're the United Kingdom's biggest producer of cement. Actually the company doesn't even occupy it's own building-they lease three floors in a seven story building located in the West End. .
On the reception desk there’s a computer which lets you type in all the visitor info such as your name, company etc. and it prints out a visitor's nametag. I have quite a few magazines to read while waiting to meet with Jacqueline Sinclair-Brown-corporate affairs manager, these include six issues of Golf World, National Geographic and CA magazine (an accounting publication). About 90 employees work here. Everyone’s on their own as far as food because there isn't a cafeteria.
The donut-shaped table in the boardroom is unusual because it's black. CEO Keith Orrell sits at a double-sided partner's desk in a middle office with no computer and two real plants.
Cable and Wireless PLC
What lousy timing. I visit Cable and Wireless, the world's 5th largest carrier of international phone traffic and owner of the world's largest fleet of cable laying and repairs vessels, but show up the day CEO James Ross AND the company's chairman get the boot.
I'm told by corporate affairs to try another time so after waiting three weeks I show up again. My meeting with Jennifer Weller from marketing is a complete waste of time as she makes it clear she has no interest in what I'm doing. My visit consists of sitting in the lobby near two 12-foot tall trees. The eight-story building, which was built in the 1950's and completely renovated in 1988, was reopened in 1993.
Occupying the 6th, 7th and 8th floors in a nine-story building in the Piccadilly area of London (West End) is BET which had revenues in 1995 of 1.8 billion pounds. BET (Britain Electrical Traction) has four main business divisions: 1) business services such as security services, catering cleaning and temporary help 2) distribution services 3) plant services such as scaffolding and crane rentals 4) textile services including workwear, hotel linens and washing services.
I meet with Laura Hill, facilities manager, and find out the 85 employees who work here get a free lunch. BET has leased space in the building for the last 10 years. Besides the eighth floor boardroom having six oil portraits of past chairman, I count three real plants, a vase with fresh flowers and a bound collection of the company's annual reports going way back to 1897 (the company was founded in 1895).
By far the most interesting item encountered during my visit is Chairman Sir Christopher Harding's collection of eggcup holders. An egg cup holder is what you put your soft-boiled egg into to spoon it out and eat. Harding has been collecting these for over 20 years and has 1,085 of 'em. Many are nicely arranged in three large glass display cases in his office.
I was betting on Ladbroke's offices to have the look of a hotel but that's not the case even though the company owns Hilton International, a chain of high-end hotels (over 160) in over 45 countries. The other part of the company's 1994 revenues of 3.7 billion pounds comes from its betting and gaming operations, numbering over 1,800 shops and casinos.
The company-owned four-story head office in the West End is home to 100 employees and has absolutely no pizzazz or features you'd find in their hotels such as a grand lobby area. Matter of fact, the reception area is very tiny and nondescript seating two people. Stephen Devany, head of corporate affairs, answers my questions but, I don't get to see much with CEO Peter George busy in his second floor office.
Coats Viyella Plc
With Coats Viyella being in the thread business along with clothing, home furnishings, fashion retail and precision engineering, I guess it makes sense for its headquarters being on Saville Row--home to the expensive bespoke clothiers. Coats Viyella, with revenues of 2.6 billion pounds owns Jaeger and Viyella retail chains.
Pat Hamilton, office manager, shows me around the small six-story company- owned building, which was built in the 1920's. The 57 employees get free lunch. I can't see CEO Neville Bain's fourth floor corner office because "he's in".
I still have Bowater down as the name of the company, not Rexam. The name on the 15-story building still says "Bowater House". Bob Bird, director-group public relations, says they've recently changed the name of the company from Bowater to Rexam but, the owner of the building declines to change the name on the building. Built in 1954 it's an extremely ugly building in need of tearing down or a good face lift but, it's got three things going for it: location, location. location--right across the street is the internationally famous **Harrod's department store.
The packaging, print and coated-products company has 100 employees occupying floors nine and ten. Looking into CEO David Lyon's 10th floor middle office I see he has a great view of nearby Kensington Park, has no computer or plants and sits behind a double-sided partners desk.
*** Of course I made the obligatory pilgrimage to Harrods and even put sweat pants over my shorts to get in (they have a dress code). It's definitely big, always crowded and expensive. I was originally going to buy a few souvenirs but changed my mind after finding out they charge people to use their restrooms.
Associated British Foods PLC
In an almost identical looking building next door to Rexam but separated by a busy public street is where I find the head offices for Associated British Foods, a big food company owning among many other businesses British Sugar, supermarket chains in England and Ireland and owner of Twinings tea. Revenues in 1995 were 4.9 billion pounds.
It's up to the top floor (10th) where I encounter Joanne Smith, office assistant, who says she hasn't seen my advance material but is sure no one will want to talk to me because they "just don't". The decor looks like it hasn't been changed since the building was built in the 1950's. I mention this because Chairman Garry Weston is one of England's wealthiest people and I guess he didn't get that way from wasting it on office furnishings.
Marks & Spencer PLC
The flagship store for international department store operator Marks & Spencer lies on Oxford Street, London's main shopping drag. If one goes 200 yards down a side street you encounter Marks & Spencer huge block long by block wide head office. At first glance it looks like it's one of their stores especially with its large department store-type display windows. It doesn't take long to find out it isn't as I encounter several different security guards patrolling the perimeter who are zealot about my not locking my bike anywhere on their property. Public sidewalks encircle the block but I'm very leery about locking my trusty steed and leaving it. The company has nice railing going around the sides but it's a no-go according to the guards. One guard says it has to do with "company executives being leery of bombs due to this being a Jewish company".
Entering the building one has to have their briefcase, purse or in my case; backpack searched by security guards before one can approach the reception desk, which is manned by three women. On one side of the lobby there's a reproduction of the company's first store in 1884 which was founded in Leeds by Michael Marks and Tom Spencer. Actually it's more like a market stall and it's filled with all kinds of goodies. How much is the merchandise? Two signs say it all: "Mark's Penny Stall" and "Don't Ask, The Price Is A Penny". There must be over 30 seats for visitors and looking around the busy room I deduce most of the visitors today are salespeople hawking their wares to company buyers. No one knows anything about my advance material sent over six weeks ago so I leave additional material. In the next two weeks I drop by here on four different occasions trying to find out who's my contact person. It's suppose to be someone from corporate affairs so I'm somewhat surprised on the fifth visit to meet with Emma Lettington, customer service advisor. You can tell the importance the company places on this visit by my meeting with a woman who handles customer phone complaints.
Built in 1958, the massive eight-story structure contains 618,000 square feet of office space. There're also two nearby buildings with 78,000 and 29,000 square foot of space respectively. Lettington can't break down how many employees work in the head office but says over 4,000 employees work in the London area (includes stores and head office).
Smoking isn't allowed in the building and they really mean it according to the sign I see posted on a men's restroom door. The sign in red lettering reads: "Anyone found smoking in unauthorized area will be dismissed". Three cheers for the sign. Too many smokers think office bathrooms are personal smoking fiefdoms.
There's a gym on the seventh floor and a total of four cafeterias in the three buildings. Do executives eat with everyone else or do they have their own dining rooms? You can figure that out after reading the following: Walking down a second floor hallway with Lettington I spot another corridor with a sign on the door reading "private". "What's with the sign on the door?" I ask. "That's the hallway leading to the executive offices", she answers.
For some reason I'm not surprised when my request to see CEO Sir Richard Greenbury office and boardroom are declined. Did I mention Marks & Spencer own Brooks Brothers? The only suits hanging in my closet are Brooks Brothers. Hmm, I wonder if wearing one would have opened more doors for me here? Nah, they seem to have what I call the fortress mentality. Oh, I forgot to mention their visitor badge routine. To get past the reception area turnstile a visitor badge similar to a credit card is used to open the turnstile. When leaving you again use the card to open the turnstile and a machine swallows the visitor card. Hard as I try, I can't get anyone to let me keep one of the cards. (As you should know by now I collect company visitor badges, the hardest ones to get are from defense contractors. Normally department stores chains are the easiest to keep.)