On the road in and around Stuttgart

It's amazing the similarities between Stuttgart and Pittsburgh. Both have a population of half a million, both have compact downtowns, both have a river running through town, both have extremely hilly terrain once the downtown area is left and, both have an unusually high concentration of big companies headquartered in the area.

Probably my biggest memory of Stuttgart has to do with what I saw during my weekend stay at the Movenpick Airport Hotel located a stone's throw across the street from the airport terminal building. Stuttgart's modern airport lies about a dozen miles southeast of the city and is surrounded by immense corn fields. Anyway, Sunday afternoon I take a bike ride around the airport's fenced-in perimeter and come across a crowd of people outside the fence watching the planes coming and taking off. This isn't unusual because I remember going to the airport as a kid and watching the planes. What's different about this was I counted several HUNDRED people. Old people, young people, families on bicycles, couples walking their dogs. There were so many people I assumed someone famous was to shortly arrive like a president or movie star. I found a couple who spoke English and asked them who was due to arrive. "No one special". was the reply. "You mean there's always this many people out here?, I ask. "Oh, yes", they replied. How big a deal has this become? Big enough where several sausage stands were trying to accommodate long lines of customers AND, these small sausage stands weren't temporary but permanent structures!

 

Hugo Boss AG

Riding 25 miles southeast of Stuttgart brings me to Metzingen, a cozy little community of 20,000 and a seemingly unlikely place to find high brow clothier Hugo Boss. I find the headquarters/factory complex near the edge of town but first I have to be cleared by the guard at the gated entrance. It's around 4:30 PM on a hot summer day and it must be quitting time because employees come pouring out of several buildings. I stand around the gate for a good 20 minutes before being directed to one of the buildings where Kolja Christoph Spoeri, the twenty-something year-old head of sports sponsoring, meets me. "Why is someone from the sports sponsoring department meeting with me?", I ask. Several reasons: they have no knowledge of my letter of introduction sent a month earlier, it's late in the day and most employees have gone home for the day and, Spoeri is intrigued by what I'm doing.

Meeting with Spoeri turns out to be a stroke of luck as I'm given a hearty welcome and extensive tour of the complex. Corporate offices are comprised of four buildings with a total of 350 employees. Each of the buildings have names. One is called "The Kremlin" due to the building being red, another "Ft. Knox" because the company treasurer has his office there, the third goes by the name "World Trade Center" as a result of the international sales staff being housed inside and finally, the five-story administration edifice (the tallest of the four) is referred to as "The Vatican" because "that's where all the gods have their offices".

Spoeri suggests answering the questions over a drink at the coffee bar so, it's downstairs to a spiffy little stand-up cafe that puts Starbucks to shame. Espresso, tea and platefuls of candy and cookies are generously offered. Forget all that though, I'm more interested in finding out why we passed a full sized Formula 1 race car strapped to the side of a wall heading down the stairs. Turns out the company has been associated for quite some time with race car owner and multimillionaire Roger Penske.

Black tile and glass seems to be the favored decor inside The Vatican oops, I mean administration building and it might have something to do with CEO Peter Littmann catering to that look. His corner office is void of pictures, paintings, computer and plants but, the shiny wood floor compliments the black leather furniture. Littman's office contains something I've never seen before; a clear glass stand-up desk. I've seen dozens of stand-up desks but until now they've all been made of wood.

Besides the head office with 350 employees there's also a manufacturing and distribution facility on the grounds with 650 employees. Hugo Boss gives its employees an unusual perk: an art pass good for free admittance at major museums around the world including the Guggenheim in New York City. There's also a company library with over 200 books and videos on fashion plus, employees enjoy a 50% discount on Hugo Boss clothing.

Founded in 1910, Hugo Boss had sales in 1995 of 900 million DM, profits 58 million DM. Spoeri says the company's success might have something to do with it's slogan: "don't imitate, innovate".

I'm a Brooks Brothers kind of a guy so I'm really not familiar with Hugo Boss's line of clothing. That is until I'm shown their show room/product display room. Jeez, the room is big and so is the wide range of clothing. So, what do you do if your name is Andre Agassi, Boris Becker or some millionaire big-shot businessman who doesn't like or want to be seen going into stores and trying on duds? Do they come here? Spoeri says yes and no. Big shots do come here and peruse the show room but, the REALLY big shots head over to the warehouse dressing room. I ask, "Can I see it?". "No problem" Spoeri replies. Boy, what a disappointment, it's a plain, no-frills dressing room. However, it overlooks the massive warehouse facility and if a particular color or size is requested the item can be quickly retrieved.

I don't leave Hugo Boss empty-handed, with a leather wallet, cologne, datebook and black Hugo Boss shirt being amongst the goodies received. Marzotto S.p.A., an Italian concern, holds the majority share of Hugo Boss (50.4%).

 

Energie-Versorgung Schwaben AG

I'm a block away from the train station in the heart of downtown Stuttgart and in front of me stands the headquarters of Energie-Versorgung Schwaben, a regional utility company. It's a black six-story structure but, spaced a foot away from the building are reflective glass panels forming a cocoon wrapping around the entire building's exterior. The letters "EVS" on the sides of the building must be the shortened version of the company's name.

Before entering the reception area one has to be scrutinized by a security guard sitting behind glass. The guard connects me via the lobby phone to CEO Wilfried Steuer's secretary who tersely informs me they hadn't received my advance material and "we're a local company and not interested". I explain to her how I've come halfway around the world to visit EVS, which with revenues of 3.5 billion DM last year make it one of Germany's biggest companies. She again reiterates they aren't interested. What's the name of this secretary who talks as though she's the official company spokesman? Her last name is Ruppertsberg but she refuses to divulge her first name.

 

Mahle Gmbh

It's two miles to downtown Stuttgart and the Neckar River meanders by several blocks away. In front of me stands the five-story head office of Mahle, a manufacturer of automotive parts, compressors and flooring. Established in 1920, the company has over 13,000 employees and 1993 revenues of 1.9 billion DM. The company's name is prominently stamped atop the building, which looks to have been built in the 1980’s, and adjacent stands a newer three-story structure with two of the floors for car parking. Next door there's a company factory.

The receptionist doesn't speak English but I finally manage in getting her to call Chairman Gerhard Koop's secretary. Boy, do I end up getting an earful from Lydia Idt-Streibeck, his secretary as she lays into me saying they never received my advance material and "it's not possible to walk in here and meet with someone". "This is very unusual in Germany", she informs, no, make that lectures me. I try and explain how it is indeed "very unusual" what I do but to no avail. I ask her if by chance the public relations department might have received my material but she refuses to check with them. Idt-Streibeck also declines to have an annual report sent down to me in the small lobby saying it isn't printed in English.

 

Duerr Beteiligungs AG

This is an industrial area about four miles from downtown Stuttgart and right away I deduce there was a Mr. Duerr as in the first part of the company's name Duerr Beteiligungs AG because the street the company's located on is called Otto Duerr Strasse.

There's a five-story aluminum-clad building in front of me with railroad tracks passing by its backside and behind on the other side of the street is another five-story building. The two are connected via a skywalk over the public street, both have the company name atop the sides and both look to have been built in the 1970's.

Frau Bowlby, the receptionist is initially very friendly but that changes very quickly after Bowlby calls up Mrs. Brehme, secretary to CEO Hans Dieter Poetsch, to find out about my advance material. I'm then told by Bowlby that they indeed, had received my material but, "the company wants nothing to do with you". Jeez, so much for sugar coating the news. I ask for Brehme's first name and Bowlby refuses to divulge it. We go back and forth over the next several minutes as I explain (unsuccessfully) why it's important for me to have Brehme's first name. Giving up, I then ask Bowlby for HER first name and she refuses to divulge that also. The only reason I know Bowlby's last name is because there's a placard on the reception desk with "Frau Bowlby" on it.

Duerr Beteiligungs, with over 3,000 employees and 1993 revenues of 1.1 billion DM, manufactures industrial cleaning machinery and is the world's largest supplier of painting installations for the automotive industry. Paul Duerr founded the company in 1895 and his grandson, Heide Duerr is Chairman of the Supervisory Board. The Heinz Duerr family controls 60% of the company.

 

Porsche AG

Riding several blocks from the unfriendly folks at Duerr Beteilgungs brings me to the head offices of Porsche. It's a three-story red brick building with courtyard and I'm surprised to find it looks a little on the run-down side. Definitely not the sleek, modernistic building I envisioned for this maker of racy sportscars. I spend a good 15 minutes at the guard gate while they call in to find out who's my contact person. There must be at least 15 Porsches of varying ages and styles in the visitors parking area. I ask the guard about it and he says the Porches are in for repairs and tune-ups. The guard goes on to tell me that Porsche owners from all over Europe drive here to have their cars tuned up at the factory. Two big car plants are located across the street employing 4,000. About 350-400 work in the head office.

Juergen Pippig, head of the press department, comes outside and gives me a hearty welcome. Whew! After my last three less-than-receptive visits I was beginning to think companies in Stuttgart had blackballed me.

Porsche was founded in Austria back in 1948 and has been headquartered in Stuttgart and on this site since 1951. The head office is a listed historical building, which explains why the exterior hasn't been modernized.

There's plenty of free parking for employees, who by the way enjoy a 20% car discount. Company has over 8,000 employees and revenues in 1995 were 2.6 billion DM, profit 2 million DM.

Checking out CEO Wendelin Wiedeking's second floor middle office with a view of a ugly wall from the car plant across the street I ask Wiedeking why he doesn't move. Wiedeking says his office could be anywhere but, it's here "out of tradition". I count one real plant, one laptop computer, three family pictures, two Porsche-shaped pillows, six crayon drawing by his kids posted on a wall and, last but not least, 15 toy model Porsches. I also note Wiedeking's business card is in English on one side and Japanese on the other.

Leaving Wiedeking's office Pippig points across the way to a closed door and says that's the office of Ferdinand Porsche who founded the company. At 86 years of age, he stills drives himself to work. Jeez, I don't know about you but I wouldn't be too keen being on the same road with an 86 year-old man driving a Porsche.

 

Salamander AG

Riding six miles north of Stuttgart to suburban Kornwestheim to visit Salamander turns out to be a waste of time. Salamander manufactures footwear, lots of 'em. The company operates 250 shoe stores, franchises another 800 stores and sells their shoes through 4,000 independent shoe retailers in Europe. Company has over 8,000 employees and revenues in 1995 were 1.3 billion DM.

Headquarters is in a five-story red brick building built in 1905. Directly next door there's a massive three blocks long by block wide, red brick factory complex also built in 1905 and, looking its age. Railway tracks are a hop, skip and a jump away from the front of the complex. The company's name is atop the factory in 10-foot tall green letters as in the color of a salamander lizard.

After dealing with three security guards in the tiny lobby who don't speak English I get referred to Elvira Saverschek, who does speak English but isn't familiar with what I'm doing. We go through my questions sitting in the cramped, no-frills lobby and Saverschek is practically useless. How bad is it? I ask her to name some of the company's competitors and believe it or not she doesn't understand the word "competitors" so I spend FIVE minutes unsuccessfully trying to explain it.

The lobby turns out to be the extent of my "visit". About 200 people work in this building and another 800 in the factory. The company was established in 1891.

 

 

Daimler-Benz AG

What's one way of defining a big company? Big means being in a city of over a half-million people and not having to have a street nor P.O. box address. That's my problem trying to visit Daimler-Benz, Europe's biggest company with 1995 revenues of $72 billion and 310,000 employees. My normal procedure when visiting a city with more than several companies is to ask the hotel concierge to go through my list of companies and pinpoint the head office locations on a map. The concierge at the Stuttgart Inter-Continental Hotel after conferring with front desk help, places a big red mark on the suburban town of Sindelfingen which is 10 miles from downtown Stuttgart and home to a massive Mercedes-Benz car plant. "Now, I'm looking for the head office of Daimler-Benz, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, are you sure it's in Sindelfingen?". They nod their heads in unison. Of course you probably guessed by now that they were wrong. Actually they were only off by about six miles but, since I'm on a bicycle and relegated to using confusing back roads it's very time consuming.

I knew I was getting close when spotting the familiar Mercedes-Benz hood ornament rotating atop a building in the distance. Arriving at the main entrance gate I'm already impressed with the place; it's big and looks brand new. Well, now for the toughest part: checking in with the receptionist to see if the "trickle down" theory works at this huge company. As mentioned to you numerous times before, I send a letter addressed to the CEO along with news clippings of my quirky odyssey about a month before my anticipated arrival. In theory the following is suppose to happen: The letter gets logged in, the CEO or his secretary reads it and then it "trickles down" to the appropriate department, then to a specific person. What happens at Daimler-Benz? Bingo! Juergen Wittmann from the press department says he's been expecting me and will be right out. Hmmm, let me see here, Daimler-Benz and Nestle are huge companies, each having over 300,000 employees. Yet, when I show up at their head offices I'm expected. What does that say about the dozens of much, much smaller companies who tell me they never received my letter or else "we don't know where it is because we get hundreds of letters each day?" I'll tell you what it says, they have sloppy or poor in-house mail service. I'll call back a month later to some of the companies who said they never received my letter and, invariably they'll say my letter was there all along but was "misrouted by mistake" or "was on another person's desk".

Hey, this is quite the spread. Built in 1989, it encompasses 28 acres and 10 buildings with a total of over 1.2 million square feet of space. More than 3,000 employees work here. The various granite-clad with brown trim, four to six-story office buildings are oriented toward the middle of the complex where the tallest, the 10-story head office edifice with the well-known Mercedes-Benz hood ornament atop, acts as the centerpiece. The rear part of the property butts up to a large heavily-wooded preserve. A stream runs through the Daimler-Benz's property and there's also a large pond. I visually check for exotic fish. Nope, just your basic run-of-the-mill goldfish. Outdoor walkways along well-tended grounds between the various buildings gives the place a campus feel.

Unusual and large outdoor sculptures are scattered about the property. Near the entrance stands a piece by Max Bill. It's three six-story tall aluminum poles and about every three feet up each pole the color is different with various shades of reds, greens, blues and orange. I ask Wittman if he knows the title of the piece. He says, "no, but everyone calls them the Smarties poles". For those of you who don't eat candy, Smarties are colorful candies similar to M&M's. Other works on the grounds includes "Two Lines Eccentric Jointed With Six Angles" by George Rickey and "Flaechenplastik im Raum" by Norbert Kricke.

The individual buildings have been named after historical figures from the company's past. The entrances to each of the buildings bear one or two of these names plus, portraits are projected onto the walls of the respective entrance halls. The tallest (10 stories) is the Gottlieb Daimler & Karl-Benz Building. Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900) and Karl Benz (1844-1929) were inventors of the first automobiles and founders of the automotive industry. Three of the buildings are named after aeronautical engineers (Hanns Klemm, Claude Dornier and Hugo Junkers) and there's even one named after a woman: Bertha Benz (1849-1944), wife of Karl Benz, who undertook the first long-distance motor vehicle journey in 1888 by driving from Mannheim to Pforzheim (about 35 miles).

Employees lunch in a comfortable 700 seat cafeteria (with adjacent 250 seat auditorium) and enjoy use of a sports center complete with weight room and gymnasium. Work hours are flexible with core times being 9AM to 3PM. The airport lies six miles away with the nearest freeway "one minute away".

I ask Wittmann, "Can I see the underground parking lot where the executives park?". Wittman asks, "Why?" I answer, "I want to check to make sure they're all driving Mercedes-Benzes". Down we go. Ah-ha! parked here amongst the dozens and dozens of executive cars I spot at least four Volkswagens. What does Wittman say to this? After several seconds of ah, err ah well-umm he says, "Oh, that can be explained. It's summertime and some of the executives are on vacation and while they're gone their secretaries park in their spaces." Boy, he saved the day with that quick comeback.

I don't get to see CEO Juergen Schrempp's office in the tall building (home to 300 workers) due to him and his regular secretary not being in today. The replacement secretary isn't comfortable with allowing me a look without having asked the big guy first. Wittman says Schrempp has a corner office and uses a laptop computer. I do however get to see the boardroom and it's huuuuge. After passing through an atrium containing a real 12-foot tall elephant fruit tree one enters the room and your eyes immediately feast on the enormous black elongated, cherry wood table seating 40. The 30-foot high ceiling adds to the splendor of the room. Having any art in a big room like this requires something coming in a super king size and that's exactly what they have on the center wall: a 20 foot tall Andy Warhol painting. What on the canvas? It's rows and rows of the same Mercedes-Benz car. Sort of like his famous Campbell soup can paintings. It's a windowless room except for the corners which have top to bottom glass and outside each window stands a piece of large sculpture.

I've just spent several hours touring this place and suddenly realized something. Nowhere are cars on display. No showroom showing off their latest wares. How un-American. Hmmm, it was the same at BMW in Munich and at Porsche. Cars were to be found in Fiat's head office in Italy, ditto for Volvo in Sweden which even had several of their large industrial trucks camped out in the head office's enclosed courtyard. Porsche has an excuse because they just don't have the room. Maybe it's a German thing. I'll let you know after visiting Volkswagen in the northern part of Germany.

Daimler-Benz dabbles in quite a few fields: cars, trucks, (owns truck maker Freightliner in the USA), aerospace, engines, rail systems, mobile communications and energy systems technology.

 

Ed Zueblin AG

I find Ed Zueblin's headquarters about ten miles from downtown Stuttgart and this construction company has quite a beaut. The good-looking, six-story maroon-colored building with blue trim is actually two separate wings connected in the middle by an eight-story glass atrium which is so large, the two building wings could probably fit INSIDE the atrium. What makes the building even more unusual is what's on the other side of the road; nothing but wheat and corn fields. So, on the one side of the road lies Zueblin's headquarters and a variety of other office buildings and on the other side of the road cornfields and gold-colored wheat fields hold sway.

The receptionist doesn't speak English so she calls around to find someone who does. Judith Hense, a secretary in the overseas department, steps out and tries to help. The problem here is that most employees have left for their summer vacation. Though she isn't able to find anyone around, I'm most appreciative of Hense spending a good twenty minutes trying to help. She does however obtain an annual report for me. Thumbing through the report as Hense stands next to me I comment how this building looks uncannily similar to Walter Bau's, another big construction firm I visited in Augsburg. Hense gives me somewhat of a shock by saying Walter Bau owns 54% of Ed Zueblin. "Oh really?", I reply. "How did they treat you there?" she inquires. Jeez, I want to tell her they were jerks who said they weren't interested in meeting with me (read about my visit there it's the third story in this German section) but, I hold my tongue and just say, "oh, they were so-so".

Eduard Zueblin, a Swiss engineer, founded the company in Strasbourg, France back in 1898. Company has over 13,000 employees and revenues in 1993 were over 3.7 billion DM.

 

Robert Bosch GmbH

Privately-held Robert Bosch does business in a wide variety of fields including being the world's largest independent manufacturer of automotive equipment. In consumer goods the company manufacture electrical household appliances, electric power tools and entertainment electronics. Kitchen and bathroom furniture, mobile communications, packaging machinery, hydraulics and security systems are some of the other business areas. With over 165,000 employees, US$25 billion in revenues and profits of US$334 million in 1995, Bosch would make anyone's list of the biggest and most profitable companies in Germany or Europe for that matter. They definitely make the top part of one of my lists: "Ten Tackiest Receptions".

The address I have for Robert Bosch says it's in Stuttgart but I find myself in suburban Gerlingen, located in another valley a good 15 miles from downtown Stuttgart.

Arriving in Gerlingen I ask several locals for directions only to be told Bosch's headquarters is on the other side of the tall ridge in the distance. Boy, this is turning into a big ordeal as I follow a switchback road up the steep ridge. I'm betting Bosch has quite a spread since it's in the outskirts.

Whew, I made it to the top of the ridge and I'm soaking wet from sweating. Ah, I can see a tall greyish building with the name "Bosch" on the side. The surrounding terrain is very heavily wooded as I ride up to the guarded entrance. Hopping off my bike I approach the two security guards to identify myself. One says, "are you Paul Wolsfeld?". "Yep, that's me" breathing a sigh of relief because they speak English and I don't have to go through the whole story explaining who I am and want I want. The guard picks up a piece a paper and attached are the news clippings I had sent a month earlier in my introductory letter to CEO Herman Scholl. "We've been instructed to tell you they don't want to meet with you" says the guard. "Who's the letter from", I ask. "It isn't signed" he replies. "I've come halfway around the world to visit this company and just rode up that stupid mountainside. Could you ring up public relations?", I ask. The guard calls and is informed by the secretary to a Mr. Kaiser, who's in public relations, that "it's a bad day" with the public relations guy being by himself. I'm thinking to myself, "so what if he's alone. Isn't this a relations problem they're having with a member of the public? Isn't that what his job description is all about?" I ask the guards if they could call up CEO Scholl's secretary but they decline. There're two security guards, one is in his 50's and the other Wolfgang Dymarz, in his 30's. Dymarz says he read the news clippings and admires what I'm doing. Dymarz has been extremely helpful and apologizes for not being able to do more.

Several thoughts are going through my mind as I step back from the entrance gate to take pictures. Why didn't the company send a fax or leave a message on my answering machine saying they had no interest? Then again, I still would have ridden my bike out here because of my goal to PHYSICALLY have visited all these companies. Why didn't the company at least let me make it to the reception area before giving me the disappointing news? Why is that so important? The place is set quite a ways back from the entrance gates and due to the hilly terrain, heavy woods with tall trees I can't see how many buildings are on the property.

The slender main building looks to be 11-stories tall. Replace the "Bosch" name atop the side with "Holiday Inn" or "Marriott" and you have exactly what if looks like: a typical suburban hotel built in the late 1970's/early 1980's. I ride around the perimeter of the fenced-in site and estimate it to be situated on about 20 acres. Though it's heavily wooded I spot several additional buildings in the rear. Could be part of headquarters or part of research and development.

Robert Bosch (1861-1942) founded the company in 1886.

 

Mann Group

Karlsruhe, a sleepy city of 250,000, lies 40 miles northwest of Stuttgart and 15 miles from the French border. Mann Group, with 1993 revenues of 3.5 billion DM and 6,000 employees, operates furniture and discount department stores. Growing up in Arizona I already know a little about the company and it's founder Hugo Mann, now 83-years old. Mann started a chain of discount department stores in Arizona in the 1960's. The chain eventually closed down and from what I understand there was a falling out between Hugo Mann and one of his executives Sol Price. Price went on to start the Price Club, a chain of warehouse-style grocery stores, and now lives in my hometown of La Jolla, California. There is one slight difference between Price and myself: He's worth about 300 million dollars which is almost 300 million more than I have. Oh, there's one more thing about Hugo Mann I've read about: he's secretive.

It's on the edge of the downtown area where I find the Mann Group's headquarters. It's a slim, eight-story structure built in the 1960's. It's directly in front and connected to one of their a mammoth fortress-like furniture stores. The store is also eight stories but it must be at least a block long by a block wide. Receptionist Frau Freude welcomes me and says to take a seat while she finds out if anyone familiar with what I'm doing. I like the "No smoking" signs scattered about the lobby and count 24 black leather chairs and quite a few oversized trees. The lobby's decor definitely suggests nothing has been updated since the 1960's.

Klaus Mueller, a company lawyer, steps out to the lobby and says they hadn't received my material and even if they had, they don't give out information about the company. I go onto to explain how I'm from California and know about Mann and the Fed-Mart connection. Mueller warms up and decides to answer my questions though he warns he won't answer any having to do with financial information.

While going through my questions a man walks through the lobby and Mueller immediately excuses himself and goes after the man. Several minutes later Mueller returns and says that was Johannes Mann, CEO and son of the founder. Mueller had told Mann about my project and asked if he had time to meet me. Since Mueller returned by himself you can figure out the answer. I do learn Mann is married to an American.

Not much to say about this place. Over 500 people work in the building with employees having plenty of free parking thanks to the monster-size parking lot next door at the furniture store. The nearest freeway is about 300 yards and Frankfurt airport about 70 miles, with smaller Baden-Baden airport 30 miles. Company has a Cessna plane. I can't see the CEO's office on the top floor because "they don't do that".

 

IWKA AG

Near downtown Karlsruhe I find IWKA's dumpy 3-story red brick headquarters. I go up and down the block several times thinking I've made a mistake. Can this be the head office of a company with 1995 revenues of 2.1 billion DM and 8,000 employees? IWKA manufactures welding systems, robotics, valves, expansion joints, measuring devices and machine tools. Behind the headquarters looks to be the remains of a large plant. There's redevelopment going on in the area and this place looks like its turn is coming up soon.

There isn't really a lobby only a receptionist sitting behind a glass. She calls up CEO Wolf Hartmut Prellwitz's secretary who say's she'll come down and talk to me. Soon Kunigund Rofle appears. She's a super nice lady probably in her late 60's earlier 70's who you can tell has been with the company many, many years. Rolfe apologizes and says she doesn't recall receiving my letter of introduction. She also apologizes for her boss not being here and suggests I try again in a few days. Just from the looks of the place I can see it isn't worth pursuing so I ask for an annual report and thank the charming lady for her time. Rolfe does tell me the company is 125 years old and this building is over 100.

Actually there's a plus side to coming across companies with run-down headquarters. It means they're watching the bottom line and aren't spending shareholder's money on lavish offices. These are the kinds of companies I look to invest in.

 

Saabergwerke AG

I'm in Saarbrucken, population around 150,000. The town's located in a valley within a few miles of the French-German border. No problem finding the headquarters for Saabergwerke, a mining & energy company with almost 21,000 employees and 1993 revenues of 4.4 billion, since it's right downtown about a block from the train station. It's a beaut of a building which has evidently been recently renovated. Life-size figurines and various coats of arms adorn the sides of the five-story structure. A plaque near the front entrance says various words in German and the date "1876", which I assume, means it's construction date.

The security guard, sitting behind a glass enclosure, doesn't speak English and finally relents and buzzes me in. Antonia Koch from the press department comes out and says they hadn't received my material but, welcomes me in and proceeds to answer questions and show me around. I’m surprised to learn there're no stockholders. I didn't know the German government owned 74% and the State of Saarland 26%. Saabergwerke was established in 1957 by consolidating various mining companies in the region. In other words, the German government enjoys a monopoly in coal mining. The building was originally built in 1876 as the date on the plaque indicated but, as the headquarters of one of the former companies. Coal is the company's main product.

Koch doesn't know the answers to most of my questions including the story on the statues adorning the outsides of the building but, I give her points for showing flexibility in taking time to meet with me. "Saar" is German for "river" hence it explains the towns name, the company's name and the state's name. Luxembourg, an hour away, is the nearest airport with Frankfurt two hours away.

I mention the building looking like it had been recently renovated. During the Second World War the place was destroyed and since rebuilt. It's now a historical building or as they say in England, a listed building.

Taking a look into CEO Hans-Reiner Biehl's corner office I see no plants, no computer but as expected; nine mineral rocks.

 

Asko Deutsche Kaufhaus AG

Wow, with 1993 revenues of over 20 billion DM I'm expecting more of a headquarters for food, fashion and furniture retailer Asko Deutsche Kaufhaus than what I see in front of me. It's three miles from downtown Saarbrucken and the two-story 1960-ish building in a light industrial area looks like it's closed down. The lobby is very dark, the decor no-frills as the eight cheap-looking plastic reception area chairs confirm. On a shelf display in an old cabinet there's an antique cash register along with food products.

Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieckmann, director of Public affairs, says most of the 200 people here will be shortly moving to Cologne. Why? Metro Group, Europe's biggest retailer with over 61 billion DM's in sales (who I visited in Switzerland), acquired majority shares of the company back in 1992 and is consolidating everyone into its Cologne offices. That explains the vacant look of the building here. Bidding adieu, I head several blocks down the road to grocery shop at one of their hypermart-type stores.

 

Heidelberger Zement AG

The Nectar River flows gracefully through downtown Heidelberg and up on a hill stands the ruins of Heidelberg Castle which is the bread and butter of the town of roughly 120,000. Tourism is big business here with buses dropping off full loads of passengers to swarm over the romantic castle and the many shops in Heidelberg's large well-preserved old town.

Next to the riverfront and several miles from Heidelberg Castle stands cement maker Heidelberger Zement's five story headquarters built in 1962. Lots of mature trees out front as well as a small fountain. The place definitely lets you know they're in the concrete business noting the concrete pillars, concrete stairs and concrete overhang on the building as I. enter. First, one has to be buzzed into the building then, after getting clearance from the receptionist in this outside lobby area you're buzzed into an inner lobby. What's the inner lobby like? How would I know since I never make it past the first lobby.

Andrea Sigman from public relations says they hadn't received my advance material but I persuade her to go through the questions. Don't know why I bother as she shrugs off knowing the answers to most questions. About 300 people work here. A half-dozen glass cases in the lobby area display various company products (construction materials) and there're also samples of rocks. Does CEO Rolf Huelstrunk have the usual construction hard hat in his office? Sigman doesn't know and neither do I since I'm not allowed past the outer lobby.

I do like the company's logo: a green octagon with a green stand-up lion inside having not one, but two tails.

Company has over 11,000 employees and sales in 1995 were 6.3 billion DM.

 

SAP AG

Founded in 1972 by five former IBM employees, SAP (Systems, Applications, & Products), computer software generated revenues in 1995 of 2.7 billion DM.

I find SAP's headquarters in a new industrial park on the edge of Walldorf, a small community 10 miles south of Heidelberg. The company's name in large letters sits atop its six-story glass building who's backside butts up to cornfields. On either side are similar buildings connected to the head office. Reminds me of an airport terminal. There's a large lobby complete with a granite ball floating in the air thanks to a heavy spray of water it's receiving underneath. Real trees liven up the enclosed courtyard.

The receptionist connects me via lobby phone with Bettina Manata, secretary to CEO Dietmar Hopp, who refers me to Christine Simianer, secretary to Michael Psister, Vice President-Communications. I then get the bad news. The company has a big annual conference for customers every year at this time in Philadelphia and that's where anybody who's anybody in the company is at. Jeez, who in their right mind would want to be in Philadelphia in hot, muggy August? plus, this is the time practically all employees take their vacations in Germany. I wait around the lobby over an hour hoping something can be arranged by Simianer but, it doesn't happen.

 

Freudenberg & Company

Ten miles north of Heidelberg and 10 miles east of Mannheim finds me in Weinheim, an enjoyable and beautiful little community of 40,000 with a vibrant downtown shopping area and historic old town section. Weinheim's main road going through town pretty much parallels the railroad lines. I figure there'd be no problem finding Freudenberg & Company's head office especially in a small town like this. Wrong! I end up traversing the length (two miles) of the road through town back and fourth, twice, without finding the place. I'm having this problem mostly due to the language barrier and ignorant locals either never having heard of Freudenberg or giving me false directions. How could the locals not have heard of this company which, with sales in 1995 of over 5 billion DM and 26,000 employee, is far and away the biggest fish in the area? After I do finally find the place near the edge of town and see a photograph overview of the area, I feel like a real idiot. Why? The place is huuuuge, with over 100 buildings.

Stopping at the guard booth leading onto the site, a phone call is placed and soon I'm being greeted by Dietrich v.der Ropp, Manager-Press & Information. Nice guy der Ropp gives me a hearty and enthusiastic welcome. As you can imagine, with over 100 buildings and over 5,500 employees, it's a huge factory complex. How big? Big enough to have six cafeterias.

Before my arrival I had no clue as to the type of business Feudenberg was in. Well, actually that's not completely true. When doing research to compile my list of companies to visit in Europe I used, "The Times 1000" by Times Books as the main source. The annually published book lists the thousand leading companies in the world as well as the 1000 biggest in Europe. It was great because companies were listed by revenues and included company addresses. My only complaint being their very vague categorizing of the business or businesses the companies are in. It seems The Times places manufacturing companies under the heading "engineering". For those of you who might not be familiar, the London-based "The Times" is one of England's premier newspapers, sort of equivalent to the New York Times in the United States. Anyhow, in my being from the USA describing a company as an engineering firm places it in the construction industry category. So, what does Freudenberg "engineer" or as I would say, manufacture? Plenty: seals, lubricants, interlinings for garments, rubber floorcoverings, household products such as cloths and sponges used for washing cars, leather, footwear and non-woven sheeting for the agriculture industry. Freudenberg is the world's largest producer of non-woven textiles which are used in such things as air and liquid filters, cables, electrical components, ceiling systems, footwear and battery separators.

I always check to see if a company uses their own products. der Ropp confesses that the leather in the leather chairs around the reception area isn't theirs. Ugly blue rubber flooring is found throughout the two-story building housing the executives. Why do they have this tacky-looking rubber flooring--the kind found on airplanes, in train stations and on the floors of restaurant kitchens? They make it.

Meeting with Dr. Reinhart Freudenberg, in his modest second floor middle office I kid about the tacky rubber flooring but he takes it in good stride. The company doesn't have a Chairman or CEO but Freudenberg's title is pretty much the equivalent: Spokesman of the Board of Management. You see, privately-held Freudenberg & Co. is a limited partnership who's shares of the holding company are held by 261 members of the family as limited partners. Here, there isn't a Board of Directors but, a Board of Partners. Though he hasn't any plants Freudenberg, probably in his late 50's, has a laptop computer, framed pictures of his father and grandfather and a not very exciting view of trees and buildings.

Leaving, they offer me bottles of wine from a winery the company owns. I decline. It has nothing to do with my having high standards of conduct or qualms about accepting gifts but, it's that I have absolutely no room on my trusty steed for the goodies!

Oh, I forgot to mention why the company is located here. Carl Johann Freudenberg founded the company in Weinheim way back in 1849.

On the road in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen

The mighty Rhine River separates the industrial cities of Mannheim (300,000) and Ludwigshafen (population 140,000). Neither city with its glut of tall smokestacks has to worry about being invaded by tourists with Ludwigshafen definitely being the poorer cousin of the two.

 

Joh. A. Benckiser GmbH

In a light industrial area close to Ludwigshafen's city center I find privately-held chemicals and cosmetics maker Joh. A. Benckiser's headquarters. It's a mixture of old and new. The four-story "old" part of the head office was formerly the founding family's villa built 70 years ago. A white two story "new" building built in 1991 joins it.

The reception area, done in hospital white, includes fresh flowers on the receptionist's desk. Prominently displayed on a wall is a six-foot by six-foot acrylic canvas portrait of Dr. Albert Reimann, who must have been somebody important in the company's history.

Stephanie Herbst, personnel assistant, gives me a warm welcome and tour. The company was founded back 1823 by Johann Adam Benckiser. Don't ask me why they use "Joh Benckiser" instead of "J. Benckiser" as the company's name. Revenues in 1995 were US$3.3 billion there're almost 10,000 employees. The company does make some well-known consumer products such as Calgon dishwashing detergent and Coty fragrances. Matter of fact, Herbst takes me to her desk where she has at least a dozen brands of their perfumes and colognes on a counter with Coty being the only one I'm familiar with.

With only 66 people employees here it's a very decentralized company. I know it sounds silly and maybe it's the villa but, walking around I get the sense your part of a family when working here.

The company's art collection is modern and artists are of international stature. Lots of the art hangs on walls throughout the facility including works by Christo. One, done by Christo in 1988, is titled "Wrapped payphone" and it is what it says.

There's no cafeteria but, a small comfortable kitchen. Senior management get the 15 parking spots, there's no formal dress code, no set hours of work, the Frankfurt International Airport lies 50 miles due north with the nearest freeway two miles away.

With CEO Peter Harf in a meeting I can't see his first floor corner office in the villa part. Herbst does take me outside to Harf's window so I can see what he sees when looking out: trees.

 

BASF AG

Okay let me see now, there's big, there's large, there's giant, there's mammoth, there's massive and there's gigantic. Putting all those words together would probably correctly describe the headquarters complex of BASF, a chemical, pharmaceutical and plastics giant with 1995 revenues of over US$32.2 billion and over 105,000 employees worldwide. Why? The head office occupies space on the world's biggest single chemical site. How big a place are we talking about? I thought you'd never ask: Over 44,500 BASF employees work here in more than 350 production plants and hundreds of laboratories, workshops, offices and services facilities. In addition, about 7,000 employees from outside firms work on the site. The fenced-in Rhine riverfront site contains over 60 miles of roads, 120 miles of railroad tracks, over 2,000 buildings and a company fleet of 1,500 buses traversing the grounds. BASF has its own on-site fire department which would be the envy of many cities: 53 fire trucks and two boats.

Feeling sick on the job here? Not to worry with four medical stations and 174 personnel including 20 doctors and two dentists. How do goods come and go from the site? Over 1,400 trucks, 620 railroad freight cars and 23 barges arrive EACH day. The highest proportion of goods transported within the site is done via a 1,200 mile above-ground piping system. Since I'm a bicyclist lets talk bikes: Being such a huge place one of the best ways for employees to get from point A to point B is via bicycle. BASF has over 10,000 company bicycles on the site for employee use along with the 9,500 private employee bicycles registered to have access.

Sorry about that, I was just so anxious to spew out those tidbits that I neglected to tell you how they came into my possession. Let's back up. My first task was finding which entrance to enter. Sounds easy? Yeah well, you haven't seen this place. It runs at least 10 miles along the river front and there must be at least 20 different entrance gates. Finally the third gate I come to a guard, speaking very little English, says to follow the main road running alongside the complex and head for the tallest building. It works! I enter the 25-story Friedrich Englehorn tower and check in with the security guards. It's an ugly building having been built in 1957 and looking it. This landmark structure is by far the tallest building in Ludwigshafen and Mannheim yet, there's no name or company logo atop advertising the owner. It's in the process of having a new outside "skin" put on so workers are removing the old and definitely ugly purple pebbles. You may remember the 1950's were big times for rough pebble exteriors on buildings in the USA (i.e. Las Vegas) and evidently found its way to Germany. The guard says this, the tallest building, is named after Friedrich Englehorn because he founded the company back in 1865. The lobby contains 10 black leather chairs on a greyish rug.

Elke Goschmann from the public relations department is my contact person and tour guide. She's great even though she's only been with the company a few months and hasn't answers to many of my strange questions at her fingertips. She does however know the company's name before it was shortened: B(Badische) A(Anilin) S(Soda) F(Fabrik).

Back in the olden days BASF was (and to some extent still is) a company town where employees were looked after. We leave the premises and Goschmann walks me across the street past a row of neatly kept houses built by BASF for employees around the turn-of-the century. Over 400 of these homes were built by the company over the years with many still rented out to employees. We've walked across the street for another reason: lunch. Not however in one of the nine cafeterias but, in the grand and stately "Gesellschafthaus", a social center with eating and meeting facilities for management. Built in 1900, it's a real beaut and also contains a ballroom. The food gets two thumbs up from me. I learn the company has a wine cellar containing 1.3 million bottles of wine including a bottle from 1865 (the year the company was founded).

Wandering back to the plant site we walk around for a few blocks to see the wide range of buildings and, so I can see where Dr. Juergen Strube, Chairman of the Board, hangs his hat. There is no CEO here. BASF has a Board of Executive Directors made up of nine members with Strube calling the shots as Chairman. They have their offices in different buildings, depending on where their operations are located. Strube isn't in the 25-story edifice but, a four-story, 100-year old, red brick building nearby. For "security reasons" I don't receive an invitation to enter

 

KSB AG

It's raining hard but I keep pumping my bicycle past the massive BASF site and pretty much follow the river for 10 miles until I get to Frankenthal, population 40,000

and home to KSB, builder of valves and world's second largest maker of industrial pumps.

Located a stone's throw away from the town's train station, the not very big six-story head office was built sometime in the 1950's. Behind is a large factory.

Though Josefine Corsten, Director-Corporate Communications, says they didn't receive my advance material, she's very accommodating. KSB, with revenues in 1995 of 2 billion DM, has 2,000 of their total 14,000 employees working at the headquarters and factory site. She isn't able break down how many work in the head office.

Not much to say about this place except for the very unusual handrails going up the steps from the lobby to another part of the building. The handrails are see-through and have water mixed with blue rice crispy-like puffs pumping through them. Huh? Well, I guess that's one way for a company manufacturing pumps to show off their products.

Can't see CEO Kilian von der Tann's second floor middle office due to him being in a meeting. I do see brown busts of Jacob Klein (1869-1945) and Johannes Klein (1845-1917) members of the founding family. The company was established in 1871.

 

Sudzucker AG

It's on a tree-lined street in a mixed residential/business area in downtown Mannheim where I find Sudzucker's unexciting-looking nine-story office. Built in the early 1970's, there's a one foot by one foot plaque outside the entrance door with the company's name on it. It's the only identifying mark on the building which houses 300 employees.

I'm back to meet with Rainer Duell, a director. I was here earlier in the week but had horrible timing since it was the day of the company's annual shareholders meeting.

London-based Tate and Lyle may be the world's biggest sugar refiners but Sudzucker gets bragging rights to be called Europe's biggest sugar refiner. Besides sugar, the company produces frozen foods and owns Schoeller, one of Germany's biggest ice cream brands.

Poking around CEO Dr. Theo Spettmann's seventh floor corner office (which is not the top floor) I note the bowl of fresh fruit, an arrangement of fresh flowers, family photo, one real plant and a stand-up desk. Though he's on an upper floor he can't see much thanks to very tall trees blocking the view

The boardroom contains a TV/VCR and a collection of over 200 books on sugar. Revenues for the 1994/1995 year were 6.1 billion DM.

 

Roechling Group

I find privately-held Roechling Group's office several blocks away from Sudzucker's in a small five-story townhouse-type building. I'm not sure if I have the right place since there're no signs or plaques outside the building. Luckily, I spot something which confirms it's right: locked up outside is a bicycle with writing on it identifying the owner as Roechling. The cactus in the lobby really sticks out since Germany isn't exactly known for desert plants. Ellen Meirich, the receptionist, has something I hadn't seen before in Germany: her name plaque on the counter has BOTH her first and last names. If you've been reading my German stories you'll note German receptionists are loathe to give out their first names.

It takes three visits but I finally manage to meet with someone and in this case it's CEO Werner Engelhardt. Established in 1849, Roechling operates in a wide variety of fields including the manufacturing of office furniture systems, hunting weapons, battle tanks, telephones, plastics, loudspeakers and machinery for paper and paper converting industry. Roechling family members own 100% of the company.

The headquarters building was built in the early 1900's with Roechling occupying it for the last 40 years. Thirty-five employees work here, with a total workforce of 27,000. Revenues in 1995 were 2.3 billion DM.

Looking around CEO Englehardt's office I note it's void of computers and tell him not to worry since seven out of ten CEO's are computerless. He has three family pictures and from his window, a not very exciting view of homes directly across the street. I ask Englehardt about the layers of wood three-feet tall in his office and to my surprise, he says it's a piece of art. Hanging on a wall another interesting item: framed blueprints of plans for a railroad locomotive and it's dated 1905. Englehardt says, " I just like it".

 

Bilfinger + Berger Bau AG

Not very impressed with the people at Bilfinger + Berger Bau who were less than straightforward with me. On the first visit to this construction company (1995 revenues of 8.6 billion DM, 45,000 employees) I'm instructed to come back another day. I return after the weekend only to be told to try again. My third and final attempt ends with being told by a public relations person "everyone's on vacation".

Located a mile from downtown Mannheim, headquarters encompasses three connecting buildings. The tallest, a 14-story edifice definitely has 1950's written all over it, then there's an eight-story from the 1980's and the smallest, a four-story structure from the 1970's. The company's name is atop the buildings.

The main lobby contains several dozen plants and scattered about on the walls are color drawings of past construction projects. The security guard/receptionist, who’s obviously been here for years, says Bilfinger + Berger Bau were the builders of their own offices. When traversing the USA I visited Fru-Con Construction Corporation in Ballwin, Missouri, one of their subsidiaries.

 

Fuchs Petrolub AG Oel + Chemie

Barren and narrow islands in the Rhine River a few miles from downtown Mannhein makes it look as though the river splits. Along this waterfront area are a bewildering number of industrial complexes making who knows what. A heavy smell of fumes is in the air and large piping systems placed above truck height follow along the public streets.

It's right smack in the midst of all this that I come upon Fuch Petrolub's four-story head office with red trim. The company's name in big letters on the side of the building confirms my finding. Behind the head office there's a large waterfront company plant.

Entering the lobby I eye the four red leather chairs and a plaque stating this was built in 1988 and then introduce myself to S. Munkel, the nice receptionist, who declines to divulge her first name. Nice guy Hubertus Staerk, head of corporate communications, steps out into the lobby and says they hadn't received my material. Continuing, Staerk says, "I can always find 15 minutes for goodwill" and we head to his office.

Fuchs Petrolub, the second largest independent oil lubricant concern in Europe after Burmah Castrol, has over 4,000 employees and 1995 revenues of 1.5 billion DM.

Forty-five work in this building plus another 400 in the plant behind us.

Nothing much to report here. A meeting room doubles as the boardroom and there's a corporate plane; a Beechcraft. CEO Dr. Manfred Fuchs is the son of Rudolf Fuchs, who founded the company back in 1931. The view from Fuch's top floor corner office? the backside of the plant. The Fuchs family holds 53% of shares of stock.

 

Boehringer Mannheim GmbH

Normally I'd impressed by the immense size of the plant beside Boehringer Mannheim's headquarters but you have to remember two days earlier I visited BASF's monster-size facility. Located across the street from the Rhine River and four miles from downtown Mannheim, the complex contains over 100 buildings. Privately held Boehringer Mannheim, a pharmaceutical concern with 1995 revenues of $3.9 billion has 5,000 of its 9,000 employees on this site.

I check in with four guards manning a gated entry and spend about 30 minutes in a large waiting room off to the side. Visitors sit on 13 low-slung, orangish-wood chairs with leather strips for backing. The chairs are horrible to sit on. Why? You're constantly sliding off due to the slippery leather.

I have a great visit thanks to the hospitality of Dennart Ware, head of USA operations and member of the executive board. Having earlier rode my bike around the perimeter of the complex and seen some of the big parking lots, I can attest to employees having plenty of free parking here.

CEO Gerald Moeller occupies a corner office on the top floor of the six-story building near the entrance. Since they're doing some remodeling we have to walk out onto an outside balcony to reach his office. Nice view of the Old Rhine River located right across the street, it splits off here from the main river. Moeller hands me two business cards-one in English, the other in German. Make note of his home address being listed on both. No computer but, he's a large wall map of the world.

Boehringer Mannheim's parent company Corange Limited, is Bermuda-based.

 

Wella AG

Darmstadt, population 140,000, lies 15 miles due south of Frankfurt. Nothing particularly noteworthy about the city except it's home to two companies I'm visiting. Wella, the cosmetics, hairdressing and hair care products company occupies a six building complex about a mile from downtown Darmstadt. I wait at least 45-minutes in the reception area for Carola-Sabine Wacker from the press department but it's a very enjoyable wait. Why? No, it's not due to the chairs in the bright white reception being comfortable. It has more to do with the meeting rooms located up a flight of stairs from the lobby. Evidently a meeting broke up and there's a short break in the canteen around the corner from where I'm sitting. So? About nine-tenths of the 40 or so people are women and they're very gooood-looking. Things get better. The receptionist comes over and suggests I have a soda and pastry while waiting so she leads me to the canteen and into the midst of women. However, at least a dozen of the women immediately lose their "what a babe" status with me. What's their crime? Puffing away on cigarettes. Who are these employees who've traveled from all parts of Germany for this group meeting? They're the ones who train hair dressers in hair salons all over Germany.

The ages of the various buildings vary widely, from the early1950's to the 1990's. Previous to Wella moving here in the 1950's, it was a military compound. Wacker and I guesstimate the four-story administration building was probably built in the 1940's/early 1950's with the tallest of the six buildings being six stories. Roughly 1,000 employees work here with plenty of free employee parking. I count eight big chestnut trees scattered about the grounds as they've tried to give the place a campus-like setting.

Founded in 1880 by Franz Stroeher, Wella had revenues in 1995 of 3.5 billion DM and a worldwide total of over 14,000 employees. Went public in 1985 but Stroeher family members control 67% of stock shares.

There's an extensive company art collection, international in scope which includes works by Americans such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein. I can't see Chairman Joerg von Cranshaar's second floor middle office due to "he's in". We do check out several of the company's product showrooms. Suppose you wanted to open a hair salon, Wella sells everything you need from the furniture and fixtures to utensils. Right next door is a company training school for hairdressers. Guess who's in there getting their hair done now? It's those "babes" from the meeting group. They're having a dinner party tonight and awards will be given out to the best hairstyles.

You won't believe what I get as a momento, a big cloth bag containing the following: 1 bottle hair & body shampoo for men, 3 bottles of hair shampoo, 1 bottle of Charles Jourdan after-spray, 1 bottle hand cream, 1 tube hand lotion and 2 cans of hair spray & conditioner. Lucky for me I unloaded several of my bicycle panniers in the hotel room before coming here. Later back in the hotel I give every item a sniff and a touch before dispensing them to various hotel staff members.

 

E. Merck

It's a ten minute bike ride from pharmaceutical & chemical company E. Merck's headquarters complex to downtown Darmstadt but, it's enough to cause havoc to this biker since it's also pouring down rain. Why mention the rain? As I've been finding out first-hand, chemical and pharmaceutical firms in Germany have their head offices at their main plants. It's no different here at E. Merck as I come upon their complex which goes on for blocks and blocks with dozens and dozens of buildings in various shapes, sizes and age. It's during this extremely heavy downpouring of rain that I come upon visitor's reception building; it's a glass two-story structure shaped like a pyramid. Yep you heard me, a good-sized, brand new pyramid. Unfortunately the pyramid has no absolutely zero, zilch outside overhang so there's no place for me to dismount and change out of my rain gear so, it's inside I go to the immediate displeasure of the receptionist. Lucky for me I'm able to talk her into letting me keep it here.

They say my advance material was never received (yeah, right) but, I'm in luck as Dr. Tobias Engel from Public Relations agrees to meet with me. He wouldn't be my first choice to meet with not because of his age, he's probably in his late 20's/early 30's, but his experience, having been with the company only few months. His knows very few of the answers to my questions but, finds my project interesting.

E. Merck with 1995 revenues of US$4.4 billion and over 25,000 employees, has 8,000 of those employees on this massive site with over 100 buildings which has been here since 1914.

Established by Emanuel Merck in 1827, this privately-held company is an "offene Handelsgesellschaft", or oHG, in other words a general partnership. The associate partners--some 90 in total-- are all members of the Merck family group. There's a Board of Partners which appoints the Board of Management. Dr. Hans Joachim Langmann is Chairman of the later. I don't get to see his office, only the outside of the four-story brick building he occupies which was built in 1914.

Lunch in the cafeteria isn't bad (there're four cafeterias) during which Engel informs me the whole plant site was bombed during World War 11. Frankfurt Airport lies 20 miles away.

Due to the war, E. Merck lost use of the Merck name in the USA to Merck & Co, the big New Jersey-based company. In 1955 a conclusion was reached regarding the use of the Merck name. Solely Merck & Co. in the USA and Canada could use "Merck", whereas E. Merck was entitled to use this name everywhere else in the world. In the USA E. Merck goes by the names EM Pharmaceutical, EM Industries and EM Diagnostics. Merck & Co., on the other hand goes by the name MSD Sharp and Dohme in Germany.

 

Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation GmbH

This definitely ranks as one of the best sections of biking I've done in Germany. I'm halfway between Darmstadt and Mainz along the Rhine River and it is drop dead gorgeous along here. This area is famous in Germany for white wines. It's the middle of summer and this green fertile valley along the river is awash with vineyards, tall cornfields, cherry tees and asparagus as far as the eyes can see. What a treat! I'm biking along the famous Rhine on seldom used dirt farm roads, the sun-kissed blue sky above teaming up with the relaxing chirping of birds all around to make this a memorable day of biking.

It's near here in the town of Ingelheim (population 20,000) where back in 1885 Albert Boehringer founded a chemical plant. The company, Boehringer Ingelheim, has since grown into an international pharmaceutical concern with revenues in 1995 of 6.4 billion-DM and over 24,000 employees.

As with the other chemical/pharmaceutical companies visited so far in Germany, the head office is situated on a huge plant site. But unlike at BASF, Boehringer Mannheim and E. Merck where they're boxed in by development butting up to their fence lines, there's plenty of open spaces surrounding this site to expand.

I stop at one of several site entrances and the non-English speaking guard makes a call and motions me to wait in his guardhouse. After 20 minutes he signals with his watch that someone will be here shortly. Jeez, I have a feeling my bicycle isn't going to allowed on the premises. Boy am I wrong as a woman rides up on a bicycle then, motions to follow as I'm given a two-wheeled escort to the building housing my contact person Terrence Andrew, editor of the company's in-house employee publication. What's neat about this large site complex is the campus-like atmosphere. It isn't just a mass of office and research buildings packed in amongst the manufacturing facilities but, lots of tree-lined streets and large patches of greenery mixed in.

I have a great visit thanks to the enthusiastic Andrew. Over 4,600 employees work in the 990,000 square foot site with 700 of those in the dull-looking eight-story headquarters building which they refer to as "The new administration building". The three-wing T-shaped structure was built in three stages: 1960, 1961 and 1963.

Streets here are named after cities and it's on Hamburger Strasse we go for grub in the cafeteria which, by the way, earns two thumbs up from me. On our route to the cafeteria we pass rabbits and squirrels living on the grounds and a bicycle repair shop where company-issued bicycles are serviced.

Boehringer-Ingelheim is big in animal medicine which explains why the company has horse riding stables with 40 horses. Other facilities on the grounds includes 28 tennis courts (six of them indoors) which can be used by the community plus there's a six-lane bowling alley.

Ownership of this privately-company is in the hands of the Boehringer, Liebrecht and von Baumbach families. This is one of those places where when the founder went home at night--he never left the property. The villa he built still stands on the grounds and is lived in by one of the members of the board.

The company's art collection consists of German artists but, I think the most interesting piece is what's been put together in the product display room. On a wall hangs a 10-foot tall by 25-foot long map of the world done entirely out of hundreds (thousands?) of those little boxes which our medicines come packed in at the drugstore.

So, is there any connection between Boehringer Ingleheim and the not-to-far-away Boehringer Mannheim? Not much except they have common origins: C.F. Boehringer & Son forerunner to both companies was established in 1859. Then, in the late 1800's family members went separate ways. The Mannheim company retained the Boehringer name but, after initial differences of opinions, the names of the locations were added to avoid confusion. However, Andrew says there's still a lot of confusion especially when inquiries are made about different publications and products.

 

On the road in Wiesbaden

Though it doesn't have the Rhine River flowing past it like at Mainz, a neighboring city of comparable size only five miles way, Wiesbaden does have mineral springs and that's why the wealthy built homes here. Being only 18 miles away, this has become home to many working in Frankfurt.

 

Linde AG

Though the head office of Linde is composed of two connected five-story buildings, the construction people did such a great job you can't tell until you're close up that one built in 1974 and the other 1990. It's about four miles from downtown in an office building area and if I were to cross the street out front, I'd be out of the city limits.

Linde, Founded in 1879 by Carl Linde, had revenues in 1995 of 8.3 billion DM and 30,000 employees around the world. Anke Couturier, personnel manager, says 250 of those work here.

The company manufactures refrigerated & industrial freezer display cases, liquid & industrial gases, industrial trucks, hydraulics, forklift trucks and builds petro and chemical plants.

Having seen their brand often during my tours of company plants I already knew Linde manufactured forklifts and is the largest maker in Europe. So, I'm somewhat shocked to find no miniature versions in Chairman Dr. Hans Meinhardt's fifth floor corner office. He's two plants, no computer, two paintings hanging on the walls of German landscapes, a terrace from which he's a nice view of the neighborhood and five chairs facing him on the other side of his desk. Meinhardt's isn't in today and I mention to his secretary about his not having any miniature toy forklifts. She smiles and motions me to follow her where she proceeds to point to two of them sitting on her desk.

The boardroom contains a TV/VCR, an oval-shaped table with 12 chairs, one real plant, two German countryside landscape oil paintings by Hugo Darnaut (1851-1937) and, two toy model forklifts.

Quite a few companies have given me toy trucks, cars, tractor trailers with, of course, their names on the sides. Visiting Clark Equipment in Indiana, one of the world's biggest makers of forklifts, I received a nifty toy model. Now, Linde gives me one of theirs to add to the collection.

 

DePfa Bank AG

Boy, what a disaster visiting DePfa Bank, Germany's largest mortgage bank with 1993 assets of over 110 billion DM. Headquarters, a five minute walk to city center, is a large white eight-story 180,000 square foot building with yellow awnings taking up a whole block. On the front grounds four huge, densely-leafed trees each, at least five-stories tall (not sure what kind). block the view from the street.

Everything was going smoothly until the woman, called by the receptionist, appeared in the lobby. Identifying herself only as being from the communications department she says see doesn't recall my advance material. I explain to her what I'm doing, give some of my news clippings and ask if she could check with her department. Several minutes later she reappears and says her boss wasn't familiar with what I'm doing. I ask her to check with CEO Thilo Koepfler's secretary and she declines. The woman, now visibly showing irritation at having to deal with me, says she's due in a meeting. I ask for her name. She declines. I ask for the name of her boss name explaining I want to be able to have some proof I stopped by here. She declines saying, "How do I know you're who you say you're?" Huh?? That makes no sense seeing as how she has several news clippings of me in front of her face. So, how does this end up? She abruptly turns around and just walks away, leaving me standing in front of the receptionist, who, of course, overheard all this and declines to give me her name.

 

R+V Insurance Group

About two blocks from the friendly people (read: sarcasm) at DePfa Bank, stands the several building head office complex of R+V Insurance Group. Well, actually it is and it isn't their head office. I was here yesterday and the guards told me the head office was on the edge of town directly across the street from Linde, who I already visited. I ride back to the town's outskirts and to the long, good-looking five-story 180,000 square foot structure built in 1990 but looking practically brand new. I spend 20 minutes on the reception phone with various people who either don't speak English or if they do, don't understand what I'm doing. It was so ridiculous that, believe it or not, I spent five minutes trying to explain to one man over the phone that "no, I did not lose my luggage". Where he got the idea I showed up at his head office to look for lost luggage I'll never know. I'm then directed BACK downtown to the other building to meet with Prof. Dr. Josef Vasthoff, Director of Communications because it seems CEO Dr. Peter von Harder has dual offices.

On my return downtown I'm giving a warm welcome by Vasthoff and a writer from the company's in-house publication (who interviews me for a story).

R+V Insurance, established in Berlin in 1922, moved to Wiesbaden in 1948 after the war. I'm in a seven-story building built in 1948 but connected via walkways are several other buildings including a 19-story tower built in 1971 which is the city's tallest building. All total, R+V has nine buildings in town with 2,800 employees.

Why does CEO Harder have two offices? The old building is right in the heart of the city where all the action takes place (food, shops, banks) and the other is sort of in the boondocks. Harder's sixth floor corner office (not the top floor) contains no computer, family pictures, one plant, and several oil landscape paintings of Northern Germany, where he's from.

The long elongated boardroom table seats 16. A 17th century Belgium tapestry covers one whole wall and eight pencil drawings (not paintings or photographs) of past Chairmen and CEO's covers another.

With 1995 premiums of 8.7 billion DM and 11,00 employees, R+V is owned by DG Banks, three regional central co-operative banks which, in turn, are owned by Volksbanken and Raiffeisem Bank. R+V offers most types of insurance but, is Europe’s largest insurer of animals.

Lunch in the cafeteria is so-so. I have a hamburger, cooked potatoes and yogurt. I received a warm welcome and tour but, it's not until leaving I find out from Vasthoff that the company never received my advance material. In other words, they had no clue who I was or what I was doing until showing up. I'm most impressed with the company's flexibility.

 

Dyckerhoff AG

Visiting cement and construction materials concern Dyckerhoff I get the brush-off. The 12-story concrete and glass structure rises on the banks of the Rhine River five miles from downtown Wiesbaden. It looks to have been built in the 1970's and the name "Dyckerhoff" is atop the building in big red letters.

Across the street big cement trucks are coming and going in account of there being a large company cement plant. Checking in with the receptionist I make note of the eight red chairs and the concrete walls embedded with designs in the waiting area plus, there's a whole line of company products on display including bags of cement.

Mareenne Jung, secretary to Chairman Dr. Peter Rohde says her boss isn't in and since he isn't in to give authorization, then nobody can meet with me. Sounds to me like the rules are set in cement.

Revenues in 1995 were 2.5 billion DMs with the company having almost 5,000 employees.

 

Washing The Blues Away.

As mentioned previously my two least favorite chores to do on the road are getting a haircut and doing laundry, the later being something I have to do every seven days. In some countries in Europe self-service laundries are almost non-existent and the ones where they do exist, charge a bundle of money. Most decent-sized cities in Germany (meaning over 100,000 population) will have at least one. Of course, it usually costs $10 a load to wash and $4 to dry. I have two loads, one white and the other colored. It ain't cheap.

I'm in Wiesbaden and it's wash time again. A day earlier when visiting R+V Insurance (in the wrong building I might add), an American women in her early 20's was in the lobby and overheard the difficulties I was having with people over the phone. I even noticed her laughing at the part where the guy on the phone thinks I lost my luggage. Anyway, she later come up and introduces herself. Her folks are in the military and she's visiting (the USA has a military base several miles away). Talking, I mention having to do laundry and she says down the road there's a strip-mall shopping center catering to U.S. military personnel which includes a self-service laundry. Sounds good to me.

Wow, this is great! It looks like your typical strip mall center. There's a supermarket, cinema, drugstore, bank and a variety of other small shops including a fast- food Popeye's Chicken outlet!

Entering the laundry facility my eyes widen when finding it's ONLY 75cents a washload and 25 cents for 20 minutes of drying! Hmmm, it would be cheaper to buy a big box of laundry detergent instead of from the dispenser machine so I ask one of the guys doing laundry where's the best place to go. He's a serviceman (wearing fatigues), about my age (in his early 40's) and very black (I'm white). He says the supermarket would be the place but, it's only for military personnel and he generously offers to go with me and sneak me in. I thank him before declining his generous offer (figuring I could talk my way in). I head over to the supermarket and upon entering I'm stopped by a man asking everyone for their military identification. I show him my passport. No good. I then explain how I'm on a four year bicycle trip around the world and have been in Europe almost two years and would just like to get a few items. No go. I was just starting up with another story when the black guy from the laundry room walks up beside me and announces to the man checking ID's that I'M HIS FATHER. He picks up a pen and duly signs me in on a clipboard the man is holding. The black guy walks with me to the first aisle and then leaves, saying he hopes they have everything I'm looking for. I'll say they have everything. American magazines and all the familiar brand of U.S. goods not to be found in Europe. I pick up a large box of soap, several magazines, cans of club soda AND A&W root beer. I'm about to leave when I come across the greeting card section. Friends of mine in the States just had a baby and I hadn't been able to find English cards anywhere in Germany, that is, until now. Unfortunately I spend too much time thumbing through the cards as a man wanting to know who I am confronts me. Oh, oh. I confess to having been signed in by someone I met in the laundry. Michael Wilkins, store operations manager, lectures me about how this store is open only to active military personnel and immediate family and it was a serious federal offense. Jeez, not wanting to get the other guy in trouble, I say it was all my fault and that I had talked the other guy into signing me in. Wilkins lets me leave. I go back to the laundry room and say to the black guy "What the hell were you doing telling him I was your father!!!! Brother-in-law maybe, but your father!!! We're about the same ages!!!!". He laughed it off . End of story? Not quite.

Finishing my laundry I pop over to Popeye's chicken and have a feast. They only take U.S. money but that's no problem as I still have a small stash of the bills. Then, after leaving I eye a book and magazine store so I pop in. Wow, all English magazines like Sports Illustrated, Kiplinger, Money, Forbes--magazines I can't find in Europe. I stock up with a half-dozen and make my way to the cashier. "Your ID please", she says. "I have my passport", I answer. It's a no-go as she points to a sign on the door, which I missed seeing on the way in, announcing you must be active military to purchase items. Leaving the store, who do I come face to face with? None other then Wilkins the operations manager. I tell him I finished doing my laundry, had a bite to eat at Popeye's and was trying to buy magazines. He frowns, shakes his head back and forth and says "technically, you aren't to be using any of the facilities here". I apologize and explain about my unusual trek around the world. He's intrigued by it and says I should visit the European offices of the AAFES located only several miles down the road. The AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service) is a quasi-government organization which run various operations like this strip mall all over the world. In fact, Wilkins goes on to say the overall head office is in Dallas Texas and revenues last year were something like $10 BILLION dollars! I tell Wilkins I'm disappointed in finding out he's a nice guy because I was hoping to write about what a jerk he was. Wilkins goes on to say the Germans are always trying to finagle their way into the supermarket because the prices are so cheap. Sounds like the American way to me