Germany Part 3
On the road in and around Frankfurt
Frankfurt isn't at all like other German cities and reminds more of a second-tier American city like Charlotte, North Carolina. There's maybe a block or two of high-rise office buildings, a couple impressive skyscrapers, a small (by German standards) old town and a good-sized rough, red light district area near the busy train station reminiscent of most USA cities. The financial district leaves a lot to be desired. There're several big bank buildings and that's it. Germany's Bundesbank, equivalent to our Federal Reserve Bank, isn't even located in the financial district; it's a mile or two away. London may not have the upbeat tempo or the impressive mammoth skyline of New York City but it does have a large, concentrated, historic building-filled financial district, which leaves you with, no doubt you're in a center of commerce and power.
Dresdner Bank AG
Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank Bank, and Dresdner Bank are routinely referred to as "The Big 3". West LB and Bayerische Vereinsbank, two other banks, may have more assets than #3 Commerzbank but, are mostly owned by state governments. Dresdner (assets 484 billion DM, 1995 revenues of US$21 billion) gets visited first for no other reason other than it's 32-story white building is the first one I come upon on my bike.
The company's green logo, a triangle inside a hexagon (6 sided) is stamped atop the sides. I'm visiting four banks here and learn very quickly who "owns" what color logo. It's Dresdner with green, Deutsche-blue; Commerzbank has yellow and DG Bank-orange.
It's a great reception thanks to Lothar Gries from the communications/press department and his big boss: Dr. Manfred Schaudwet, Senior General Manager & company director. There's about 2,500 employees spread around a half-dozen buildings in town. Worldwide, the company has over 46,000 employees. I'd have thought the big cheeses would be ensconced in the top of the tower built in 1975. Nope, it's a six-story add-on built in 1990 and features a very large impressive atrium, which is used for receptions and large meetings (seats 500). Matter of fact, it's a good day to visit due to CEO Juergen Sarrazin not being in his office but, downstairs in the atrium leading a meeting of the bank's regional managers from all over the world. Before heading into Sarrazin's office the three of us (Schaudwet, Gries and myself) catch a bit of the action going on down below by looking over the fifth floor railing. Though there must be a couple hundred people down there, the centerpiece of the atrium, a three-story tall wall drawing by Sol Lewitt, titled "Floating Cube A" still catches my eye. Dresdner has an impressive international art collection primarily contemporary and modern including Russian painters and quite a few sculptures. During my tour I see works by Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol, just to name a few.
CEO Sarrazine occupies a fifth floor middle office containing no personal effects or family pictures. I count over 80 books on shelves-all, which seem to be about business. The black desk and chairs along with purple sofas are modern and I note the single red rose in a vase and a bowl of fresh flowers. Three oil paintings hangs on walls, two of which are modern.
The sixth floor contains meeting rooms, who are named after German cities, and the boardroom. The donut-shaped table in the boardroom seats 12.
The company's address: "Jurgen-Ponto-Platz 1" is named after a former CEO who was murdered a few years back by a German terrorist group.
Though I'm well received at Commerzbank I'm disappointed. Construction is only half-finished on the bank's new 50-story head office located adjacent to its current 26-story tower.
Actually, I meet my contact person, Dennis Phillips, International Press and his boss Peter Pietsch, Senior Vice President-Head of Press Service, in a non-descript building a half dozen blocks away--near the train station. Phillips, an American, occasionally even rides his bike to work as I note the bicycle helmet in his office. When completed in mid-1997, the new Sir Norman Foster designed triangle-shaped building will be Europe's tallest and contain 1.2 million square feet of space plus, have parking spaces for 300 cars AND 200 bicycles.
The current head office, built in 1974 and unmemorable in appearance, is currently home to 1,500 employees. The company's logo, a sort of yellow half snowflake, sits atop the ends of the building while the bank's name is in big letters along the top front and back. The new building will allow the bank to consolidate employees from 34 different locations to this one site. Phillips says he'll arrange it so I can take the construction elevator to the top of the new building for a look- see but I decline. I have trouble with heights in completed buildings, let alone tall ones whose windows aren't even in yet.
Lunch in the cafeteria is average. CEO Martin Kohlhausen's 24th floor cherry wood paneled middle office is computerless, contains one plant and, an American quilt on the wall. Can't see much out his window except the sides of the new building.
Established in 1870, assets in 1993 totaled 285 billion-DM, revenues in 1995 were US$18.8 billion, with over 28,000 employees.
Deutsche Bank AG
I've been to the blue reflective glass twin towers headquarters of Deutsche Bank four different days now and it's getting downright frustrating. They said my advance material wasn't received which sounds fishy since neighbors Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank received the material. I think it might be a matter of being too big and bloated. With assets of 721 billion DM, revenues of US$38.4 billion and over 70,000 employees Deutsche Bank is far and a way Europe's biggest bank and one of the world's largest.
Security is taken very seriously here as I can attest from the guards patrolling the public plaza area with dogs. The small plaque outside the entrance doors explains one of the reasons for the heavy security. The name "Alfred Herrhausen" along with his life span dates "1930-1989" are engraved. I remember reading about it in the papers. He was the former Chairman of the bank who was killed when a terrorist bomb blew up him and his car on the way to work. Also standing guard outside are two fierce-looking stone lions, remnants from the long gone neo-baroque Lowenstein Palace which occupied a spot near this site back in 1891.
Built in 1974, one of the two prism-shaped towers goes up 38-floors and the other 40 floors. Why are both the same height but one has less floors? The one with fewer floors has to do with its meeting rooms needing overhead space. About 2,500 employees work in the Frankfurt area.
The building lobby area contains a pool lined with red granite and in the middle there's a hanging sculpture by Richard Lippold of vertical aluminum rods with two tapering brass sections. The hallway floor is light gray Sardinian granite with the walls paneled with white Brazilian marble. How do I know so much about the outer lobby? It has something to do with all the time I have on my hands from waiting. When entering the lobbies you can go to the left or to the right depending on which building you're going up. To your immediate right upon entering there's a separate reception area for those having business with top executives. A guard sits behind plate glass and after a visitor passes muster a button is pushed and a sliding door with one-way mirrored glass allows entry into another reception area. I'm never allowed in the inner reception so I stand around (there're no chairs) each visit in the big lobby and watch as the half-dozen security guards keep eyeing me like I was some kind of suspicious weirdo.
After my first visit I left additional material about my project. It didn't seem to help. On my fourth visit I meet with Dr. Bernd Kulla, who says he has no title but does some writing for the company (his business cards reads "writing unit"). Kulla just goes through the motions and it's quite obvious he was assigned to meet with me just to stop me from continually showing up.
Other companies visited in Germany said Deutsch Bank has one of the country's best art collections. It's true, at east that's what I see in a booklet Kulla gives me. The booklet reads, "The collection's emphasis is on painters and sculptors from German-speaking countries, with special consideration given to young artists born in the fifties and sixties. Approximately 1,900 works on paper by 125 artists are displayed in the corridors and conference rooms of the Deutsche Bank Head Office Towers in Frankfurt" Kulla says each floor features a different artist. I wouldn't know about that since my visit consists solely of an elevator ride to Kulla's small cubicle office.
Probably one of the most impressive buildings in Frankfurt is DG Bank's 52-story tower. The letters "DG "stand for Deutsch Genossenschaftbank. With over 248 billion DN in assets, revenues of US$11.6 billion and 10,000 employees, DG is the central credit institute of the German cooperative system with cooperative banks and holding companies being the shareholders.
DG's headquarters, a three building complex, houses 2,000 employees. The main reception area lies in the seven-story building built in the 1960's. However, by going in via the main reception area you miss the spectacular five-story atrium of the almost new (1993) 52-story tower complete with about a dozen several-story tall palm trees.
The main reception lobby features escalators leading upstairs and a receptionist desk manned by two women, one who speaks English. Growing ivy hangs over the balconies in this much less grand atrium. After almost an hour wait I'm met by Rainer Schlitt, a press officer on the bottom of the hierarchy totem pole, who says they never received my advance material. This is not good news since it virtually assures I won't get a look-see around. Turns out I'm right. The only positive aspect being Schlitt works out of one of the top floors in the tower building thereby affording a spectacular view of the city and surrounding area.
Two unusual items stand out about DG Bank. (1) Their logo looks remarkably similar to the Pac-Man figure, except the mouth (which gobbles up items as it makes its way around the board) is at a different angle and it's orange instead of pink. (2) the Claes Oldenburg's sculpture out front of their tower building probably has its picture taken more than any other item in town. Rising maybe five stories, the fiberglass piece titled, "Inverted Collar and Tie" shows an inverted collar and tie.
Philipp Holzmann AG
The grand six-story, turn-of-the-century head office building of Philipp Holzmann, one of Germany's biggest and oldest construction companies, looks more like head office of a bank or insurance company. Built in 1915 and rebuilt after being bombed during World War 2, it several months ago finished undergoing 18 months of another refurbishing. The four life-size figurines atop the entrance overhang represent the four known continents back then (Asia, Africa, Americas and Europe).
One enters via a blah looking 1960's building connected to the backside of the grandiose structure. The guard doesn't speak English but, Rosemary Klotzbach from the Arena Projects department just happened by and is most helpful in trying to track down my contact person.
I've been having lousy receptions at construction companies in Germany but I can't include this one in that category as Alexandra Muehr, Investor Relations Manager, extends a warm welcome.
About 800 employees work in the two buildings. The older building, a listed (historic) structure, is a joy to tour with the place having the feel of a museum. On the second floor landing stands a bronze bust of Philipp Holzmann (1805-1870), who founded the company in 1849.
The long boardroom table, which seats 30, is very unusual. It's shaped like a "U" except it doesn't connect together at the bottom. An oil painting of Wilhelm Holzmann (1842-1913), son of the founder, hangs on a wall.
We pass a piece of history: a paternoster (a continuously moving elevator) but it can't give me a lift since it's undergoing repairs.
Can't see Chairman Dr. Lothar Mayer's office but I'm shown the office of Lothar Freitag, a member of the board, and right down the third floor hallway. View out the window is of park.
Revenues in 1995 were 14.1 billion-DM and 47,000 employees.
Boy, I was trying to be polite when asking Werner Renzel, head of public relations, if AGIV was an industrial holding company. He says "conglomerate is more like it". I've found most companies are dearth to use that word.
Headquarters, a non-descript 20-year old building, lies tucked away on a dead-end street about a half-mile from the hustle-bustle of city center. About 50 people work in the company-owned building.
Besides Renzel I also meet with Dr. Gerd Wiedemeyer, a member of the Managing Board of Directors.
AGIV, with 38,000 employees and 1995 revenues of 9.6 billion DM, divides its operations into four divisions: Building industry, Transport & Logistics, Mechanical engineering & electronic and, Electrical engineering & power supply. A big part of AGIV's business involves machinery & plant construction for the paper and cellulose industry.
CEO Udo Stark occupies a corner office on the seventh floor containing no computer, three paintings (modern), two plants and a stand-up desk.
Andreae-Noris Zahn AG
Not exactly a prime location now, but maybe in a half-dozen years it may be a trendy area. That's the verdict I give Andre-Noris Zahn's seven story headquarters located three miles from downtown Frankfurt in a rundown industrial area undergoing major redevelopment.
Kirsten Bohge from the company's marketing department says they built their headquarters here in 1991 (area is called "City West") with the understanding it was part of a major redevelopment. It looks like something is finally happening because there's a huge several block long by block wide fenced-in site filled with earth moving equipment.
Didn't enjoy myself waiting in the reception area with the half-dozen in-house magazines only being in German. Can't get an annual report in English. Why? Since this wholesale pharmaceutical company only does business in Germany I'm told there's no reason for it.
Over 180 people work here. There's no formal boardroom, no formal dress code and flexible work hours. Nothing fancy or special about CEO Dr. Hermann Franke's top floor middle office except he has a pretty good view of the nearby downtown skyline. As with most German executives he has no family or personal pictures.
Deutsche Bahn AG
Egads, I'm going to attempt visiting Deutsche Bahn's head office. It's Germany's government-owned and run railways operator and with 1995 revenues of 30 billion DM ($20.8 billion) and 312,000 employees, it's a biggie.
Phew!, the address I have leads me to a rundown 1930's complex near the Frankfurt railway station but the guard said they moved from here several years ago. I then ride a mile or so behind and around the railroad station which leads me past a sprawling rail freight yard facility. I then see it. The building doesn't try and hide what it is: a 16-story slab of concrete. The railroad's familiar logo, a red square with the letters "DB" inside, sits atop the building and even lights up at night.
Of course, I'm now expecting even a worse time from the bureaucrats at this huge government-run organization since my advance material was sent to an address they moved from two years ago.
I kid you not, my first impression upon entering the lobby is that I'm in a prison. There's a giant four-story atrium and running along the sides are red staircases and long red catwalks to each level (just like in the old prison movies when guards patrol the catwalks). The floor is plain concrete, not colored concrete, not concrete with flashy designs, but just plain concrete. The floor blends in with the giant concrete pillars throughout the structure. Most buildings hide the concrete. Here they seem to thrive in it.
Two receptionist sit in a glass booth and a sign above the booth reads "information". I explain what I'm doing to the receptionists and after a few minutes Wolgang Pollety, Assistant to CEO Heinz Duerr, greets me in the lobby. A young guy probably in his late 20's, he says they didn't receive my letter but right away says, "how can we help you". Boy am I impressed with his take charge attitude and flexibility. I thought for sure I would be bounce around to a half dozen people. Pollety ends up spending over a hour answering questions and giving me a tour. I asked Pollety if anyone else has said this place reminds them of a prison. "No", he answers.
I'm given some figures on the railroad's infrastructure and rolling stock. The railroad operates 77,142 kilometers of track, has 795 tunnels, almost 33,000 railway bridges, 3,562 electric locomotives, 66 steam locomotives, 2,984 internal combustion-engined locomotives, 2,373 light rail motor tractors, 1,915 electric railcars with power supply and, 25 ships (ferry boats). If a person sat in every seat available on every car (sleeper cars, dining cars, passenger cars etc.) in the railroad's stock at once, then there would be 1,008,190 seats of which 108,145 were first class.
Over 1,600 people work in this "H" shaped structure. The nearest freeway by car lies five minutes away, the airport 20 minutes and the nearest train stop a four-minute walk. I ask Pollety to name some competitors and has immediate answer is "cars" then Lufthansa, the German airline. Depending upon your position on the hierarchy ladder, employees get anywhere from 50% to 100% off the price of a train ticket.
CEO Duerr occupies a corner office and items include a map of German rail track system and similar to his brethren at the airlines, five toy model trains. The boardroom contains a circular table, TV/VCR and eight pictures/drawings of bridges.
I wasn't even expecting to get a foot in the door at Metallgesellschaft let alone meeting someone. The metals, transport, chemical, trading and mining concern was big news around the world several years ago for illegal activities causing several billion US dollars in losses.
Wow, instead of going into what I call a "fortress-like" mentality they've gone the other route to what I call the "open-door" policy. The guards allow me passage through the entry gates and then point to the five-story listed (historic) headquarters building. It's a fine-looking brick building built in 1905 but as I quickly find out from Andreas Martin, my contact person, they've sold the building and are moving in early 1997--part of the fallout from the activities of several years earlier.
Martin isn't a company employee but, an employee of a public relations firm hired after Metalgesellschaft's troubles come to light. He's been here since the beginning and says it's been a heck of an experience. Founded in Frankfurt in 1881, Metalgesellschaft, means "metal company" and though 1994/95 revenues of 18 billion DM ($12 billion) are down from 1993 revenues of 26 billion DM and the number of employees are now 23,000, down from 62,000, it's still a big company.
Located a four minute walk to the city center, over 200 work in the head office, with over 1,500 in the Frankfurt area. The furnishings are very spartan throughout the building and that includes CEO Karl Josef Neukirchen's third floor corner office. There's no computer, one plant, not much of a view and about 80 books on bookshelves-mostly about business. It's an austere boardroom with a donut-shaped table seating eight.
I've been here to Degussa three times with no luck and on the fourth visit, Michael Tschugg, head of communications, says "you have five minutes". He's got a meeting to go to so I talk very fast. Degussa, a precious metals, chemicals, trading and pharmaceutical concern is big, with 1995 revenues of US$9.7 billion and a total of over 32,000 employees. Degussa is the world's largest manufacturer of hydrogen chloride derivatives and, the biggest maker of silicas and silicates (precipitated silicas and Aerosil).
Headquarters is also big with over 1,200 working here in a large riverfront building complex. The company was established in 1873, but a predecessor company had already been on this site since 1843. Built in 1983, the eight-story administration building is shaped like a cross with wings of the building being labeled North, South, East & West.
No there wasn't a Mr. Degussa, the name stands for "Deutsche Gold-und Silber-Scheideanstalt vormals Roessler (German Gold and Silver Refinery, formerly Roessler).
Employee parking is very limited and is done via a lottery. The company's art collection is primarily modern & contemporary and limited to young Frankfurt artists, There's also an antique coin collection which I sadly don't get to see. As expected, I'm out of luck as far as seeing CEO Dr. Uwe-Ernst Bufe's seventh floor corner office, which Iím told, has a great view of the Main River.
Riding six miles northwest of Frankfurt, near the village of Kronberg, brings me to the 10 building factory/headquarters complex of Braun. Though Braun is owned by Boston, MA-based The Gillette Company, I figure visiting this maker of electric shavers, household appliances, hair dryers, clocks, irons and dental care products might be interesting.
Built in 1968, the white walled reception lobby of the three-story head office building contains glass displays filled with the company's extensive line of products. The furniture is gray and the three coffee tables circular.
Elke Mischo, head of corporate public relations, says they hadn't received my material but, turns out to be very accommodating as we go back to her smoke-filled office and then through my questions.
She can't break down how many work in the head office but says over 2,000 work on this factory site. Plenty of free parking for employees and a nice fitness facility which includes an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and sauna. Employees enjoy a 25% discount on company products.
Max Braun founded the company back in 1921 with revenues in 1995 of 1.5 billion DM and over 8,500 employees.
I get invited to lunch and it's such a nice summer day we sit outside with quite a few other Braun employees on picnic tables. The food is excellent especially the Nuernberg sausages. These sausages are a specialty of the city of Nuernberg (120 miles away) and they're distinguishable from others due to their distinctive taste AND small size. Unfortunately there's a problem with wasps flying around the food while we eat. Evidently everyone else has become used to them buzzing about and landing in your food. Not me. One lands in my pudding desert and I attempt swatting it away. Oops, I mistakenly catch some pudding in the swat and it goes flying into the face of the woman sitting across!
I can tell CEO Archibald Livis smokes due to his top floor corner office reeking of tobacco. There's a map of the world on a wall, two oil paintings, one real cactus, a computer, five family pictures, eight black chairs, one black sofa, a Braun calculator and a Braun cigarette lighter.
Altana, a pharmaceutical and chemical company with revenues in 1995 of 2 billion DM and over 10,000 employees, makes my list of tacky companies. Probably built in the 1960's, the two-story unmarked building sits on the outskirts of Bad Homburg, a pleasant resort-like town about 10 miles north of Frankfurt. With it's black pyramid-shaped roof, the building reminds me of a pagoda. It's on a dead-end road in a residential area and heavy hedges shroud it. A large cornfield butts up to one side.
Entering the lobby, I find the two receptionist friendly and even more friendly when I tell them about my quirky bicycle trek. There's a four-foot by four-foot oil painting of someone but there's no plaque saying who it is. Ditto for the bronze busts of two men.
The one receptionist calls up CEO Klaus Schweikart's secretary. She hangs up and says she's been instructed by Schweikart's secretary to tell me, "we don't want anything to do with you". "Wow that's odd, did they receive my advance material?", I ask. "Yes", the receptionist replies. Of course now the attitude of the receptionists changes and I'm treated like a leper. I ask if they could identify the bronze busts and who's the person in the large oil painting. Stone silence. I ask for an annual report and am initially told I can't have one. After some haggling they relent. They also give me the name of Lang Mareanna, as being the name of the CEO's secretary. The way things were going I'm not quite sure if they were being truthful. As I explained to the receptionists, "I've made my way halfway around the world to visit you and though I'm disappointed you don't want anything to do with me, that's the way it goes sometimes. I'd like to get the name of the CEO's secretary for my notes so I can say I physically stopped by your offices but was told you weren't interested in meeting with me."
Thumbing through the annual report I spot a picture of one of the bronze busts. It's of Herbert Quandt (1910-1982), who founded the company. The accompanying article says he "was committed to social politics to a high degree" Hmm, I wonder if he would have approved of the treatment I received.
Though chemical and pharmaceutical giant Hoechst uses a Frankfurt mailing address, the actual physical location lies about six miles from there in the small town of Hoechst. As expected it's no problem finding the head office with it's location being inside another one of those monster-size plant sites. Hoechst, with 1995 revenues of 52 billion-DM and over 160,000 employees is one of the world's three biggest chemical companies (DuPont) and the fourth largest pharmaceutical. firm (after Glaxo Wellcome, Novartis and Merck)
Over 25,000 employees work here in this mini-city which encompasses an area almost a mile and a half square. A river (used for shipping and receiving goods) running through the site poses no problem with Hoechst having several of it's own bridges spanning the water.
The 10-story structure (with no names or logos anywhere on the exterior) housing the executives is undergoing renovations and the "new" look to the large reception area differs immensely from the conservative blah exterior of the building built in the 1970's. We're talking MTV-style here as visitors step over blue lights embedded in the lobby floor with a giant six foot by 10 foot rear-projected screen on a wall spewing out colorful company information. While waiting visitors can punch up information on several computers including a Reuterís news screen and a financial news screen. One can also interact with a computer specifically rigged to riddle and dazzle you with company info.
After meeting Heiner Harder, Head of Corporate Press and PR, the assignment of showing me around and answering questions falls to Michael van Allen, who's business card reads "General Inquiries". Allen invites me to lunch and since it's a heck of a long hike to the cafeteria (one of four here) he elects to drive over which allows him a chance to take me on a quick spin around the massive facility. The food in the cafeteria is so-so.
Founded in 1863, the company changed its name to that of its host town in 1973. Across from the cafeteria stands the former administration building, an impressive turn-of-the-century structure. Still used, its entryway is lined with plaques and busts of important members of the company's history. We take a ride up and down an antique paternoster (continuously moving elevator).
Though I don't get to see CEO Juergen Dormann's office I do spend some time with Dr. Ernest Drew, the first American on the company's Board of Management. Entering Drew's office, located just down the tenth floor hallway from Dormann's, and after shaking my hand he immediately asks if I notice anything unusual about his office. "Yes", I answer, "your office door is open". He smiles. I picked up on that right away while in Germany. EVERYONE at every level keeps their doors closed. Germans do not work together in big rooms-they have individual offices and they' seem to be fanatical about keeping their office doors closed. What problems does this cause? You just don't pass by someone's office and "pop in" because you have no way of knowing if he's in, gone home or with someone. Companies lose out on the intermingling and bonding (so to speak) of employees. I see this even in company's communications department which normally is a wide-open place.
I have a great time conversing with Drew, who reads German but doesn't speak it. Probably in his late 50's, Drew pulls out his wallet and beams with pride as he shows off his newly acquired German drivers license which, unlike in the USA, is expensive (almost $2,000) and what others besides him have told me, extremely difficult to pass. I have never encountered as many cars and drivers on the road taking driver's training classes with instructors as I have in Germany. Looking around Drew's corner office with a view of the surrounding countryside, company plant and nearby freeway, I see the familiar trappings found in USA executives offices: family pictures and pictures with politicians. In Drew's case there's a picture of him with former President George Bush.
B. Braun Melsungen AG
Leaving Frankfurt I head due north 120 miles to Melsungen, a bucolic community of 9,000. A small river runs through this gorgeous small-townish community of picturesque half-timbered homes which fortunately seems to have managed to escape the tour bus crowds. Pausing with my bike halfway across the pedestrian bridge spanning the river I find myself talking to myself saying "this would be a great place to live and raise a family".
Melsungen is what's known as a company town. Of the 9,000 people here, about half work for B. Braun Melsungen, the largest medical supplier in Europe. I figure out why they add the Melsungen to the name, it's probably to help people avoid confusing it with Braun the consumer household appliance maker. I know I was initially confused.
Located on the main road through town and about a short nine-iron shot to the elevated railroad tracks passing by, the fake half-timbered five and a half-story headquarters building sits directly across the street from one of its factories.
This is strange, visitors check-in via a window opening in the headquarters building with a security guard, who's sitting inside the building. I mention this because it's cold outside and he doesn't give me permission to enter the building. Evidently this procedure is done this way because it allows the guard to monitor the trucks delivering goods to the factory across the street. There's a small fountain gurgling outside the front doors and quite a few rose bushes.
I'm finally directed inside to the lobby where I'm greeted by Caroll Neubauer, who's calling card just reads "Member of the Board" but tells me he's director of labor relations, company lawyer, head of human resources and legal affairs. He says they didn't receive my advance material but, I tell him I bet it's here somewhere because small towns like this don't lose mail. No problem with the language barrier here as Neubauer is a graduate of Georgetown University. I'm also impressed with his "what can I do to help you?" attitude.
I note the bronze busts in the lobby of Otto Braun (1904-1986), Carl Braun (1869-1929) and Dr. Bernd Braun (1906-1993) and for some reason have a sneaking suspicion the company was founded by a guy with the last name Braun. Yep, Neubauer says Bernd Braun founded the company here in 1839.
The building isn't very big and it's plainly furnished as Neubauer gives me a quick tour. CEO Ludwig Georg Braun occupies a very functional fourth floor offices sans any personal items with a not very tantalizing view of the parking lot. The plain boardroom seats 16 and the orange covered chairs say it all.
Neubauer admits headquarters isn't much to write about and suggests I ride three miles out of town and have a look at their futuristic-looking distribution/warehouse complex which has won all kinds of architecture awards. I agree and he places a call to the guards to notify them of my arrival. He's right, set back from the road it's quite a sight to see these unusual shaped large blue buildings especially it's location amongst farmland.
** Little side note here
I rode out to Melsungen from Kassel (population 100,000) located about 20 miles away. I had followed a nice winding two-lane road to Melsungen and noticed the same river flowed through Melsungen and Kassel. I figured on the way back to Kassel (where I was spending the night) I'd ride alongside the river via the tractor roads which hugged the sides of the farmland. Big mistake. Though there're miles and miles of farmland (mostly cornfield) farmers put up fences to separate property lines. So, I was very upset at having gone several miles and now having to backtrack. I was also upset because recent heavy rains had caused the tractor roads to turn into thick muck and I was now pushing my bike instead of riding it. I HATE having to backtrack. I look on the other side of a cornfield and can see a road maybe 100 yards away so I drag the bike. Jeez, just my luck, I now have to lift my muddy, pannier-loaded bike across a three-foot elevated train track to get to the road. I look in both directions even though I can't see more than 10 yards due to the track curving and high shrubbery growing near the tracks, then, hearing a noise I stop. A few seconds later a passenger train comes barreling by. Boy, it's probably the only train that comes through this area the whole day. I now try to lift the bike over the tracks but keep losing my footing to mud. I try again and no sooner get it across when out of nowhere a freight train goes barreling by! It definitely ranks up there on my list of heart pumping overdrive incidents.
I'm in the very disappointing city of Wolfsburg (population 130,000), about 50 miles east of Hanover. One would think being headquarters for Volkswagen, in terms of revenues Germany's second largest company with US$61 billion AND being home to the world's largest plant under one roof --employing 46,500 people, Wolfsburg would be a dynamic and prosperous city. Way wrong. All the buildings and housing looks like it was built in the 1950's and 1960's and never touched since. Even the people look different here. German cities always have a thriving prosperous-looking downtown. Not here. It reminds me of earlier when I went through the cities in the former East Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and all of them looked like they've been in a time warp for 40 years.
As mentioned, there's a good-sized car factory here and there's absolutely no way of missing the place because it's behemoth! Standing near downtown, one can look across the Mitteland Canal and the half-dozen railroad tracks running alongside it, and see a one-mile long brick frontage of buildings. At one-end stands the old power plant with its four 136-meter high chimneys and anchoring the other end is the ugly 14-story administrative building. The factory site covers an area of FOUR square miles.
How do I get over to the place? I see a bridge about a mile away but, then I spot several people entering an underground walkway with the words 'Volkswagen" above the entrance. It's a very, very long underground walkway (at least five blocks in length) which takes you from downtown Wolfsburg via going under the canal and under the railroad tracks. I make mention of this due to my bike being with me and there're four different sets of escalators going deeper and deeper which I have to contend with at both ends. Exiting on the Volkswagen side I encounter a plant entrance guarded by several guards working out a small building. Evidently I show up at a shift change because literally hundreds and hundreds of workers start passing the guards as they exit the plant via the underground pedestrian walkway. What I can't figure out is why everyone shows show their ID badges to the guards when leaving. A new Volksvagen Polo car is on display next and there's also a room where the public meets for scheduled tours of the factory.
The guards connect me to public relations who say they have no knowledge of who I am or what I'm doing. I'm told to wait. An hour goes by and finally Dr. Guenther Scherelis from the international press department arrives. Until showing some news clippings Scherelis is very skeptical of me. We hop in a van (a Volkswagen van of course) and head to his office in the ugly brick and glass administration building where 1,600 other employees work, which, incidentally was built in 1958 and, gasp, is a historical (listed) structure.
Quite an interesting history here. I ask what "Volkswagen" translates into and Scherelis says "people's car". "Who's the company's founder?", I ask. "Adolph Hitler" comes the unexpected reply. Back in 1934 the Reich Government was looking to start up a car factory and chose this site. In 1938 "Volswagenwerk GmbH" was established and the history of the town officially began when a resolution was passed. However, it only acquired its name on May 25th, 1945--borrowed from the nearby Wolfsburg Castle. That explains the city's lack of personality. Unlike most German cities whose histories go back hundreds even thousands of years, there was nothing here before 1938 except for a small nearby village settlement.
Scherelis rattles off some tidbits. Don't like eating at the same place at work? Here you can choose between 25 cafeterias (this takes the lead so far in my list of "Most Cafeterias at Headquarters", until now the previous was11). They cook so much food they produce there're own sausage. There's over 45 miles of railroad track, 5,000 company bicycles cruising the grounds, employees receive an 18% discount on the purchase of cars and enjoy a 28.8 workweek.
There's not one but two helipads on the grounds, more than one corporate jet (Scherelis doesn't know the exact number), the State of Lower Saxony owns a 20% stake in the company and the factory site has held several big rock concerts in one of its massive parking lots. How big were the concerts? They've had Pink Floyd, Genesis and, over 110,000 fans here for a Rolling Stones concert.
I'm told "for security reasons" it isn't possible to see CEO Dr. Ferdinand Piech's office or the boardroom since "no advance warning of your arrival was given". I dispute there not having received my advance material and jokingly suggest they might have been mistakenly mixed in with all the General Motors documents (there's a major controversy
going on over whether a former GM executive "stole" company secrets after being hired away by Volkswagen). In Germany, unlike in the USA, entering a building puts you on the ground floor, not the first floor. So, if you walk up a flight of stairs to the next floor you'd be, according to Germany and most other European countries, on the "first floor" . I mention this because the administration building is a14-story structure with the top floor numbered "13". Incidentally, CEO Ferdinand Piech is the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who founded Porsche.
On the road in Berlin
I'd like to return to Berlin in five years to see what 's become of the city after all the seemingly endless construction projects are finished.
The walls which used to separate East Germany from West Germany were only a few blocks away from Schering's headquarters and plant complex. It's definitely a mixed-use area with working class homes mixed in amongst industrial plants.
There's about 20 buildings in the complex with the 16-story head office building rising way above the others. Built in the 1970's, it looks it.
Vicky Frost, assistant to CEO Dr. Giuseppe Vita, greets me in the second floor lobby area and says they didn't receive my advance material. She does however ask me to have a seat on the lobby sofa and she'll take a stab at answering the questions. Originally from England, she's been in Germany for quite a few years.
Ernst Schering (1824-1889) founded the company in Berlin back in 1871 and unlike most other business who moved out of Berlin at the end of World War 2, Schering stayed. Frost doesn't know how many work in this building but says over 9,000 work in the Berlin area and over 20,000 total. Revenues in 1995 4.6 billion DM.
No greenery or campus-like atmosphere here, just factory and research buildings.
Normally, being with the CEO's secretary/assistant gets you in anywhere and everywhere but, Frost says her boss is busy and the boardroom is in use. Not a very fruitful visit. I do learn they aren't a superstitious bunch, with senior management calling the shots from the 13th floor.
The Schering name and business was expropriated in the USA back in 1942. It was then acquired in 1970 by the then named Plough Corporation, now known as Schering-Plough Corporation, a New Jersey-based health care and consumer products company who's beautiful headquarters I visited during my USA trek.
Axel Springer Verlag AG
Berlin isn't a city of tall buildings so Axel Springer Verlag's 20-story glass building does stand out. Constructed in 1966, it also stands out because of where it was built--within spiting distance of the former Berlin Wall. The exterior of the building is in the process receiving a new skin of glass and they're about half done. It needed it.
I'm in luck as newspaper, book & magazine publisher and radio & television owner Axel Springer has dual head offices, one here and the other in Hamburg. Edda Fels, head of public relations, normally works out of Hamburg but happens to be in Berlin today. After Fels gives me a warm greeting it's up to the 19th floor (in the US this would be the 20th floor as they count the first floor as -0-) where we enter the Journalist Club, a large, but cozy reading/relaxing room stuffed with comfortable chairs and restricted to, you guessed it, company journalists. Great views from up here.
Fels doesn't know how many employees work in the building but guesstimates there's over 12,600 companywide. It looks to me like there'd easily be 1,000 people here.
Axel Springer, who founded the company in 1951, died in 1985 at the age of 73.
Over 60% of company's revenues (3.4 billion-DM in 1993) comes from newspapers. It's tabloid paper, the "Bild" is Europe's largest daily paper and also publishes Die Welt, a national paper. I had write-ups in both those papers last year when passing through Hamburg. Because they were in German, I sent those two along with several other write-ups from newspapers as part of the advance material addressed to company CEO's in Germany.
CEO Dr. Juergen Richter occupies a middle office on the 18th floor sans plants or a computer. He does have a soft spot for books as I count over 200 on his shelves plus, he's part of an overwhelming minority of German executives who have family photos in their offices. He has three.
On the road in Hannover
Nothing special about this city of 550,000 in northern Germany
Home to Continental, the world's fourth largest tire company after Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone, is a 10-minute walk from downtown Hannover in a mixed-use area. Located next to the train tracks, the six-story brick building was at one time part of a massive several- block-long continuous brick plant site built in 1898. There's still a small factory here. With a total of 1,000 employees working in the factory and head office.
After getting clearance from a security guard to enter the parking lot I lock the bike up under a large covered bike-parking facility located close to the front doors (normally bike racks are located way out in the boondocks). I count 18 company tires on display in the lobby including Continental, Uniroyal, Semiperil and General Tire which are all company brands. Hanging in the reception area are antique metal signs of old tire advertisements and there's a large acrylic painting (10 feet tall by 18 feet long) by Jacques Gassman which looks like nothing more than big blotches of paint. Reading material on a coffee table includes the following newspapers: Frankfuter Allgemeine, Hannoversche Allgemeine and the Financial Times
Siegfried Aberle, Internal Communications, greets me and gives a quick tour. Until a few years ago headquarters was several miles away in a 14-story edifice built in 1953 and laid claim to being Germany's tallest building. It was donated to a university and the company moved to space within one of its old plants. There's plenty of free parking for employees and it's no 9-5 here with flexible work hours being an option. I can't see CEO Hubertus von Gruenberg's office or boardroom due to "both in use". We do walk around the executive area and functional would be the one word used to describe the decor.
Founded in 1871, revenues in 1995 were 10 billion-DM with over 48,000 employees. The company's logo, a horse rearing up on its hind legs inside a circle, is taken from the State of Lower Saxony's coat of arms, which is a horse. In 1892 Continental was the first German company to manufacture pneumatic bicycle tires (tires which took air).
Riding five miles from downtown brings me to the large good-looking five-story headquarters of Preussag, a big mining, steel, energy, trading, shipbuilding, metallurgy and engineering concern, with revenues in 1995 of almost US$19 billion and over 65,000 employees.
Built in 1989, the lobby area contains five glass displays filed with antique coins, bills and metals.
Andreas Decker, Assistant of the Chairman of the Executive Board, answers my questions. Founded originally in Berlin back in 1923, the company's name "Preussag" is derived from Prussia. Decker, I'm happy to hear, calls the company a conglomerate.
About 400 employees work here which includes no recreational facilities. However, one can watch fish swim in the small pond centering the enclosed courtyard. I'm disappointed in not being able to see CEO Michael Frenzel's middle office or boardroom due to "he's in". Decker assures me Frenzel hasn't any mineral rocks in his office.
HDI, a mutual insurance company specializing in industrial insurance (second largest reinsurer in Germany and #6 in the world), owns a nine-story building a half-dozen miles from Hannover's city center in mixed area of blue collar homes and office buildings. Built in 1977, the building is home to 700 employees.
I'm somewhat surprised to hear Thomas von Mallinckrodt, head of corporate communications, say they have a fitness facility in this bland-looking building. We take a look. Not bad, an indoor swimming pool, sauna, weight room and a two-lane bowling alley.
I can't see the boardroom due to renovations going on and CEO Wolf-Dieter Baumgarti's top floor middle office with no personal affects, computer or pictures is strictly functional. It's a 20-minute drive to the airport and three minutes to the nearest freeway. Premiums last year were 8 billion-DM and there's a total of over 4,000 employees.
Near the outskirts of town is where one finds cookies, snacks and cake maker Bahlsen. The two-story orange brick with copper trim octagon-shaped building occupies a corner site of a busy street intersection. A trolley car line runs down one of the streets and it'll have you to downtown Hannover in 10 minutes.
The name "Bahlsen" on a two foot tall by three foot long sign near the public sidewalk lets you know this is the place. Thick hedges, tall trees and a large green grassy area serve as buffers from the street. The lobby contains a giant display containing packages of their various cookies.
I've seen their familiar cookies in every country I've been to and have always been curious about their unusual logo which is: the name Balhsen in white lettering inside a blue elongated square and next to the name there's a red oval containing the letters "TET" and an oval with a snake and a semi-circle with three dots. "What the heck is that?", is the first question I ask Svenja Broda of the press & information department. Seems the oval with the snake, the semi-circle and three dots should actually be pronounced "dschet" but it has been simplified to "TET". It is derived from an ancient Egypt hieroglyphic meaning "ever-lasting". Friedrich Tewes, a friend of founder Hermann Bahlsen (1859-1919) proposed the symbol back in 1904.
About 30 employees work here on this site which was originally bought in the early 1900's to house a factory and an employee residential housing facility but, the First World War prevented the plan from ever being carried out.
Bahlsen has a large art collection consisting of German contemporary artists. These include Adolf Hoezel (1853-1934), Willy Jaeckel (1888-1955), Heinrich Mittag (1859-1920) and Martel Schwichtenberg (1896-1945).
Big doings going on here at this private family-owned company with revenues in 1995 of 2.1 billion DM and over 10,000 employees. Founded a 107 years ago in 1889, the partners of Bahlsen, the members of the Werner Bahlsen and Hermann Balhsen branches of the Bahlsen family, have decided to go their separate ways. The H. Bahlsen branch takes over the US subsidiary Austin Quality Foods in Cary, North Carolina as well as other foreign assets while the W. Bahlsen clan take over all the shares in the founding company which will be implemented at the end of 1996. That explains the new name Bahlsen KG which differed from the H. Bahlsens Keksfabrik KG found in my research.
While going through the questions, CEO Werner Bahlsen appears in the next room to ask one of Broda's colleagues a questions. Broda steps out for a minute to ask Bahlsen if I can see his office. The answer is "no" due to "he's busy".
I don't leave here empty-handed as I'm give a suitcase sized box filled with over 30 varieties of cookies and snacks which I strap on to the rear of my bike..
Employees enjoy a 25% discount on the various goodies baked by Bahlsen and also enjoy meals cooked in the cafeteria by an Austrian chief. On a corner of the property there's a factory outlet store which I check out. The place is packed with shoppers and I'm amazed at the extensive line of Bahlsen products manufactured. Balhsen is the world's fifth largest maker of sweets & snacks.
Oh yeah, back at my hotel room I have a tasting party in which I --open every one of the 30-something items and either wolf it all down, taking a big chunk out of it to see what it tastes like or give it to the front desk help at the hotel. I mean after all, how much junk, oops, I mean sweets can even a junk food junkie take.
KME Europa Metal AG
Located 60 miles due west of Hannover and 50 miles east of the Netherlands/German border, Osnabruck's a small-townish enclave of 180,000. Less than a mile from city center in a mixed area of industry and blue collar housing I find the four-story, L-shaped headquarters of KME, a metallurgy concern with revenues in 1993 of 1.8 billion DM. Behind it lies a big copper smelting/refining plant. Built in 1989, over 800 work in the head office with another 2,800 employed in the plant.
Entering the building you catch on pretty quickly this is a copper company. It might have something to do with the elevator doors being copper or the three copper sculptures in the lobby. Christoph Geyer from the communications department gives a very enthusiastic welcome.
I'm disappointed when Geyer mentions KME being part of the world's largest manufacturer of products made of copper and copper alloys. "what do you mean?, I ask, "are you owned by another company?". "Yes", he answers, "SMI in Italy". Jeez, I tell Geyer I visited Societa Metallurgica Italiana (SMI) in Florence and if I had known KM was only a subsidiary I would have crossed them off my list. I go on to tell Geyer, who's never been to SMI's head office, it'll probably make my top ten lists of "Best Looking Grounds" and "Best Looking Headquarters"
Judging from his office, one can't say Chairman Norbert Brodersen doesn't surround himself with his company's material. I count seven ashtrays, a casting mold, a rooster and a fruit bowl--all made of copper. Other items in his top floor middle office includes four antique calculators, three framed family photos, three real plants, one computer and, a heavy-looking four foot tall safe--which Geyer says is an old company safe.
Hanging in the boardroom are four old, original framed maps of Germany, two of which are dated 1757 and the others dated 1791. Near the octagon-shaped boardroom table stands a six-foot tall brass duck.
Ihr Platz GmbH
I'm trying to find the headquarters for Ihr Platz, which operates over 600 perfume & drugstore-type stores except without the drugs. In Germany only pharmacies can sell drugs and medicines. Downtown Osnabruck lies a mile away and the area I'm in is almost all residential with a few mom & pop shops--not the type of place to find the head office of a company with 1995 revenues of 1.6 billion DM and 10,000 employees.
I'm wrong as I come upon a four-story building which looks to have been someone's home. It's a cheap-looking lobby/reception area with ugly green astro-turf-like carpet and eight equally ugly brown velour chairs. The receptionist sits behind an wood -paneled counter which looks to be a Wal-Mart reject. On the coffee table are six issues of Readers Digest--in German. I'm saying to myself, "boy, what a dump!"
I'm directed upstairs (there's no elevator) into a room where I'm greeted by a man probably in his late 60's and a much younger man (early 30's). The older man tells me his name and says his English isn't very good so that's why he asked the other man to join us. One of my first questions asked, "Do you own or lease your head office?". The older man answers, "this was my grandfather's house". Knowing absolutely nothing about the company I venture on with "Oh, are you related to the owners of the company?". The young man answers, "He's the Chairman of the company" and then the older man points and says, "he's my son-- who'll be taking over as CEO next year". Before going any further I ask for business cards and learn I'm talking to Juergen Froembling and his son Thomas Froebling, both nice people.
The small room we're sitting in, which looks like a den in someone's house, turns out to the Chairman's office. It's a middle office on the third floor sans plants, computer and no view out the window due to tall trees in the yard. Personal items include a picture of his father and of his first wife who passed away.
The no-frills boardroom contains a boardroom table which is actually six banquet tables placed together and 12 ugly green chairs surrounding it. The walls however hold something interesting: six original framed maps of Osnabruck done in the 1700's.
A total of 300 people work here and in several nearby buildings. I'm impressed with the hospitality of this company and they're evidently impressed by my unusual odyssey as we go outside for a few pictures for a story in their in house employee publication. I'm not given an annual report from this family-owned, privately held company and it's not because they don't publish one but, they only publish it in German.
Just my luck, I was hoping to spend the weekend in Muenster but the whole city is booked up. It's a beautiful city of 250,000 people with a large university (third biggest in Germany) and well preserved old town. The German/Netherlands border lies 40 miles east and Essen about 45 miles south.
Finding insurer LVM's head office on the edge of town isn't difficult thanks largely to the one of its three building being a 15-story tower and it's name embedded on the top in big letters. Built in the 1970's, most of the 15-story tower plaza area is fenced off because a taller addition is being added to its one side. .
Fountains splash outside as I enter the marble floor reception area in the tall building. After a short wait Betina-Susanne Schoene from the press department show up to answers my questions. Over 2,600 employees work in the three buildings. Why is the company in Muenster? It was founded here in 1896 and it's in the company's name: LVM is short for "Landwirtschaftlicher Versicherungsverein Muenster" and it's the third largest car insurer in Germany after Allianz and HUK.
Flexible working hours are an option here with 9-3 being the core hours. It's a big enough complex to have two cafeterias and there's a nice little recreational facility in the basement containing two Ping-Pong tables and a two-lane bowling alley. Correction, it's not bowling but kegeln. which is similar. The lanes are narrower, the balls are smaller AND have no holes. I give it a whirl and find out it's pretty tough.
Due the construction going on CEO Gerd Kettler has temporarily moved his office to one of the other buildings, it's four stories and newest of the three having been built in 1994. Schoene hasn't time to walk me over and calls Kettler's secretary for permission and turns out it's no problem since he isn't in.
I almost have to hold my breath walking by Kettler's secretary's desk because she smoking up a storm and it's like a fog bank. Not being up very high up (fourth floor) Kettler's view consists of the rooftops of nearby homes. Make note of the computer, and several real plants.
Ho hum, another 30 miles in this region and another good size town/ city This time it's. Bielefeld, population 320,000, and home to the Oetker Group.
In America we have General Mill's Betty Crocker, renown for cake mixes. Germany's version is the Oetker Group's Dr. Oetker brand. There's a lot more here though beside cakes & pudding mixes. How about breakfast cereals, baking ingredients, frozen pizzas, international shipping (63 vessels), breweries, five star hotels in Europe, book publishing, travel agencies, supermarket chain, chemical company, several banks and insurance companies and a sparkling wine division. All total, over 12,000 employees with revenues in 1994 of 4.8 billion DM.
I pretty much let my nose do the finding, heading a quarter mile from city center to one of Dr. Oetker's plants. The smell of vanilla or is it rum? is in the air. Across the street from the small plant there's a variety of buildings in different shapes, sizes and age. It's the four-story one built in 1937 that beckons me and entering I make note of the three bronze busts in the lobby ---Dr. August Oetker (1862-1918) who founded the company in 1891, Richard Kaselow (1888-1944) husband of a daughter of founder and, Dr. Rudolph Oetker (1889-1916) son of founder who died in the First World War.
My questions are answered and given a tour of the place by Martha Bergler from the press information department. About 1,500 employee work in Bielefeld production sites and about 400 in administration, the later being spread amongst the eight buildings here.
I like the fact they're up front with you here. Word is I can see everything and anything except the CEO's office. "How come?", I ask. "He's busy," comes the reply. CEO August Oetker occupies a top floor middle office which, from what I see can, has a less-than-spectacular view of the parking lot. He's the great, great grandson of the founder.
This privately held, family-owned company has three general partners with August Oetker being the head. Hanging from walls on the top floor are works from the personal collection of August Oetker. These include such well-known artists as Picasso and Chagall.
It's three miles to the nearest freeway and the train station lies a mile away though the tracks run alongside the place. It isn't a campus-like place as public streets slice through the area though several of the streets come to dead ends here. The company has one corporate jet, Bergler doesn't know the brand, but it seats 12 and has "Pudding Mizer" painted on the sides. The nearest airport is in Paderborn 40 miles away though the company uses a small airport near here for its plane.
I ride 12 miles from Bielefeld to visit AVA's headquarters only to be told it's their annual meeting today and nobody's here. I don't know why the receptionist refuses to tell me where it's being held though it might be a matter of communication since she doesn't speak English and I, German. The reception area reeks of tobacco and count over 50 cigarettes in one ashtray near the receptionist.
Located in a fenced-in light industrial park, it's two concrete slab four-story buildings which look to have been built in the 1970's. Fountains are spewing water out front.
AVA, with over 24,000 employees and 1995 revenues of 8.6 billion DM operates over 400 department stores and supermarkets.
Miele & Cie GmbH & Co.
It's no problem finding household appliance maker Miele & Co.'s headquarters, thanks to the directions from a local. Pointing, he instructs me to "ride that way until you come upon a big building, then turn right". It works.
Located a mile from downtown Guetersloh, population 90,000, headquarters is comprised of three connecting buildings with the tallest being three stories. I should receive a good reception here. Why do I make such a claim? Witnessing the bike rack a few feet the front doors lets me know it's a biker friendly place. Turns out I'm wrong.
Miele makes appliances such as washers, dryers, microwaves and vacuum cleaners. I know first hand about their washer/dryers having used them quite a few times during my visits to self-service laundries. Entering the reception/waiting area I see Carl Miele and Reinhard Zinkann, co-founders of the company in nearby Herezebrock in 1899, each have a bronze bust in the lobby. Furnishings include two round white tables surrounded by 10 white chairs with leather (resembling lawn furniture) sit atop gray/black carpeting. Waiting, I skim through the seven big coffee table-size books--all in Germany with one titled "Amerika" and another about hotels around the world called "Traum Hotels Der Welt". Looking at pictures of various plant locations hanging on the wall I see there's a huge plant with its own railway siding right behind this building.
Reinheld Portmann, Public Relations Offices, steps out to the lobby and gives me a frosty reception. Showing absolutely no interest in what I'm doing we go through the questions quickly in about five minutes. I ask if it's possible to see co-Chairman Rudolf Miele (born 1929) or Dr. Peter Zinkmann's (born 1928)office and she answers "no". "Any special reason why not?" I ask. "I don't want to ask", is her reply. This sets me off as I start to spout "I come half way around the world to visit you, it's a one time shot for me and I miss out on the chance to see their office because you don't want to ask?!" I then suggest to her that I'd be more than happy to call up and ask myself. She says it isn't possible and I'm sure you can deduce it was all downhill after that.
I end up learning more out of the annual report than what she told me. Over 4,500 employees work in the headquarters/plant site. Revenues in 1995 were 3.2 billion DM with a total of 14,000 employees. Miele and Zinkmann family members own privately-held Miele.
Portmann didn't know the answer to why the company is named after only one of the founders, especially since both families are sill involved with the business. Miele started out originally producing butter churns and cream separators, then between 1924-1936 manufactured bicycles (over 1.8 million), motorized bicycles and motorcycles.
The nearest airport is Hannover an hour away or Duesseldorf an hour and a half. The nearest freeway two miles. Portman didn't know the number of cafeterias on-site but thinks it's two.
I've read several stories making light of the fact Bertelsmann, the world's second largest media company (behind Time-Warner), has its headquarters in Guetersloh, which isn't exactly the center of the world's media. Nearest "big" cities would be Bielefeld (population 320,000) 10 miles away, Essen, (population 500,000) 65 miles south and Hannover,(population 500,000) situated 60 miles northwest.
Finding Bertelsmann's offices require leaving the village-like city center area and riding three miles to the edge town. It's a big four-story building built in 1971 with a large man-made pond out front. A low concrete wall encircles the round pond and there's a small island in the middle for ducks. At least I think it's for ducks, it could possibly be a company think tank site. A big fenced-in horse farm marks the property line on one side as the surrounding terrain turns into lush farmland.
Boy, entering the building I feel like I've been thrust through a time warp back to the early 1970's. It's a very large lobby/reception area and no, it's not the marbled floor, I think it's a combination of other things such as Muzak, the pipe-in music being played, the three large green circular rugs and the horrendous looking 10 foot tall by 30 foot long strings of shag carpet on a wall forming some kind of a design---items which were "in" back in the 1970's but definitely "out" a long time ago. I count over a dozen small trees in pots scattered about the lobby and 15 high-back leather chairs for visitors plus three glass displays filled with books. Built into a wall are four additional glass displays filled with books. In the middle of the lobby there a small sculpture done by von Gudrun Kunstmann in 1985 titled "Der Lesende Juengling" which shows a child lying sideways reading a book. What I don't see are any signs of security in the building or on the grounds such as guards or close-circuit cameras which might have something to do with this being a quiet community or else the security is low-keyed or concealed. It makes me think of my visit to big defense contractor Lockheed's headquarters in Calabasas, California where I'm standing at the reception counter waiting for my contact person and the receptionist says out of the blue, "There's a camera watching you now and I bet you can't find it". I look around the large lobby and after several minutes tell her "I give up". She points to a small pin hole in a wall. Then, she says, "They can hear every word your saying". "Who are "they"?" I ask. "The security guards in the back room," she answers, instructing them to open a door and wave --which the two of them do. Never did figure out why she confided in me.
Here, the two receptionists are very nice with one asking if I'd like to have breakfast in the cafeteria. I decline the offer but I'm left wondering if it would have been free or not. Lots of reading material on the coffee tables including the Frankfurter Alligemeine newspaper, Stern magazine, a variety of company published magazines and a stack of the Berliner Zeitung newspapers, which they also publish. Bertelsmann owns television stations, music companies, publishes books, magazines and newspapers. Revenues in 1995 totaled US$13.7 billion with over 57,000 employees.
Ulrike Gruenrock-Kern, Public Relations, gives me a warm welcome despite the fact my advance material sent a month earlier was handed to her for the first time five minutes before entering her office. "Why is Bertelsmann located in Guetersloh?" I ask.
Gruenrock-Kern says Carl Bertelsmann founded it here back in 1835. That explains why the public road passing by out front is named Carl-Bertelsmann-Strasse.
Over 550 employees work here. Everyone eats in the cafeteria though they do have guest dining rooms which are numbered. As with most German companies smoking is allowed in the building.
There's a helipad on the grounds and the company has two corporate aircraft which use a nearby NATO airfield. The nearest public airport would be Muenster or Paderborn, each 25 miles away. Nearest freeway a short two miles away.
I don't get to see CEO Mark Woessner's top floor corner office because "he's in" or the oval-shaped boardroom table due to being in use.
It's a frustrating visit to Benteler, a steel tubing manufacturer and trader with revenues of 2.5 billion DM and over 11,000 employees. I make my way to Paderborn (population 130,000), then head five miles out of town to a village of half-timbered homes and businesses. Located on the village's quaint main street and directly across from a impressive centuries old, former royal palace are a complex of four not very big buildings. The guard at the gate doesn't speak English and calls Franz-Ulrich Brandi from the marketing department who comes out to the guard house. I explain what I'm doing and he says most everyone is gone or in meetings but he'll give answering my questions a whirl.
We head to the oldest building, a two-story structure, which Brandi says is over 80 years old and was the former family home of the Bentelers, the family which founded the company back in 1876 and still owns it. CEO Hubertus Benteler is the great, great grandson of the founder. The former home is now guest dining facility.
I'm flabbergasted when shown an aerial photo of the village. Why? Tucked away behind these beautiful half-timbered homes, scenic main street and thick trees lies a huge company plant measuring at the least three blocks by three city blocks employing 3,000 workers!
The white non-descript four-story headquarters building was built in the 1950's. I can't see the CEO's office due to "he isn't in". I ask Brandi if he's seen it. "No", he answers.