On the road in and around Essen
Essen, a blue-collar working class city of 600,000 people, signals the beginning of my foray into Germany's well-known industrial heartland.
Either something recently happened or they're just paranoid here as I ride up to RWE's 20-story head office in downtown Essen and notice several security guards patrolling the perimeter of the site. Located a block away from the central train station, it's an ugly 1950's-type building but it looks to be connected to another newer building on the site. There's a large paved area about the size of a football field in front of the two buildings and looks like it could accommodate 50 cars but it's deserted except for another security guard standing watch over it. Locking my bike up outside the front doors I’m immediately approached by ANOTHER security guard who comes out from the building and though I didn't understand what he was saying in German, his body language said , "What are you doing here?" Walked inside to the reception desks I pass THREE more security guards. The two reception desks stand 15 feet from the entrance doors and face toward each other with six feet of space in between. A man smoking a cigarette mans each desk. The not very friendly duo speak English and after a wait of 25 minutes (standing next to them the whole time) I'm instructed to come back tomorrow.
The next day I meet with Ingrid Brandhorst, Public Relations. Though RWE, a holding company primarily involved in mining and energy with sales of US$37 billion and over 110,000 employees, may be impressive in size, it doesn't have a very impressive head office. About 300 work here for the holding company, with an additional 3,000 who work for various divisions, occupying parts of this building and the bigger and newer one next door. The cafeteria, a huge facility located in the newer building, is where we sit down and go through the questions. All the answers to these questions will be for naught as next year the holding company will be moving to new digs several blocks away in brand new 27-story edifice rising up.
I can't see CEO Dietmar Kuhnt's office due to "he's tied up" so, Brandhorst substitutes a look into Ulrich Buedenbender's 17th floor office. Buedenbenders, a member of the management board, has several family pictures, no computer but an obvious liking of plants as I count seven.
Coal mining concern Ruhrkohle occupies a dumpy-looking six-story directly across the street from the train station but, not for long. Next month the company moves around the corner to brand new 17-story tower being finished. The current red brick offices, parts of which were built in the 1950's and the rest over 100 years ago, will be completely demolished. That's according to Thomas Chusit from the public relations department.
Ruhrkole was established in 1969 and is owned by a consortium of companies: Veba AG (37.1%), Thyssen Stahl AG (12.7%), Montan-Verwaltungs GmbH (10%), BGE mbH (30.2%), and Verwaltungsgesellschaft Ruhrkohle-Beteiligung mbH (10%). Revenues were US$17 billion last year with over 102,000 employees.
Don't know if the 700 employees here will miss the two spiffy continuous-moving elevators but Chusit and I literally hop on one to the third floor where I check out Chairman Gerhard Neipp's corner office located next to the moving elevators but protected by two special glass doors. There's a mining picture, several typical mining instruments which are suppose to look antique but aren't, no computer, a view of the train station and four wood carvings. Chusit explains the carvings. Neipps son was seriously injured at Munich's famous Octoberfest and the four carvings, representing his family, were given as a gift.
Nothing special about the horseshoe-shaped boardroom containing 15 seats and two real plants. Duesseldorf, the nearest airport, lies a half-hour drive away.
Germany's second largest construction company, Hochtief, turns out to be 56% owned by RWE, which surprises me because I hadn't uncovered that fact when researching the companies to visit. It doesn't really matter though as I get what has become pretty standard with construction companies in Germany: a blah-reception Michael Schloesser, Manager-Public Relations, answers my questions and it's over in eight minutes. I don't get to see anything for "security reasons".
It's a company-owned and built, two-building, eight-story complex built in the 1950's and shaped like a triangle. Over 2,500 work here. Hochtief translates in English means "High & Deep". The Helfmann brothers originally founded the company in Frankfurt back in1875 with the name later changed to Hochtief in 1925.
Ruhrgas's fat, white 17-story, city block long by city block wide, concrete and gas headquarters looks like dozens of utility company headquarters visited in the USA. Built in 1976 over 1,000 people work here.
It's about five miles from downtown Essen and sticks out like a sore thumb. After dealing with the security guard/receptionist who doesn't speak English I meet my contact person, nice guy Dr. Peter-Alexander Block, head of public relations.
Established in 1926, this natural gas supplier with sales in 1995 of over 11.5 billion DM and 11,000 employees, is owned by a consortium of four companies: Bergemann GmbH (over 25%), Brigitta Erdgas und Erdoel GmbH (over 25%), Gelsenberg AG (over 25%) and Schubert KG (13%).
There's plenty of parking (500 spaces) for employees, a marked 13th floor and, I can't see CEO Friedrich Spaeth's 12th floor middle office due to "he's not in". The boardroom and it's "U"-shaped table is functional.
Th. Goldschmidt AG
It's a two-minute bike ride or a 10 minute walk from Essen's city center to arrive at Goldschmidt's 10-story headquarters located on the grounds of one of it's plant. It's raining heavily arriving at the guarded gate and thankfully the non-English speaking security guard lets me continue to the head office instead of standing in the rain trying to communicate.
Goldschmidt, a chemicals company founded by Theodor Goldschmidt back in 1847, has had a plant on this site since 1889. Sales last year were 1.4 billion DM with almost 6,000 employees of which 1,800 work at this plant and in the head office building which looks to have been built in the late 1960's/early 1970's.
The small waiting area contains a variety of items including three oil paintings and two busts of past Goldschmidts. There's also a large beautiful antique roll top desk which I'm told belonged to founder Theodor Goldshmidt. Then again, my contact person Friederike Erlinghagen is only a rookie public relations intern and isn't 100% sure it was his. I learn quite a bit about the company from the wealth of historical information in the waiting room including the company originally being founded in Berlin and moving to Essen in 1889.
Don't get to see CEO Hans-Joachim Kollmeier's second floor corner office or the boardroom due to "meetings going on".
Fried. Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp
You'd think an international company with US$16 billion in sales, over 75,000 employees and doing business in over 40 countries would know how to treat an international visitor. Fried. Krupp sure as heck doesn't.
The eight-story dark brown brick building, though built in the 1920's, is a beaut. Located a mile from the downtown area in an old heavy industrial area, it looks like there's still part of a factory next door. There's no name on the exterior except for a tiny silver plaque about the size of two business cards, placed next to the entrance doors.
If you're an Art Deco fan you'd go ga-ga over the interior, especially the large checkered floor and granite columns in the lobby/reception area. There's even a continuous-moving elevator here which I'm finding to have been big around Germany the 1920's and 1930's. After checking in with the security guard/receptionist and a few minutes wait, I shake hands with Klaus Pepperhoff from the communications department. His first words, spoken in a less than friendly manner are, "You have seven minutes to talk" and goes on to mention he's quite busy. So I comply with his order and talk fast. The whole time I'm disappointed AND seething inside. I'm thinking to myself "what a jerk, this guy is suppose to be in communications, I've come halfway around the world and he's treating me like I'm an insignificant piece of dog meat"
Of course I never get past the lobby and he doesn't hide the his insincerity when saying "good bye". All in all, he's definitely in the running for my top ten listing of "Worst Contact Person".
Fried. Krupp manufactures steel (famous name from both World Wars), automotive parts, builds industrial plants, machinery and fabricating. Over 300 employees work here and according to Pepperhoff, CEO Gerhard Cromme occupies a corner office on the fourth floor and uses a computer.
Karstadt, Europe's largest department store chain, has its home base three miles from downtown Essen in a massive white, concrete and glass, six-story building complex easily a block long and equally as deep. Though it looks like three separate buildings it's one long connected structure. A freeway on- ramp lies about two seconds away.
Immediately upon entering I could date the building as having been built in the 1960's due to the set of escalators reaching up to all the floors which were popular during that period. I make note of the credit card applications forms for a Karstadt card on the coffee table.
The security guards in the lobby send me up (via an elevator and not the escalator) to see the helpful security guard manning the executive floor area. He makes a few calls and suggests I come back tomorrow.
Returning the next day proves fruitful as I meet with Christiane Wozniak, an executive secretary and Harald Wittig, Assistant to the CEO. Built in 1968 (I was right), over 2,500 employees work in this building which reminds me of those fortress-type buildings insurance firms like to build and then stick several thousand employees inside. Business must be good as Wittag says the big empty construction hole across the street will soon be filled with a big new office building—theirs’.
The place is large enough to have two cafeterias and the company does have an art collection, described as international and a mish-mash of styles (contemporary, modern).
I don't get to see the office of the big boss, CEO Walter Deuss, due to "he's busy". I do, however chat with and check out senior executive Klaus Eierhoff's corner office, which includes a stand-up desk, an 80-year old NCR cash register, one family photo and one modern painting.
With over US$16 billion in sales and 105,000 employees, Karstadt operates over 230 department stores, a mail order business pulling in over 3 billion DM in sales and a large travel agency business. Rudolph Karstadt (1856-1944) founded the company in 1881.
In the USA we have the super secretive Mars Company, the Virginia-based company responsible for such international brands as Snickers candy bars, Uncle Ben's rice, Alpo dog food and Dove ice cream bars. Though they spend tens of millions of dollars marketing their products to us consumers so we'll remember the names of their brands, they're downright obsessive about NOT releasing any information financial or otherwise about themselves. Essen is home to a similar type company. Aldi Group operates over 2,250 discount food and consumer goods stores in Germany, 250 in Belgium, 102 in Denmark, 261 in Netherlands, and 130 in Austria and even 225 in the United States. Estimated revenues in 1993 were 27 billion DM. Before arriving in Germany I had read stories in the USA about this secretive company plus, quite a few companies in Germany said to forget about dropping by. Yeah but, I am physically visiting the 1,000 largest companies outside the USA and they're one of 'em.
Half dozen miles from downtown Essen and in a mostly residential area I come upon their gray four-story concrete-slab office building. Normally the entrance gate looks to be entry controlled but I'm in luck as construction of a new add-on building is going up. Entering, there's a small parking lot out front with seven cars and I deduce it's parking for executives only. How did I figure that out? Well, it seems highly unlikely the company would have seven visitors at once and all happen to be driving the same model Mercedes Benz's which are lined up in a row. .
No signs anywhere on the property identifying the place as Aldi's except for the Aldi name stuck on a door handle on one of the glass entrance doors. The lobby is very drab and cheap-looking as I count 14 black chairs surrounding five dented, square-shaped coffee tables painted a dreary brown. No reading material on the coffee tables and there's a single framed photo on a wall showing a company store back in the early 1900's. You can't get pass the reception area into the office area unless buzzed past a door by the receptionist.
The unsmiling receptionist sits behind a glass wall and doesn't speak English. There's a real communication problem here as 10 minutes goes by until she stops a man walking by and I can tell she's asking him if he speaks English. The unfriendly man comes out and in an unfriendly voice says, "what do you want?". I explain what I'm doing and he says the company talks to no one. "Fine, can I get your name?". "No", he answers. I explain how I need a name and title so I can say I came by here and was told no one is interested in meeting with me. "I’m in purchasing", is the only information the man would divulge. He than says something in German to the receptionist and walks away.
So, I'm standing in the lobby figuring he's gone to get somebody else. Twenty minutes elapse. I go up to the receptionist and she hasn't a clue because of the language barrier. Another 10 minutes go by and a woman, who speaks so-so English, comes out and I explain what I'm doing. She informs me they don't give out any kind of information to anyone. "Fine, could I get your name and title or someone's name and title so I can say I physically came by here and was told by such and such a person that they weren't interested in meeting with me?". She leaves. Every five minutes for the next 20 minutes the receptionist would look up at me and use hand gestures which I interpret to mean--"hold on we're working on something it won't be much longer". Another five minutes go by and finally the woman I spoke to earlier returns with something in her hand---it's an ink stamp with the company's name on it--the kind you use with an ink pad. "What's with that?" I ask. "This is to stamp your book to show you were here", she answers. I let out a look and voice of disbelief and say, "Whaaaat!?, I don't want to get my book stamped, I just want to get a name and title of someone!" I turn around and leave. Riding away I'm upset at having wasted an hour sitting there and then try figuring out in my mind if they're really that stupid and clueless or was it a planned response.
Riding ten miles northeast of Essen brings me into Bochum, an unexciting community of 400,000. After doing my usual ride through a downtown area to check the city's historical heritage (statues, buildings) and vibrancy, I leave the city center and head five miles out to GEA's head office.
GEA is the world's second largest process technology company. Dairy farm systems, dry & wet cooling towers, air cooled heat exchanges for process technology, liquid processing and concentration & drying systems are GEA's specialties. Revenues last year. Revenues in 1993 were 2.7 billion DM and over 11,000 employees.
The shape of this white three-story building is unusual but you don't really catch the affect until seeing an aerial view. There's a ringed road around the site forming a giant circle and dead center in the circle stands a five-story rotunda-shaped atrium. From the atrium four separate building wings spoke outward, though only from the top half of the circled site.
Here it is 11 am in the morning and the front doors to this large office building are closed. I knock on the glass doors and finally a security guard/receptionist shows up. She says she was doing something in the back. Egads, upon entering my ears perk up as I hear piped-in music being played to visitors whether they want to hear it or not. My contact person Mechtild May-Jakoby, public relations department, answers my questions. Built in 1991, about 50 of the 250 employees here work for the holding group part of the company. Across the pubic road out front there's a large company plant.
Otto Happel (1882-1948) founded the company back in 1920. When he passed away his wife Elizabeth ran the company from 1948-1975. Recently CEO Volker Hannemann passed away so the son of Otto & Elizabeth Happel has taken over as Chairman & CEO. The Happel family holds majority shares in GEA.
The rear of the building overlooks a large swamp which I can see quite a few birds including herons. This building sits on former swamp land.
Due to "being busy" I don't get to see the CEO's top floor corner office or oval-shaped table in the boardroom. GEA is short for Gesellschaft fuer Entstaubungs Anlagen.
Deutsche Babcock AG
My lousy experience visiting Deutsche Babcock makes me think I've just dealt with a sloppy, inflexible overbloated government bureaucracy. instead of an international builder of powers plants, steam generators, industrial machinery and power transmission engineering. Revenues in 1995 were 9.8 billion with 34,000 employees.
Located several miles from the downtown area of Oberhausen, a working class town near the Rhine river, Deutsche Babcock's headquarters complex looks part head office and part plant. A variety of company buildings run along a three block long section of public road and from what I can see extend deep from the road as well. The company's name is atop the tallest structure, a 16-story tower built in the 1960's so, that's where I head--experience having taught me the big cheeses like to overlook their kingdoms. Other buildings include an old red brick structure and four & eight-story buildings built in the 1980's.
Entering the 16-story tower I can immediate date the tower thanks to the passe tile mosaic on the lobby walls. I don't understand this, here's a company doing business all over the world and the yet the receptionist/security guard doesn't speak English--the language of international business! I spend 30 minutes using the guard's phone and proceed to get transferred to FIVE different persons, each time having to explain all over again what I'm doing and why I'm here. Each time it's the same result, "we can't locate your letter", and "I haven't time for you". After hearing the same spiel from Heinz-Georg Tebroke, from public relations I give up and ask for an annual report. To my surprise, instead of sending it down via a secretary he at least has the courtesy to physically show himself in the flesh and apologize for not being able to find my advance material.
Franz Haniel & Cie
I'm in Duisburg and though this blue-collar city of 530,000 people hasn't much pizzazz it's definitely home to the most immense concentration of shipping and factories I've seen on the Rhine River. The banks of the river hold court to one of the world's biggest inland ports. Navigating my way through the port area on my bike is tricky, it's a venerable maze of big trucks, heavy machinery, railroad tracks, old warehouse structures and the likes. With Franz Haniel's headquarters being in the middle of all this I'm not expecting much-- probably a boring office building besides one of its factories. I make the turn-off street and find myself in the midst of a working class neighborhood of small turn-of-the-century homes and apartments. Coming upon the guarded gated-entry of Franz Haniel & Cie I look past the gate and my eyes light up. Wow! it's beautiful and looks like a campus inside! It's similar to a village square with various buildings forming an upside down "U" around a park-like area in the middle. The green park contains an array of exotic trees, a reflection pool and large outdoor sculptures including several works by Bernhard Heiligen including "Sunline Orange" and "Heureka". There's a Feather beech tree with a plaque saying it was planted in 1870 and a majestic four-story tall Ginkgo tree from the 1850's.
I enjoy a great visit thanks to the hospitable Ernst-Robert Arelmann, head of corporate communications. Haniel, with revenues in 1995 of almost US$17 billion and 28,000 employees, has its hands in a variety of businesses including building materials, washroom service and supplies, pharmaceutical wholesale and production, shipping, metals trading, salvage and traffic safety systems. Haniel recently sold off Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based Scrivner Inc., a large food wholesaler. The company still has a 33% interest in Metro Holding, Europe's big food retailer.
There's a half-dozen building here with the holding company and its 90 employees occupying a five-story building built in the 1970's. The company's contemporary art collection seems to hang from walls everywhere.
Haniel has occupied this site since its founding back in 1756 by Jan Willem Noot when Frederick the Great, King of Prussia granted Noot rights to build trading facilities here. A warehouse was immediately built with the family living quarters upstairs. Later, his daughter married Jacob Wilhelm Haniel. The current company is named after Franz Haniel (1779-1868), grandson of the founder.
With all that history here I'm expecting to find CEO Dieter Schadt occupying a very traditional office. Nope. I'd describe his third floor middle office as very modernistic. Embedded in the blue ceiling are tiny light bulbs which shine down upon his L-shaped table and chairs which come in different colors: black, green and blue. No plants but I see a computer and the view out his window overlooks trees.
An interesting piece of information: Though Haniel may be a privately-held company owned by the Haniel family members, the company has a policy whereas no member of the Haniel family can be on the management board.
One of the newer buildings, the Franz Haniel Academy, houses state-of-the-art conference facilities and it's here employees go to the company school. Where do the "pupils" stay while attending? In the company's 30 apartments located across the street from the property and connected via a pedestrian bridge.
The food is terrific with everyone, management and non-management alike, eating together in the small, comfortable but spartanly furnished cafeteria. My steak in sweet vinegar sauce, potato salad, potato & dumplings and hazelnut pudding easily gets two thumbs up from me.
Remember that warehouse I told you was built on this site back in 1756? It's still here and the company has done a splendid job restoring the three-story warehouse/home in it's original condition and is now the company's museum. Receptions and formal dinners are held in the attic decorated in motif which could be describe as plush early 18th century warehouse. Food is brought up via pulleys lifts.
I'm attempting to visit Tenglemann Group, Europe's second largest food distributor with over $34 billion in revenues. Besides operating over 5,000 stores, mostly supermarkets (Plus, Tenglemann, Kaiser), throughout Germany and another 1,600 outlets in other countries including the A&P chain in the eastern United States, Tenglemann also manufactures chocolates and operates home improvement stores.
As with Aldi, I had already heard stories about Tenglemann being secretive so, I'm expecting the worst. It's two miles from downtown Muelheim an der Ruhr (population 177,000) to Tenglemann's half-block long, five-story red brick structure headquarters complex. Most of the brick building has the 1930's look to it but another part looks to be an add-on in the 1980's. It's a fenced-in site with what looks to be several distribution centers on the premises. Residential homes completely surround the site except for a soccer field on one side and a Tenglemann's supermarket next to it.
Two security guards and a receptionist man the reception desk with one of the security guards, a real nice guy probably in his 50's speaking English. He puts me on a phone with a woman in public relations and I explain who I am and what I'm doing. The woman, who refuses to identify herself, says she hadn't heard about my project and says I'll have to come back another day. I explain I'm only in town today and if she could check around to see if someone else knows about it. As the conversation continues the tone in her voice changes and all of a sudden she abruptly says, "look, I've already spent 10 minutes talking to you, this conversation is over". The next noise I hear is the sound of a phone hanging up.
Besides the helpful English-speaking security guard telling me the name of the woman on the phone (Beate Kalus), he explains why there's an actual ferry on the grounds. For historical purposes. Flat wood ferries like this one transported goods and people back and forth across the river running through this riverfront city for several hundred years before bridges were built.
On the road in and around Duesseldorf
I like this spread out city of almost 600,000 people which lies on both banks of the Rhine River.
One of my favorite sayings is "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression". Thanks to Kathi Pfister, an executive secretary, my first impression here is a terrific one. My problem is this, I sent my advance material to Thyssen AG in Essen, which I didn't know was head office only for it's steel subsidiary. I showed up at the steel-clad office building and learn the head office for the holding company is in Duesseldorf. So, I'm going to attempt to walk in cold into the head offices of one of Germany's biggest industrial companies and see if they'll talk to me. The odds are pretty slim considering how security conscious these companies have been.
The rain's really coming down hard as I make my way around downtown Duesseldorf. Several locals said it'll be no problem finding Thyssen's headquarters because it's very distinctive. They're right. Built in 1956, the thin 24-story high-rise, ugly by today's standards, ushered in the new era of tall steel and glass buildings.
Entering, I encounter several security guards manning the reception area and ask to speak to CEO Dieter Vogel's secretary. Kathi Pfister comes down to the lobby and I explain the whole story about sending the letter to Essen in error. What does she do? She says "lets go up and I'll see if I can answer your questions" Up we go to the 20th floor and into Vogel's office (her boss) where we sit down and go through the questions.
It's a protected (listed) building which means Thyssen couldn't tear it down if it wanted. She's not sure how many people work here but Thyssen occupies 80% and a bank the other 20%. It's a 35-hour work week for employees who enjoy the bet view in town thanks to the cafeteria occupying the top floor. I wouldn't know about the view because we went up to the cafeteria and couldn't see more than a block away thanks to the heavy downpour of rain.
Vogel's 20th floor middle office features beige carpet, three brown sofas, fresh flowers, a stand-up desk, two real plants, one family photo and normally a great view of the Rhine River and Duesseldorf's nearby Old Town section.
With revenues over US$28 billion and 129,000 employees, Thyssen manufactures steel, elevators & escalators (owns United States Elevator in the USA), wheel & brake products, trading and services in recycling products, fuels and, building materials.
Westdeutsche Landesbank (WestLB)
WestDeutsche Landesbank is one of Germany's 12 institutions owned by the country's state governments. The original role of these banks was to act as clearing banks for municipal savings banks and financiers of their own state governments. WestLB has expanded into other areas such as investment banking and is far and away the biggest of these banks with over US$291 billion in assets (which is still way behind behemoth Deutsche Bank, Europe's biggest bank with over US$500 billion in assets).The State of North-Rhine-Westphalia owns 43.2% of bank's shares which explains why it's headquartered in Duesseldorf and not Frankfurt.
WestLB has offices in over 30 countries and evidently considers itself an international bank. Considering how they treated an international visitor (me) I have doubts they'll succeed.
The tiered 11-story, brown aluminum-sided structure head office with it's name on top lies in so-so part of downtown unlike the norm of most financial institutions which have fancy addresses and buildings in the most expensive and prestigious part of town.
A security guard sits behind an information/directory desk and I ask to speak to CEO Fritz Neuber's secretary. Another secretary answers and says neither Neuber's secretary nor the other executive secretary is in. I then get transferred and a man answers the phone with an abrupt "yes?". I identify myself and start explaining why I'm here but within 10 seconds he cuts me off with "We're not interested". I then reply, "You haven't even let me explain what I'm doing", again answering as if he's annoyed "we're not interested". I respond with "I've come halfway around the world to visit your bank and you're dismissing me without even knowing what I do" "Yes" he replies. I ask for his name and title, "Michael Wild, head of press" he answers. I tell him, "I've visited half a dozen other big banks in Germany including Dresdner, Commererzbank and Hypo-Bank and was well-received". He replies, "I don't care what they do".
Outside the building I'm still shaking my head over the treatment. The words "what a jerk!" seem to keep coming to mind.
Victoria Lebensversicherung AG
There's big doings going on at Victoria Lebensversicherung's riverside headquarters. Evidently this life and pension insurer thinks their seven-story, 286,000 square foot head office which was built in 1986 and currently houses 1,400 employees isn't biggest enough so, construction is about halfway finished on a 27-story addition due to be completed in 1998. When all is done over 3,500 employees will work here. "Here" is a former fairgrounds site about a half-mile from downtown Duesseldorf which overlooks the Rhine River, several museums and a large park.
My research indicated the head office was in Berlin but, upon dropping in at the Berlin address I learn it's only where the company's registered. I'm assuming the worst, that my advance material addressed to the CEO wasn't forwarded to Duesseldorf. My guess is correct as they have no clue about me but, it's no problem here as Heiner Frisch, head of General Administration Department (he's in charge of the building), is more than accommodating. Frisch has one of the most unusual business cards I've come across; it's laminated and on one side there's a 1996 calendar and the other side a listing of every German state and their school holidays.
The new building, at 27-stories, will be Duesseldorf's tallest. The company would have liked to go higher but there's a height restriction due to the airport being only five miles away. Senior management gets to park for free in 50 reserved spots while the rest of the employees can park in the other 400 spots if they're willing to pay. I'll give the food in the cafeteria a six on the 1-10 scale. I also note there's no alcohol served in the cafeteria unlike in Bavaria (Munich area) where workers drink beer on their morning breaks. That's not to say they're stick in the muds here at Victoria. The basement recreation center includes two lanes of kelge (similar to bowling) and several billiard tables plus, a large, nicely done bar area complete with a wood beam ceiling, Spanish tiles and seating for over 100.
CEO Edgar Jannott occupies a corner office on the top floor wit a view of the Rhine River. There's one family photo, three real plants and Belgium clock which we estimate to be 170 years old. Another clock, this one a pendulum from 1826, highlights the boardroom which for some reason has a 1950's look to it. The oval-shaped table seats 14.
Company revenues (premium income) for 1995 was 9.3 billion DM making it Germany's fifth biggest insurer.
It's US$46 billion in revenues last year makes Veba, a holding company with interests in oil, transportation services, telecommunications, mining, chemicals and metallurgy, Germany's fourth biggest company. Besides owning Germany's second largest utility, Veba owns Aral, Germany's largest service station network.
I'm expecting this behemoth of a company to have an impressive headquarters but that isn't the case here as the 11-story brown building is kind of tucked away in an office park area about a mile from downtown and next door to a Radisson Hotel (where I spent two nights).
Some companies in Germany are very security conscious (justifiable so) and believe in security being high profile, others are more discreet, in Veba's case the four security guards are highly visible. Unfortunately, in many of theses instances you end up feeling not like a visitor but an intruder. That's the case here as I'm eyed with suspicion entering the building. A call is made and William McAndrews, Public Relations, comes down to the lobby. He said they were just getting ready to fax a message to my answering machine saying they weren't interested in meeting with me. (when sending my advance material I include my phone/fax number in California which I check in with once a week). McAndrews says concerns about security here are paramount (threats have been received) and they aren't interested in divulging any specifics about their headquarters.
Fortunately, I'm able to persuade McAndrews, an American, my trek is more about the experiences of visiting companies than about gathering information about headquarters themselves.
Actually it's a very unexciting building. Built in1970, about 300 employees work here with plenty of underground parking for employees.
In 1929, The Prussian state founded Vereinigte Elektrizitaets-und Bergwerks-Aktiengesellschaft (VEBA) in Berlin. After the war, control of Veba passed to the German Federal Government and in 1987 was privatized.
As expected my requests to see the CEO's office and boardroom were declined for "security reasons" and in keeping my word, I won't mention what floor CEO Ulrich Hartmann resides on. Veba has no corporate aircraft.
Rheinmetall Berlin AG
The backside of Veba's building butts up to Kennedydamm, a very busy freeway-like road. Quite a few office buildings line the other side of Kennedydamm including the six-story structure housing Rheinmetall Berlin.
Rheinmetall Berlin with revenues in 1995 of 3.4 billion DM and over 15,000 employees, manufactures machinery, automotive components, office systems and defense technology the later includes the building of tanks.
Stefan Ives, Assistant to the CEO, gives me a warm welcome and is very accommodating in answering questions. Not much to write about here concerning the offices. The company leases space, with 100 employees occupying about 50% of the building which was built in 1984.
What's interesting though is after leaving the company I get a call later in the day from Folke Heyer, press information, asking not to write about my visit to Rheinmetall.
It turns out Ives wasn't suppose to meet with me and the intended response was for the company to decline meeting with me. I ask why they wanted to be omitted, was it for security reasons? was it because they're a defense contractor? Nope, according to Heyer they've seen my stories and to paraphrase Heyer's words, don't want to be associated with my work. I explain to Heyer it's no skin off my back especially since their offices aren't noteworthy plus, I wouldn't want to get nice guy Ives into any trouble.
So, why do I bother writing about Rheinmetall at all? Well, I thought this whole affair was forgotten until looking through my notes and finding Roechling Group, the holding company based in Mannheim owns 66% of Rheinmetall. So?, well I visited Roechling earlier in my trek and the person I end up meting with was none other than the CEO of the company. Heck, if the CEO of the parent company isn't afraid or embarrassed of meeting with me than I don't see why Rheinmetall should be.
A block away from Duesseldorf's Old Town, Mannesmann's five-story riverfront turn-of-the-century headquarters doesn't really stand out. Then again, what do you expect when you're side by side by another company building; an ugly 22-story tower. Completed in 1959, the tower hasn't the pizzazz of the 24-story Thyssen building a mile away (built in 1956 and a listed structure).
Built in 1914, the small lobby area features a mosaic floor centered by a larger than life-size statue of a steel worker. Two bored and unfriendly non-English speaking security guards man the reception desks. The guards make several calls and after a wait of over 20 minutes (standing the whole time next to the reception desk) a man arrives. I’m then taken up to meet Magdalena Moll, Investor Relations Manager. Moll says she's extremely busy and hadn't heard about what I'm doing but if I come back tomorrow she will "give me a few minutes". I ask if it would be possible to check with the CEO's secretary or public relations to see if they've seen the advance material I sent a month earlier because they might be expecting me. "I haven't time, you do it", she abruptly answers. She then admonishes me for not calling ahead and finding out if my material had been received. I leave several news clippings.
The next day I return at 4 PM (the appointed time), and ask to speak to Moll. A few minutes later two men, neither looking friendly meet me. One identifies himself as Manfred Soehnlein, head of press information, and asks me in a less-than-welcoming manner, "what's is it you want?". I explain myself and he then says, "You told them yesterday you were with Bloomberg. You aren't with Bloomberg, we checked and you haven't been with them for over a year". I answer, "I never said I was with Bloomberg". It then hits me why they're saying this; the news clippings I left. Up until nine months ago Bloomberg Business News was sponsoring me. The news articles I left were from write-ups received while still with Bloomberg and mention is made in the articles of my relationship with Bloomberg. Anyway, so here I am in the lobby of Mannesmann's head office being accused of : (a) misrepresenting myself (b) being a spy, (c) liar or (d) all of the previous mentioned. I then ask if he or someone would have a few minutes to answer my questions. Soehnlein suggests a small waiting room off to the side. Jeez, this is the waiting rooms the guards never let me wait in yesterday, instead they let me stand-up for over 20 minutes. It's a depressing room anyway--very dark with green carpet, green wall paper and eight ugly chairs. As we start to sit down Soehnlein nods at the other man. The man, who never identified himself, exits the room.
It's a very awkward feeling as we zoom through the questions with Soehnlein showing no interest. I'm thinking to myself, "why are you bothering with this? Just leave. Look at how you were treated here yesterday and now this!" I then remember why I'm still here: Mannesmann, with revenues last year of over US$22 billion and 122,000 employees, is one of Germany's biggest companies.
I learn nothing of interest from Soehnlein other than over 400 employees work in this building and, two brothers founded the company in 1890. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is met by a quick "no". "Any special reason why", I ask. "Security reasons", he answers.
Before leaving I ask who the unidentified man was who didn't leave until he was nodded away. Soehlnlein says he's with security.
Mannesmann manufactures automotive components, plastic making machinery, tubes and pipes and has interests in telecommunications, building of factories and trading.
I don't know why Henkel has a Duesseldorf address when its 1ocated 10 miles from the city center in the suburb of Holthausen. Henkel, a chemical and cosmetics company with almost US$10 billion in sales and 41,000 employees, is the world's largest maker of adhesives plus, manufactures and markets toothpaste, shampoo and "Persil", the world's first self acting detergent (in 1907) and one of Europe's best selling brands. Henkel also owns 27/% of The Clorox Company (Oakland), 33.4% of Locite Corporation (Hartford) and 22.1% of Ecolab, Inc. (St.Paul).
Just as I've come to expect with chemical companies, headquarters is situated at Henkel's biggest plant which covers over 16 million square feet and employs over 9,000 people. Here, however one doesn't have to enter plant property to visit the four-story building housing the executives, one enters via the front doors on a tree lined public street running along the perimeter of the big site.
Built in 1936 the building's large lobby has a beautiful quasi-Art Deco-look to it. Besides cloudy glass, the granite walls are lined with brown & white marble, the floor is carpeted with blue and white squares alternating with patches of black. I count six stain glass windows done in colorful designs and there's a big glass display case containing over 50 mineral rocks--each with a plaque describing the rock and where it's from including a tiny flag of the country of its origin.
The several stories tall, large waiting area has eight brown card tables each with four brown chairs. There's a small fountain in the middle with green plants. Against the rear wall stand's a 15 foot tall by 25 foot long World War I memorial showing a life-size man slaying a dragon and the names of the dead. The waiting area contains a larger-than life-size bust of Fritz Henkel, founder of the company. Most visitors wouldn't who it was unless they asked the security guard like I did since there's no name on the bust identifying who he is. A big screen TV is in full gear showing a company history film.
Peter Schwatz, Public Relations, shows me around and answers questions. With over 9,000 employees on-site it necessitates having three cafeterias AND, since the year 1900, employees have enjoyed a free lunch..
Roads on the plant site are named after Henkel family members and as a matter of fact, company trains which cris-cross the grounds are also named after family members.
In 1876 Fritz Henkel founded the company in Aachen. He moved to Duesseldorf and this current site in 1878 because of more favorable transport conditions (railroads and Rhine River).
Besides a tour of the company's product showroom which for some strange reason contains the desk of the founder, there's another nearby room with a nicely done re-creation of a typical turn-of-the-century grocery market which of course includes quite a few posters of Henkel's Persil detergent.
The company's art collection is extensive, primarily modern and international in scope. Who's responsible for picking the art? The wife of Chairman Dr. Dr. Konrad Henkel, who herself is a professor of art. (please note Schwartz says Henkel has two Dr.'s before his name)
So where's the executive floor? Right off of the lobby through a set of doors. It's very strange once you've entered the executive wing because the hallways are lined with mirrors, even the doors leading into offices are mirrored. There's a long table in the hallway with displays of African and Amazon pottery. I note Konrad Henkel has a name plaque on his mirrored door. His office is off limits because "he doesn't want to be disturbed". He can't have much of a view since he's on the first floor and facing toward the plant. There's also quite a bit of African art in the boardroom which, like the mirrored hallway, was decorated by Henkel's wife.
Halfway between Duesseldorf and Cologne lies Leverkusen, an unexciting community of 100,000 people. What keeps Leverkusen's name on the map is its claim to fame: headquarters for Bayer, one of the world biggest chemical and pharmaceutical companies. With over US$31 billion in sales and over 142,000 employees, Bayer, along with BASF and Hoechst are often referred to as Germany's "Big 3".
It's looks like Bayer has a giant complex but it's hard to tell with the stupid rain coming down so hard. I've become used to finding entrance gates manned by security guards but here I just see Bayer signs in German and haven't a clue where to go so I just follow this long driveway with park-like grounds on either side. After about a mile I arrive in front of a tall building and to the right I see several school buses parked in front of a another building and decide that will be a good place to ask for information plus, the building has a big overhang so I can get out of this nasty weather.
It turns out I'm in the Communications Center which in reality a visitors center. It's a pretty big place with over 30 guides giving tours of the exhibits and a bistro to have lunch in when finished plus, it's politically correct with its grass covered roof. I've mentioned it's been raining hard all morning so I haven't a clue as to the size of this place. However, in the lobby there's a 12 foot wide by 25 foot long glass enclosed scale model of the site and one look makes me go "whew!". This is a huuuuge place.
The receptionist makes calls and 10 minutes later Thomas Reinert, Head of International PR Group, greets me. I end up spending most of the day visiting Bayer and have a terrific visit thanks to the very accommodating Reinert, a super nice man.
I explain to Reinert I've already visited the other two biggies (BASF, Hoechst) and collected some pretty impressive statistics. It turns out Bayer is in the same league. Over 32,000 employees work on this 1.3 square mile site. Getting around to the 600 buildings is no problem just hop on one of the over 8,000 company bicycles on the premises. Hungry? You have six cafeterias to choose from. Worried about fires? No problem here with Bayer's own on-site fire department and its 54 fire trucks ready to roll into action. Like to do some exercise after work? Try the swimming pool, golf course or 26 outdoor and 7 indoor tennis courts. Like to fly? Employees can join Bayer's glider club and use it's glider port adjacent to the plant. Want to take a relaxing walk? Stroll through the company's impressive 150,000 square foot Japanese Garden complete with teahouse, gargoyles, Buddha's and rare plants from Eastern Asia.
I ask Reinert, "how far is it to downtown?" and he answers "12 miles". Downtown to him means downtown Cologne. Downtown Leverkusen lies three miles away, Duesseldorf Airport 30 miles and Cologne Airport 15 miles. Bayer has no corporate aircraft and it's a three mile drive to catch the nearest freeway.
Friedrich Bayer and Johann Friedrich Weskott founded Bayer in Wuppertal (near Essen) in 1863. Moved to Leverkusen in 1912. The town didn't get its current name until 1960 when it was named after a former member of Bayer's management board.
Bayer has the honor of having the largest sign in Europe. Erected in 1933, the massive sign weighs 30-tons. The only word on the sign "Bayer", lights up at night thanks to 1,700 bulbs.
I've been to several companies in Europe where people are buried on headquarters property. This is one of them. Who’s buried here? One of the founders? Nope. Former CEO Carl Duisburg ran the company for quite a few years and was responsible for much of the company's growth. It was his idea to put in the picturesque Japanese Garden and it's his remains which reside in the mausoleum near the gardens.
So, in which of these 600 buildings do the head honchos hang their hats? The tallest one of course. Built in 1963, the ugly 33-story tower sticks out like a sore thumb and it'll remain that way for a very long time since it's a designated listed (historic) structure. About 1,100 employees work in the 180,000 square foot tower. CEO Manfred Schneider invites me inside for a look-see in his 27th floor corner office with an expansive view of the huge site, the nearby Rhine River and surrounding farmlands. I'm told it's even better when this stupid heavy raining isn't falling (it hasn't stopped raining for two days). I make note of Schneider's computer, vase of fresh flowers and one real plant. A colorful modern painting by a French artist hangs on a wall behind his desk. I ask, "Is there any special reason why you have that painting?". He answers, "I like it".
The boardroom is pretty formal with its oval-shaped table, 14 black chairs and white carpeting.
Lunch in the visitor's dining room (built in the early 1900's) gets an easy two thumbs up from me. The food is excellent plus, you get waited on. Besides a half-dozen appetizers, I devour broasted pork slices and help myself to two servings of chocolate mousse.
Without a doubt the Cologne Cathedral dominates the skyline of this city of one million people. The atmosphere of taking in this magnificent structure is somewhat tainted by the sight of trains passing within 30 yards of it and the elevated central train station being less than 100 yards away.
The Rhine River flows right through downtown Cologne and within a half block of this mighty major waterway stands the spectacular Cologne Cathedral. Tall structures on the cathedral side of the river aren't to be found, I imagine so as to not distract from the cathedral's majesty. On the other side of the river there doesn't seem to be any restrictions and one of the tallest buildings houses the head offices of Lufthansa. Built in 1970, the 14-story building is distinctive for two reasons and one of them isn't because the building's anything special because it isn't but because (1) 14-stories is tall for around here and (2) the company's name in big letters sits atop the structure and lights up at night.
It's one of those buildings where the first three levels is parking and the rest of the building sits atop. Not wanting to leave my bike in the parking garage I ride my bike up the circular car ramp levels until arriving at the building entrance. It's pouring rain again (it hasn't stopped for three days now) and so before entering I have to strip off all my rain gear. Upon entering, the unsympathetic but English-speaking security guard/receptionist says I can't leave my bike there. After a few minutes of talk he agrees to let it stay there until learning what my contact person has to say about it. No fancy marbled floors here as I look down to find myself standing on rubber flooring.
Helmut Kaulich from the public relations departments arrives and says they have no knowledge of my advance material and it should of been sent to Frankfurt Airport. Cologne is the registered office of the company but the executives work out of a building at Frankfurt Airport. Since CEO Juergen Weber keeps an office here and in Frankfurt AND, I've already passed through Frankfurt, Kaulich generously agrees to answers my questions about this place.
There's the 14-story tower built in 1970 and a two-story building above the parking structure built in 1980. Over 1,000 people work in the two buildings. I ask how the food is in the cafeteria and Kaulich answers "good". "Is it in-house or contracted out?", I ask. "In-house", he answers. I then tell Kaulich I personally find airline food to be great but then again, this from a guy who eats fast-food three times a day.
Founded in 1926. the federal government still owns 37% of Lufthansa. Revenues last year were almost US$14 billion with over 60,000 employees.
Since CEO Weber is in Frankfurt it's no problem getting a peek in his office. It's a corner office on the second floor of the smaller building. Great view of the cathedral across the river, black desk, gray carpet, four plants and one model airplane.
With US$29 billion in sales last year Rewe is Europe's third largest food distribution group behind Metro (US$61 billion) and Tengelmann (US$34 billion). Rewe is a wholesaler of food and consumer goods to independent Rewe retail traders and retail sales at the company's own chain stores operating over 8,400 retail and 11 wholesale outlets. In other words Rewe is a cooperative trading group.
Offices are a block way from the main train station in a not very fashionable part of town. It's a four-story reflective glass structure built in the 1980's. The reception desk is manned by two woman and the lobby with its 10 black chairs is pretty non-descript except for the 100 year old, six-foot tall safe standing in the corner.
Wolfram Schmuck from the press department arrives and says they never received my advance material (yeah, right). He agrees to answer my questions as we sit in the lobby. His lackluster interest is obvious and I'm done in five minutes. I can't see the CEO's office due to "he's busy" and Schmuck says he's too busy to show me around the place.
About 600 people work here and in several additional small buildings down the block. Why is Rewe headquartered in Cologne? "Central Location", answers Schmuck.
Felten & Guilleaume Energietechnik and Klockner-Humboldt-Deutz AG
Due to the heavy rain and the lack of hotel rooms in Cologne (a huge trade show was in town) I had only one day here. It was after 5 PM when I stopped by the offices of Klockner-Humboldt-Detuz and found everyone had gone home. The three-story red brick headquarters runs a block long and a large plant sit behind it. Located several miles down river from Cologne it's in a rundown industrial area and from the looks of it isn't worth coming back to visit. The same goes for Felten & Guilleaume Energietechnik head office in a run-down industrial part of Cologne. A large plant which looks abandoned lies in the rear.
On the road in Bonn
Though Bonn may be the Germany's capital and have a picturesque location on the banks of the Rhine, this city of 250,000 lacks pizzazz. It's probably due to all those bureaucrats residing here.
Deutsche Telekom, the government-owned phone company, next month (November 1996) has it's initial public offering as it slowly transforms itself into a joint-stock company. Eventually the government plans to completely divest itself from the world's second largest communications company after Japan's NT&T. Revenues last year were over US$46 billion with over 220,000 employees.
Traveling through Germany the past three months I've heard stories about the lumbering, inefficient phone monopoly and it's poor service. So, I've resigned myself to the fact my advance material would probably get lost in the bureaucracy.
The brand new (1995) five-story building fronts one of the main streets going through town. The city center lies about a mile and a half away but this area is brimming with government buildings. A large sign out front near the busy street lets you know you've found the place. The building looks deceptively small from the front but is very deep--extending about a block.
You enter into a very large 7-story atrium and after passing through a security guard checkpoint there's a circular information/reception booth. A call is made to public relations and I'm directed to an elevator. Stepping off the elevator I wander around trying to find someone to help me. Finally a guy sees me looking lost and asks if I need help. I explain what I'm doing and ask if he can track down who ended up with my advance material. After a half hour wait he says they can't find it but says if I come back at 2 PM Hans Ehnert, Press Spokesman, will meet with me. "Great!", I said. The guy also says I'm in a restricted area and shouldn't have been allowed up here. Oops.
I show up at the appointed time and wait. Half an hour later Ehnert shows up with several people including a camera crew who are doing a story on the company. Ehnert says he's running late and he'll be with me in a few minutes. "No problem", I say. I sit in one of the three bright yellow chairs which are mixed in with three bright red chairs. Lots of reading material on the coffee table including the following newspapers: Wall Street Journal (a pathetic replica of the much fatter and interesting US edition), Financial Times, Le Figaro (French), Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Sueddeutsche Zeitung. However, most of my time is spent looking at the nearby piece of strange sculpture by Mario Merz. He's taken square pieces of thick glass and made a 10 foot tall igloo and inside there's a smaller igloo made out of slabs of granite. That's not all. Looking out the atrium there's a large grassed-in courtyard and in the courtyard stands another igloo made out of slabs of an unknown variety of rock. A cord runs from the inside igloo to the outside igloo and I still haven't been able to figure out if they light up. Another piece of art, this one by done by Marcus Luepertz in 1986 is titled "Titan" and is a bronze of a very tall giant.
Ehnert sits down in a seat next to me and says he only has a few minutes so I talk fast. With the company going public soon he's a busy man and I can imagine he's been dealing with all the "big boys" in the media world. I mention this because he doesn't seem to take what I'm doing very seriously judging by the way he constantly looks around the lobby. About 2,000 people work here. I'd tell you how big the building is but he doesn't know and isn't interested in finding out.
I ask Ehnert if the company regrets having built their brand new headquarters here seeing as how the capital moves from Bonn to Berlin in several years. He answers "no" but, I guess how else was I expecting him to answer: "Yes, we're upset and ticked off because we spent all this money on a new head office so we could be close to the lawmakers and now they're not going to be here to schmooze".
It isn't possible to see CEO Ron Sommer's corner office because "he's busy" or the boardroom because "I'm busy". I don't even get to see the first floor cafeteria. Jeez, maybe I should have phoned in my questions here but I have a feeling I'd get a busy signal.
Birkenstock Ortho-Padie GmbH
It's scenic 15 mile bike ride along the Rhine River from Bonn down to Bad Honnef. It's Monday and until arriving in Bad Honnef I had no clue today was a holiday in Germany (Reunification of East & West Germany). Passing through some of the villages I should have figured something was up with all the bakeries and markets being closed. Well, my schedule is too tight to come back another day so I find my way to Birkenstock's head office to take a picture to show I dropped by.
This privately held maker of shoes isn't one of the world's biggest companies but I'd thought it might be a fun company to visit especially since I HATE their shoes. These shoes were big in the USA with the hippies and are very big in Germany especially with older men. Though they're suppose to be comfortable I've always thought (and still do) think Birkenstock are the ugliest shoes ever made. Show me a woman wearing these shoes and you'll never see me starting up a conversation with her.
Headquarters is a square three-story concrete slab building with brown trim at the end of a cul-de-sac close to the Rhine River and a mile from downtown Bad Honnef. Railroad tracks run along the backside and there's an elevated walkway connecting to a similar building which looks to be a warehouse. The complex most likely was built in the late 1960/early 1970's and is fenced in.
AMB Aachner und Muenchener Beteiligungs AG
My last company to visit in Germany is Aachner & Muenchener Beteiligungs (AMB) the country's third largest insurer with revenues last year of almost US$13 billion and 19,00 employees. Home base is in Aachen, a city of 150,000 near the German, Dutch & Belgium border.
I thought for sure headquarters would be located in a complex dominating downtown. That's not the case here as I head a mile and a half from city center to grounds which used to owned by a university and housed a hospital. Now, there exists a complex of three AMB buildings housing 600 employees. A residential area surrounds the walled in complex. An apartment complex butts up to one side and it doesn't cost much to have their lawn cut because there's a half-dozen goats grazing away.
To get onto the grounds one has to be buzzed in via the security guards sitting in two of the buildings. The smallest of the three buildings houses the executives and the security guard doubles as the receptionist. While the guard makes calls I note the lack of seating and fake plant in entryway. The middle of the two-story building is dominated by a marbled floor and beautiful square atrium. The light green wallpaper gives the place an elegant feel.
Gabriele Greiwe, head of corporate communications, greets me and says they have no knowledge of having received my advance material. After explaining this is a one shot visit she invites me up to her office even though she's do in a meeting shortly.
Of the 600 employees here only 40 work in the head office building. There's plenty of parking for employees and according to Greiwe the food in the cafeteria "is superb". It's three miles to access the nearest freeway and the nearest airports would be Maastricht, 25 miles away in The Netherlands and Cologne 60 miles.
I can't see CEO Wolfgang Kaske's second floor corner office because "he's in" and they don't have a formal boardroom.
One of the interesting things I've learned about Germany companies is this: companies in the same industries regularly own shares of their competitors. Take AMB: AGF, a French insurer owns 27.5% of AMB
Allianz, Germany biggest insurer owns 5%
Deutsche Bank owns 5%
Dresdner Bank 14.7%
Munich Re owns 8.6%
General public 33.2%