On the road in Brisbane
Over the years I've perused dozens of those fold-up maps of the world similar to the ones put out by National Geographic and always assumed New Zealand and Australia were only a short ferry trip apart. On the contrary, several time zones and a three-hour plane ride separate the two countries. In keeping with what seems to be becoming a regular occurrence whenever I fly into an area, it's raining as I step off the plane in Brisbane. Much of Australia is currently experiencing a severe water shortage. Rain has this uncanny knack of following me wherever I go. Since I'll be in Australia for the next few months, I'll personally take the credit for breaking the drought if it happens.
With a population of 1.3 million, Brisbane is Australia's third largest city. An impressive collection of spiffy-looking high-rise office buildings blends in well with the Brisbane River, which snakes around the downtown area. Considering its size, not many big companies call Brisbane home.
QCT Resources Ltd.
The 10th floor of a 25-story building in downtown houses the corporate staffs (all 12 of them) of QCT Resources, a coal mining company with revenues in 1994 of A$670 million, profit A$61 million. QCT stands for the former name of the company; Queensland Coal Trust.
CEO Chris Rawlings answers my questions sitting in his sparsely furnished office. I note three real plants and a laptop. The Japanese prints hanging on a wall were a gift from a Japanese company.
I'm not expecting much upon entering the boardroom because everything else I've seen so far has been on the functional, no-frills side. Yep, there's the typical boardroom table, the screen that comes down and, eight pictures of past CEO's hanging on a wall. Pretty boring stuff. Hey, wait a minute! Turns out these pictures of past CEO's aren't formal, stuffy portrait pictures but funny caricatures of the CEO's. One former CEO is golfing, one's fishing, one's playing the guitar and one's riding a horse. Rawlings explains it's become a tradition to have a caricature done of the retiring CEO doing something he enjoys. "So", I ask, "what are you going to be doing in yours when the time comes". Nice guy Rawlings laughs and side steps the question.
(For more information: QRL)
M.I.M. Holdings Ltd.
M.I.M. Holdings, a mining company, leases space in a two building complex located on the fringe of downtown. The site is known as Cathedral Square because (you guessed it) a big church is across the street.
Beverley Lancashire, Group Public Affairs, answers questions as we sit in the second floor reception area. Around 260 employees work in the place. One building is 12-stories and the other, six-stories. What does M.I.M. stand for? First letters in Mount Isa Mine, the company's first mine in 1923.
The lobby are contains several glass display cases filled with gifts given to the company over the years. My favorite? Not the jade enameled vase or, the silver tea service but the silver mounted EMU egg perfume bottle holder from the 1800's.
Don't get past the lobby. Can't see the CEO's office. Why? Lancashire says CEO Norm Fussell is "a private person". "Well, what's he doing running a publicly-held company then?" I ask. That comment seems to rattle Lancashire. She changes her wording and says Fussell is "shy". "Oh, then that's a different story", I answer back.
Revenues in 1994 were A$2.2 billion, loss A$195 million.
(For more information: MIM)
On the road in Sydney
While doing research on companies to visit I came across Email Ltd.'s name and immediately wondered if it was a smart or dumb move by the company. I mean, why would they name themselves after an abbreviated term for electronic mail?
Located adjacent to one of their factories, headquarters are in Waterloo, an old industrial suburb six miles south of Sydney. The 3-story brick building looks old and feels old when you walk in. The friendly receptionist, Vera Fisher, has a grandmotherly quality about her and confides yesterday was her 25th anniversary with the company. "Did the company do anything special for you?" I ask. "I was presented with a gold watch", she says.
The reception area has a drab 1940's look to it and hanging on one wall is a framed 8x10 photograph of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1970, when they visited a nearby Email factory.
Fisher calls up CEO John Hanna's secretary to find out who's my contact person. Hanna answers the phone and Fisher says Hanna chuckled out loud and said "oh yes" when she explained I was the bicycle rider going around the world visiting corporations. A minute later Hanna greets me in the lobby and invites me up to his office. Walking up the stairs I ask if he's heard of Domino's Pizza. After answering, yes, I tell him how the elevators in their Ann Arbor, Michigan corporate offices are slow on purpose because they want to encourage employees to use the stairs for exercise. "Any reason why we're taking the stairs instead of the elevator?" I inquire. "We don't have elevators in the building", Hanna answers. I then inform Hanna that in the US he would be required to put one in.
"So, why did you name yourself after electronic mail", I ask. Turns out the company has had the name since 1934 when it was incorporated as Electricity Meter and Allied Industries (Email). What does this 60-year old company with 1994 revenues of A$1.8 billion and a profit of A$88 million do? Email, manufactures & markets building supplies (locks, plumbing), industrial products, is a major steel and pipe distributor in Australia, a leading manufacturer of electricity, water, gas meters and regulators and, is a major manufacturer and distributor of whitegoods (major appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators, gas cookers, freezers, air conditioners) in Australasian.
Hanna says the company-owned, 30,000 square foot building we're sitting in was built sometime around the 1920's and it definitely looks it. Sixty employees work here in corporate.
Hanna's drab middle office has an unexciting view of the street. The brown plywood walls are barren except for two landscape paintings. One is of a river in New South Wales and the other, a wooded area in NSW. Australia is divided into states and territories similar to us in the US. Sydney is located in the state of New South Wales. Hanna sits behind a huge double-sided desk who's desktop is bare except for a paper weight (a piece of metal from an Email plant) and a small Seiko clock. Hanna, age 52 and CEO since 1992, is only the fourth CEO in the company's 60-year history. (For more information: EML)
A mile or so from Email's offices stand the twin tower offices of TNT, one of the world's largest transportation companies. Built in 1976, the 11-story buildings are looking pretty ragged. Ditto for the large fountain out front which looks like it hasn't had water running through it in years.
Checking in with the security guard/receptionist I act aghast upon eyeing several Federal Express packages lying on the counter. "You wouldn't find competitors packages in the lobby at Federal Express, DHL, UPS or Airborne", I assert. The guard answers, "it's no big deal".
Meeting with Anthony Hill, Manager-Corporate Affairs, I ask, "with a name like TNT, have you ever used the dynamite connection in your advertising". Hill says no. Turns out the name of the company has nothing to do with blasting powder. Ken Thomas founded the company in the 1940's and over a period of years was renamed Thomas National Transport and finally, TNT. with the company being listed on the stock exchange in 1962. Thomas's first two trucks were named Samson and Delilah.
Revenues in 1994 were A$2.9 billion, profit A$105 million. In 1980, News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch) and TNT, in a joint venture, bought Ansett Airlines. It's the country's largest airline next to Qantas, which is mostly owned by the Australian government. Factor in Ansett's A$2.8 billion in revenue and TNT has sales of A$5.7 billion.
Since Hill is on the 11th floor and CEO David Mortimer on the 10th, we have to go DOWN to check out the CEO's office. Because they're located on the fringe of downtown, Mortimer has a great view of Sydney's skyline. As expected, miniature TNT trucks line the shelves in Mortimer's corner office. (For more information: TNT )
Metal Manufactures Ltd.
Metal Manufactures, which produces insulated and non-insulated electric cables for energy and communication companies, calls home the 33rd floor of a 46-story high-rise in downtown Sidney.
Jane Campbell, secretary to the head of Public Affairs, says 33 employees work on the floor and there's "nothing interesting about our offices". When I ask, "how close is the nearest freeway?" Campbell says, "you can leap out the building onto it".
Revenues in 1993 were A$1 billion, profit A$47 million. The biggest problem this company has is giving out the company's name and address. Campbell says everyone thinks it Metal Manufacturers instead of Metal Manufactures.
(For more information: MMF)
The Australian Mutual Provident Society
With assets of over A$81 billion and income before taxation of A$21 billion in 1993, The Australian Mutual Provident Society (AMP) is the Goliath in Australia's insurance industry. Besides being far and away Australia's largest, it's also the oldest insurance company (founded in 1849). AMP is the world's eighth largest mutual group and the 19th largest life insurance operation.
This is a case where maybe bigger isn't better. I like visiting insurance companies for a variety of reasons with one being the fact they're notorious for being organized. Usually the security people and reception personnel have been alerted to my arrival and a contact person has been arranged. Not here at AMP.
I'm told they hadn't received my advance material so, I leave more. In a few days I meet with Denis Crawford, Corporate Public Relations Manager, who just goes through the motions and my visit consists of being shown to the elevator afterwards. I was assuming I'd be well received because George Trumbull, their new CEO, is an American.
The 25-story headquarters tower fronts Sydney harbor and when it was built in 1962 it was the tallest building in Sydney. Now it's probably the 20th tallest.
In 1991, AMP registered in the State of Iowa as a domestic insurer but, has yet to conduct business in the US.
Starting out in 1920 as a lobby for better roads, the National Road Motorist Association (NRMA) is now the largest general insurance company in Australia. It's 2.2 million members also comprise the largest consumer organization in Australia.
NRMA's 12-story headquarters building sits on the fringe of downtown. Built in 1965, over 1,000 employees work in the place.
Louise Flippence, Manager-Corporate Programs, gives me a warm welcome and extensive tour.
Walking into the building you can't help but notice the big glass display case filled with car badges from around the world. In the olden days, these metal badges on your car identified your insurer.
Members elect the Board of Directors, which is comprised of 16 people, who then appoint a Board of Management. Revenues in 1993 were A$1.8 billion with assets over A$4 billion. The company is in the process of going public.
Nothing fancy about CEO Ray Willing's 5th floor middle office. There's an aboriginal artifact on his desk and a TV/VCR in the corner. Willig likes to play tennis and the tennis court atop the building makes it easy to catch a quick game or two.
On the first floor is a well done, through the years, company museum. When cars used to break down in the early days (1920's) and the member called up for roadside service--many a time a bike would be sent to the scene to fix the trouble.
Westpac Banking Corp.
With assets of A$117 billion, Westpac is Australia's second largest bank behind National Australia Bank (A$123 billion). However, Westpac has two big #1's in its favor: founded in 1817, Westpac is Australia's first bank AND oldest corporation.
Headquarters is a company-owned, 28-story building in the financial center of Sydney. Meeting with Glenda Hewitt, Head of Media Relations, I find out it was built in 1971.
The executive reception area on the 27th floor features 2 eight-foot tall bronze EMU(s?), two bronze doves on a coffee table, a 32-inch library globe and on the wall hangs a large oil painting on canvas done in 1852 by Marshall Claxton titled "View of Sydney Harbor".
The boardroom on the 28th floor has an oblong-shaped table along with aboriginal art. Most of the executives looking out their windows get to look down at the Federal Reserve Bank located across a plaza area in a much shorter building.
(For more information: WBC )
Commonwealth Bank of Australia
Occupying a grand marble-clad, 10-story building next to Westpac's offices is Commonwealth Bank of Australia. With A$106 billion in assets, it's Australia's third largest bank.
One advantage Commonwealth has over all other banks is the backing of the Commonwealth of Australia (the Australian government). Why? Back in 1911 the bank was established by Act of Parliament. In 1993, shares to the public were issued. However, it's required that the Commonwealth of Australia always retain 50.1% of the total voting rights attached to the voting shares of the bank.
I ask Bryan Fitzgerald, Senior Manager-Corporate Affairs, if there're any big advantages or disadvantages of being majority-owned by the government. On the plus side Fitzgerald says, "With the government backing us we don't have to worry about going broke" and on the minus side, it's dealing with the negative image most people have of anything run by the government.
Built in 1912, about 1,000 employees work in the place. The bank's main branch occupies the ground floor and the massive banking hall is a beaut having recently been renovated. Fitzgerald runs me down to the basement to show off the bank's gigantic vault--which he thinks might be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Can't see CEO David Murray's office "because he's in" but, we do go up to the top floor to see where the company's pistol range used to be. Why a pistol range in a bank? Target practice for bank tellers. In the good old days, tellers kept pistols next to their cages.
Fitzgerald walks me outside near the main entrance doors so I can take a gander at stab marks left by someone who obviously wasn't happy with the toaster he received. Around 40 years ago a disgruntled customer took an ice pick and started stabbing the outside of the building. The huge slab of marble can't be taken out nor can it be covered up so, the 100 or so stab marks have become a permanent fixture of the building. (For more information: CBA)
Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd.
Built in the 1960's, the 15-story structure is looking pretty dumpy but, it's the closest building to Sydney's famous waterfront opera house and it's home to Coca-Cola Amatil. The company leases the building and has over 250 employees in the place.
Guess which Coca-Cola bottler is the sole Coca-Cola franchise operator in the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Hungary. Belarus and, the principal Coca-Cola franchise operator in Austria, Indonesia, Australia, Papua New Guinea. Yep, it's Coca-Cola Amatil (Allied Manufacturing and Trading Industries Limited).
As Alec Wagstaff, Public Affairs Manager, walks me around I notice there's a large soda pop dispenser on each floor and guess what, employees can drink to their little hearts content because here, soft drinks are free. Wagstaff asks if I'd like something to drink. "Got Coke in a bottle?", I ask. We don't see one so I pass. Sodas, like beer, ALWAYS taste better out of a bottle.
Coca-Cola Amatil, the most geographically diverse bottler of Coca-Cola products, operates in 10 countries--which explains the company's corporate aircraft, a Citation. Revenues in 1993 were A$1.9 billion, profit A$95 million.
The company has Co-CEO's, Bill Gibson and Norborne Cole Jr., the later being from the South--as in Atlanta and Coca-Cola.
(For more information: CCL)
Renison Goldfields Consolidated Ltd.
There's no need to tell you one of the minerals this company mines because it's in Renison Goldfields Consolidated's name. Headquarters are on the 24th & 25th floors of a 25-story, harbor-front building. Built in 1965, the company's name is in big letters atop the sides.
Meeting with Robin Jenkins, Librarian, I ask why there's not the usual rock collection in the lobby. Turns out there is but it's been moved to a more secure area since the gold was stolen out of the display.
CEO Mark Bethwaite has a great unobstructed view of Sidney harbor from his 25th floor corner office. I don't know if it's such a smart idea though. Bethwaite is a 3-time Olympic sailor and it must get mighty frustrating to look out on the harbor on a windy, perfect sailing day and know you can't get away. I count five sailing trophies on a shelf, numerous family pictures, seven rocks, a picture of him sailing and, two 10-pound bells made of copper and tin.
Revenues in 1994 were A$611 million, profit A$2 million and, the company is 40% owned by Hanson PLC of the United Kingdom. (For more information: RGC AU)
Burns, Philip & Company Ltd.
Hemmed in by a sea of high-rises, the three-story Victorian headquarters of Burns, Philip & Company looks out of place. Built by the company in 1903, it's an imposing structure with it's lower exterior clad in rough stone and the upper in dressed stone with ornate detail giving it a Gothic look.
Tearing it down and putting up a high-rise could make a bundle of money but, it ain't going to happen. The National Trust classified the building in 1975.
With 1994 revenues of A$2.8 billion, profit A$123 million, Burns Philip is a global food manufacturer and marketer doing business in 31 countries. They're the world's second largest processor of herbs and spices (behind McCormick & Company), the world's biggest producer of white distilled vinegar and, the world's largest fresh bakers yeast manufacturer.
Allen Evans, Manager Investors Relations, gives me a thorough tour of the place which is home to 70 employees.
Walking around we pass six glass display cases housing a large collection of seashells. Why the shells? Founded 111 years ago, the company originally started in the shipping business. Evans throws out another piece of trivia: Malabar, a suburb of Sydney, was named after an early vessel in the Burns Philip shipping fleet which crashed into rocks and sunk back in 1931. The town was known as Long Bay but, was named Malabar in remembrance to the ship.
Though CEO Ian Clack has a corner office, the view's lousy because it's only a three-story building and, the windows are set so high you can't see out unless you stand up. (For more information: BPC AU)
Goodman Fielder Ltd.
Goodman Fielder Ltd., Australasia's largest food company with operations in 30 countries, occupies the top floor in a 42-story downtown tower. Forty employees work on the floor and though I'm well received by Graeme Thomson, Group Manager-Corporate Relations, there's nothing worth noting. A large glass display case in the boardroom shows off a sampling of the multitude of company-made products marketed around the world including; snacks, cake mixes, soups, pasta, cooking oil, dressings, margarine, poultry, flour, bread and food ingredients such as gelatin, starch and stabilizers. 1994 revenues A$3.9 billion, profit A$93 million. (For more information: GMF AU)
Lend Lease Corporation Ltd.
Lend Lease Corporation Ltd., occupies 30% of 48-story Australian Square Tower. Founded in the 1950's as a construction contractor, the company has evolved into a financial services/property management company with over A$30 billion in assets. The top floor is a revolving restaurant with the 46th being the highest floor with offices in this polygon-shaped tower (20-sided). It's on the 46th floor where I check out CEO John Morschel's office and spot the two pairs of skis sitting in the corner.
Answering questions and walking me around is John Arthur, Corporate Counsel. I like the black leather chairs around the o-shaped boardroom table. Revenues in 1994 were A$1.8 billion, profit A$232 million. (For more information: LLC)
The Good, The Bad and the Nasty
Caltex, a refiner and marketer of petroleum products, supplies 1,000 Caltex branded stations and 108 distributors. 1993 revenues were A$3.5 billion, profit A$54 million. Dimity MacDonald, Corporate & Public Affairs, says they built the 21-story building in 1957 but now lease the structure. The bright red antique gas pump in the lobby is the only item of note. I can't see the boardroom or CEO's office because "it's a secured area". Texaco and Standard Oil of California have a 50/50 ownership of 75% of Caltex. The company just announced a merger with Ampol, a competing gas retailer.
Boral Ltd., (the first letters from it's original name--Bitumen & Oil Refineries (Australia) Limited), is a building products, construction materials and energy company. Boral occupies floors 19, 20 and 21 in a 26-story building. Jane O'Brien, secretary to CEO Tony Berg, gives me a warm reception. Over 70 employees work on the floors. CEO Berg's corner office on the 20th floor contains a fake plant, the pretty-much mandatory hard hat for a company in the construction industry and a computer. Revenues in 1994 were A$4.6 billion, profit A$129 million.
Duncan Ramsey, General Counsel for QBE Insurance Group Ltd., says QBE's name resulted from a merger between three insurance companies: Queensland, Bankers & Trade and, Equitable. Revenues in 1994 were A$1.5 billion, with profit before taxes of A$136 million. Headquarters is an ugly-looking, 12-story, company-owned building built in 1940. It's been classified by the National Trust, meaning people will be stuck looking at the thing for many years to come. CEO John Cloney's office is on the second floor. Historical company documents such as original incorporation papers have been framed and hang on walls on several floors. QBE's roots go back to 1886. The boardroom table is circular, seats eight and has two fake plants.
My meeting with Bill McLaughlin, Group Manager Corporate Affairs for The Australian Gas Light Company, lasts about four minutes. Making it clear he has more important things to do I rush through my questions in the new 24-story headquarters building in North Sydney. Known as AGL Centre, the company leases 50% of the place with over 500 employees working here. AGL is Australia's largest gas distributor and is the largest owner and operator of transmission lines in the country.
CSR Ltd, with 1994 revenues of A$5.3 billion, profit A$297 million, is one of the world's largest building and construction materials companies. CSR has operations in 13 countries including the US. Corporate offices are on the 24th floor of a downtown Sydney high-rise. Dropping by on several occasions, Joan Woolleys, secretary to CEO Geoffrey Kells, says I'm out of luck because meetings are going on the whole week.
Consolidated Press Holdings, publishes a wide variety of weekly and monthly magazines (Woman's Day, New Idea, Mode Brides, Bulliten, New Weekly) and owns Channel 9, a nationwide television station. Billionaire Kerry Packer, Australia's wealthiest person, owns the whole enchilada. Headquarters is an unassuming 12-story building about a mile from downtown. The first floor reception area is manned by two security guards, with one being at least six feet eight inches tall and 300 pounds. On the walls in the lobby area are 26 framed, blown-up covers of magazines published by the company. Several are ripped and several more hang crooked. You wouldn't catch me sitting down on the two grungy-looking sofas. I wait while the big burly guard goes upstairs to talk to "Susie", Packer's secretary. The guard returns with the verdict, "they aren't interested in talking to you--it's nothing personal. It's a well known fact Mr. Packer hates the media".
Australian National Industries Ltd. is the largest engineering company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. 1994 revenues were A$1.5 billion, profit A$65 million. Headquarters is on the 5th floor of a seven-story building located behind the Sydney convention center which is several miles from downtown. CEO Evan Rees walks out to the reception area and asks, "What do you want?". I spend several minutes explaining my unusual odyssey, including spewing out tidbits picked up in Australia. What does he do after I give him my spiel? He says, "Here's another piece of trivia for you, I think it's a waste of time". With that said, he turns and walks away.
The ninth floor of an 11-story building is headquarters for James Hardie Industries, a supplier of building products. 1994 revenues were A$1.6 billion, profit $48 million. I'm told, "we're too busy to talk to you". I get the same line at Howard Smith Ltd., which owns hardware stores, towing & salvage operations, shipping interests and is a distributor of industrial & engineering products. Revenues in 1994 were A$1 billion, profit A$60 million. Headquarters is on the 22nd floor of a no-name office building.
Brambles Industries Ltd., a materials handling and equipment services company with 1994 revenues of A$2.6 billion and a profit of A$151 million, occupies the 40th floor of a downtown skyscraper. Besides getting the boot here, my name and address has to be logged into a record book before the receptionist will hand over an annual report.
FAI Insurances Ltd. (1994 revenues A$1.4 billion, profit A$11 million) occupies, with other tenants, an undistinguished, 12-story building built in 1973. Standing in the reception area on the 12th floor I'm told, "we're not interested in participating". Ditto at National Foods Ltd., a dairy foods company, which occupies the 32nd floor of the 43-story AMP Centre tower. Visitors at National Foods ring a buzzer to get someone to come out to the unmanned reception area.
The spectacular Sidney Harbour Bridge makes my Top Ten list of favorite bridges to ride a bike across. The nearly mile long bridge is one of the world's widest-with four lanes of traffic going each way, two train tracks, a pedestrian lane and a bike lane.
Sydney will be hosting the summer Olympics in the year 2000. Here's a tip for Australia's largest city (3.5 million people): Downtown definitely lacks in the sweet tooth department. There's a dearth of bakeries and pastry shops. The sandwich and gourmet shops plus many of the restaurants make none of the deserts they sell.
Canberra, Australia's Capital
In the US, the New York City versus Chicago debate as to which city is superior has been raging for years and years. In Australia it's the same only it's between Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney was never happy with Melbourne being the capital and in 1913 was finally able to do something about it: A new nation's capital, located halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, would be built from scratch.
Canberra, over 80 years later, now boasts a population of over 300,000. Here's a piece of trivia: Can you name the another country who's capital was built from scratch in the 20th century? If you answer Brasilia (Brazil), give yourself a pat on the back.
Unfortunately, my remembrance of Canberra will not be of the huge futuristic-looking Parliament House built in 1988 or of Lake Burley Griffin, the man-made, six-mile long lake weaving around town. Nope, it'll be of the pesky, persistent flies which seem to thrive in this 90-degree weather.
I usually average about 100 miles a day on my bike but that figure can vary depending on the terrain and weather encountered. Being up and ON the road by 6:00AM is the secret to pedaling those kinds of miles. Spotting wildlife lingering along roadsides in the quiet of the early morning has more than rewarded the effort involved in rolling out of bed at such an early hour. Unfortunately, this also allows me to see the results of what happens overnight. About 30 miles out of Canberra I'm commenting to myself about how I've yet to see a kangaroo. Incredibly, no more than a minute later, I get my first look at a kangaroo and sadly it's not a pretty sight because this large animal was evidently struck and killed during the night by a passing car or truck as it was bounding across the road.