On the road in Melbourne

The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd.

With 1994 revenues of A$17 billion, profit A$1.3 billion and assets in excess of A$27 billion, The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) is Australia's biggest company.

Headquarters for this global mining, steel and energy behemoth is BHP Tower, a 54-story high-rise. Built in 1990, it's the third tallest building in Melbourne. Though its called BHP Tower and the company's logo sits atop, BHP is a renter; with over 1,200 employees occupying floors 25 and up.

When visiting companies, my two favorite people to meet with (other than senior management) are the CEO's secretary or the company's head of building security. Why? Both have access to anything and everything I want to see. This is the case at BHP where Anders Bech Niesen, Security and Safety Officer-Property and Services, answers questions and gives me a tour.

An extensive art collection, primarily Australian artists, lines the walls of various floors. Highlighting the executive dining rooms on the 51st floor is a 4x15 foot oil on linen by John Wolseley titled "Concerning The Making Of Steel".

Before entering the boardroom on the 50th floor we pass a guest register, which has been keeping tabs of visitor's to the company's boardroom since 1959. Thumbing through the book, Nielsen points out some of the movers and shakers who've signed their names. It's pretty impressive: many heads of states, CEO's from around the world, Australian Prime Ministers and the like. Each page usually holds a dozen or so names but, it's not so with everyone. Prince Edward (younger brother of Prince Charles) was recently here and evidently thinks he's famous enough to hog the whole page with his signature and even then, signing it only "Edward". Eager to leave my mark alongside these heavy hitters I ask Nielsen, "So, where do I sign?". There's a few seconds of silence and figuring maybe he didn't hear me because he's still thumbing through the log book, I reiterate, "So, where do I sign?" Still no answer. I then realize he's pretending not to hear because he doesn't want me signing the book. In a joking manner I say, "Oh I see, you're pretending not to hear because you don't want a lowly bike rider signing the register". He slowly turns around and nods his head. He then goes on to say that last year one of the window washers signed the book and it was a task getting it erased.

The horseshoe-shaped boardroom table with the outer part made of wood and the inner part of the horseshoe made of steel is unusual. Lining one of the hall corridors is a collection of aboriginal art consisting of paintings drawn on ten pieces of bark.

With operations around the world including mines located in out of the way places, it's not surprising to find BHP with quite a few corporate aircraft including three Gulfstreams. (For more information: BHP)

Western Mining Corporation Holdings Ltd.

Waiting to find out who's my contact person, I'm sitting on a sofa on the 31st floor reception area of Western Mining Corporation looking through the top of a glass coffee table and reading pages 170 and 171 of an open book enclosed in the glass titled "De Re Metallica". Huh? You've never heard of the book or the author, Georguis Agricola (1494-1555)? It was the first systematic treatise on mining and metallurgy embracing all technological matters relating to geology, prospecting, mining, mineral processing, smelting, casting, molding etc. The original Latin edition, which was illustrated with 273 large woodcuts was printed in Basel in 1556. It was translated into English in the early years of the 20th century. On display in the glass is an early Latin edition which explains why I haven't a clue as to what it says on the two open pages.

Duncan Bell, Group Manager-Corporate Affairs, turns out to be my contact person but, he's located five blocks away in a new building fronting the Yarra River. Though I hate going to another building to ask questions about a building I'm not in, I make my way over and learn from Bell that sometime in 1995 the 18 people (mostly executives) ensconced on the 31st floor of the 35-story high-rise will be moving over to the new IBM building located several buildings down from Bell's office.

The reception area of the riverfront building where Bell resides contains a six-foot tall glass display case filled with all kinds of mining paraphernalia including a 1915 calculator (which looks like a rolling pin) and was used by engineers/metallurgists and surveyors and, a Prill balance from the 1900's which was used to weigh gold. The top shelve of the display case contains a visitor's log similar to the one I thumbed through outside the boardroom of BHP. Western Mining's log book, donated from one of the company's mines where visitors are frequently taken and given tours, is opened up to what I assume are several pages of ho-hum signatures. Never the less, I take a look to see if I recognize any of the names. Holy cow, talk about your small world! You're not going to believe this but, remember at BHP where I said Prince Edward signed only "Edward" and hogged the whole page? At Western Mining, Prince Charles signed the book--only signing "Charles" and, like his younger brother, hogged most of the page with his signature. What can I deduce from this? It's a good bet that if I were to ever come across a log book signed by their mom, it'll probably be signed, "Liz" and the signature would probably take up the whole page.

Western Mining is one of the world's largest nickel producers, one of Australia's largest gold producers and has extensive interests in copper, uranium and oil production. Revenues in 1994 were A$1.7 billion, profit A$132 million. (For more information: WMC )

National Australia Bank Ltd.

Australia has what is known as, the Big Four banks. In descending order ranked according to total assets they're: National Australia Bank (A$123 billion), Westpac Banking Corporation (A$117 billion), ANZ Banking Group (A$110 billion), and Commonwealth Bank (A$106 billion). I've already visited Westpac and Commonwealth in Sydney and, ANZ and National are here in Melbourne. I'm expecting a landmark or signature-type building for Australia's largest bank but, I'm sorry to say, it's a blah looking 36-story, brownish-square building built in 1977.

Finding nobody in the lobby to give directions I peruse the building directory and see where CEO Donald Argus's office is located on the 35th floor so, up I go. Stepping off the elevator I encounter a security/reception area which is redundant. A glass partition separates potential visitors to the offices. To gain access through the glass doors one has to explain (via a hole in the glass) to the security guard sitting on the other side of the glass. Ten feet from the guard sits a receptionist. I know she's a receptionist because I can read the "receptionist" plaque on her desk. The guard asks what I want and I say, "I'd like to talk to the receptionist". "You have to talk to me first", he says. I say, "If I have to tell you what I'm doing, and the receptionist can hear everything I say--then why do you need a receptionist if you're the one screening and receiving visitors?" I then go on to explain to the guard that he should be on THIS side of the glass and she (the receptionist) should remain on the other side. What does all this get me? A roll of the eyes by the guard, no entry through the glass door and a phone call by the guard to find out Hayden Park, Group Manager-Group Corporate Relations, is my contact person.

About 1,000 employees work in the building. Why does Australia's biggest bank have such an unimpressive headquarters? Park says it's the result of a merger. Since the bank it merged with already owned the place, the powers that be decided to call this home to the combined banks. No luck seeing the CEO's office or boardroom because "they're being used". Park however, invites me back later in the week to take a look when they're not in use. (For more information: NAB)

 

Colonial Mutual Life and National Mutual Life

Besides having their headquarters within a block of each other on the same street, Colonial Mutual Life (A$15 billion in assets) and National Mutual Life (A$33 billion in assets) have other similarities. Colonial's 16-story headquarters, built in 1963, contains a 13th floor. National Mutual's 20-story headquarters, built in the 1960's, and it too contains a 13th floor. Another similarity: both are unreceptive to a bicyclist who travels halfway around the world to visit. Stopping by Colonial on three separate occasions ends up with Penny Hewett, National Media Manager, telling me face to face "We don't have time for you". Stopping by National Mutual (also on three separate occasions) ends up with me being dismissed, via the phone, by Chris Wright, General Manager-Corporate Services, who says, "We aren't interested in meeting with you".

As mentioned before, I've found most office buildings DO NOT have a numbered 13th floor but, more than 95% of the time--insurance companies WILL have a numbered 13th floor. In the US, I visited half a dozen insurance companies where the CEO's office and boardroom were located on the 13th. Methinks this is done intentionally by insurance companies to pooh-paah the notion of 13 being unlucky.

I know Colonial Mutual has a 13th floor because I spent 20 minutes using the phone located next to the 13th floor elevators. I was directed to the 13th floor by the lobby receptionist to meet with Peter O'Donohue who's in Public Relations. Stepping off the elevator you encounter a locked glass door, no receptionist but, a phone to call up your party. I call O'Donohue but, he ends up giving me the brush-off. I then call CEO Peter Smedley's secretary, who refers me to Chris Wright. Calling Wright from the 13th floor proves unlucky because besides giving me the boot, he ridicules my project.

Pacific Dunlop Ltd.

I'm on the 41st floor of a 53-story tower and from the looks of the lobby I can tell visiting Pacific Dunlop will be fun. Why? Oh I don't know, maybe it's the black Peter's Ice Cream delivery which greets you. The 1929 vintage Morris truck is a beaut but it makes you wonder how in the heck did they get this large truck up to the 41st floor? Hanging on a side wall is a Malvern Star bicycle. This Tour De France model was ridden in 1927 and set an Australian record for 24 hour endurance--416 miles.

So what the heck does the ice cream truck and bike have to do with Pacific Dunlop (1994 revenues A$7 billion, profit A$307 million)? Plenty. The company's roots go back to 1893 when it began in Melbourne as a maker of bicycle tires. Now, this conglomerate has its hands in a whole slew of businesses including Peter's Ice Cream. Here's a sampling of Pacific Dunlop's subsidiaries and products:

GNB Technologies is the world's largest industrial battery manufacturer and second largest automotive battery manufacturer.

South Pacific Tyres is Australia's and New Zealand's largest tire maker, marketer and exporter.

ALH is the largest electrical products distributor in Australia and New Zealand.

Pacific Dunlop is the largest marketer of branded packaged food products in Australia, largest bedding supplier in Asia, China's largest ice cream manufacturer, largest supplier of branded clothing, footwear and sporting goods in Australia, third largest pacemaker and defibrillator manufacturer in the world, has 85% of the global market in bionic ear implant devices and is a major manufacturer of condoms and latex medical gloves. Whew!

Though Pacific Dunlop occupies only two floors (100 employees), it takes John McLean, Group Historian, several hours to walk me around because of the wealth of company memorabilia on display in the hallways and offices. McLean has been with Pacific Dunlop over 30 years and I guess that explains his ability (or clout?) to waltz into various executive's offices (occupied or not) and recite to me the background/history of what's hanging on the walls.

Company advertising posters from the 1920's, old wooden company signs from the early 1900's and gobs of sports mementos line the walls. Slazenger and Dunlop sports equipment are part of Pacific Dunlop's stable of companies. Items on display include: A pair of Niblick Shark Shoes (shoe line owned by company) worn by Greg Norman in the 1986 British Open, A golf ball (made by company) whacked by Jack Nickalus in the 1976 Australian Open, rackets swung by tennis greats Ken Rosewell and Margaret Court, running shoes worn by long distance star Ron Clarke and cricket equipment used Australian legend Sir Donald Bradman. Knowing nothing about cricket, McLean informs me Bradman was to cricket, what Babe Ruth was to baseball.

Walking into CEO Philip Brass's office I come face to face with a brand new Diamond Back mountain bicycle. The company carries the line of bikes but, what's it doing here? Is he test riding down the halls? No, it's a Christmas gift to one of his kids, with the office being deemed a safer place to hide it from prying eyes. I spot miniature company trucks in Brass's office along with a bronze of a wild boar, a telescope which doesn't work, a painting of Sydney (the city), no computer, one real plant and four comfortable-looking grey leather couches.

Oh yeah, about the ice cream truck. McLean says it was quite a feat. Large pieces of the truck were disassembled, with the core BARELY fitting into the elevator. (For more information: PDP)

More on the road in Melbourne

North Limited

Many big cities have a street like St. Kilda Road. It's one of those grand, tree-lined, extra-wide streets which usually starts or ends in downtown and makes its way out toward the suburbs. More often than not, the city's largest and most elegant mansions reside along the route. That was the case here in Melbourne until the 1970's. Then, companies began moving into the ornate mansions on St. Kilda Road. Soon, new office buildings were going up and before you know it, a St. Kilda address became a must for those wishing not to be in the hustle and bustle of downtown but, close enough to still do business there.

About a mile from downtown Melbourne on St. Kilda Road finds me at North House, the seven-story building housing North Ltd, a minerals and forest products company with 1994 revenues of A$1.8 billion, profit A$185 million. Besides mining gold, uranium, copper and iron ore, North is the world's largest exporter of hardwood chips.

On November 1, 1994 the company changed its name from North Broken Hill Peko Ltd. to North Limited.

Rosemary Walsh, secretary to CEO Campbell Anderson, answers questions and gives me a tour of the place. Though it's known as the North House and the company's name graces the building--it's been a renter since 1987, with about 100 employees occupying floors three through seven.

The main lobby/reception area contains a metal sculpture but, no plaque or card lets you know the title of the piece, who did it and when. On a nearby wall hangs a large 6x12 foot tapestry by John Robinson called "Tranquility". Oh, oh, there's no rock/mineral display in sight. Jeez, I thought having a mineral/rock display was an unspoken bond amongst these mining companies.

Near the boardroom is a glass display case containing gifts given to the company over the years. I see silver serving dishes and trays but, far and away the most impressive item is "Takarabume" a model of an ancient Japanese sailing ship. The beautiful hand-carved vessel is gold-plated and contains pure silver bullion. I mention to Walsh that the ship looks a little dusty and volunteer to take it back to my hotel room for cleaning. Well, it was worth a try.

CEO Anderson has a view of the nearby bay from his top floor office. His desk is piled high with papers, watercolors with scenes of mining areas line his walls, and there’s a VCR/TV and the usual wooden ax. Usual wooden ax?? Just kidding. It's a gift from the Australian Axeman's Hall of Fame. One of the company's employees is the reigning wood cutting champion. (For more information: NBH AU)

Mayne Nickless Ltd.

Couple blocks down from North Ltd. on St. Kilda Rd. stands the 22-story Mayne Nickless House. In Australia and New Zealand many office structures are named "house" instead of "building".

The main reception area on the 21st floor stands out from the norm. Stepping off the elevator I encounter a uniformed MSS security guard/receptionist sitting behind a large, almost fully enclosed glass counter area. I mention she's wearing a MSS uniform because besides operating 22 hospitals and being a major player in the international transport business, Mayne Nickless is a biggie in the security industry. Turns out MSS Security Services is one of Mayne Nickless's companies.

Posted on the glass near the front area of the receptionist's counter not engulfed in protective glass a sign reads: "Warning, please do not allow any part of your person to protrude over this strip". "What's with this?", I ask. The guard says, "if anything crosses over this space, glass will come down and I'll be fully enclosed in here". Huh? Evidently reaching over this strip to offer her a piece of gum--would result in my arm being sheared off by a rapidly descending piece of very large and heavy glass. Hmmm, I make a mental note: DO NOT reach over and shake hands when leaving.

Founded in 1886 by John Mayne and Enoch Nickless, revenues in 1994 were A$2.8 billion, net profit A$69 million. In the US, the company operates several names you might recognize: Loomis Armored Car Service, Loomis Courier Service, and Express Airborne.

Stepping out of the offices via a secured door and into the lobby, Laurice Stainsby, Secretary to CEO Bill Bytheway says, "Everyone's busy and nobody has time to meet with you". "Oh, that's no problem", I reply, "I'm in town for the whole week and could come back anytime it's convenient". "Everybody's busy the whole week", she says. "Nobody can spare 10 minutes to meet with me?", I ask. "No, I'm afraid not", she answers.

Actually, I was 99 percent sure no one would meet with me. Why? Earlier this month the company and seven of its present and former executives (including current CEO Bytheway) were fined a record A$7.7 million by the Trade Practices Commission over their alleged roles in a freight industry price-fixing cartel. Today was a particularly bad day to show up because stories in the morning papers had the board of Mayne Nickless lashing out at the TPC's claim that CEO Bytheway had played a central role. Heck, who could blame Mayne Nickless for going into a fortress-type mode. Then again, who could blame ME for stopping by on a day like today just to see what would happen. (For more information: MAY AU)

 

Pasminco Ltd.

Walking several buildings down from Mayne Nickless gets me to the 15-story Royal Domain Centre. Since 1990 it's been home to Pasminco Limited. Revenues in 1994 were A$1.2 billion, loss A$14 million, for this mining, smelting and exploration company. Pasminco, the second largest zinc producer and 3rd largest lead producer in the world, leases the 7th and 15th floors in this newish building (built in 1988).

Gary Arnold, Manager-Administrative Manager says 116 employees work on the two floor and there's even a gym with showers.

Given the walk-around I see the obligatory rock/mineral collection (20 in theirs) plus, lining a hallway wall there's a collection of charcoal sketches-all portraying mining scenes. The World Solar Cup on display looks pretty impressive. Commissioned by Pasminco in 1987, the one-meter tall silver & gold perpetual trophy goes to the winner of an annual race of solar-powered vehicles between the cities of Darwin and Adelaide (roughly 2,000 miles of desert).

CEO Peter Barnett's 15th floor corner office has bright white walls. A painting of a landscape near a mine breaks up the white on one wall. As expected, I find rocks (nine to be exact) around his office and two toy motorcycles. What's the significance of the cycles? The zinc used in manufacturing the Japanese-made toys comes from Pasminco's mines. (For more information: PAS AU)

Foster's Brewing Group Ltd.

Heading out to suburban South Yarra, my nose is on full alert. Headquarters for Foster's Brewing Group, one of world's largest beer brewers, is out this way and I figure to smell the offices before catching sight of them. That was the case when visiting Coors in Golden, Colorado and Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri. Both had their offices next door to their largest breweries and I could smell 'em them over a mile away.

South Yarra lies four miles southeast of downtown Melbourne and besides being one of the most prestigious areas to live, it's where Melbourne's hottest restaurants and trendiest shops are located. Foster's corporate offices are in the middle of all this: on the second floor of an unusual retail complex known as the "Jam Factory". A former jam factory over a 100 years ago, Foster's bought the place, renovated it, sold it, and now lease their headquarters space in it.

Getting upstairs requires entering not from the front of the complex which fronts a busy retail-shopping street but, via an unassuming door off on a side street. Pretty low-key for a company with A$5.1 billion in revenues and a profit A$282 million in 1994. Hey, this is pretty neat: huge exposed wood beams and gigantic 12-foot high doors greet you upon walking into the long expansive marble-floored lobby.

Terry Bowe, General Manager-Corporate Affairs, says 70 employees work here. I can't see CEO Edward Kunkel's office because "he's in a meeting". Checking out the boardroom finds a portrait of Sir Jan McLennan, chairman of Elders (a predecessor company) hanging prominently on a wall. Foster's Brewing Group's roots go back 100 years. Next stop is the refrigerator near the boardroom. It's stocked full with beer but, nary a competitor's brand is seen. Nearby is a meat pie warmer. Aussies, just like the New Zealander's, love their meat pies.

Roughly 2/5ths of the company's revenues (A$2.2 billion) comes from Australia and Asia/Pacific, 2/5ths (A$2.2 billion) from UK/Europe and almost 1/5th (A$669 million) from Canada/USA. (For more information: FBG AU)

Coles Myer Ltd.

Boy, it seems like every company visited in Melbourne has asked if I've been to the Taj Mahal. They're half-jokingly referring to the headquarters of Coles Myer in suburban Tooranga. Judging from what the locals say, I'm anticipating finding a palatial palace on a large estate-like setting. Operating over 1,600 retail stores with almost A$16 billion in revenues Coles Myer is HUGE, being the largest retail operation in Australasia.

This will give you an idea of the company's scope: operates 497 supermarkets, over 400 discount stores (including US discounters Kmart and Target-who's names it licenses), 72 department stores (Myer Grace Bros), and over 700 specialty stores. The later group includes Liquorland (liquor stores), Red Rooster (a fast-food chicken chain-which gets two thumbs up from me), Katies (woman's clothing chain), World 4 Kids (toy stores), Officeworks (office supply superstores) and Chili's (US restaurant chain who's name it licenses).

Seven miles from downtown Melbourne I spot Coles Meyer's six-story, black reflective glass headquarters perched up on a small hill. Giant Christmas decorations grace the sides of the structure temporarily taking away the building's ominous appearance (it's about a week before X-mas). Set close to the street, no fancy grounds or long regal driveway lead up to the building. Matter of fact, next door is a small shopping center containing one of Coles Myer's supermarkets. Surprising, the supermarket is an older, starting to look rundown store--not up to snuff with some of their newer stores visited. You'd think it would be a prototype store where management could wonder over and check out the latest in store innovations.

The lobby/reception area is gigantic! I count over 50 large, tan-colored leather chairs scattered about, which by the way are very comfortable. Three receptionists man the reception area. I wander around while waiting to meet with Kerrina Watson, Manager-Public Relations Projects. Hmmm, I guess the company considers me a "public relations project", is that good or bad?

Part of the lobby extends into a large 5-story atrium. An extremely tall, nicely decorated X-mas tree holds center court in the atrium. Nearby is a piano, which I find out is only here for the holiday season. Plenty of trees and plants (about half real and half fake) are scattered around the floor and water soothingly cascades down over a collection of plants and boulders.

Though I wait about 20 minutes, I don't mind because it allows time to wander through the half-dozen glass display cases which take you through the company's past. It's a nicely done exhibit. Sir George Coles founded Coles Meyer in 1914.

Built in 1987 (and leased), over 1,000 employees work in the roughly one million square foot structure which used to be the site of a drive-in movie theater. Remember how I called the black reflective glass building ominous-looking? Employees and near-by neighbors have their own pet names for the place including: Battlestar Galactica, and the Darth Vader building.

Seeing the CEO's office or boardroom isn't possible for reasons not made clear to me. Watson was suppose to "check into it" but conveniently side steps the question the several times I bring it up. We do however, take a tour of the fitness center. Why? Watson says they have punching bags--meaning more than one. Up until today, the combined number of punching bags seen in all the companies visited has totaled a measly three (three companies each had one). Coles Meyer alone has THREE, thereby doubling the total. I check to see if someone mischievously or intentionally pasted a picture of the CEO on one of the punching bags. Nope, they're clean.

(For more information: CML)

Going, Going, Gone

Ok, I'll admit to seeing dozens and dozens of the signs around the residential sections of Melbourne and being guilty of not stopping to read the fine print. But, the word "auction" is always in much larger letters than the rest of the wording on the signs, so as soon as I'd see the word "auction", my mind would automatically associate the word with "foreclosure" or "financial trouble". There, I thought I'd give you my excuse up front before you read the following.

Riding my bike on a late Saturday morning through one of Melbourne's tonier, upscale suburbs I come across over 30 people congregating in clusters of two's, three's and four's outside the front of a large white, two-story house with well-kept grounds. A man wearing a suit seems to be holding court on the sidewalk and he's barking out phrases such as, "do I hear 700?, 675 is the bid, do I hear 700?". Being a curious (okay, maybe nosey is a better word), I stop and ask a young couple what's going on. "The house is being auctioned" they reply. "Oh, defaulted on the payments eh?", I half-joking answer back. They give me a puzzled look and ask where I'm from. "San Diego", I announce. They then clue me in to what's happening; many homes around here are sold by way of public auction. "Your kidding, in the US when you see an auction sign it usually means the place has been repossessed by the bank or finance company."

Real estate people love to sell homes via public auctions because the seller's the one paying for the signs and announcement ads in the newspapers. Folks in the neighborhood, like the couple I'm with, always show up for these events because (1) potential new neighbors can be given the once over and (2) you get to find out how much was paid. This one ends up going for a cool A$700,000.

Bank of Melbourne

The upper part of Collins street in downtown Melbourne is considered THE business and shopping address. Designer boutiques, upscale hotels (Grand Hyatt, Regent) and several impressive office skyscrapers are housed along here. Bank of Melbourne's 11-story, company-owned headquarters sits tucked away amongst all this.

The rear of the building was built in 1984 but, it's the front part which is worth talking about. In the 1800's medical practitioners dominated this area of Collins street. On this site in 1850, two, three-story Victorian-style row homes (used by doctors) were built. When the current building went up in 1984, the facades of the Victorian row homes were incorporated into the new building.

Going up to meet with Robert Giles, Head of Finance, I make note of the beautiful blue-colored marble gracing the walls surrounding the bank of elevators.

Bank of Melbourne, with A$7.3 billion in assets, revenues of over A$550 million and A$63 million in profits in 1994, occupies all floors except for the ninth. Over 100 employees work in the slim building.

I can't see the CEO's office because "he doesn't do that". When meeting with someone, Giles says CEO David Airey usually meets the person in the boardroom instead of his office. Boy, that makes seeing Airey's office even more intriguing. We walk around the foyer on the 10th floor (where the CEO's office is located) so I can "get a feel" of the atmosphere. An ornate grandfather clock greets you upon stepping off the elevator. Giles and I spend several minutes looking in its nooks and crannies trying to find something which would tell us its age. No such luck.

(For more information: BMLN)

CRA Ltd.

Mining concern CRA Ltd. (1994 revenues A$5.9 billion, profit A$807 million) leases floors 31-39 in a 46-story high-rise situated on the prestigious end of Collins Street. I count 53 rocks and mineral specimens in the two glass cases on display.

Meeting with George Littlewood, Vice President-External Affairs, I learn CRA stands for the first letters in the names of two mines: Conzinc and Rio-Tinto with the "A" for Australia.

The barren bright white walls in CEO Leon Davis's corner office on the 35th floor give the room a lonely feeling. Turns out quite a few paintings normally hang on his walls but, they've been taken down to be rehung. As with most of the other companies visited in Australia, CRA's corporate art collection consists largely of works by Australian artists.

Corporate aircraft includes a Challenger, Westwind and a Essendon. (For more information: CRA)

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group

As mentioned earlier, Australia's four largest banks (known collectively as the "BIG 4) stand head and shoulders atop the rest. Of the four, my visit to Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) is the lone stinker.

John Coulston, Manager Administration, makes it clear he has more important things to be doing as we zip through the questions. Headquarters, a new 34-story tower, is home to over 1,500 employees.

Asking to see CEO Don Mercer's office on the 32nd floor and the boardroom on the second floor is met with a gruff "It's a secured area". "What does that mean?, I ask. "Even I haven't been up there", Coulston answers. Hmmm, since it's a "secured area" and I'm feeling secure (as opposed to insecure) I venture to ask Coulston, "Would you mind if I call up the CEO's secretary and ask?" Coulston squashes that request.

ANZ's turn-of-the-century Gothic-styled main banking branch is connected to the headquarters tower and it's a real beaut. According to Coulston, this branch is very busy. How busy? This branch has more customers than any other bank's single branch in the Southern Hemisphere. (For more information: ANZ)

Amcor Ltd.

Amcor, one of the world's largest integrated packaging and paper companies, occupies the 23rd floor of Tower East. Southgate is a new riverfront complex with two large 24-story office towers, shops, restaurants and a Sheraton hotel. There's Tower East and Tower West (although IBM now has its name slapped atop Tower West and many call it the IBM Tower).

My third attempt to meet with someone results in Sally Bouvier, Manager-Corporate Affairs, giving me the bewildering line "there's no one here in a position to talk to you". Hmmph, and here I thought that's what her position in the company was for. Revenues in 1994 were A$5.5 billion, profit A$337 million. (For more information: AMC)

On the road in Perth

Perth

It's 500 miles from Melbourne (population 3 million) to Adelaide (population 1.1 million) and much of the way is via the Great Ocean Road, a two-lane road which hugs the spectacular jagged coastline. Its beauty and isolation makes it remarkably similar to the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California.

Adelaide to Perth is roughly the same distance as Los Angeles is to Chicago. I elect to fly between the two cities because the unanimous verdict from dozens of Aussies polled who've driven Highway 1 (the only road across) said the flat, desert-like terrain is boring and very monotonous. This was a tough choice for me because I grew up in Arizona and appreciate the desert beauty.

The flight from Adelaide to Perth is no problem but, I have my fingers crossed the whole time. Why? In the US, the major airlines have bike boxes available for shipping your bike. In Australia there's no such things as bike boxes so it's shipped "as is" sans any kind of protection for the bike. Visions of cargo handlers playing "stack the suitcases atop the bike" run through my head.

Good news!, my bike arrives unscathed. The bad news: they let the air out of my tires. Why? According to the baggage handlers, "because the tires might explode". Now, my bike has flown dozens of times and I've talked to literally hundreds of other bikers who've flown with their bikes and have never, ever heard of bike tires "exploding" especially when you consider the whole plane is pressurized. I'm also ticked off because my tire pump is broken and I have to walk my bike from an unfamiliar airport to find a gas station with an air hose.

Upon arriving at the gas station I'm upset even further because walking the heavily-loaded bike on empty tires caused the stems of the tubes to disappear inside the tires--meaning I have to unload my bike, take off both tires and replace the inner tubes in the tires. It's early morning, I'm grouchy because I haven't had breakfast yet, my hands are greasy black from changing tires, bicycle parts are strewn all over the place and I'm muttering expletives under my breathe at the those idiot baggage handlers. Forty feet away, a cute blonde stares at me from the insides of a car while her guy friend fills it up with gas. As the couple leaves she's still gawking at my predicament so I give her one of those "what are you looking at" glares. She laughs, rolls down her window and yells out "welcome to Australia ass----!". It takes a minute but slowly a smile comes across my face and you know what?, it could be a lot worse. I mean, it's the end of December and how many places in the world could I be riding right now where the estimated high for the day will be 90 degrees?

Over a million people live in Perth, who's downtown is about 15 miles from the Indian Ocean. It's also the capital of Western Australia, the largest state in Australia.

Challenge Bank

Perth's tallest glass skyscrapers line St. Georges Terrace, THE business street address. Atop several of the structures the well-known names and logo's of Australia's biggest banks are visible. Knowing how banks like to occupy high-profile buildings in downtowns, I'm surprised to find Challenge Bank, the largest private bank in Western Australia, located on a side street in an unassuming 8-story structure. It's corporate logo, a green elongated "C" sits atop the side.

With over A$5 billion in assets it's the biggest bank in WA after BankWest (which is owned by the Western Australia government). Revenues in 1994 were A$401 million, profit A$41 million.

Waiting on the 7th floor to meet with Harvey Collins, General Manager-Corporate Planning, I check out the glass display case filled with bank memorabilia. There's a silver inkwell from 1863, a bank weekly payments ledger for 1862-1867 and a book filled with HAND-WRITTEN copies of bank correspondence sent out between 1863-1882. Boy, do we have it easy nowadays or what? Imagine being back in the days before duplicating machines; if you wanted a copy of a letter--you had to hand write the letter again on another piece of paper. What puzzles me about the display though is I keep seeing the initials "PBS" on everything.

So my first question to Collins is, "What's with the letters PBS?". Challenge Bank was listed as a public company in 1987. Its roots however go back to 1862 when it was established as the Perth Building Society, which is somewhat similar to a mutual savings. Advance Bank, whom I tried to visit in Sydney (and was unceremoniously told to get lost) was the first building society to convert to a bank following deregulation of the banking sector in 1984.

About 600 employees work in the building whose owner is the Unity Church. A painting by Russell Drysdale, a well-known Australian artist, graces the boardroom.

Nothing fancy about CEO Tony Howarth's seventh floor middle office. I count four real plants, note the computer on his desk, spot the Australian Rules football on a shelve and here's something unusual on his wall: since 1945, every captain of the Australian cricket team has signed a A$5 bill.

Collins says the Western Australia government is contemplating privatizing BankWest. Challenge Bank has let it be known they're interested in acquiring the bank. (For more information: CLG)

Wesfarmers Ltd.

Started in 1914 as a farmer's co-operative, Wesfarmers is Western Australia's largest company. Revenues in 1994 were A$2.4 billion, profit A$102 million. Wesfarmers is a diversified company with interests in fertilizers, chemicals, gas processing and distribution, coal mining and production, building and forest products, transporting, retailing and insurance.

Headquarters is downtown in a 12-story, reflective glass structure known as Wesfarmers House Building.

Hey, the first floor lobby area lets you know right away that you're visiting a company with its roots in farming. Scattered about is a 1925 wheat thrasher machine, a 1920 horse-drawn fertilizer spreader, an 1890 Peacock's horse drawn stripper (it removes grainheads from wheat stalks) and a 1920 Silage cutter/blower.

In another part of the lobby are glass display cases filled with aboriginal artifacts from the Tiwi people, who lived in this part of the country. Items on display include graveposts, spears and walking sticks.

In what I do, timing is an important element. There's nothing worse than showing up at a company the day of their annual meeting or the day massive layoffs are announced. In Australia I find out the end of December is another bad time: it's summer time here, you've got people on vacation, you've got Christmas and you've got New Year's holidays. Turns out that's my problem, according to Sue Byrne, Receptionist. A skeleton staff consisting mostly of receptionists is all that's here for the rest of the week according to Byrne. (For more information: WES AU)

Final comments and thoughts on New Zealand and Australia

The biggest boo-boo made was not having Woolworth Ltd. on my list of companies to visit. The Sydney-based supermarket retailer with almost A$12 billion in revenues, profit A$200 million has no connection (and never had) with New York-based Woolworth. I wrongly assumed it was a subsidiary or partly-owned by the New York retailer.

A month before arriving at a company I send a letter and background material addressed to the CEO. Some companies try to reach me on the road, usually to either acknowledge receiving the material or letting me know whom to contact upon arrival. The "Thanks, But No Thanks" award goes to Sydney-based Pioneer International (1994 revenues A$5.6 billion, profit A$162 million). The building materials company tracked me down with a fax saying, "We wish you well with your interesting project" but, goes on to advise me not to drop by their offices, which are located in a new downtown high-rise.

I wish media magnate Rupert Murdoch would make up his mind one way or the other as to where his News Corporation is based. It's suppose to be several miles from downtown Sydney in the building housing his Sydney morning newspaper. Showing up there, his staff says it ain't so--it's in Los Angeles. Then why doesn't the company incorporate in the US? If you recall I visited Fox Tower several years ago (it's the high-rise near Beverly Hills where the movie Die Hard with Bruce Willis was filmed) and besides having almost- billionaires Rupert Murdoch and oil man Marvin Davis as tenants--the top floor was occupied by former President Ronald Reagan.

Don't know if you're aware but, I don't camp--I stay at hotels and motels. I consider myself a corporate traveler (or road warrior) and as such, I try to stay where the business traveler stays. Name a chain and I've stayed in one of their properties. It runs the gamut from 5-star luxury hotels with butlers on each floor to hole-in-wall dives where I've slept with my shoes on the whole night to better stomp on cockroaches streaking by.

What do I look for in a hotel/motel? A clean, non-smoking room with reading lights containing high wattage bulbs (it's truly amazing how many places expect you to read and work under 60 watt bulbs), controls which allow ME and not the front desk or maintenance department controlling the temperature in the room and, a telephone system with plug-in capabilities for computers (i.e. BLOOMBERG Traveler).

So, how do accommodations in New Zealand and Australia compare to the US? Very similar. One noticeable difference: There's no knocking on doors in the upper-end hotels in NZ/Australia because the rooms are equipped with doorbells.

Move over Michelin and Mobil, I'm compiling my own listing and rankings of accommodations around the world. Some systems use stars, points, numbers or diamonds for scoring. I use kickstands. Five kickstands is the highest honor obtainable, followed by four, three, two and one. The following properties receive five kickstands: The Heritage Hotel in downtown Brisbane, the Regent Auckland in downtown Auckland, the Sheraton Towers Southgate in downtown Melbourne, the Observatory Hotel near downtown Sydney and the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Auckland.