On the road in Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Winnipeg, population 700,000 and capital of Manitoba, lies roughly 300 miles north of Minneapolis. Describing Winnipeg and the surrounding area in three words or less is easy: flat, flat and flat. This is prime grain growing country and farming is THE big business.
The car license plates in Manitoba read "Friendly Manitoba" and they can't be accused of false advertising because it's true. Mosquitoes are also very friendly here. Dozens have been giving me kisses. I have so many bites oops--I mean kisses--that I keep looking in a mirror to see if one of those flying pests painted a bulls-eye on the back of my shirt.
James Richardson & Sons, Ltd.
I can't complain about the reception at James Richardson & Sons, one of Canada's largest privately owned companies. Why? I meet with Cheryl Popiel, executive assistant to Chairman and Managing Director George Richardson. From experience I've learned the knowledge, power and clout wielded by executive assistants/ secretaries to CEO's is indeed formidable.
Since Richardson isn't here we sit in his office, located on the 30th floor of the second tallest building in town. Built in 1969 and known as the Richardson Building, it's part of an office building/hotel complex known as Lombard Place--which is owned by James Richardson & Sons.
With revenues of almost CN$2 billion, the company has its hands in a variety of businesses. Started in 1857, its Pioneer Grain Company operates the largest privately owned system of primary elevators in Canada. I can vouch for that because the colorful orange elevators have become a familiar sight along the roads I've been traversing. JR operates several terminal elevators, a pipeline construction company, 3,500 acre farming enterprise, three huge ocean bulk carriers, a gas exploration firm and, Richardson Greenshields, one of Canada's largest brokerage firms--which incidentally is the largest dealer in commodity futures contracts in Canada.
Over 500 employees work on the top six floors of the building. Until recently the 31st floor was for storage and the mechanical workings of the building. Now part of it has been converted into a company fitness center. Atop the building is a helipad and Popiel says Chairman Richardson, who'll be turning 70, flies a helicopter. Nothing fancy about Richardson's corner office. I note the computer, three real plants, a real fig tree, and lots of family pictures including two large oil paintings of his parents. On a wall behind his desk there's a picture of a company tanker transport and a picture of a company grain elevator--bright orange of course.
The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company
The corporate offices of The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company are extremely no-frills. Though most of its business results from insuring cars, the company has a life insurance subsidiary.
Built in 1978, the company-owned 90,000 square foot, nine-story structure is real blah looking. Over 220 employees occupy about 60% of the building.
CEO Gregg Hanson answers my questions sitting in his sparsely furnished, drabby-looking ninth floor corner office. Two oil paintings of birds hang on one wall; one is of an American bald eagle and the other, a Canadian loon. I tell Hanson I'm happy to see such spartan furnishings because I have an interest in the company; Wawanesa insures my car in San Diego.
I ask for an annual report and Hanson is hesitant to give me one saying "we only give them out to our policyholders". I get the feeling he doesn't believe I'm a policyholder so, I tell him to look up my name. Using the computer on his desk Hanson punches in my name and after a 10-second wait he says, "oh yes, here you are". Revenues in 1993 were CN$706 million, net income CN$64 million.
Wawa is an Indian name for Canadian goose and Wawanesa is a small town not far from Winnipeg.
United Grain Growers
United Grain Growers (1993 revenues CN$1 billion, net income CN$8 million) occupies five floors in the newest, tallest and spiffiest-looking structure in downtown Winnipeg, the 33-story Toronto-Dominion Centre.
Meeting casually dressed CEO Brian Hayward in his 28th floor office, he says it's been a year since United Grain Growers transformed itself from being the second-largest agricultural co-op in Canada to a publicly traded company. Though UGG's roots go back to 1906, Hayward is the first non-farmer to be CEO. Giving his office the once over I note the working grandfather clock (which Hayward estimates to be between 250-300 years old) and the bundle of dried prairie wildgrass decorating a table.
UGG is the largest agribusiness publisher in Canada. It publishes two national farm magazines and two farm newspapers. Publications service more than 100,000 farm families in Canada, through Country Guide, Cattlemen, Grainews, and Farmwoman. Didn't see a New York Times crossword puzzle in any of them.
Federal Industries Ltd. and CanWest Global Communications Corp.
Stepping off the elevator on the 31st floor of Toronto-Dominion Centre I'm expecting to find the offices of Federal Industries but instead it's CanWest Global Communications Corporation. Seems the two companies recently flip-flopped offices with Federal Industries vacating the plush digs of the 31st, 32nd and 33rd floors of the new glass tower to the sixth floor of the Richardson Building located across the street.
CanWest Global, with its five television stations, is the largest private television broadcaster in Canada. Unfortunately CanWest won't be broadcasting any information to me because Susan Macchia, Executive Assistant to CEO "Izzy" Asper comes out to the reception area and says "no one is available to talk to you". Before leaving I ask Macchia why there's a life-size toy kangaroo and sheep in the reception area. "We're part-owner of television stations in Australia and New Zealand", she replies.
It sure is quiet on the sixth floor of the Richardson Building as I check in with Linda Omichinski, receptionist-Federal Industries. The lack of noise might have something to do with Omichinski being the only one here. The company has been going through rough times and changes have been made. Though this is the "Head office", only a total of four people work here. The majority are in Toronto in the "Executive office".
Federal Industries (1993 revenues CN$1.4 billion, net loss CN$1 million) is a major processor and distributor of metal and metal products. The company also has interests in consumer and transport businesses such as SmithBooks, White Pass Transportation, Cashway Building Centres, Thunder Bay Terminals and Tri-Line Expressways. With losses in 1991 of CN$134 million and CN$63 million in 1992, the company made changes. Since most of the company's businesses are in Ontario it makes sense to be where the action is. So why bother having any presence in Winnipeg? It might be for sentimental reasons; Federal Industries was founded here back in 1962.
Though Omichinski says Chairman John Fraser received my advance material, he neglected to leave instructions as to what to do when I show up. It's for that reason she's reluctant to show me the boardroom and Fraser's office. She finally relents only under the condition I not write about what I see. Sorry folks, I'm a man of my word.
The Great-West Life Assurance Company
Last year Great-West Life, the third largest life insurance company in Canada with over CN$25 billion in assets and CN$5.2 billion in revenues, celebrated its 100th birthday. I make mention of this because the company received its first death claim in July of 1893. Seems the insured had been in a bicycle accident and the $1,000 of insurance "literally saved the beneficiary from destitution".
Headquarters, about a mile from downtown, sits across the street from the impressive Manitoba Legislative Building (which incidentally has two huge stuffed bison standing guard inside the entrance). Known as Great-West Life Centre, the five-story, 276,293 square foot structure looks more like a music hall or museum than a headquarters because of it table-top design and height limit (due to the Legislative building across the street). Built in 1983, there's a subterranean connection between this building and the former five-story, T-shaped head office built in 1959.
Midway between the two buildings in the underground connection lies the company cafeteria-which features a skylight allowing natural light to shine in. There're no executive dining rooms here, everyone eats together in the cafeteria.
Marlene Klassen, Manager-Communications Services, answers my questions and verifies the stories I've been hearing about Winnipeg's brutal winters. How nasty does it get? Behind headquarters is a block-long, uncovered employee parking lot and in front of each parking spot is an electrical outlet. Cars bought in Winnipeg come equipped with cords coming out of the engine block. The cords are plugged into the electrical outlet that prevents the engine from freezing up while at work. Incidentally, no one including executives, get covered parking.
About 1,700 employees work in the Great-West Life Centre complex. Walking around the grounds I spot a large number of bike racks and am impressed by the 35 bikes. Though these bike commuters are a hardy bunch I'm told come January nary a bike will be found here. Cold temperatures, combined with the wind chill factor, produce readings down to minus 50 below zero!!
Before this building was built: a stadium and before that, a brewery occupied the site.
Raymond McFeetors, CEO-Great-West Life Assurance, has a middle office on the fifth floor with a view of the Legislative building across the street. The company greenhouse operated on the premises supplies the two real plants in his office as well as the rest of the plants in the complex.
Touring the various floors (including the 5th where the executives are ensconced) I notice something they all have in common; each squeaks when you walk on it. Erecting this CN$40 million structure, raised floors were built to allow changing wiring and telephone-line configurations. Any benefits to this annoying squeaking? For one, you don't have to worry about the boss sneaking up on you.
Great-West Lifeco Inc. is the holding company for Great-West Life Assurance Company. Great-West Lifeco is in turn a subsidiary of Power Financial Company-headquartered in Montreal.
Riding 10 miles south of Winnipeg to visit Gendis proves a waste of time. Arja Heikkinen, administrative assistant to the Vice President of Human Resources, walks out to the reception area and says, "no one has time to talk to you".
Gendis, owns 51% of Sony of Canada Ltd, a joint venture with Sony Corporation to distribute Sony products in Canada. Besides operating a chain of retail stores called "The Sony Store", Gendis operates clothing stores throughout Canada under names such as: Greenberg, Saan, Casual Looks Plus, MetMart and Metropolitan. Gendis also participates in oil and gas exploration.
Located in an office park, the large one-story building was built in 1971 and contains a distribution center in the rear. Revenues in 1994 were CN$816 million, net income CN$18 million.
Heading 130 miles north of the Montana border will put you in Regina, population 180,000 and capital of Saskatchewan.
Would you have guessed this prairie town to be home to the world's largest man-made urban park? In the midst of this beautiful 2,500-acre park sits the majestic Saskatchewan Legislative Building. Built in 1912, the huge building is part English Renaissance style with a dash of Louis XVI. Reminds one of the Palace of Versailles. From the steps of the building it's amazing to look out over the huge belt of greenery-especially after viewing photos on display of the area before it was developed. The pictures, taken during the building's construction, shows a wind-swept prairie surrounding the structure, completely void of any vegetation. Construction of the park commenced in 1913.
Saskatchewan Wheat Pool
With 60,000 members and revenues of CN$1.6 billion in 1993, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is Canada's largest farmer-owned co-operative and the country's largest grain handler.
Six blocks from Regina's downtown core finds the 11-story headquarters building which looks to have been built in the late 1960's early 1970's. Fronting the structure is a connecting three-story building built in 1913. In the US, historic structures to be preserved are given names by various government bodies such as "historic site". In Canada they're called "heritage sites". The 1913 partly art-deco building is a designated "heritage site". Originally a department store, it became military supply depot and then a car dealership before the Wheat Pool bought the building in 1927.
Meeting with Craig Henry, information officer, I find out 500 employees work in the place.
CEO Don Loewen has a very plain office on the eighth floor that includes one fake plant, a sheaf of wheat and large globe. Printed on the back of Loewen's business card is the company's corporate mission statement.
Finding out the boardroom is donut-shaped proves significant. Why? Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is part owner of Northco Foods, the parent company of Robin's Donuts-a large chain of donut shops. Hanging on a wall in the boardroom are old photographs-including one showing the company's 1915 cricket team. The Wheat Pool wasn't formed until 1924 but evidently the name was in use before then.
Word has it that the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is contemplating going public--similar to what United Grain Growers did in Winnipeg.
Crown Life Insurance Company
In 1993, Crown Life Insurance moved its corporate headquarters from Toronto to Regina. That would be akin to New York Life Insurance up and moving from NYC to Topeka, Kansas. The result? Productivity is up-the same amount of business is handled by 20% fewer people and annual operating costs are $25 million dollars lower than several years earlier.
Headquarters is in a new nine-story, 150,000 square foot, blue reflective glass building. The company also occupies almost 50,000 square feet in two neighboring office towers. Over 1,000 employees work in the three buildings. Can you imagine the downtown merchants reaction to suddenly having 1,000 more people patronizing the area?
Outside, atop the front entrance doors is an impressive 10-foot tall sculpture of what looks to be a company crest: two mean- looking lions holding up a globe with a crown on top. I tell Barry Francis, Acting Director Corporate Communications, the sculpture crest looks familiar. I'm right. When in Toronto I dropped by Crown Life's old headquarters building on Bloor St. (it's now empty and looking forlorn) and remember seeing the same thing above the entrance doors. Francis says the company wanted to move the massive metal piece but the expense of taking it down and shipping was prohibited so, a mold was taken and a replica was put atop the entrance doors here.
Why does Francis's business card read "Acting Director, Corporate Communications"? Of the 1,300 employees who worked in Toronto only 300 elected to move to Regina. Francis was one who elected NOT to move. However, after the move, the new Director of Corporate Communications left and Francis was asked if he would temporarily take over the job.
Revenues in 1993 were CN$1.6 billion, net income CN$7 million and assets almost CN$8 billion.
Crown Life has the most impressive contemporary art collection I've seen in Canada. Established in 1970, the collection has grown to include more than 250 works by over 200 contemporary Canadian artists.
Though I don't get to see CEO Brian Johnson's office or the boardroom because they're both in use, Francis walks me around several floors, including the executive floor, to look at some of the art. My favorite is "Thunder Driven", an oil on masonite by William Kurelek showing farmers anxiously trying to finish baling wheat before an approaching thunderstorm reaches them.
The company cafeteria on the first floor is open to the public.
Saskatchewan Power Corporation
Many companies in Canada are called Crown Corporations, which means they're either owned by the government of Canada or a province. Saskatchewan Power Corporation (SaskPower) is a electrical utility company owned by the province of Saskatchewan.
Revenues in 1993 were CN$790 million, net come CN$81 million.
Corporate offices are in downtown Regina in a company-owned, 13-story, Y-shaped building built in 1963.
The main lobby area is unusual for two reasons: first, there's a large fish pond and second, one of the company's first trucks-a 1/4 ton 1930 Chevrolet pick-up is on display.
Ken Thomas, Director-Corporate Communications and Development, answers my questions, then it's on to checkout CEO Jack Messer's office. Messer has several sports related items in his office: On one wall hangs a framed $55 ticket stub from the 1992 Indy 500 plus, three framed tickets from the 1992 World Series and, a baseball signed by Toronto Blue Jay Dave Winfield. On another wall is a picture of his family's mustard farm and a hand-made quilted picture of a rural Saskatchewan scene. I count five real plants including a prickly pear cactus. Messer's nickname is "Cactus Jack". I spot several badminton rackets stashed behind a door and I'm told he's pretty good player.
SIDENOTE: There's been a big flap in Regina the last several weeks because it was disclosed CEO Messer had a private bathroom installed next to his office. A business reporter for the local newspaper, The Leader-Post, interviewed me for a story and asked if I saw the toilet in question. I answered, "yes" and explained I've seen hundreds of them connected to CEO's offices. It's a "given", sort of in the same category as the CEO getting a covered reserved parking spot. In the resulting news story published in the paper I'm quoted as saying "that's nothing", when asked about Messer's bathroom.
Here's another bathroom and media story: When visiting Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis back in 1987, headquarters was in a blah, windowless, converted airplane hanger at the airport. When using the restrooms I noticed there were no doors on the bathroom stalls. Asking about the doorless stalls I was told it was done intentionally to keep employees from sitting in there reading newspapers or whatever for long periods of time. Riding through Minneapolis again in 1992 I visited Northwest's new headquarters several miles from the airport and of course I made it a point to check the bathrooms and found doors on the stalls. Later in the year I'm in another city being interviewed by a business reporter of a big newspaper and I end up telling him the Northwest Airlines story. Imagine my horror when the reporter's interview with me is published and it's mentioned Northwest Airlines has no doors on it's bathroom stalls to keep employees from wasting time. The reporter neglected to mention this was back in 1987 at the OLD headquarters. Seems this news article made its way back to Minneapolis and needless to say, the folks at Northwest aren't too happy with me.
Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc.
Saskatoon, population 180,000, lies 160 miles northwest of Regina and is home to Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. With 1993 revenues of CN$374 million, net income CN$63 million, Potash Corporation holds 20% of world potash capacity.
Potash occupies five floors of a 11-story building in downtown Saskatoon. The fifth floor reception area contains 10 glass jars filled with potash in various stages of refinement. For visitors there's a basket filled with sample bags of potash. The back of the bags contain facts such as these: Saskatchewan has 40% of the world's potash reserves, 95% of all potash is used by the fertilizer industry, The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan was established as a Crown Corporation in February of 1975 and in November of 1989-PCS was privatized and became a publicly-traded company.
I receive a warm welcome from Betty-Ann Heggie, Vice President-Corporate Relations. Just over 100 employees work in the offices and I'm out of luck in seeing CEO Charles Childers 11th floor office and the boardroom because "meetings are taking place in both".
On the road in Alberta and Vancouver, BC
Edmonton, population 700,000, is as far north as I go in Canada. What do I like best about Edmonton? It's 10 p.m. and the sun is still shining here. What do I like least? The mosquitoes seem to get bigger and nastier the farther north you go. Besides being the capital of Alberta, it's home to the University of Alberta (30,000 students) and the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.
Edmonton's other claim to fame is the West Edmonton Mall. The enclosed shopping mall is 115 football fields long, has the world's largest indoor lake with four real submarines, world's largest amusement park, world's largest indoor wave pool and over 800 stores and 110 eating places. Normally I stay away from crowded places like this (it's packed!) but I have a reason for going: a friend of mine collects pins from Hard Rock Cafes around the world and since this one just opened--I said I'd stop and help her add to the collection. It's amazing, people are standing two and three deep to buy T-shirts, mugs, ashtrays, caps etc. with the Hard Rock Cafe logo. Most expensive item? A Hard Rock varsity jacket goes for CN$240.00.
Until being privatized in 1990, Alberta Government Telephone was owned by the province of Alberta. TELUS Corporation was created to be the holding company for what is now the third largest telecommunications group in Canada. Revenues in 1993 were CN$1.3 billion, net income CN$181 million.
I ask Lyn Brown, Public Affairs-Senior Advisor, "Who came up with the name TELUS?". I'm handed a brochure on the subject. Chosen with the assistance of an outside agency, the following objectives were considered: unique and proprietary, relates to telecommunications and information management, friendly yet futuristic and finally, translatable. I'm sold on the name, after all, in the US we have phone companies with names like NYNEX, Ameritech and Pacific Telesis.
Corporate offices are in two-building complex in downtown Edmonton overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Built in 1971, the company-owned structures rise 35-stories and 26-stories respectively, for a total of 787,000 square feet of space. Over 3,500 employees work in the complex.
Located in plaza area outside the buildings is the "world's largest holographic sculpture". This strange-looking 125 meter sculpture, entitled "Lumetric Sail", is a high frequency hologram created by artist Michael Hayden. It's composed of a sail and 30 banners on a flag pole.
Until recently you could zip up to the 33rd floor to a public observation area but it's now closed due to insurance regulations. There's a 13th floor button in the elevator and I find the floor houses the cafeteria.
On the 31st floor, I get a warm welcome from Marilyn Simmons, Assistant to CEO Hal Neldner, then she walks me in to meet her boss. Of course by now you know the first thing I do upon meeting a CEO of a phone company; I check his phone. It's a black Northern Telecom phone. Neldner has a great view up and down the river from his corner office and says he doesn't have to worry about losing it because buildings can't be built any closer than this to the riverbank.
Nothing special about the boardroom, which contains a horseshoe-shaped table.
Brown looks through a file and finds this dandy piece of trivia on the 35-story building: the total elapsed time for a body to fall from the top of the building to the ground would be 5.25 seconds and such an object would reach a speed of 168 feet per second or 114.5 mph. the instant before impact. Who do I thank for the info? Kevin Johnson, a student engineer working in the Engineering Department for the summer.
Interprovincial Pipe Line Inc.
Two blocks down the street from TELUS sits the 21-story IPL Tower, home to Interprovincial Pipe Line. IPL operates the world's longest petroleum pipeline and revenues in 1993 were CN$395 million, net income CN$80 million).
Revenues for 1994 will increase dramatically thanks to IPL's recent CN$1.2 billion acquisition of The Consumers' Gas Company Ltd., a natural gas utility. That's the reason Byron Neiles, Manager-Government Relations, says I can't see CEO Brian MacNeil's office. In May of this year the company changed its name to IPL Energy Inc. and relocated headquarters to Calgary where head honcho MacNeil now hangs his hat. This means IPL in Edmonton is just a subsidiary of the parent, IPL Energy.
The company-owned IPL Tower features a seven-story atrium and occupies all but two of the floors. Over 500 employees work here.
President Patrick Daniel's office contains a picture of his son playing hockey, a toy white Porsche and I note the portable computer.
In the US, many boardrooms contained the US flag, state flag and company flag. In Canada I've been finding very few flags. IPL's boardroom contains two miniature flags of Canada.
Calgary, with a population of 700,000, lies 200 miles south of Edmonton. Its impressive downtown skyline looks remarkably similar to another oil & gas center--Denver, Colorado.
Standing in the lobby of this 37-story, silverish-colored edifice I tell Morag Erskine, Public Affairs, that this building looks strangely familiar. Erskine says many people have told her that there's a similar-looking building in Denver. "Ahh-ha", I exclaim, "that's where I've seen it!".
Built in 1982, Nova Corporation occupies all of the space, with over 2,000 employees working in the one million square foot building. Though the company's name and logo are on the structure, NOVA is only a renter.
NOVA, with 1993 revenues of CN$3.3 billion, net income CN$202 million, is an international natural gas and petrochemical company.
Senior management gets to park in the four levels of underground parking. During a tour of the company's fitness center I note it takes 14 laps around the indoor track to equal a mile.
CEO Ted Newell has a corner office on the 36th floor with a great view of the Canadian Rockies and the nearby Bow River. Newell's green carpeted, black marbled office contains lots of family pictures.
Jade-colored chairs circle the oval-shaped boardroom table with three soap-stone carvings and two real plants taking up positions around the perimeter of the room.
Built in 1990, I'm on the top floor (52nd) of the tallest building in Canada outside of Toronto. Normally you can see the Canadian Rockies in the not too distant but, with dozens of fires raging out of control in Idaho, Washington, Montana and British Columbia, all I see is dark haze.
Petro-Canada, the largest Canadian-owned oil and gas company, occupies floors 3-29 and 49-52 in this granite-clad high-rise built in 1984. Though I don't see a name on it, Andre Valade, Executive Advisor to the President and CEO, says it's called Petro-Canada Centre.
We go through my questions sitting on a sofa in the reception area and I must admit it's very distracting when Valade keeps looking up everytime someone walks by. Makes me feel like he isn't paying attention. Then again, I'm not complaining because I appreciate him taking time to meet with me.
Over 1,200 employees work in the building which is owned jointly by Petro-Canada and ARCI Ltd. I can't see the boardroom or CEO Jim Stanford's office because "they're being used".
Petro-Canada was established in 1975 as a Crown corporation. In 1991 the company was privatized, with the Government of Canada still holding over 70% of the shares. Revenues in 1993 were CN$4.6 billion, net income CN$162 million.
TransCanada PipeLines Ltd.
In the shadow of the Petro-Canada building but still part of the Petro-Canada Centre complex, sits the 32-story TransCanada PipeLines Tower. David Annesley, Director-Public Affairs says CEO George Watson was looking forward to being my contact person but has international guests visiting today. Annesley asks if his subbing for the boss is okay with me. "Sure", I reply.
I make note of the Canadian, company and province of Alberta flags in the 30th floor reception area as well as the western oil painting by Neil Howard entitled, "The Calvary" showing Royal Canadian Mountain Police charging on horses.
TransCanada PipeLines, with revenues in 1993 of CN$4.2 billion, net income CN$356 million, is a transporter of natural gas and operates one of the largest pipeline systems in the world
The company occupies floors 17-31, this means from the main reception area on the 30th floor, you GO DOWN to the CEO’s office on the 29th, instead of the traditional UP.
Oh oh, things are starting out on the wrong foot at PWA, a holding company who's principal subsidiary is Canadian Airlines International. Stepping off the elevator on the 28th floor of the 41-story Scotia Centre the receptionist greets me by looking up and saying "Where do I sign". Turns out she thinks I'm making a delivery for Federal Express. Waiting in the tiny, cramped seven chair reception area I notice stains in the carpet and applications on a coffee table for a Royal Bank of Canada/Canadian Airlines International Visa card.
The very outgoing Laurie Schild, Manager-News Services and Media Relations, answers most of my questions before walking me DOWN via a staircase to visit with CEO Kevin Jenkins on the 27th floor. Boy, this is very unusual, two companies in a row where the CEO is located on a lower floor instead of the top floor.
PWA, which stands for Pacific Western Airlines and NOT Paul Wolsfeld's Airline, has rented space in the building for eight years and occupies six floors. Over 2,000 employees work in the Alberta area.
Nice guy Jenkins, 37 years old, has been CEO for about a month. This explains his sparsely-furnished office. Matter of fact, Jenkins says all the furniture is rented. However, having visited all the major airlines, I do find one item in his office that seems to be mandatory in every airline CEO's office: model company airplanes. Jenkins has one; a DC-10 painted Canadian Airlines International colors.
Walking down the hall to look at the boardroom we pass a man wearing a suit sitting behind a secretary's desk doing a little typing. Jenkin introduces me to the man by jokingly saying, "this is probably the world's highest paid secretary". Turns out it's Rhys Eyton, current Chairman and former CEO (the man who turned the CEO's job over to Jenkins). Nothing fancy about the boardroom or the donut-shaped table.
Revenues for six months ending June 30, 1994 were CN$1.4 billion, net loss CN$66 million. Schild repeatedly reminds me PWA recorded a CN$1.5 million profit for the second quarter of 1994, a substantial improvement on the CN$130.6 million loss posted in the same quarter of 1993.
TransAlta Utilities Corporation
The majority of downtown Calgary office high-rises are in 10-block long by 5-block core. The Bow River serves as a buffer on one side, while railroad tracks seems to act as a buffer on the other side. TransAlta Utilities Corporation's two building, 656,000 square foot complex, sits on the "other" side of the tracks.
About 800 employees work in the two, company-owned bulky-looking, 10-story structures. Lorne Christensen, Communications Specialist, says the utility company changed its name in 1981 from Calgary Power to TransAlta Utilities to better reflect the company's service to a large portion of Alberta province.
Nothing unusual to report here. CEO Ken McReady has a computer in his office as well as five soapstone carvings. Revenues in 1993 was CN$1.3 billion, net income CN$169 million.
Also located on the "other" side of the tracks in downtown Calgary is ATCO Ltd., a company founded in 1946 by Don Southern, a fireman. ATCO, short for Alberta Trailer Company, has come a long way since its days of renting utility trailers. Now, the company's largest operating group is Canadian Utilities Ltd., one of Canada's largest investor-owned utilities. ATCO Resources, an oil & gas exploration company and ATCO Enterprises, which manufactures, sells and leases relocatable workforce housing are the company's two other major operating groups. Revenues in 1993 were CN$ 1.8 billion, net income CN$71 million.
ATCO corporate offices occupy the top floor of a 16-story building housing its Canadian Utilities subsidiary. Gene Zadvorny, Director-Public Affairs, gives me an enthusiastic welcome and extensive tour of the building. It turns out Zadvorny was responsible for putting together the well done walk-through exhibit located on the first floor lobby which chronicles the company's history.
Eight ATCO employees occupy the 16th floor with CEO Ronald Southern having a very large office filled with all kinds of interesting items. Southern, in his early 60's and son of the company's founder, has a great view of the mountains AND of the downtown skyline from his corner because he's on the fringe of town. Besides his regular desk, Southern's green carpeted, wood paneled office contains a stand-up desk, plaster molds of his two daughters in a glass display case, a gas fireplace, a horses bridle, a giant globe that lights up and an oil painting of his founding stallion. Founding stallion? In 1976 Southern established Spruce Meadows, an equestrian and breeding center, which annually stages many of the world's top show jumping tournaments.
Formerly an outside balcony connected to his office, Southern enclosed the area with glass and uses it for additional working space. Sort of looking like a solarium, the room contains ten plants hanging from the ceiling--all fake.
If for any reason you need to call ATCO or Canadian Utilities, don't ever worry about getting someone's voice mail here because it's forbidden per Southern's orders.
The boardroom contains an outside balcony and I spot a barbecue grill on it as well as a fake owl. "Is it a gas BBQ?", I ask. "Of course!, we're a natural gas company, it better be", Zadvorny answers. The owl's job is to keep messy pigeons away.
Scattered on different floors are quite a few western bronzes and oil paintings with western scenes including several works by Nicholas de Grand Maison--one of Canada's most famous western artists. Definitely the most impressive collection of western art I've seen in Canada.
Canada Olympic Park
Ten miles west of downtown Calgary sits Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. It's now being used as a year-round training facility plus, it's a popular tourist stop. Being from snowless San Diego I'm not too familiar with winter sports--occasionally catching a few minutes of the Olympics on television. You know the 90-meter ski jump? Boy!, until actually standing next to it I've never realized how high up those skiers are. The bobsled run? I didn't know it zigged-zagged down the mountain for almost a mile.
In a corner of the park I spot about half-dozen guys taking turns pushing, then jumping face down onto this odd contraption which looks like a sled on tracks. Being curious I ride over to find out what's going on. Ryan Davenport tells me they're practicing skeleton racing. Huh? Luge racing is going down the bobsled run on a sled-lying on your back with feet first. Skeleton racing (a relatively new event--being only in the last three Olympics) is essentially the same thing except you go head first lying on your belly.
Anyway, Davenport, who just happens to be the Canadian skeleton champ & currently ranked sixth in the world, and his buddies are practicing their running starts. It's the middle of summer (meaning no snow) and the sled is attached to a railroad track on a long asphalt lined runway. Pushing off the starting block, you push the sled, then hop on---with your face INCHES from the ground and your hands tucked to your sides. Oh, did I mention after jumping on you encounter a 50-foot drop-off halfway down the runway which sends you barreling to the bottom of this giant dip-- only to come roaring back up the other side with the feeling you're going to be launched into space? Why am I telling you this? Guess who was talked into doing it. Yep, yours truly. How close is your face to the ground? Whizzing by, I was close enough to see an ant using a toothpick to clean his teeth. How dangerous is this sport? Punctured lungs, broken bones and cracked ribs were just some of the injuries suffered by these seemingly sane athletes.
More on the road in Alberta and Vancouver BC
The 1,000-acre Stanley Park next to downtown Vancouver sure is handy. During lunch you can walk, run, bike or jog around the huge waterfront park, which is larger than New York's Central Park. Ten miles away, Vancouver's wealthiest live on waterfront estates near the heavily-wooded campus of the University of British Columbia.
Westcoast Energy Inc.
Dropping by Friday morning to visit Westcoast Energy I'm informed by the security guard that employees have the day off. Why? During the summer, employees come to work earlier and stay later during the other four days so they can have Friday off. Westcoast Energy, with 1993 revenues of CN$3.6 billion, net income CN$158 million, is the largest distributor of natural gas in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
It's Monday morning and I'm back again to visit this strange-looking headquarters building in downtown Vancouver. Built in 1969, the 15-story glass facade structure is the only office building in North America (they think), and one of few in the world, which is totally suspended by steel cables. The building consists of a central reinforced concrete core 270 feet in height. Twelve sets of cables are fixed to its crown. Hanging free around the perimeter, they are attached to and support the outer ends of each floor's supporting steel beams. The inner ends of the beams are bolted to the concrete core. What does this mean? The suspension system eliminates the need for supporting columns within the building, meaning there's clear space on each floor from the core to the outer windows.
What the building's uniqueness REALLY means is that parking in the five levels of underground parking is a piece of cake because there aren't any of those pesky steel columns obstructing movement or vision.
My meeting with Stephen Duncan, Director-Public & Government Affairs, includes being taken onto the roof of the building to see first hand, the view and, the steel cables sticking out of the concrete core.
Over 250 employees work in the building-which includes a numbered 13th floor. Several episodes of the television show MacGyver were filmed here.
Items found in CEO Michel Phelps' harbor-view office includes a soapstone carving of a polar bear and Eskimo in combat and, a section of pipe used in the company's pipelines.
James Pattison Group
Privately-held James Pattison Group with revenues over CN$3 billion, has its hands in a variety of far-reaching businesses. Some of its major operating groups include:
(1) Overwaitea Food Group, the largest western-based food store chain in Canada.
(2) Canadian Fishing Company, Canada's second-largest processor of salmon and herring roe.
(3) The Jim Pattison Sign Group, Canada's largest electric sign company.
(4) Out of Home Media Group, Canada's largest billboard advertising company.
(5) The Automotive Group, the largest in Canada, operates 10 car dealerships.
(6) The News Group is the fourth-largest periodical distributor in North America.
(7) Owns and operates 25 Ripley's Believe It or Not! museums in seven countries.
(8) The Broadcasting Group operates four radio stations and one television station in British Columbia.
(9) The Food Service Packaging Group includes Fibracan-Canada's largest manufacturer of retail foam cups.
(10) The Flexible Packaging Group includes Continental Extrusion Corp., North America's only manufacturer of square-bottom recyclable plastic bags.
(11) Specialty Packaging includes Coroplast Inc., the largest supplier of twin-wall corrugated plastic sheet to the graphics arts and packaging markets in North America.
Corporate offices for the James Pattison Group are on the 16th floor of Guinness Tower, a plain-looking 23-story building fronting the harbor. Stepping off the elevator I'm disappointed to find nothing interesting in the reception area. Jeez, you'd think owning Ripley Believe It or Not! museums would give them some creative ideas.
Talking to the receptionist and the secretary standing next to her is like talking to a brick wall. Here's the exchange which took place: "Could you call up Mr. Pattison's secretary to find out who ended up with my advance material", I ask. Receptionist answers, "I'm sure it ended up with Maureen Chant and she's on vacation for two weeks". "I'm only in town for a few days-is there someone else you could call?", I ask. "No, Maureen is Mr. Pattison's assistant and she would take care of this", the receptionist replies. "Could you call up Mr. Pattison to see if he might be able to refer me to someone else?", I inquire. "No, he isn't in", the receptionist responds. "Do you have a Public Relations or Corporate Communications department?, I ask. The secretary pipes up and says, "Maureen would be the one who received your material and she would be the one you'd have to see", Getting frustrated I say, "Look, I'm only here for a few days and I don't want to leave town only to find out later that my letter had been referred to so and so". "Maureen is the person you need to see", the receptionist answers. "So, let me get this straight-you're a multi-billion dollar company with over 15,000 employees and because Mr. Pattison's assistant is on vacation nobody can help me?". I get a polite smile from the two of them and that's that--believe it or not!.
Placer Dome Inc.
Placer Dome, a global mining company with interests in 16 operating mines (13 of them gold mines), occupies three and a half floors in a 40-story downtown office tower. Revenues in 1993 were CN$1.2 billion, net income CN$138 million.
Highlighting the reception area are several glass display cases. One case displays twenty colorful rocks, each containing a type of mineral. Examples; there's a volcanic rock hosting a vein of rare visible gold and, a piece of galena ore containing the mineral lead. The other case contains 20 specimens of beautiful crystals (which have been called the flowers of the mineral world). Examples: prismatic emerald-green dioptase (used for jewelry) on calcite and, rhodochrosite-a pink-banded manganese crystal of carbonate. Lucky for me, instead of having to write down the names, I'm presented with two large posters of the crystals and rocks on display-which includes the name, description and the location of the mine where it was extracted.
Answering questions and showing me around are Jim Tennant, Vice President-Human Resources, Jim Gowans, Assistant to the President and, Hugh Leggatt, Manager-Corporate Communications.
With the three guys above running interference I have no problems getting access. The boardroom and CEO's office are on the 16th floor. Though CEO Wilson is in a meeting in his office-he beckons me in and I do a quick look-around taking mental notes; corner office, nice view of harbor, has a computer and a large globe of the world.
Tidbits: the company's art collection, hung on the various floors, consists of landscape scenes by North American artists. The boardroom contains a large fake tree. In almost every Placer Dome office around the world (including here in corporate) there's a conference name called, "The Poker Room". Why? The table's circular and the lights are usually dim.
Founded in 1906, Cominco, one of the world's largest producers of zinc and lead concentrates, is the oldest operating mining company in Canada.
The company leases the fourth and fifth floors of a new reflective glass building near the waterfront. Taking up the expansive first floor is the Vancouver Information and Visitors Center. Right across the street sits the Vancouver convention center.
Stepping off the elevator, it takes a minute to figure out the long, tall hallway who's ceiling comes to an arched point. Ralph Eastman, Public Relations Officer, says the effect is suppose to be that of walking through a mine. To prove his point we walk back to the banks of elevators. Next to two of the elevators are five-feet long by two-feet wide areas of open space where you can look down and see four or five floors down. The idea here being they're similar to a mine shaft.
Until 1986, Cominco (Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company) was a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Ltd. Revenues in 1993 were CN$982 million, loss CN$113 million.
CEO Robert Hallbauer's corner office contains seven white leather chairs, two horseshoes, a picture of Hallbauer ice fishing and a jade carving of an Orca whale. The lucky guy can also step outside on his deck and take in the harbor view.
The boardroom is unusual with its white walls contrasting with the black donut-shaped boardroom table and 18 black chairs. Matter of fact, several members of a movie crew are in the room conversing over whether to use the room in an upcoming movie.
Finning sells, finances and services heavy-duty industrial Caterpillar equipment in Canada, Europe and South America. Revenues for six months ending June 30, 1994 were CN$736 million, net income CN$29 million.
Located in an industrial area, headquarters is a two-story building butting the railroad tracks several miles from downtown. Next to the building is a large area for servicing equipment and I see dozens of pieces of machinery such as front-loaders painted Caterpillar's distinctive yellow.
After waiting in the spartan lobby area for several minutes Vin Coyne, Manager-Corporate Communications, walks up and says no one has time to spend a few minutes with me because (and I quote) "We're having to stay focused on recovering from the 91 recession". Definitely one of the lamest excuses I've heard.
MacMillan Bloedel Ltd.
Corporate offices for MacMillan Bloedel, Canada's largest forest products company, are in an unusual-looking, three year-old, 23-story building in downtown Vancouver. What's unusual about it? I've seen more than my share of ornate buildings with the exterior clad with ugly-looking gargoyles, however, it's the first time I've seen life-size statues of nurses adorning the sides of an office building.
Valerie Sharp, Manager-Investor Relations, gives me the lowdown. Seems the building, called Cathedral Place, lies on the site of a former hospital. The nurses statues were put up in commemoration.
MacMillan Bloedel (there was a Mr. MacMillan and a Mr. Bloedel) leases floors 2-8 and 21-23. Revenues in 1993 were CN$3.8 billion, net income CN$53 million.
Though CEO Robert Findlay's middle office on the 23rd floor isn't big--its ceiling is one of the tallest I've seen. Must be a 40-foot reach to the cathedral-like ceiling which creates a small echo when talking. Lots of nik-naks on Findlay's shelves behind his desk including a candy dish fashioned from a huge gear tooth off an old piece of machinery. I see a laptop computer, a hockey stick, a golf trophy (he's suppose to be a pretty good golfer), four real plants (I'd think it'd awfully embarrassing for a forest products company CEO to have fake plants), a black wooden chair with McGill University's name imprinted on the back (experience is teaching me that when you donate a large sum of money to a university, the school will reciprocate by giving you a black wooden chair with the school's name on the back). Findlay uses not one-but two desks in his office.
My visit lasts several hours, which includes being interviewed for the company employee newsletter and, being taken into the Back Room. The Back Room? CEO Findlay has back problems so, there's a room which allows him to lie on a machine called, The Backtech 2000, while watching company videos on a television screen. Of course I ask Sharp if I can try it out and guess what--it's very comfortable.
After spending several hours at MacMillan Bloedel I walk down the street a few blocks to visit Canfor Corporation, another integrated forest products company who's biggest subsidiary is Canadian Forest Products Ltd.
At MacMillan Bloedel I was greeted with open arms, here it's a "what do you want, we haven't got time for you" welcome.
Canfor, 1993 revenues CN$ 1.2 billion, net income CN$41 million, (who's name is derived from the first three letters of the words, Canadian Forest) leases three and a half floors in a 35-story, downtown high-rise.
Unsmiling Darrel Mawhinney, General Manager, Corporate Communications Services, says he'll give me "just five minutes" because he's shorthanded due to his secretary being out and many others on vacation.
Three hundred employees work here. Needless to say Mawhinney isn't interested in giving me a tour of the place-let alone seeing the boardroom and CEO's office.
On the back of Mawhinney business card is Canfor's mission statement: "We will be a highly successful competitor in the global forest products industry, managing with integrity the resources entrusted to our care. We will be guided by the core values of integrity, trust, openness and respect for people."