On the road in and around Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida...
Spalding & Evenflo Companies
Privately-held Spalding & Evenflo Companies is owned by a Venezuelan companyóFinser. This company isnít on my original list of companies to visit. The Spalding part of the name is sporting goods, as in Spalding baseballs and thatís what made me think it might be an interesting company to visit. Wrong.
Headquarters is in a one-story building about a half mile from Tampa Airport in an office park. I have my first clue of whatís to come when I realize thereís no lobby/reception area. Instead, the first thing a visitor sees is a solid door with one of those combination gadgets above itóthe kind where you push in a code and the door opens. To the left of the door is a speaker box and buzzer.
So I press the buzzer and hear a faint voice. I tell whoever it is that I canít hear them. A woman finally opens the door and asks me if I need help. I explain what Iím doing and tell her I sent my letter of introduction three weeks earlier to Ricardo Cisneros, Chairman of the Board. She says his office is in Venezuela.
The woman agrees to answer my questions but only while standing in the hallway. I ask her why she canít invite me in and she tells me there "isnít any room." (!?)
Why is Spalding & Evenflo Companies headquartered in Tampa, I ask her. Because the vice president who runs the company lives in Tampa. How many people work in the corporate offices? 20. What is Evenflo? Evenflo makes baby products such as car seats and breast enhancers. Did you see the movie, "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle?" If so, remember when the wife goes to the nannyís house and sees the babyís room? On a shelf in the nursery thereís a Evenflo breast enhancer.
Kash NíKarry Food Stores
Privately-held Kash Ní Karry Food Stores is the 39th largest grocery store chain in the United States. How do I know? I ask Leland Carawan, Vice-President Sales & Marketing, what the companyís 1991 revenues were. He doesnít answer directly. Instead he shows me an article in a trade magazine which ranks Kash Ní Karry as the 39th largest supermarket chain in the country.
Most supermarket headquarters I visit have a big distribution center on the property and Kash Ní Karry is no exception. Next to the corporate offices is a 600,000 square-foot distribution center. A week or so before my arrival, the company distributed a memo throughout the building announcing my visit. That makes me feel like Iím a big deal. Quite a few employees (thereís 300 in the building) come up and greet me by name. They also kid me about having to ride my bike in the rain.
Ronald Floto, the CEO, has something VERY unusual in his third-floor corner office. Itís a big pouch which looks like leather. Turns out to be a bullís scrotum.
Lykes Brothers is a privately-held company in a variety of businesses: food processing, insurance, shipping (as in ships) and private label consumer products such as orange juice and deli meats. "Forbes" magazine estimates the companyís revenues at $600 million.
Lykes Brothers recently moved into new offices, a block away from its old offices. The company now occupies two and a half floors in a 35-story bank building. Iím given a warm welcome and an extensive tour of the place.
Strangely enough, earlier that same day when I stopped by the local newspaper, several business reporters told me that Lykes Brothers never talks to anyone. Not true with me. They even invite
me into the small company lunchroom so they can show me the companyís own brand of orange juice being dispensed.
The main lobby/reception area has a model of one of Lykes Brothersís cargo ships. Mounted on one of the walls in the reception area are four elevator doors. The old headquarters building (the one they recently vacated) was built in the early 1900ís. The company decided to save the elevator doors because of their beautiful intricate carvings on the front.
Rankin Thompson, the CEO, has an antique mailbox slot in his modestly furnished office, which I assume also came from the old headquarters building.
That evening I read an item in the local paper which mentions Lykes Brothers has a controlling interest in First Florida Bank. First Florida Bank just happens to be headquartered in Lykes Brothersís new building.
FLS Holdings is the holding company for Florida Steel, a regional steel manufacturer. In 1988 the company was taken private in a $306 million LBO. Located a few miles from downtown Tampa, the corporate offices are in a bland two-story building which looks like it was built in the 1960ís.
I ask Ronald Woerner, Administrator, Creative Services, if he knows of anything unusual about the company or its headquarters. He tells me people like to change one of the words in the companyís slogan. The slogan, found on company business cards, letterheads & signs reads: "Steel when you need it." People change it to: "Steal when you need it."
Tech Data Corporations
Tech Data Corporation is the nationís third-largest wholesale distributor of personal computers and PC hardware. (Revenues $441 million in 1991) Located in Clearwater, just outside of Tampa, corporate offices are in a three-story, 145,000 square-foot, company-owned building built in 1989.
Steve Raymund, 35 years old, is the CEO. His father, Edward founded the company back in 1974. I meet with Arthur Singleton, Treasurer, in his third-floor office. To see the CEOís office we have to go back down to the first floor. Raymundís glass enclosed office overlooks the large room housing the sales force. I am told Raymund likes to be "where the action is."
Company headquarters also has three racquetball courts. (For more information see: TECD)
Raymond James Financial
Raymond James Financial, a securities brokerage firm, has its corporate offices in a good-looking, 180,000 square-foot, six-story, company-owned building about 15 miles from downtown St. Petersburg. (Revenues for the three months ended 12/91 were $80.9 million)
Located in an office park, the company is already making plans to build an additional 120,000 square-foot structure. Why? According to Lawrence Silver, Vice President, Investor Relations, business is booming. Silver takes instant offense when I call Raymond James, a "regional" brokerage firm. "We have over 600 offices around the country!" he tells me proudly.
Iím impressed with the size of the trading floor, which, according to Silver, is one of the largest trading floors in the world outside of New York City.
I particularly notice the tie Silver is wearingóit has a brightly-colored map of the London subway system on it. Apparently, Thomas James, the CEO, along with the companyís other employees, periodically have glee tie contests. (For more information see: RJF)
DID YOU KNOW...
When I think of St. Petersburg, I think of old people. According to the literature I pick up at the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the median age for the city is 43.4 years. Tampa has a population of 280,000 and St. Petersburg 238,000.
Riding around downtown St. Petersburg, I check out the Florida Suncoast Dome. Itís designed for use as a Major League Baseball stadium, but St. Petersburg has yet to attract a Major League team.
While Iím waiting for the light to change at a busy intersection. A scruffy-looking man in his early 30ís stands on the corner holding up a cardboard sign which reads: "will work for food." As I watch, three old ladies in a car slow down and approach the man. Without stopping the car, one of the old ladies rolls down a window and throws dollar bills at the man. The old ladies speed away while the man scrambles to pick up the money. In a few seconds itís over. Sad.
Mark III Industries
Ocala, Florida is about 60 miles north of Tampa and is home to Mark III Industries. Iím riding down a tree-lined, two-lane country road surrounded on both sides by farmland, when all of a sudden I see hundreds of vans parked in large fields.
What the heck?, Charles Dorrity, President, Mark III Industries, explains the company has over 7,000 vans parked on their property. Why? Because Mark III is the largest van conversion company in the world. The privately-held company has about $400 million in revenues and 25% of the van conversion market.
Iím given a warm and enthusiastic welcome by Dorrity and R.T. Boyd, III, CEO. The 76-acre site has several company buildings (totaling 350,000 square feet) including corporate headquarters and an assembly plant.
The tour of the assembly plant is one of the most interesting Iíve seen. What the company basically does is this: it purchases new vans from manufacturers, guts the insides and turns them into luxurious mini-vans, complete with such niceties as wood paneling, plush seats, wall to wall carpeting and insulation.
I tell Dorrity the worn Bible on his desk is only the second Bible Iíve seen in a CEOís or Presidentís office. (The other one was in the CEOís office at Crown America Corporation in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.) Dorrity also has a wood plaque on his wall which says "Jesus." I ask him what role, if any, religion plays in his company.
Dorrity tells me the company has a full-time chaplain and his full-time assistant with their own office in the building. Thereís also a Christian bookstore next to the company cafeteria.
About 1,200 employees work at the headquarters/plant. Because of all the wood paneling for the luxury vans, Mark III Industries has the largest cabinet shop in the state of Florida. The company also has 87 acres of adjacent farmland for future expansion. Dorrity says business is way up over last year.
R.T. Boyd, III, 26 years old, is the CEO. His father founded the company. Boyd has a sign hanging from the ceiling over his desk which says, "think." He also his a figurine of Jesus in his office.
On the road in and around Orlando, Florida...
I find Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach, Florida which is not far from Orlando. I have no idea Piper Aircraft is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection until Stuart Millar, CEO, tells me. Millar then proceeds to embark on a ten minute speech covering the history of the company.
He follows this speech with a ten minute tirade against lawyers and how they are responsible for the companyís downfall. A rash of product liability lawsuits forced Piper to seek bankruptcy protection.
Millarís business card is a first for me: it doesnít say CEO, Chairman, or Chairman of the Board. Instead it saysóOwner. Millar, a pilot in World War II, walks only 75 steps or so from his office to the airport tarmac to board the company plane. (No surprise what kind of company plane this company owns.)
Later in the day I pick up a local newspaper and find out Piper Aircraft is up for sale. Five Canadian groups are making bids for the company. A move to Canada is pretty certain for Piper because of the crushing financial costs imposed under U.S. liability laws.
The National Enquirer
The community of Lantana, about ten miles south of Palm Beach, has a surprising claim to fame. Itís the corporate headquarters for "The National Enquirer." Certain inquiring minds will want to know, I add the company to my list of company stops.
I find the companyís shrubbery-shrouded offices located near the railroad tracks, about a mile from the ocean. I unsuccessfully spend ten minutes explaining to two receptionists that I donít want "The National Enquirer" to do a story on ME, rather I want to do a story on THEM.
These receptionists finally hand me a form letter which thanks me for visiting "The National Enquirer." The letter goes on to say, "It is impossible for us to conduct interviews with people who walk into our headquarters."
Since the receptionists wonít contact anyone for me, I walk across the street to a pay phone at a softball field. I end up talking with the secretary to the Editor. She tells me, yes, they had received my letter but, no, "the Board decided not to participate."
Iím sure my reception would have been different if I had introduced myself as an interstellar alien who had had an affair with Dolly Parton.
On the road in and around Jacksonville, Florida...
Florida Rock Industries
Edward Baker, the CEO at Florida Rock Industriesóa regional construction materials companyóhas a real macho-looking office. As I enter, I walk over a zebra skin rug (zebra shot by Baker.) Then I notice the stuffed ramís head over the door complete with a huge set of antlers.
The main lobby area holds the companyís "yacht". Actually, itís an 800-year-old Indian canoe discovered on Florida Rock property. The ten-and-one-half-foot long pine canoe has been carbon-dated to as early as 1090 AD (For more information see: FRK)
St. Joe Paper Company
Almost 70% of the stock in St. Joe Paper Company is held by the Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust. That explains the large portrait of duPont hanging in the main reception area.
The 60-acre riverfront estate duPont built in Jacksonville during the mid-1920ís is now the Epping Forest Yacht Club. The owner/developer of the yacht club is Gate Petroleum. Herbert Peyton, CEO of Gate Petroleum, arranges a guided tour of the restored duPont mansion for me. I am most impressed with the beautiful fountain-filled grounds. (For more information see SJP)
Independent Insurance Group
Independent Insurance Groupís 36-story headquarters building anchors downtown Jacksonville. Barnett Bank recently built a 40-story headquarters, taking away Independentís claim as the tallest structure in town.
I ask Wilford Lyon, Jr., CEO of Independent Insurance Group, why he located his office and the boardroom on the 13th floor. Is he thumbing his nose at superstition and bad luck? He says no and explains that the first bank of elevators go up to the 13th floor. (For more information see: INDHK)