On the road in and around Birmingham, Alabama...
It's a steep ride up to the top of Oak Mountain as I ride up to EBSCO's headquarters. Corporate offices are in two buildings that sit on top of Oak Mountain. The view is spectacular!
Adjoining the 172-acre site is Oak Mountain State Park--a 9,940-acres park. Downtown Birmingham lies 15 miles away.
So back to EBSCO. What is it? First of all the name is an acronym for Elton B. Stephens Company--a privately-held, diversified company with over $500 million in revenues. EBSCO
businesses include 33 different industries. Here's a sampling: EBSCO Subscription Services, a magazine subscription service agency serving libraries and businesses around the world; Military Service Company sells recreational items, furnishings and interior design services to the military; National Billiard, a manufacture of pool tables; and "Marlin Magazine", a bimonthly magazine for big-game offshore anglers. EBSCO also owns PRADCO, the largest fishing lure manufacturer in the world and Vulcan Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of custom and standard point of purchase display units.
As I walk into the main reception area I see two mounted rattlesnakes that were killed on-site during construction of the first building in 1982. One building (four stories) encompasses over 130,000 square feet and the second (three stories), has 60,000 square feet. About 600 employees work in the buildings.
The company cafeteria encompasses a large room with high ceilings. Employees can eat outside on a large deck and look at the view. Reminds me of a ski lodge.
I meet with Elton B. Stephens, Chairman and Founder. Stephens, who just turned 80, is a real southern gentleman. His large, memento-filled corner office has a view that goes on for miles and miles. I ask him about the peddler figurines he has on his desk. Turns out that back in the 1930's, Stephens put himself through college "peddling" magazines door-to-door. Now he has collected several hundred paintings, photographs and figurines of peddlers. For example: one painting is a scene of a woman selling flowers on the street in France, another is a man in the 1800's selling bread, and then there's a recent photograph of a woman in Russia selling food from a cart.
Stephens's office is full of fun stuff. First of all, Stephens loves lions. I see several small brass lions, a crystal lion, a lion embroidered on a pillow and several paintings of lions. He graciously offers me some pecans from a bowl on his desk, which are from his pecan farm. Then he tells me to pick up a hand mirror on his desk. When I look at myself a loud laughing sound comes from
the handle. Finally, I get a tour of Stephens's private bathroom. The bathroom walls are completely covered with old magazine covers such as "Time", "Saturday Evening Post" and "Harpers."
Stephens's son, Jim, is President and CEO. Jim's office has an unusual collection of facemasks from around the world and, two rocking chairs.
Another piece of trivia: Stephens has a collection of old photos of employees who went door to door selling magazine subscriptions for him--one of those pictured is George Wallace, the
former Governor of Alabama and long-time friend of Stephens.
BE&K, a privately held engineering and construction company, is headquartered in a 100-acre office park, which the company built and owns. Corporate offices are 13 miles from Birmingham in a 80,000 square-foot, six-story building built in 1987 that overlooks a natural lake.
A trade magazine ranked BE&K ranked as the 16th largest engineering/construction firm in the country. "Forbes" magazine reports BE&K revenues for 1991 totaled $756 million.
The name BE&K is from the last names of the three founders-Bolvig, Edmonds and Kennedy. Of the three founders, Kennedy is the only one still with the company. I ask Theodore Kennedy, CEO and one of the founders, why he chose Birmingham for the company headquarters; his answer--"I live here."
BE&K received quite a bit of press a few years ago for starting the first "mobile" child care facility at one of its construction sites. Prominently displayed on a wall behind Kennedy's desk is a
picture of Duke University--his alma mater.
Birmingham Steel Corp.
Birmingham Steel Corporation isn't headquartered next to one of its steel plants. It's on the tenth floor of a 19-story office building adjoining Galleria at Riverchase, the largest shopping center in the Southeast. About 65 employees work at the corporate offices. There's no cafeteria but who cares. All you have to do is take the elevator down to the huge food court in the mall.
I ask Phillip Casey, Chief Financial Officer, how's business and he answers "okay".
(For more information see: BIR)
Bruno's, a regional supermarket chain, has nice corporate offices. I've visited dozens of grocery chains. Usually their headquarters are plain, no-frills and located in a dumpy part of
town. Not so at Bruno's. It's a company-owned, two-story building built in 1987 and located in an industrial park. Next door stands one of their distribution centers (1.2 million square feet).
The receptionist greets me as I walk into the building. A large crucifix hangs behind the receptionist. The Bruno family is very religious and each new store is blessed before it opens.
I have a questionnaire I use when visiting companies. Because of this questionnaire, I did something REAL stupid at Bruno's. One of my standard questions is--Does your company have any corporate aircraft? Catherine Byrd, Government Relations Coordinator, answers all my questions smoothly until I get to that question. I remember too late that several months earlier Angelo Bruno, the CEO, along with his brother and several other executives were killed when their corporate aircraft crashed. I apologize but still feel really stupid.
On the road in and around Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama...
I always thought Blount, Inc. was a construction company. So it surprises me to find out more than half of its 1991 revenues of $672 million came from manufacturing. Corporate headquarters are located in an office park about five miles from downtown Montgomery. The building has an extensive collection of art scattered throughout. Winton Blount, the company’s founder and chairman, recently donated 41 works of art, worth more than $20 million, to a local museum.
I notice several unusual items in Blount’s office: A bronze bust of Bear Byrant, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama. Turns out Blount and Byrant were good friends.
Blount was Postmaster General during Richard Nixon’s first term. He kept the chair he sat in during cabinet meetings. A check for $343,373,480.00 is on display. The check was for work the company did on a project in Saudi Arabia a few years back. The company’s Vice President tells me the check was flown from Saudi Arabia to New York City on the Concorde, then transferred to a helicopter and flown to the bank before 2 p.m. in order to receive an extra $146,000 in interest.
(For more information see BLT/A)
Durr-Fillauer Medical, Inc.
In the historic warehouse district of downtown Montgomery sits the corporate offices of Durr-Fillauer Medical Inc., a regional wholesale drug distributor. The company had more than $800 million in revenues. The three-story structure is more than 100 years old.
Forty people work in this office, along with CEO William Williamson, who occupies a windowless office on the top floor. Williamson tells me they will move to new corporate offices in about a year.
(For more information see: DUFM)
Russell Corporation, the big manufacturer and marketer of leisure apparel and athletic wear (revenues $804 million in 1991) is located in Alexander City, population 12,000. About 10 miles out of Montgomery I come across two Russell Corp. 18-wheeler trucks parked outside a roadside restaurant. I tell the drivers what I’m doing and ask if I can hitch a ride. A call to their dispatcher gets the okay. I tell the drivers about the problems I’ve been having in Alabama and Georgia with truckers running me off the roads. Sure might change some of those guys’ driving habits if they could spend a week or two on a bicycle.
Russell Corporation’s large complex of offices and plants encompasses 1,200 acres. I count more than 40 buildings scattered around the site. Is this what they mean when they say "company town?" Alexander City’s population is 12,000 and over 7,000 work for Russell. Corporate offices comprise a two-story brick building built in 1948. Railroad tracks pass by the front entrance. If you took fifty steps from the front entrance of the building you’d be standing on the railroad tracks.
J. Anthony Meyer, Jr., the treasurer, answers my questions and shows me around the place. We get into his car to tour the site. He points out the child care center, the employee recreation center (four tennis courts, swimming pool, softball fields) and various manufacturing plants. He also gives me a tour of downtown Alexander City and, at my request, drives around some of the neighborhoods where the executives live.
We also put on ear plugs and tour a yarn-making plant. My eardrums are still buzzing.
(For more information see RML)
On the road in and around Tuscaloosa and Mobile, Alabama...
BUT FIRST, DID YOU KNOW...
Tuscaloosa, population of 75,000, is home to the University of Alabama. How big is football in Alabama? Last week while passing through Auburn, I rode around the Auburn University campus. Though the city has a population of 25,000, the football stadium is massive—seating 85,000. University of Alabama’s stadium seats about the same number.
Gulf States Paper
About two miles from downtown Tuscaloosa I get clearance from the security guard to enter the property of privately-held Gulf States Paper. Passing the security guard’s green pagoda-style security booth I see peacocks and chickens roaming the grounds along with several enclosures housing white doves.
When I get to the top of a small incline I see it—headquarters for Gulf States Paper is a two-story replica of a pagoda. In the middle of the 99,000 square-foot structure is a beautiful Japanese garden, complete with large pond occupied by a swan couple and their newborn baby cygnet.
I’m told the Warner Collection owned by Gulf States Paper Corporation is recognized as one of the most extensive collections of American art anywhere. Most of it is Western art. Displayed throughout the company’s office building are sculptures, paintings and artifacts—over 150 works in all. Some of the collection’s well-known artists include: Catlin, Rodmer, Gaul, Wyeth, Remington, Durand and Eastman. I’m especially impressed by the company’s collection of Basil Ede’s work; he’s considered the world’s foremost painters of wild birds.
To exhibit its extensive art collection, the company conducts tours of the building, Monday through Friday 5-7 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The tour includes the boardroom and CEO’s office.
Jack Warner, the CEO, is the son of the company’s founder. Warner has definitely been influenced by the Japanese. How do know this? Maybe it’s the meditation room he has off to the side of his office. His desk is one of the most unusual I’ve seen. It’s a somewhat circular, jagged piece of wood with a glossy finish.
Morrison Inc., generated $970 million in revenues in 1991 through its specialty restaurants, public cafeterias and contract services.
Corporate offices are in a three-story building about 12 miles from downtown Mobile. Morrison employs approximately 300 employees who work in the building. The third floor is occupied by IBM. The structure is red brick with a black iron railing running around it and white columns in the front. It has a kind of Early American Colonial Plantation look to it.
I ask the President’s secretary how she would describe the building and she couldn’t think of anything. I pick up a small can in CEO Eugene Bishop’s office. Written on the can—"Success comes in cans, not in cannots."
In the lobby area I see a menu posting the day’s entrees in the cafeteria. The entrees and prices are from the 1940’s: chicken--23 cents, corn--4 cents, roast beef--33 cents, etc.
(For more information see: MORR)