On the road in and around Houston, Texas...
Compaq Computer, Inc.
Compaq Computer's headquarters complex is huge. It's located on a heavily wooded, 250-acre site approximately 35 miles (45-minute drive) north of downtown Houston. State Highway 249 takes you to Compaq. The problem is--there are a variety of entrances to the headquarters complex so how's a first time visitor supposed to know where to turn? One sign says, "Entrance 1," the next one "Entrance 2" and so on. You'd think one of the entrances would be manned by a security/information guard.
I end up stopping at one of the buildings to ask a security guard for directions to Eckhard Pfeiffer's office (the new CEO.) The guard gives me a map directing to Eckhard's building--CCA 10. What's the CCA 10 Building? It stands for Compaq Computer Administration building #10. Hmmm. Looking on the map I see 13 buildings marked CCA. Eleven buildings are marked PG, which stands for parking garages, and six buildings are marked CCM, for Compaq Computer manufacturing. Big place.
The lobby area has something I haven't seen before. The receptionist has a computer next to her desk that asks visitors questions such as Language (English, French, and Italian)? Company you
represent? Who are you there to see? When all the questions are answered the computer prints a visitor's badge. The security guard/receptionist tells me the computer replaces the traditional
"sign in" visitor's log. Plus, it keeps better records. I've noticed that whenever I "sign in," I can't read most visitors' hen scratching anyway.
Eckhard's secretary comes down to the lobby and says no one is available to talk with me. She hands me an annual report and tries to send me on my way. I explain to her how this is a one shot
visit for me and how much I had looked forward to visiting Compaq. She goes back upstairs and a few minutes later a media relations representative comes down to the lobby and answers my questions.
The company has a total of three million square feet of manufacturing and office space. The tallest building is eight stories (there are four 8-story buildings) Across State Highway 249 are another 750 acres of undeveloped, heavily wooded, company-owned land planned for future use. The 750 acres is currently used as an employee park, with a man-made lake.
My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is denied. "Why," I ask. Eckhard is a "private person" and doesn't like outsiders in his office, his secretary explains. I couldn't see the
boardroom because it was in use.
The company built parking garages as opposed to large parking lots to keep as much of the natural vegetation in its original state as possible. Altogether about 6,000 employees work in the
complex of buildings, which also includes a large distribution center and a helipad.
During my short tour, I walk by several computer-testing rooms. In one room, laptop computers are being opened and closed thousands of times by a machine. In another room, computers are
cooking in microwave-type ovens to test their resistance to heat.
Though Compaq Computer's buildings are new and nicely furnished (the first building was built in 1984), the place feels pretty sterile. As I was leaving, something happens that has happened only one other time in over 1000 visits to various corporate headquarters--my backpack was searched. Motorola's headquarters in Chicago searched my pack too.(For more information see: CPQ)
Baroid Corporation, a publicly-held oil-drilling equipment
company (revenues in 1990 of $599 million) is located about one mile from the entrance to the
Intercontinental Airport. A big sign out front lets you know you've found the place.
My visit is short. The CEO's secretary comes to the lobby and says no one has time to talk to me. This is especially disappointing because I had just spent two and a half-hours riding in the wind and rain to arrive at Baroid. Matter of fact, I put 75 miles on my bicycle today visiting three companies.
Baroid has a training center, dormitory and a hotel on the property. Stopping by one of the buildings for directions, I find out the building is part-dorm and part-hotel for people visiting
the company. The woman at the front desk tells me Marriott has the contract to run the facility.
(For more information see: BRC)
Stewart & Stevenson Services
I receive a warm welcome from Robert Hargrave, Vice President and Treasurer, Stewart & Stevenson Services. This publicly held company with 1990 revenues of $645 million manufactures gas turbine and diesel powered systems and is a distributor of engines, transmissions and other products. The company leases space in an eight-story building located next to a freeway about 10 miles north of downtown Houston. About 200 employees occupy four floors. Next to the reception area is a small room filled with company history, memorabilia, and samples of its products.
(For more information see SSSS)
Quanex Corporation, (1991 revenues of $588 million) manufactures specialized metals. The company occupies the 15th floor (34 employees) of a 21-story building located in the Galleria area.
On the wall in the reception area, I notice what looks like the skin of a large black bear. Actually it's a Simmental steer. The receptionist says most visitors make the same mistake I did.
CEO Carl Pfeiffer is in a meeting so the receptionist asks Robert Snyder, President, if he will spare a few minutes. Snyder is in Joseph Perry's (Vice President, Human Resources) office. They both decide to meet me because they are "intrigued" by what I'm doing. Snyder tells me the name of the company was changed from Michigan Seamless Tube to Quanex in 1977 in order to get rid of the regional connotation. The name Quanex is a combination of the word "quality" and the Latin word "nexus" which means connection. Snyder shows me some of the unusual ads the company recently ran in the "Wall Street Journal" stressing its corporate identity.
A small room near the reception area contains samples of the company's products. Some of the steel tubing Quanex manufactures is used in the M-1 tank.
CEO Pfeiffer occupies a corner office with a great view of downtown Houston (about 5 miles away.) His office features lots of Western artifacts. Pfeiffer raises cattle which explains the
steer skin on the reception area wall. A long glass-enclosed coffee table has an authentic re-
creation of a Western landscape inside--complete with sand, stuffed bugs, rocks, stuffed quail and an old rifle.
I notice the plant in Snyder's office is fake so I ask him why. He says the plants in the other offices are real but his is fake because he's allergic to them. (For more information: NX)
MediaNews Group, Inc.
MediaNews Group Inc. is the holding company for various newspapers. Its flagship paper is the "Houston Post." I almost always have trouble visiting media companies, which I don't
understand. One would think they would be flexible and more accommodating to fellow media people but instead, they're awful.
But first, an word about media companies...
Example #1: on my first trek around the country I had a front-page write-up in the "Wall Street Journal." A year later when I visit Dow Jones, the corporate parent, no one will see me.
Example #2: when visiting Gannett (parent of USA Today) in Arlington, VA I was told, "who do you think you are showing up here without an appointment?" Needless to say I didn't see anyone there.
Example #3: my visit to Knight-Ridder in Miami lasted all of four minutes.
My receptions at media companies haven't been all bad. Cox Enterprises (Atlanta, GA) and "The New York Times" have treated me well and made someone available to answer my questions when I visited.
Anyway back to MediaNews. The company occupies the 5th floor of a nine-story building across the street from the "Houston Post" offices. Located near the Galleria, it's a typical office building. Coming off the elevator, I see no secretary. A sign by a phone on the front desk instructs visitors to call whomever you wish to see. On the coffee table are several "Wall Street Journals,"
several "Houston Posts," a "Barrons," several issues of "Presstime Magazine" and several issues of "Business & Commercial Aviation." As expected, I don't see any "Houston Chronicle" newspapers, which is the competing Hearst-owned morning paper.
William Dean Singleton, the CEO, has his office across the street in the Houston Post building. That's also where the boardroom is located. I talk to Steven Pope, the Vice President- Circulation. With newspapers located around the country why is MediaNews Group located in Houston? I asked him. According to Pope, it's because Singleton was born and raised in Texas.
Shell Oil Company
Shell Oil Company has what I call a "bunker mentality." It seems to me that H.R. Hutchins, Manager of Media Relations, and a guy in "security" have a contest going between them to see who can give me the least information.
Built in 1971, the company-owned, 50-story building is massive. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the building has 1.2 million square feet of space. Shell occupies 34 floors. My
request to see the CEO's office and/or boardroom is flatly denied. My two "guides" won't even tell me the CEO's floor number or whether he has a corner office.
I don't know why Shell acts so secretive. When visiting other oil companies, including Exxon, British Petroleum, Phillips Petroleum, Texaco, Ashland Oil and Sun Oil, I was always shown
CEO's offices, boardrooms, executive dining rooms--the works.
Southdown, Inc. (1990 revenues of $565 million) produces and markets cement, concrete products and environmental services.
Corporate offices are located in downtown Houston. I find Southdown on the 24th floor of a high-rise office building--part of a two-building complex known as Allen Center.
Most of Southdown's executives are out of the office when I visit. Luckily the helpful receptionist puts me in touch with Karen Twitchell, Treasurer, who takes a few minutes to meet with me. Twitchell's time was especially appreciated since she had no prior knowledge of my visit and she delayed her lunch.
About 170 employees occupy three and a half floors in the building. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is denied because they "don't like outsiders wandering around."
(For more information see SDW)
Randall's Food Markets
Privately held Randall's Food Markets (over $1 billion in revenues in 1991) has corporate offices 10 miles west of downtown Houston in a two-story building built in 1989.
About 200 employees work in the flower-filled offices. Every Monday, fresh flowers are put on all the secretaries desks. The lobby area contains 30 red chairs (for vendors) and it too is filled with plants and colorful flowers.
Robert Onstead, CEO and one of the three founders, has a corner office with dozens of family pictures. He also has a Houston Oilers helmet and a football signed by Warren Moon.
R. Randall Onstead, Jr., President, also has a corner office. Another sports fan, his office displays a signed baseball by Nolan Ryan and a football signed by former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips and a Houston Oilers helmet.
Browning-Ferris Industries is one of the largest waste management companies in the United States, with 1991 revenues of $3.2 billion.
Headquarters are in a handsome, company-owned, 14-story brownish-colored granite building. Built in 1987, it's located in an area called the energy corridor because quite a few energy companies have built new offices nearby. The company occupies all 14 floors plus space in its twin sister building next door. About 750 employees work in the two buildings.
Peter Block, Divisional Vice President, Corporate Communications, is most accommodating, especially since he hadn't been forewarned of my arrival.
Block shows me William Ruckelhaus's office on the seventh floor. Ruckelhaus, who use to live in Seattle, has a Seattle Seahawks helmet in his office.
According to Block, one of Ruckelhaus's first changes, when he took charge of the company several years ago, was the elimination of executive offices and the executive dining room on the top (14th) floor. The boardroom is still on the 14th floor but it doubles as a conference/training room.
Next to Ruckelhaus's office is a small room with the name Media Room on the door. Dozens of political cartoons and newspaper articles on Ruckelhaus line its walls. Ruckelhaus served twice as
head of the EPA during the Nixon years.
Surprisingly, although the Media Room is several years old, Block admits he never knew the room existed until my visit. I could tell he was pretty embarrassed to acknowledge this. He is, after
all, head of Corporate Communications. (For more information see: BFI )
Gulf States Toyota
Privately held Gulf States Toyota is the automotive distributor for Toyota in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma. "Forbes Magazine" estimates the company's revenues at $1.1 billion.
The six-story, company-owned building is located about 16 miles from downtown Houston in a business park known as Northwest Crossing. The company maintains a helipad atop its 108,000
square-foot building. It has another helipad near one of its parking lots.
Up until several years ago, Gulf States had an extensive helicopter shuttle service. Cost-cutting measures sharply curtailed the use of the choppers.
I receive an extensive tour of Gulf States headquarters. About 250 employees work in the building, which features two fitness facilities, (weights, treadmills, Stairmaster, racquetball court
and a punching bag.) Executives use one fitness facility and everyone else uses the other.
Jerry Pyle, CEO and President, has his office on the fourth floor It's not a corner office but it overlooks the front of the building and the entrance of the employee parking lot (which lets him see when employees arrive and leave.) Pyle's office has a football signed by Andre Ware (famous former quarterback at the University of Houston.) I notice a colorful painting of several people in an old Ford truck. It turns out Pyle used to work at Ford.
Pyle's office also has a Japanese ceremonial robe hanging on one wall.
The boardroom has several western paintings by Oleg Stavrowski. The funniest one shows cowboys brushing chiggers out of their clothes.
My tour then takes me into a room that Toyota in Japan makes mandatory for every Toyota distributor--a teleconference room (costing $125,000.)
About 99% of the cars in the employee and executive parking lots are Toyotas. This summer, when Houston had its big flood, up to six feet of water covered the parking lot and quite a few of the employee's cars were soaked.
Mechanics receive training in a 35,000-square foot training facility adjacent to headquarters. The place is spotless. As I walk into one of the service bays I notice a blue Rolls Royce up on a
service rack. "What gives," I ask? "Oh, ah, well, that's Tom Friedkin's wife's car, an discomfited mechanic explained." Friedkin is the founder and Chairman of Gulf States Toyota. The mechanic
quickly adds, "Mr. Friedkin drives a Toyota."
Service Corporation International
Service Corporation International, with 512 funeral homes and 145 cemeteries, is the largest owner/operator of funeral homes and cemeteries in North America. Revenues in 1991 were $643.2 million.
Riding my bike to the company's 12-story headquarters, I wonder if everybody will be, you know, serious, or will they have a sense of humor about the business.
The first thing I see when I walk into the lobby is a large bronze bust of an eagle. Then I notice the security guard/receptionist sitting up in an elevated booth. I guess they don't get too many visitors who show up on a bicycle because I don't have to explain who I am. The guard had already called Ms. Sue-Ellen Davison, Manager, Advertising and Public Relations to tell her I had arrived before I even have a chance to give him my name.
My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is denied because "outsiders aren't allowed on the top two floors." I ask Davison what kind of view Robert Waltrip, the CEO, has from his office. She says Waltrip has a view of several cemeteries located across the parkway. Ironically, the company doesn't own or operate these cemeteries. One of these cemeteries is famous because Howard Hughes is buried there.
After my tour of Service Corp., I ride over to check out the cemeteries. There are three of them within sight of the building. One is Jewish, one is German and the other is where "all the River
Oaks people are buried." That's the scoop I get from several people in the neighborhood.
I did find Howard Hughes grave. He's buried with his parents in an average-looking plot. His tombstone has only his name, his date of birth and date of death.
Later that night in my hotel room, I receive a call from Davison. She wants to correct something she told me earlier. The company leases, not owns, two Hawker-Siddley 800's and a Falcon
plane. Seems her boss thought it might create an uproar if shareholders thought the company owned the planes. (For more information see: SRV)
Imperial Holly Corporation
Heading back up towards Houston, I stop in Sugar Land, Texas. Located about 25 miles west of Houston, Sugar Land is home to Imperial Holly Corporation (1991 revenues $716 million). I'll give you three guesses what business Imperial Holly is in. Sugar.
Corporate offices are in a company-owned, two-story structure located right across the street from their massive sugar refinery. By the way, the refinery (built in 1843 on 27 acres) is the oldest
business in Texas still operating on its original site.
About 165 employees work in the corporate offices, which were built in the 1940's but, due to recent renovations, look like new. The lobby walls are lined with old 100-pound cloth sugar bags.
Scattered throughout the building is an extensive collection of western and modern art. Also, in the boardroom and on some of the hallway walls are several dozen antique maps of Texas. Most of
these framed maps are from the 1800's.
Before the company built the building in the 1940's it was, literally, the site of downtown Sugar Land. A drugstore, bank and dry goods store were located on the property. The company has a Hawker-Siddley, a Learjet and a Cessna.
The Chairman has a working fireplace in his office, which by the way, has a view of the refinery across the street. I ask A.M. Bartolo, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (nice guy) to take me to their kitchen/refreshment area. I want to check and see if the company uses their own brand of sugar packets. Yep, they do. Bartolo even gives me a few sugar packets for the road.
On the road in San Antonio and Austin, Texas...
Once again I receive a lousy reception at a media company. Privately held Harte-Hanks Communications is located on the 8th floor of a new 11-story building about eight miles north of
downtown San Antonio. The company owns nine daily newspapers and 40 non-daily publications around the country. Itís also one of the nationís largest direct marketers. Harte-Hanks also owns a television station and is the largest shopper-paper publisher in North America. Its Southern California shopper, The Pennysaver," is the single largest shopper publication in America with a circulation of 3.2 million households.
A sign near the main entrance identifies the building as "Harte-Hanks Tower." I had sent a letter to Robert Marbut, CEO telling him of my visit. The secretary tells me Marbut is no longer with the company. The new CEOís secretary says they received my letter and clippings but she "assumes" the new CEO didnít want to participate. I assume it was time to head on down the road.
Associated Milk Producers
About a mile from Harte-Hanks I ride up to the corporate offices for Associated Milk Producers. With 1990 sales of $3.1 billion, privately held AMP is one of the largest milk cooperatives in the country. A large sign atop the 3-story building lets me know Iíve found the place. Walking into the building I see a pharmacy. According to the building directory, doctors and dentists occupy the first two floors.
I take the elevator up to the third floor and find a whole room full of empty desks and no people. After asking where the main reception area is located, Iím directed down to the other end of the floor. A secretary/receptionist puts down her cigarette and asks me if I need any help. I explain that I sent a letter to Irvin Elkin, President. She says it probably ended up with James Eskin, Communications Coordinator.
While waiting, the secretary/receptionist asks if Iíd like to have some milk (not coffee, tea or a soda but milk?) My meeting with Eskin is brief but during our short encounter he manages to make my top-10 list of "Worst Performance By A Company Representative." He informs me he has no time for me and in a smug, sarcastic voice says, "If in another lifetime you go around the world, look us up on that trip." This guy was unbelievable! Leaving the building, I look at his business card again to make sure I read his title correctly. Communications!?
Is the company like that with everyone? I asked people at other San Antonio companies I visit. One of the business writers for one of the townís daily newspapers tells me Associated Milk Producers has a lousy reputation with the media. I call it sour milk.
Lubyís Cafeterias, Inc.
Lubyís Cafeterias, Inc. (1991 revenues) is headquartered in a company-owned, four-story, brown building built in 1980. About 60 employees work in the offices, which are next to a freeway.
The very tiny reception/lobby area has four chairs and Muzak playing. The coffee table displays a basket full of matchbooks with Lubyís name on them and a book for sale ($3.00) on the history of the company.
Herbert Knight, Senior Vice President-Unit Operations, meets with me. What does he know about the company? Well, heís been with Lubyís for 45 years. The most interesting thing he tells me is that Ralph Erben, the companyís CEO, has a view of the freeway from his office.
Later that day, I have dinner at a Lubyís Cafeteria to test the food. The food was great.
(For more information see: LUB)
United States Automobile Association
USAA (United States Automobile Association) is an insurance and financial services juggernaut with revenues in 1990 of $4.2 billion. Though USAA is the 5th largest insurer of private
passenger automobiles and the 6th largest provider of homeowners insurance in the country, most of us donít qualify. Why not? USAA is an association of military officers, former officers and their families. The CEO is General Robert McDermott.
Riding up to one of the entrances, a security guard gives me directions to the main reception area. His directions lead me to a massive, extremely long building about a quarter mile away. Situated on 286 acres of rolling hills, the grounds are beautifulóa real Texas landscape. I pass a golf driving range, six tennis courts, jogging trails and two full-size basketball courts on my way to the reception area.
Another security guard and a receptionist greet me as I enter the building. Itís huge. Matter of fact, itís the worldís longest office building. Built in 1976, itís a half-mile long with 4.1 million square feet of office space.
While waiting to meet with someone, I ask to use the restroom. This gives me a chance to collect trivia and to put on long pants, since I ride in bike shorts.
An aside on company restrooms...
You find out interesting things from companyís restroomsófor example when I visited NWA (Northwest Airlines) in Minneapolis the company, which has a reputation for frugality, had no doors on the bathroom stalls. I was told it kept employees from sitting there reading newspapers.
On the same subject, youíd be surprised at how many health-care and drug companies donít have disposable toilet seat covers in their restrooms. Getting back to USAA, headquarters is a military-style, spic and span operation. This is certainly obvious in the companyís restroom. It has notices posted on the mirrors giving a number to call if anything needs fixing or cleaning.
To get from the reception area to the offices you go through a revolving door, which revolves only when accessed by an employeeís special card or the security guard. I get trapped in the revolving door because the security guard fails to hold the button down long enough for me.
About 8,500 employees work here. They have a four-day workweek. This place even has its own zip code number. The building has five cafeterias, two state-of-the-art fitness centers, softball fields, soccer fields, and volleyball courts. During recreation the employees wear light blue shirts and dark blue shorts provided by the company.
An impressive television production facility, with two studios and the latest video technology, allows USAA to run its own news program on its own closed-circuit network.
The building is so long that regularly scheduled shuttles (large golf cart-type vehicles) and tricycles go back and forth along the hallway on the first floor.
I meet with John Cook, Senior Vice President. Heís the only one in senior management who isnít a retired General or Admiral. My request to see the CEOís office is denied. The CEO isnít in so Iím surprised. Usually I get to see a CEOís office when theyíre not in. My tour, otherwise, was extensive.
Does the company have art? Is the Pope Catholic? One of the lobbies has a life-size replica of the torch on the Statue of Liberty (itís at least three stories tall.) Original drawings by Norman Rockwell and paintings by Mead Schaeffer, dating from the World War II era, are also on display. Most of the watercolors, military insignias, sculptures, murals, textiles and antique guns in the companyís collection have a patriotic theme.
Itís quite a place. I mention that if it had housing, it could be a military base. It turns out General McDermott does, in fact, live on company grounds in a ranch house.
H.E. Butt Grocery Company
H. E. Butt Grocery Company, a privately held supermarket chain with almost $3 billion in revenues, is headquartered about two blocks from downtown San Antonio in a fascinating complex of buildings called The Arsenal. The U.S. Army built the Arsenal in 1859. At its peak the building was used to store over $25,000,000 worth of gunpowder, arms and ammunition for West Texas forts.
About 600 employees work in this complex of four buildings. The tallest structure is four stories high. The walls of the Arsenal Building are made of four-and-a-half-foot thick limestone walls originally intended to protect the complex against accidental ammunition explosions. Now itís used mostly for receptions.
Then thereís the Stable Building, which used to house the mules that pulled supply wagons. Itís now used as a conference/meeting room.
Charles Butt, the President, has a corner office on the fourth floor in the North Building, which overlooks the meandering San Antonio River. My request to see his office is denied.
Thereís also a gazebo, which is a replica of the one that stood on the grounds in 1917. The company bought the complex and renovated it in 1985. Itís a terrific job of preserving the past. If you come to San Antonio itís worth seeing.
On the road in and around Austin, Texas...
American National Insurance Company
Biking into downtown Galveston (population 55,000), it wasnít hard to find the corporate offices for American National Insurance Company because its 20-story headquarters towers over everything else. Built in 1971, the company-owned 463,000 square-foot structure houses 1,500 employees.
The 20th floor sports an observation walk with a 360-degree view. The public must pay $2 for this view but John Ferguson, Assistant Vice President and Director of Public Relations, takes me up for free. Itís quite a birdís-eye view. I can see the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel.
American National, with revenues of $1.1 billion and net income of $108.7 million in 1990, was founded in Galveston (which by the way is the oldest city in Texas.) Did you know Galveston, a shipping/trading center, was once the wealthiest city in the United States?
The company has an extensive collection of Southwestern Art, purchased in 1971 to furnish its headquarters. The art collectionís value has appreciated considerably. In a former Chairmanís office I saw the worldís largest 2 Grey Hills Navajo rug. The company bought the rug for $5,000 in 1971; itís now worth over $250,000. In case you donít know (I didnít), 2 Grey Hills is the name of a Navajo Indian tribe.
The companyís building lobby soars over 50 feet high. This means the first floor is 60 feet above street level. In most buildings it would be the 6th floor. Company planners wanted to keep office personnel above the street noises while allowing for unobstructed views.
Whatís the most interesting fact I pick up here? Itís not the fact the company building is built on a sand bar and built to withstand 160 mile-per-hour hurricane winds. Itís not the fact that the building has no heat (body heat and its lights keep it warm.) Itís not even the companyís on-site non-denomination chapel. The most interesting thing I see during my visit is the display of the original insurance polices of two well-known American National customers: Bonnie & Clyde.
Tracor, Inc., primarily a defense contractor, has undergone dramatic changes. It recently emerged from bankruptcy and is now privately held.
I find the corporate offices in a complex of 10 buildings located about ten minutes from downtown Austin, seven minutes from the airport and three steps from the nearest freeway. Most of the buildings were built in the early 1960ís and look it. Tracor (Texas Research Associates Corporation) sits on a company-owned, 150-acre site. The company employs about 825 people.
Conference rooms are named after Texas lakes. The small man-made, fish-filled lake on the grounds (Lake Pendley) is named after the architect who designed the buildings. However, employees have a pet name for the lake, which is the size of a baby poolóLake Piddle.
James Skaggs, the companyís CEO, shows me a money tree in his office. Itís a small X-mas tree with $500 dollar bills hanging on it. Skaggsís face is on the bills. Employees gave it to him as a gag gift.
Of interest to aviation lovers, Tracor has a large fleet of corporate aircraft--30 in all. The planes are old Air Force planes and are used for testing company equipment.
CompuAdd, the privately held computer mail-order company, is headquartered about 15 miles north of Austin in an office park. Its neighbor is Texas Instruments with a huge complex nearby.
A sign on the building identifies the place. I walk into the plain-looking lobby in the one-story structure, pretty spartan in fact, and things donít go well. First the receptionist tells me that Edward Thomas is no longer President of the company. I had sent him my introduction letter. I then ask the receptionist if she can call the new Presidentís secretary. She tells me they donít have a new President AND they donít have secretaries. I then ask her if she can call someone in Public Relations and see if theyíre expecting my visit.
The head PR person is gone but his assistant is supposed to be around somewhere. I wait 40 minutes then give up and leave.
NCAA Division Womenís Swimming & Diving Championships
Enough corporate America for a moment. While checking into my downtown Austin hotel, I notice all these women in the lobby wearing the same color sweats and warm-ups. The NCAA Division I Womenís Swimming & Diving Championships are in progress here in Austin at the University of Texas campus. So, I figure I gotta check it outójournalistic curiosity, you understand.
Donít ask me how, but I get a media pass. Iíve never been to a swim meet before in my life, let alone the NCAA championships. The Texas Swimming Center is very impressive, with permanent seating for 2,056. Looking up, you see hanging banners celebrating the University of Texas swimming triumphs. The men have won the NCAA swimming championship in 1981, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991.
The University of Texas women have national championship banners for 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990 and 1991. Itís no wonder. Their swimming facility is the second best in the country. (Several people told me the facility in Indianapolis is the best.) Anyway, my seat is what you would call "ringside."
Itís my duty to tell it like it isóthe bodies on these female swimmers are unbelievable! I spend most of my time watching the swimmers do their stretching exercises. (My leering is discreet.) I notice everybody screaming and yelling at the swimmers during the races. I figure thereís no way the swimmers in the water can hear anyone cheering them on. To test my theory I do my own unscientific survey. As several of the swimmers walk by I ask them if they can hear the yelling and cheering. They all said no. Oh, and by the way...the University of Texas women win.