On the road in Oklahoma 4/29/92
Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company
Three times in two days I visited the corporate offices of Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company ($1.3 billion in revenues in 1991) in downtown Oklahoma City and three times I was told the head of Corporate Communications was out and he was the ONLY one who could talk to me.
Riding around downtown Oklahoma City I see a sign on the side of an office building saying, Sonic Industries. Hmmm. Being the fast-food junkie I am, I wondered if it's the corporate offices for Sonic restaurants. They're the drive-in restaurants where you pull up to a covered parking space, order through an intercom and the food is delivered by a carhop. I've been seeing Sonics all through the South.
I go into the plain, almost dumpy-looking building, look at the directory and find I'm right. The company occupies the top three floors of the 15-story building. I ask the reception if I could talk to someone in Corporate Communications/Public Relations. Kari Ferguson, Manager, Corporate Communications comes out to the lobby and I explain to her how I've been going around the country visiting corporate headquarters. I mention how I've been to McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy's and thought it might be interesting to see Sonic's headquarters.
Kari answered questions and took me over to meet Stephen Lynn, the CEO. There're are 1,112 restaurants in the Sonic chain. Independent franchisees own and operate 1,032 and 80 are operated by partnerships in which the company is the majority owner. That explains why I didn't have Sonic on my list of companies to visit (Companies have to have revenues between $300 million to $1.5 billion to be on my list). System-wide sales were $518 million but, company revenues are only $54 million. The company went public in 1991. Why is the Sonic headquartered in Oklahoma City? Because it was founded in a nearby town. I'm impressed with the company's flexibility in meeting with me, especially when you figure I literally, walked in off the street.
Hadson Corporation, with 1991 revenues of $442 million, occupies the top three floors of a 14-story downtown building, which is incidentally, located on Park Avenue. Rest assured, Oklahoma City's Park Avenue and New York City's Park Avenue will never be confused. The energy company has about 65 employees working in the offices and Martha Burger, Assistant Treasurer, gave me a warm welcome and tour.
Homeland Stores, the largest food store chain in Oklahoma, came about as a result of a 1987 LBO of the Oklahoma Division of Safeway Stores by local management and Clayton & Dubilier & Rice, Inc. Headquarters are in a modest one-story building about 5 miles from downtown Oklahoma City in a industrial/warehouse area next to one of their distribution centers. My visit is short. The CEO's secretary said they had been expecting me. Max Raydon, the CEO, was planning to meet with me but, something urgent came up. What was so urgent? According to Raydon's secretary, leaflets on unionizing were being distributed on the grounds of the distribution center.
Oklahoma Publishing Company
Well, as usual I received a lousy reception at a media company. Privately-held Oklahoma Publishing Company, who's flagship paper is The Daily Oklahoman (largest newspaper in the state) has brand new corporate offices. It's a 12-story, company-owned, 280,000 square foot structure on a 25-acre site about eight miles from downtown. Next to the building is the company's huge newspaper printing plant.
I was hoping to meet Edward Gaylord, CEO, and member of the Forbes Magazine list of 400 wealthiest people in the USA. Those hopes were quickly dashed by the receptionist with the "could care less" attitude and the jerk security guard. Overcoming the receptionist's lack of interest in helping, I find out Richard Dugan, Marketing Services Director, was the one who ended up with the introduction material sent several weeks earlier to Edward Gaylord (it's the "trickle-down" theory at work).
While waiting for the receptionist to make phone calls, I mentioned to the security guard that I collected visitor's badges from the companies I visit. I then showed the guard the dozens of adhesive visitor badges covering my metal clipboard. He said I couldn't have one. I then said the toughest visitor badges to get are from defense contractors and I sometimes had to go through a lot of red tape. He said I wasn't going to get one. I then asked the guard, who was probably in his 50's, if there was someone above him I could talk to about getting a badge. With his voice raising, he growled, "no, I'm head of Security and if I stick you outside the front door would that make it more clear to you?" Well, that seem to shut me up as I went over and sat down in one of the lobby chairs. About a minute later the guard called me over to the reception counter and gleefully told me Richard Dugan couldn't see me today and I'd have to make an appointment to see him another day. I then told the receptionist several people mentioned I should contact the Daily Oklahoman about doing a story on me because what I was doing was unusual. She gives me the number of the Business editor upstairs and I call from the lobby phone. He sends a reporter downstairs to the lobby to interview me. After the interview we set up an appointment the next day for 11 AM to have my picture taken in front of the building AND for me to try again and meet with someone.
The next day I ride up, walk into the lobby and find four security guards milling around the front entrance. They all give me stern looks. Of course, the "friendly" guard from yesterday is behind the reception counter again. He really has it in for me and there's disappointment on his face when I tell him I have a 11 AM appointment to meet the Business reporter. Pictures are taken of me (next to my bike) outside the front entrance of the building and I find out the extra security is on duty because Edward Gaylord is hosting a luncheon for newspaper publishers from around the state. I had told the reporter about my run-in with the security guard and, my lack in finding someone at the company to meet with me. The reporter says he'll help but, I tell him-no thanks, it's part of what I do.
To make a long story short: I meet briefly with Richard Dugan, who shows no interest in what I'm doing and keeps looking at his watch every 30 seconds. I'm then turned over to Ron Clarke, Creative Services Manager (a nice guy) who shows me the fitness center in the basement. My request to see the Boardroom and Gaylord's office are flatly rejected. Why? I'm told no one is allowed on the 12th floor. Jeez, they made it sound like Gaylord is some kind of a king.
A giant hand-woven tapestry quoting the First Amendment hangs in the main lobby, it must be 30 feet tall. As I'm leaving the building I pass the reception desk and guess what?, the receptionist isn't around AND that jerk security guard isn't around and it's possible for me to escape the building WITH the visitor's badge. Did I keep it or did I turn it in?
Oneok, a gas utility company with revenues of $689 million in 1991, occupies 9 floors of a 17-story building in downtown Tulsa. The building was originally to be a 50-story building for Occidental Petroleum but, when the oil industry went kaput back in the mid-1980's, Occidental backed out and Oneok bought the site and built a 17-story structure. What's the correct way to pronounce the company's name? It's "One-Oak", not "One-Okay" or "Oh-Nee-Oak".
I was taken over to one of the employee parking garages and shown several dozen company cars being run on natural gas. Though the cost of converting the cars to natural gas is expensive, I was told it cuts pollution.
Memorex Telex Corporation
Though Memorex Telex Corporation is a Dutch-owned company, I thought it would be interesting to visit their offices. Offices are in a huge building located about 5 miles from downtown Tulsa or, at least I thought they were. The receptionist in the sparsely furnished reception area informs me corporate offices had moved last year to Dallas. Rats!
QuikTrip Corporation is a privately-held regional convenience store chain. Jim Denny, Vice President-Human Resources, said the company had $750 million in revenues last year. Corporate offices are about 10 miles from downtown Tulsa in a long, company-owned 1-story structure built in 1973 and added on to several times. Chester Cadieux, CEO and founder, has a very plain office. Cadieux is a runner and has several pictures in his office of him running in races.
Hale-Halsell, a privately-held food distributor with over $600 million in revenues is located about a mile from QuikTrip's headquarters. I showed up twice and both times was told no one was available to see me. The receptionist gave me a one-page sheet that tells a little of the history of the company. There was a Mr. Hale and there was a Mr. Halsell. The 1-story corporate headquarters and 285,000 square foot warehouse located behind, sit on a 36-acre site. How low-key is the company? A business reporter for one of the local newspapers interviewed me for a story and I asked if she was familiar with Hale-Halsell Company. She said she never heard of them. Was the reporter new? Nope, she was born and raised in Tulsa.
On the Road in Northwest Arkansas
Arkansas Best Corporation
Arkansas Best Corporation is the fifth largest motor carrier of general commodities in the United States. The privately-held company had revenues in 1991 of $884 million. I got the figure from a prospectus given to me by Randall Loyd, Director-Financial Reporting. The company is having a public offering.
Headquarters is in a company-owned, 1-story building located in a residential area about five miles from downtown Fort Smith. Boy, the whole building reeks of cigarettes. About 230 employees work in the building and several nearby structures.
R.A. Young, III, the CEO, has a plaque on his desk which reads "No surprises". Young's wood-paneled office has a globe, four stuffed ducks and a stuffed peasant plus, a working fireplace. He also smokes cigars. Why do I mention the cigars? As I mentioned earlier, the whole building reeks of stale tobacco and shortly after leaving, I actually got sick from the smell.
Donrey Media Group
Donrey Media Group is the privately-held media conglomerate founded by Donald W. Reynolds. I'm familiar with Reynolds because the 85-year old man is a fixture on the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans. One story I had read on the man mentioned he was frugal and a penny-pincher. So I was not surprised when riding up to the address I had for the headquarters and finding a gawd-awful looking green building with no windows. The building, located downtown, housed the offices for the local Fort Smith newspaper. Going inside I find out Donrey Media Group moved to new offices about a year ago, though a sign on the building still says, Donrey Media Group.
About five miles from downtown I find the new offices. It's a good-looking 2-story building. What's unusual though, are the two large billboards sitting on the property near the street. The billboards make sense because Donrey Media owns over 50 daily and 71 non-daily newspapers, one television station, five cable television companies AND 12 outdoor advertising companies (which explains the billboards).
Walking into the building I find no receptionist or phones. On one side of the lobby area is a glass case filled with pictures and articles about Donald Reynold. Asking a passing employee, I find my way to the second floor and talk to the CEO's secretary. Fred Smith, CEO, isn't in and I'm referred to Terry Johnson, Director-Communication Services. Johnson is a heck of a nice guy but, he smoked the whole time I was in his office and I was still reeling from the encounter at Arkansas Best.
About 135 employees work in the company-owned, 61,000 square foot building. I was told Smith (the CEO) spends most of his time in the "national" office in Las Vegas, which is where Mr. Reynolds lives. The Fort Smith offices are known as the "Administrative Headquarters". There's a boardroom in the Ft. Smith office and in the Las Vegas office. The offices in Las Vegas are in a building, which is a replica of a Spanish castle. According to what I was told, in Reynolds early years he was on a boat trip to Europe (filled with mules) and as the boat passed the Spanish shoreline-he spotted several castles said to himself he would someday have his own castle.
Commuting between Ft. Smith, Arkansas and Las Vegas, Nevada is no big deal especially, if you have a Boeing 727 and an Astra. I was told Reynolds has first dibs on using the 727. I'm impressed with the nice reception and friendly people. As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I usually get lousy receptions at media companies.
J.B. Transport Services
I've been seeing those distinctive J.B. Hunt trucks in Portland, Maine, Portland, Oregon, Miami, Florida, EVERYWHERE. J.B. Hunt Transport Services is the largest publicly-held truckload carrier in the United States. Truckload means they take a full load and deliver the whole load to one destination as opposed to making various stops along a route.
Corporate headquarters is a good-looking 5-story building about a half mile from downtown Lowell, Arkansas. Where's Lowell? Lowell's about 10 miles south of Bentonville (home to Wal-Mart).
The company-owned 150,000 square foot building was built in 1990. A plaque on an outside wall near the entrance says the following: "A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed".
After waiting over an hour in the lobby I meet with Douglas Reed, Personnel and Training Manager, who gives me an extensive tour of the place. Over 900 employees work at the site, which has a stocked pond out back, a volleyball and basketball court.
Why is the company headquartered in Lowell? I'm told it's a central location. The company has a Lear jet. Looking at an employee handbook I see there's a written dress code. For men: a tie must be worn at all times, no beards, no earrings, no athletic shoes of any color, socks must be worn and no denim pants. I was wearing rugby shorts and Topsiders as Reed gave me the tour, it explains why people were looking at me. For women: No denim pants, jean skirts or jean dresses. Hosiery (not socks) must be worn at all times, no sun dresses or revealing clothing shall be worn without a jacket. Slacks can be no shorter than one inch above the ankle. Play clothes are not considered appropriate office attire, and will not be permitted. Play clothes are defined as very short skirts (a hem length 1 and a half inches above the knee or longer is acceptable), T-shirt type dresses, cropped pants, etc. No sandals or athletic shoes of any color.
J.B Hunt, Chairman, has two footballs in his office. One is signed by Johnny Unitas and the other is signed by the Dallas Cowboys. Hunt also has in his office the largest globe made by Rand McNally and when you touch it, it lights up. How big is it? Take six basketballs and put'em together and you've got the size.
On the road in Southwest, Missouri.
Mid-America Dairymen, Inc.
Mid-America Dairymen, Inc., is a regional dairy co-op (12,500 members) with revenues in 1991 of $1.7 billion. Headquarters is in a 3-story company-owned building about three miles from downtown Springfield, Missouri (population 130,000). The reception/lobby area has a display of butter churns. The company occupies 100,000 square feet of the 154,300 square foot structure. About 160 employees work in the offices.
Leggett & Platt
I sure was treated shabby at Leggett & Platt. The company manufactures and market components for the home furnishing industry. Examples: they make innersprings for mattresses (matter of fact, the L&P bedspring was patented by the company in 1885), bedframes, rollaway beds, industrial wire, point-of-sale display racks and steel bases and other accessories for office furniture. Revenues in 1991 for the publicly-held company were $1.1 billion.
Headquarters is about three miles from downtown Carthage, Missouri (Southwest Missouri) in a long brown building. Old Route 66 lies several miles away. The small reception/lobby area is full of interesting items. On one wall is the patent for the original bedspring. In a glass case are dozens of Indian arrowheads along with two tomahawks. A life-size deer with a fawn are standing amongst real plants near the lobby window. Also in the cluttered lobby/reception area are several oil paintings of western scenes. Walking down a hallway to use the bathroom, I counted over 30 western painting lining the walls and all were done by Joe Grandee. I had never heard of Grandee, but his paintings are marvelous.
I showed up at Leggett & Platt around 12 noon. I'm told everyone is out to lunch so, I wait. While waiting, I talk to several of the receptionists and secretaries. About 1:30 p.m., a man walks up to me and says, "We don't participate in solicitations and interviews". I asked if he was familiar with the introduction material sent several weeks earlier. "I read the material you sent and we aren't interested", he replies. "Does that mean you don't have a few minutes to talk with me?", I asked. "Yes", he replied. What was funny was the look on the faces of the two receptionist who had overheard the conversation. They looked like they were embarrassed by the abrupt manner in which he treated me.
Do you know what bothers me: Looking through Leggett & Platt's 1991 annual report I see they "toot" their horn for being in Fortune magazine's 1992 listing of "America's Most Admired Companies". Treating people the way I was treated is not my idea of a company to admire.