On the road in Wichita, Kansas 5/3/92

Coming up to Wichita from Oklahoma I almost had a heart attack. The road I was traveling on wasn't really busy but, I counted about 30 dead armadillos (due to road kill) on a 40 mile stretch. Maybe it's where old armadillos cross the road when they know they're gonna die. Anyway, about every five minutes a car would pass and so for much of the time it's very quiet. The terrain is green rolling hills with grass about 3 feet high growing along the road. I'm riding along and hear this rustling noise coming from the tall grass. I look back to my right and I see this big black blob running toward me. It turns out it's a mean-looking Rotweiller. As I've mentioned before the dog I fear more than any other is the Doberman. Why? Most dogs bark as they chase you-which as least gives you a warning. Not Dobermans, they sneak up on you without barking. Well, you can now add Rotweillers to the list of non-barkers. The Rotweiller pulls up alongside me and all of a sudden stops. The dog has this look on his face that says, "see, I could have bitten your leg if I wanted". There weren't any houses for several miles in any direction so I don't know where the stealth canine calls home.

Pizza Hut

Why am I visiting the offices of Pizza Hut, when it's only a subsidiary of PepsiCo? Well, I've visited Domino's Pizza in Ann Arbor, Michigan (where the elevators in the building are slow on purpose to get people to use the stairs) and I'll be visiting Godfather's Pizza in Omaha, Nebraska. Besides, if Pizza Hut were a stand-alone company, revenues would be $5.3 billion.

The company-owned 4-story building (built in 1977) is about 5 miles west of downtown Wichita. About 900 employees work in the 120,000 square foot structure. The magazines lying around the reception/lobby area included; Adweek, Time, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, Financial World and, about 10 issues of the Hollywood Reporter.

The receptionist said my introduction material sent to the CEO trickled down to a vice president. The vice president wasn't in so, Ron Gaches, Director Corporate Communications, met with me. Gaches came down to the lobby area and not being aware of what I was doing, I took a minute to brief him. I then asked if he'd have about 10 minutes to answer my questions. Gaches replied, "I'll give you half that". Hmmm, not good. Speaking fast, I raced through the questions. Hanging in the lobby area are the flags of the 64 countries in which Pizza Hut does business. I told Gaches about my visit to NCR in Dayton, Ohio and how they fly the flag of every country they do business. That's not unusual. What's unusual though is the flags are lined up according to how much revenue they get from that country. The Japanese flag was number one and on down the line. Gaches informed me NCR is in violation of United Nations and United States protocol because there are rules governing the order in which flags must be placed/flown.

The company's Mission statement is prominently displayed in the lobby/reception area:

Our Mission: To consistently demonstrate to consumers that Pizza Hut is the best choice for every pizza occasion.

The company has one corporate aircraft; Citation. On the grounds are a softball field, basketball court and there's a fitness center. My requests to see the boardroom and CEO's office were flatly rejected. Gaches said, "we just don't allow people up there". Matter of fact, next to the lobby area is the company cafeteria and that's where we sat down to talk and that's as far as I got to go in the building. Leaving, I told Gaches I had visited the corporate offices of PepsiCo in Purchase, New York and received an extensive tour of the place-INCLUDING the CEO's office and boardroom.

*Note Riding around the campus of Wichita State University

I came across the very first Pizza Hut. It was donated to the University by the two co-founders of Pizza Hut; Dan and Frank Carney. It's about the size of a barber shop.

Ruffin Companies

I originally was going to visit the corporate offices of Town & Country Food Markets, a regional convenience store chain but, found out the chain is only a small part of a bigger concern. Privately-held Ruffin Companies owns Town & Country Food Markets, Harper Trucks (world's largest supplier of industrial hand trucks), Ruffin Properties (owns several shopping centers, industrial parks, commercial centers and several hotel properties) and Petroleum Trading & Transport Company (supplies and distributes refined petroleum products to 11 states via 50 terminals). How did I find all this out? By talking to Phil Ruffin. Ruffin gave me his business card and it has the company name (Ruffin Companies), his name but, no title. I said, "aren't you the Chairman, CEO, the Big Cheese"? "Yes", he said, "but each of the business has its own President so, why do I need a title?".

Corporate offices are very spartan. A better word would be, dumpy. On his office wall are pictures of some of his hotel properties (a Marriott in Wichita and a Sheraton in Tulsa-connected to a 1 million square foot shopping/office complex he owns). He says he would rather put money into his properties than use it on furnishing the corporate offices.

Besides housing corporate offices, the 250,000 square foot, 1-story structure about a mile from the airport is a manufacturing facility for the Harper hand trucks. Ruffin gave me a tour of the plant. Nothing glamorous about making handtrucks. He says the location is good because it's close to the airport. The corporate fleet consists of a Citation 3 and a King Aire.

The boardroom is the conference room table in Ruffins's office. Ruffin says he always has to clear the pile of "junk" off the table before it can be used. It definitely was piled with papers. Ruffin, who likes to smoke cigars, is in his 50's and I found him to be a heck of a nice man. I mention this because several locals said he keeps a very low profile.

During my visit in Wichita I spent a couple nights in the first Residence Inn ever built. A plaque in the registration lobby area clued me in. It was built in 1976. There are now over 150 Residence Inns, which are owned by Marriott.

Coming out of a downtown bookstore, a man stops me, looks at my bike (which has Bloomberg Financial Markets painted on the frame) and says, "Is Bloomberg sponsoring you?". I ask him if he was familiar with Bloomberg and he says, "yes, I use one at my desk". "Where do you work", I ask. "Bank IV, the largest bank in Kansas", he replies. I then tell him how to punch up my column. *Note Fourth Financial Corporation ($4.2 billion in assets) is Bank IV's parent.

The Coleman Company

I had a great time visiting The Coleman Company. The outdoor products company is headquartered downtown in a building that used to be a manufacturing facility. Built in 1909, the 5-story 442,000 square foot structure is located more in the warehouse area of downtown Wichita than the financial district.

Though the company just had an IPO, over 80% of the Common Stock will still be controlled by Ronald O. Perelman (as in Revlon, Marvel comic books and First Gilbraltar Bank, F.S.B.).

The small lobby/reception area has a display of some of the company's product line. Jim Reid, Director of Public Relations, took me downstairs to the basement to see the company's museum. Did you know Coleman made gasoline-burning irons in the 1920's? The company also made toasters and waffle makers. On display are dozens of Coleman lamps and lanterns through the years.

Reid drove me over to nearby plant for a tour. Appliances, insulated coolers and jugs are manufactured in the huge (790,000 square feet) facility. We walked into the place when a shift was going home and most of the employees pouring out of the building seem to have an "it's Miller time" look on their faces.

About 40 miles northwest of Wichita is the farming town of Hutchinson (population 40,000). It's quite a place. There's an Amish community nearby and I got a chuckle while in downtown Hutchinson. An Amish gentleman (dressed in black and sporting a full beard) was going down Main street in his horse and buggy. That in itself is unusual for me to see (my extent of Amish people is from the movie, Witness-with Harrison Ford). As he passed me, I noticed he was wearing sunglasses, hmmm, were they Vuarnet's, Ray-Ban's or Bolle's?

Collingwood Grain

I walked into the downtown offices of privately-held Collingwood Grain and guess what? Archer-Daniels-Midlands (ADM) bought them last year. Well, I'll be visiting ADM sometime in late June when passing through Decatur, Illinois.

Doskocil Companies

I was also expecting to meet with someone as I walked into the unmarked South Hutchinson corporate offices of Doskocil Companies. But to my dismay, I was told corporate offices recently moved to Oklahoma City. Doskocil emerged from bankruptcy on October 31, 1991. The company is one of the largest marketers of processed meat products in the United States. The delicious smell of sausage was in the air and I was told it comes from one of their plants several blocks away which makes pre-cooked pizza sauce and pizza toppings.

National Cooperative Refinery Association

National Cooperative Refinery Association is an inter-regional cooperative engaged in petroleum production, transportation, refining and product distribution. Revenues in 1991 were $847 million. So, about 65 miles north of Wichita I see this huge refinery complex in the distance as I approach the town of McPherson, Kansas (population 10,000). I ask Ronald Schaumburg, Vice President-Human Resources, why the heck NCRA is located in out of the way McPherson? He said it's because the company's 70,000 barrel-per-day refinery is located here.

Who owns the co-op? Farmers Union Central Exchange (St. Paul, MN) owns 44%, Farmland Industries (Kansas City, MO) owns 30%, Growmark (Bloomington, IL) owns 19% and MFA Oil Company (Columbia, MO) owns 7%.

The 3-story, 45,000 square foot company-owned headquarters building is located next to the refinery. About 125 employees work in the offices. The company has a Lear jet (yes, McPherson does have an airport). Pipe-smoking Larry Williams, the CEO, has a corner office on the 3rd-floor with a narrow view of the street. Williams said when the building was built, narrow windows were used to conserve energy. In other words, the windows are about six feet tall and 12 inches wide.

Duckwall-Alco Stores

Abilene, Kansas, population 7,000 is home to the Greyhound Hall of Fame, the Eisenhower Center (which includes the Presidential library) plus, headquarters for Duckwall-Alco Stores. The company came out of bankruptcy in May of 1991. Headquarters is a 1-story, 35,000 square foot building built in the 1940's and added on and remodeled over the years. It back up against the railroad tracks. Matter of fact, Bryan DeCordova, Vice President & Chief Financial Officer said that during the Gulf War they could look out the windows and see trains go by loaded with M-1 tanks and other military equipment go by bounded for the Persian Gulf. Ft. Riley, the huge military base is about 25 miles away.

Walking into the lobby of the building I see a picture of Dwight Eisenhower on a wall. Well, considering Eisenhower lived in Abilene most his life and the presidential library and museum are the town's claim to fame-it makes sense to have his picture in the lobby.

The variety store chain has about 100 stores, usually located in small towns (ala Wal-Mart). Some of the stores are called Duckwall, some Alco. The founder of the company was A.L. Duckwall (now do you understand the Alco part?). Revenues in 1991 were $212 million.

Lawrence, Kansas (population 40,000) is home to the Kansas University. The campus is beautiful. The downtown shopping area of Lawrence (about a mile from campus) is vibrant. People are friendly. It's made my list of favorite colleges. What am I talking about? Well, one of my side projects is to visit most of the college campuses around the country and rate and rank 'em. What do I look for? Here's a few: architecture of the buildings, landscaping, physical location of campus, availability & quality of off-campus shopping & eating and, who's got the best-looking women.

Having visited most of the major campuses around the country, here's my preliminary list of the Top 15 schools in the country, in no particular order:

1. University of Texas (Austin)

2. University of Vermont (Burlington)

3. Rice University (Houston)

4. Cornell (Ithaca, NY)

5. University of Washington (Seattle)

6. UCLA (Westwood)

7. Princeton (NJ)

8. University of Wisconsin (Madison)

9. Kansas University (Lawrence)

10. Harvard (Cambridge, MA)

11. Duke University (Durham, NC)

12. University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)

13. University of California (Berkeley)

14. Michigan (Ann Arbor)

15. Indiana University (Bloomington)

 

The most disappointing campuses have been:

1. Notre Dame (South Bend, IN)

2. Yale (New Haven, CT)

3. University of Miami (FL)

 

On the road in Kansas City 5/8/92

The Marley Company

Kansas City, Kansas (population 160,000) and Kansas City, Missouri (430,000) are two separate cities divided by a road called appropriately enough; Stateline Road. I mention this because The Marley Company's 2-story headquarters is on the Kansas side of Stateline Road. If you walk across the street, you're in Missouri.

Abby Sims, Coordinator-Corporate Communications, says the privately held company was an LBO by KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.) in 1981. This maker of cooling towers, heating equipment, boilers and pumps had over $600 million in revenues last year according to Sims. About 45 employees work in the company-owned, 40,000 square foot building. Robert Dineen, CEO, has a great view of the Mission Hills Country Club golf course across the street. Mission Hills is where THE wealthy of Kansas City live and play.

Bartlett & Company

Privately held Bartlett & Company buys and sells wheat. This would explain why the company is located on the top floor of the building housing the Kansas City Board of Trade. Talking to Robert Berg, Vice Chairman, I'm told the company's revenues were between $400 million and $600 million last year. Bartlett occupies the 6th floor of the six-story structure, which is located about 5 miles from downtown Kansas City. This part of town is known as the Country Club Plaza area-the upscale shopping area of Kansas City.

I asked Berg how far it was to Kansas City International Airport and he said, "You mean KCI, Kansas City Inconvenient Airport?". It's true, the airport is 25 miles from downtown. Before leaving the building I went to the third floor visitor's gallery to check out the Board of Trade's pit. After seeing exchanges in Chicago and New York, Kansas City's looks pretty rinky-dink.

Garnac Grain

On my first trek around the country I visited Garnac Grain in New York City. When I got there, I was told headquarters had moved to Kansas City. Five years later, I show up at their Kansas City offices and guess what, I find out ADM (Archer-Daniels Midland, Decatur,IL) bought 'em out and just finalized the deal last month.

H&R Block

H&R Block has been headquartered in the same location since the 1960's but, the building has been added on to several times over the years. The company-owned 3-story structure is located in the Country Club Plaza area (about 5 miles from downtown Kansas City). The building, offices and furnishings are functional-nothing fancy. About 190 employees work in the building, which is four blocks away from the location of the first H&R Block store.

Henry Bloch, CEO, has a corner office on the first floor-with a view of the street. Bloch has an abstract painting hanging in his office and I asked him if it had any significance. Bloch said his son knows quite a bit about art and picked it out. When Bloch first saw the painting he asked his son, "how do you know what side goes up?" The son replied there's an arrow on the back of the painting pointing up.

Something else I noted, Bloch doesn't have a computer in his office. Yet, a subsidiary of H&R Block is CompuServe Incorporated, the online information, communications and software company. In 1991, revenues for H&R Block were $1.2 billion, with $252 million coming from CompuServe.

I've seen Henry Bloch on television for years doing the tax commercials and I've always wondered what he'd be like in person. Well, guess what? Bloch is a genuine, super nice man. Thomas Bloch, Henry's son, is President and COO. Framed on a wall in Thomas's office is a collection of cartoons (including political) which have featured H&R Block. What's unusual is each one has been signed/autographed by the cartoonist.

Commerce Bancshares

Commerce Bancshares is a multi-bank holding company with revenues in 1991 of $508 million. The company occupies five floors of the 18-story, company-owned downtown structure. David Kemper, CEO, has a corner office on the 18th floor, which is no big deal except for the fact he can watch several Peregrine falcons outside his window ledge. Several years ago a Peregrine started hanging around the top of the building-I'm told it had something to do with the gravel on the ledges. Recently, a mate was released and everyone's hoping for the best. Looking out Kemper's window, I couldn't see the falcons but, I could tell they had been there because the falcons (like all birds) had left their calling cards and it looked to be fresh.

Russell Stover Candies

I thought for sure I'd get a nice reception at Russell Stover Candies but, it never materialized. The company occupies the 7,8,9 & 10th floors of the same building housing Commerce Bancshares. The building directory doesn't tell you which floor the main reception area is on so, I first went to the 7th floor. I was then sent up to the 9th floor, where the secretary to Louis Ward, President, came out to the lobby and told me to come back because Ward was in a meeting and she wasn't sure where or to who my letter to Ward had been directed.

On the receptionist's desks on the two floors visited were boxes of Russell Stover chocolates and hard candy. I showed great restraint in not gulping down a few.

I come back later in the day and Ward's secretary comes out to the lobby and says, "Mr. Ward isn't interested in participating". Well, guess whose candy will never touch my lips again? In the main lobby of the building is a small arcade of shops including a Russell Stover candy store. I went in and asked the store manager if the "big honchos" from upstairs came into the store and if that bothered her. She said, "I always have to be on my toes".

UtilCorp United

UtiliCorp United, is a gas and electric holding company with revenues of $1.1 billion in 1991. The company occupies the top two floors in a 30-story downtown high-rise. The company provides gas and electric utility service in eight states and one Canadian province, which would explain the need for 3 corporate aircraft (2 Hawkers and a Challenger).

United Missouri Bancshares

United Missouri Bancshares, is a bank holding company with revenues of $317 million in 1990. Headquarters is a company-owned, 6-story, 250,000 square foot building in downtown Kansas City. Expansion capabilities allows for a vertical 25-story tower in the future which would add 500,000 square feet of office space. Melinda Moss, Vice President & Director of Marketing, answered questions but, showed no interest in pursuing my request to see the boardroom. "The Boardroom is locked and I don't have a key", she replied. I asked if she could find somebody who did. "It's in another part of the building and I don't know where the keys are", she replied. She gave me the impression it was too much of an effort to walk over. A large collection of eclectic art is scattered around the various floors and lobby areas.

The CEO is Crosby Kemper, who is a cousin of David Kemper, CEO, at Commerce Bancshares (located across the street). From what I was told the two cousins aren't on friendly terms and are fiercely competitive.

Interstate Brands Corporation

Interstate Brands Corporation is the largest independent and third largest baker and distributor of fresh bakery products in the United States. The company went public in July of 1991. In the company's last year as an LBO, fiscal 1991 sales were $1.1 billion. Headquarters is in a company-owned, 3-story, 30,000 square foot brick structure built about 40 years ago. About 100 employees work in the building, which is located two miles from downtown.

The person I met with is Paul Yarick, Vice President-Treasurer. Due to the treatment I received from Yarick, IBC makes my Top 10 list of; Worst Treatment by a Company.

The unsmiling Yarick, who I guess is in his early 50's, came out to the small lobby and after I explained what I was doing, he agreed to answer my questions. I proceeded to sit down in a lobby chair and Yarick remained standing while I asked questions. How did it go? Well, let me give you an idea. As I go through my questionnaire I like to give examples of why I ask a particular question. Example: I ask if their conference rooms have any unusual names--at Apple Computer, all the conference rooms are named after soap operas-you might have a 10 o'clock meeting in the General Hospital Room or Dynasty Room. At S & R Restaurant Corporation in Dallas (they own Bennigans and Steak & Ale) all the conference rooms are named after items on the menus. Yarick said, "I don't care about other companies-just ask the questions".

Yarick treated me like I was an insignificant piece of dirt. Having visited over 1,000 companies and had my share of unpleasant receptions, I thought I had gotten over letting something like that bother me. I firmly believe, what goes around comes around.

Kansas City Power & Light Company

Kansas City Power & Light Company, with 1991 revenues of $825 million, is headquartered in a magnificent Art Deco, 32-story building built in 1934. Matter of fact, the building was used as a model for the building in the movie, Ghostbusters. Turner White, Vice President-Communications & Marketing, told me the company is moving in a few months to another downtown building several blocks away. Because the Art Deco structure is a Kansas City skyline landmark, the company will continue to be responsible for keeping the building lit at night.

In the Boardroom over a fireplace, hangs the original painting used as the cover of the company's 1952 annual report. Why? Thomas Hart Benton (who by the way is a local boy) did the cover. I'm a real fan of Benton and his murals. Though the company occupies the whole building, White didn't know why the executives are on the 11th floor.

Kansas City Southern Industries

Kansas City Southern Industries, with revenues of $610 million in 1991, didn't want to talk to me. Headquarters is a 8-story brick building in downtown. I dropped by three times. On my third visit, the guard in the lobby informed me, "Mr. Morrow isn't available to talk to you". I asked the guard if that meant Mr. Morrow wasn't available now or did that mean never? The guard said he understood it to mean never. I said to the guard, "why didn't Morrow just say he doesn't want to talk to me instead of the phony-he's not available?" The security guard laughed and said, "that's the way it goes".

From what I understood, my introductory letter to L. Rowland (CEO) had trickled down to Morrow, who's a vice president.

V.T. Inc.

My visit to privately held V.T. Inc. (automobiles, boats, and airplanes) didn't last long. Headquarters is on the third floor of a company-owned 3-story, 55,000 square foot office building about 10 miles from downtown Kansas City. V.T., according to Forbes magazine, had revenues last year of $1.1 billion. The CEO's name is Cecil Van Tuyl and me-thinks the company is named after Van Tuyl's initials.

Van Tuyl's secretary came out to the plainly furnished lobby area and said for me to submit my questions and they'll mail back the answers. I said, "If everybody did this, I could have stayed in San Diego and did this whole project from my home". I sure felt like I was getting the runaround.

BMA

BMA's (Business Men's Assurance Company of America) 19-story headquarters building sits on a hill overlooking downtown Kansas City. The company occupies 10 floors of the company-owned, 383,000 square foot structure. About 900 employees work in the building, which stands on part of the old Santa Fe Trail.

The company has an extensive Western art collection scattered throughout the floors. This includes; peace pipes, tomahawks, Katchina dolls, paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Goslin, Frederic James and Peter Hurd.

In 1990, Italy-based Generali Group, the third largest insurance company in the world (based on market capitalization), bought BMA. Of all the companies visited in Kansas City, Giorgio Balzer, CEO, has without a doubt, the best view. From his corner office on the 18th floor, the view of downtown is spectacular.

Butler Manufacturing

I tried three times to meet with someone at Butler Manufacturing company. Each time I was told, "everyone's busy". Well, I guess I didn't miss much because the company occupies floors 2 through 7 in the BMA building (that's the insurance company I visited in the preceding paragraph). With 1991 revenues of $461 million, Butler is the world's largest manufacturer of prefabricated buildings.

Marion Merrell Dow

Marion Merrell Dow, is a publicly-held pharmaceutical company 67% owned by Dow Chemical. Revenues in 1991 were $2.9 billion. Corporate headquarters are about 10 miles south of downtown Kansas City in a large 4-story horseshoe-style building. Originally there were suppose to be two separate buildings but, the company connected the two. About 1300 employees work in 485,000 square foot building, which is only leased. The 13-acre site once belonged to a synagogue, which located next door.

The company does quite a bit of business in Japan, which explains the Japanese artifacts. The company has three corporate aircraft: 2 Falcons and 1 Gulfstream.

The boardroom contains something unusual; a flag of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Why? Ewing Kauffman, Chairman Emeritus, own the team. Fred Lyons, CEO, has a horse's saddle mounted on a sawhorse in his corner office. It was a gift from an organization he headed.

 

While in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, I stopped by the NCAA Visitors Center. The two year old, 7-story office building houses the executive officers of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. To bad it was on a Saturday, otherwise I would have tried to see the head honcho's office. The 12,000 square foot visitor's center isn't worth the two bucks to get in.

 

Riding around downtown Kansas City, I came across this magnificent building which looked like an old Masonic Temple. Above the doorway was the name, Financial Holding Company. Being the nosy guy I am, I walk inside and find out it's an insurance holding company (parent company for Great Southern, United Fidelity and College Life). I was told the building use to be a Shriners Temple (I was close in my guess). Walking out, one of the women noticed the Bloomberg T-shirt I was wearing and asked if I was with Bloomberg. I asked her if she was familiar with Bloomberg and she replied, "my boss has a Bloomberg on his desk and I think we have a total of four". I then told her how to punch up my column.