On The Road In Denmark
Hey I don't know about you but I like lists. In a listing of the biggest cities in Scandinavia or the Nordic countries, Copenhagen tops the list with 1.8 million people followed by Stockholm with 1.5 million. Scandinavia consists of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. When talking about the Nordic countries though, I learn Finland and Iceland are included with Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Seems you can't go more than a block in Copenhagen without running into a yummy pastry shop. I really do pride myself in my ability and stamina to uncover and sample the wares of most of them. However, in Copenhagen I'm simply overwhelmed by their vast numbers. Copenhagen joins Montreal, Canada as being the only cities to (so far) do this to me.
Which city has the best-looking women? Copenhagen. But, Sweden gets the title for best-looking women in a country. By far, the biggest surprise has been the large number of young people (high school and college age), particularly women, who smoke. I had always envisioned the people of the Scandinavian region as being blonde, blue-eyed with healthy lifestyles. Nix that myth.
On a downside note, ranking cities in terms of how my receptions went, Copenhagen ranks near the bottom.
On The Road In Copenhagen
Biking along the harbor channel near downtown Copenhagen I look across the water and spot Danisco's sign atop the side of what looks to be a complex of old warehouse buildings. When I reach a big city like Copenhagen and have quite a few companies to visit (over 20), sometimes the easiest way to find 'em is to just ride around looking for their signs.
Hey, this is quite a place. Originally built in 1912 as a sugar refinery for the Danish Sugar Corporation (a predecessor company), the four connecting four-story building complex was restored in 1990 specifically to house the corporate staff of Danisco and it's a beaut. The red brick exteriors give the place a warehouse facade yet, the insides is anything but. Lots of light, glass and white walls greet you upon entering the reception area along with a striking white staircase to the side.
Rikke Boye, information assistant, gives me the tour of the place that is home to 400 employees. Walking down hallways, the exposed rustic timber beams seem to blend in instead of contrasting with the smooth white walls. I particularly like the meeting room with the white vaulted ceiling and wood floor. Then again, wood floors are standard throughout. The top floor contains an impressive high-cellinged, wood floor room called, The Lecture Hall, which includes a great view across the channel to the downtown area.
Danisco with revenues in 1994 of DKK 14 billion, profit DKK 1 billion, is the largest Danish producer and supplier of products, ingredients and packaging to the international food industry. Besides being a distiller, Danisco manufactures sugar. So you know what THAT means. Boye and I march down to the cafeteria where I proceed to check labels on sugar packets. The verdict? Nothing but Danisco sugar packets.
I can't see CEO Palle Marcus's office or boardroom, both on the third floor. "Why?", I ask. Boye says, "The third floor is a secured floor". I assure her I'm a very secure person as opposed to being insecure but, that gambit doesn't work.
An interesting historical tidbit: On January 27, 1943, when it was still a refinery, stray British bombs exploded in one of the buildings, which were in fact intended for the refinery's neighbor next door. The bombs killed six people. (For more information: DSC)
Walking into the four-story red brick headquarters of Nykredit I quickly notice the smell of mildew in the air. Granted it's a turn-of-the-century building but, they need to work on eliminating that odor. Receptionist Sanne Albertsen sitting in the small lobby area doesn't notice the smell and neither does Johnny Kelk, press secretary, who greets me in the lobby. If I thought the mildew smell was foul it's nothing compared to Kelk taking me into his small office, closing the door and having to endure the lingering stench of his cigarettes.
The building used to house the offices for a margarine company. The "Ny" in Nykredit means "new" and "kredit" means "credit" in Danish. The 10-year old company's main business is new home loans. Revenues in 1994 were DKK 4.9 billion, profit DKK 503 million.
Around 175 people work in the building but I don't get to see any of them because Kelk declines to show me anything but the front door.
A.P. Moeller Group
With revenues over DKK 28 billion in revenues, A.P. Moeller Group towers above all the other companies in Denmark. Moeller has interests in air transport (Maersk Line), oil and gas production, shipping (Maersk Line), retailing (owns Dansk Supermarked, Denmark's second largest chain of food & merchandise stores), shipbuilding and manufacturing. You could probably add another DKK 20 billion in revenues to the DKK 28 billion, if companies controlled by the twin parent companies, D/S Svendborg and D/S 1912, were figured in.
Befitting Denmark's largest company, Moeller's corporate offices front the harbor channel in the most prestigious part of town known as the Esplanaden. A neighbor down the street includes the Queen of Denmark in her splendid Royal Palace.
Built in the 1970's the six-story concrete building runs along the quay and it's about a block long. On the front lawn sits a large Henry Moore sculpture along with small signs informing the constant stream of tourists walking by that this is private property.
Off to the side of the front entrance it looks like they took the mast off an old sailing ship and stuck in concrete. It's at least seven stories high. Walking into the building I ask the security guard/receptionist about the mast/pole. Turns out it wasn't taken off an old ship but was specifically built to be placed there. On special occasions a massive Danish flag (1/5th the size of the pole) is unfurled.
Knud Pontoppidan, Executive Vice President, greets me in the lobby and we go into a small room next to the reception desk. Pontoppidan shows no interest in what I'm doing and it's over in five minutes. He declines to walk me around the place (home to 1,000 employees) because "we don't do that". Normally when I receive shabby treatment, I bite the bullet and leave quietly. This time I speak up and say, "Boy, I come 10,000 miles to visit your company and all you do is take me to a small room next to the reception area for five minutes. I was hoping maybe I'd get a tour of some of the floors". Pontoppidan smiles and replies, "walk around the OUTSIDE of the office block and have a good time". (For more information: DSAB)
J. Lauritzen Holding A/S
Several blocks from A.P. Moeller headquarters I find the offices for The Lauritzen Group, a company with a slew of businesses having to do with the sea. Besides building ships, operating passenger ships and manufacturing boilers and refrigeration and freezing systems for industrial and maritime needs, Lauritzen is a global sea transporter of perishables, LPG and bulk commodities. Revenues in 1994 were DKK 15 billion.
The old white four-story building on the corner is occupied by the company's J. Lauritzen A/S subsidiary. I'm in the six-story white building next to it which until the 1960's was a refrigerated warehouse for goods coming off its ships. My contact person, Jan Hein Hedegaard, Vice President-Public Affairs, knows this first hand because he's been with the company over 35 years and remembers the building before its conversion. I do a double take when Hedegaard says the J. Lauritzen building on the corner dates back to 1646.
Other subsidiaries have offices in the building but, only eight comprise the holding company staff which relocated here in 1987.
Walking around I'm not surprised to see shipping scenes on the walls or scale models of ships but, I do another double take upon seeing a stuffed penguin outside one of the conference rooms.
Not much to see in Chairman's Karsten Laursen's plain, middle office due to the room being readied for painting. The view is interesting. Straight out his window less than 100 yards away is where one of the company's huge passenger/ferry (Scandinavian Seaways) ships docks each day. (For more information: LAUR)
The East Asiatic Company Ltd. A/S
Hey, The East Asiatic Company has brand new corporate offices and it's quite a showplace. They took a rundown warehouse pier area, demolished and cleared it then, built a 12-story, 190,000 square foot glass and yellowish-brown brick edifice at the end of it. New apartments and other small offices fill in the rest of the pier.
According to building directory, reception is on the 6th floor so up I go. Stepping off the elevator there's no chairs or designated receptionist-just several people sitting behind desks. Since no one volunteers to acknowledge my presence I have to ask someone to help me. They definitely need to work on a better system for receiving people.
Meeting with Gertie Steincke-Benveniste, Information Secretary, I ask her about the sign above the entrance door which reads "Company House". "You built the high-profile building, you own the building, why don't you have your name on top or at least above the front door?", I ask. The company was originally suppose occupy the whole building but, between the start of construction and the time to move in, the company downsized. EAC has 175 employees occupying 60,000 square feet (floors 4-10) with 130,000 square feet for rent.
Well, here's another company where I can't have a tour. The CEO Michael Fiorini's office is off-limits because he's in a meeting and the boardroom is "in use".
EAC, which will be 100 years old in 1997, has 99 subsidiaries, 29 associated companies in 37 countries with over 11,600 employees. Revenues in 1994 were DKK 12.4 billion, profit DKK 230 million. EAC trades and distributes timber and wool, markets and distributes equipment for the graphics industry and, produces, sells and markets food and infant nutrition products. Other activities includes bulk shipping and distribution of chemicals, technical equipment and spare parts. (For more information: ESTA)
Den Danske Bank
Well isn't that quite the coincidence, Den Danske Bank, Denmark's largest bank with DKK 338 billion in assets, has their offices directly across the street from the country's central bank.
Walking in I find no one's familiar with what I'm doing and after several phone calls I'm directed several blocks away to a non-descript building where I meet with Peter Sander, journalist-information department. Boy, it turns out I get another lousy reception. Sander seems to know the answers to very few of my questions but, says the four-story main office building is a designated historical landmark structure. My request for a tour is declined. I can't see CEO Knud Sorensen's office because "he isn't in" and, "he's a very private person". Whenever I hear that last response my standard reply is: "well then, if he's such a private person why is he running a big publicly-held company?"
Revenues in 1994 were DKK 10 billion, profit DKK 818 million. (For more information: DDBC)
I'm several miles from downtown Copenhagen and there's the unmistakable smell of beer in the air so I know I'm getting close to Carlsberg's offices. Beer companies traditionally give me a good reception with Coors in Golden, Colorado giving me the best, followed by Molsons in Toronto, Canada, Fosters in Melbourne, Australia, Stroh's in Detroit, Michigan, Labatt's in Toronto with Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri being the only sour puss of the bunch.
Yep, corporate offices are in a brick building right around the corner from the brewery. Carlsberg, one of the world's largest brewers (Carlsberg and Tuborg being their best known beers), also produces and markets Coca-Cola and owns Royal Copenhagen (porcelain china). Revenues in 1993/94 were DKK 17 billion.
Walking into the building I'm greeted by the security guard/ receptionist in the tiny lobby area. When asked if I'd like something to drink I jokingly answer, "Yeah, I'll have a beer". I watch him as he walks down the hall a few feet and starts to put a glass under a Carlsberg beer tap. "No, no, I was just joking, I didn't think you'd serve beer to visitors". He ends up getting me a soda water out of a cooler.
Well, I'm told it's vacation time and none of the executives or secretaries are around so they can't track down who ended up with my introduction letter sent to the CEO. However all is not lost as Monica Ritterband, Head of Information, agrees to see me saying the letter probably would have ended up with her anyway. The meeting quickly turns into a bust as Ritterband skims over my questionnaire before I start asking questions and sees the part where I ask if it's possible to see the CEO's office and boardroom. "No you can't see the CEO's office and no, you can't see the boardroom", she says. Then Ritterband hits me with, "I'm due in a meeting in six minutes" and says I should come back in a couple of weeks. Boy, guess what brewery takes over Anheuser-Busch's position at the bottom of the barrel.
The ownership structure of Carlsberg A/S is unique. Though it's a publicly-traded company, the largest, single shareholder is the Carlsberg Foundation, which is required by its charter to hold a minimum of 51% of the share capital of Carlsberg A/S. The foundation was established by Carlsberg's founder, J.C. Jacobsen. (For more information: BRYO)
Sparekassen Bikuben A/S
Though it's in the prime downtown area of Copenhagen, Bikuben's headquarters isn't exactly on a main drag--it's more like a back street or alleyway. Then again, the site the three-story building sits on has a long history. Back in the 1700's the royal horse stables were located here. Now, it's home to the largest savings bank in Denmark and the third largest bank overall after Den Danske and Unibank.
I have a fun time visiting with Susan Middelboe, Vice President & Area Manager. Middelboe's familiar with what I do due to her being in charge of the international division (i.e. North America). Part of her job requires reading Canadian and USA newspapers to keep up with what's going on. In most major cities I passed through in the USA and Canada, the local newspaper did a story about my quirky trek and Middelboe recalls reading several.
The company's logo is a yellow beehive as in the industrious busy worker bees which is suppose to be a correlation to hard-working humans who SAVE their hard-earned money.
The square-shaped building has a good-sized open courtyard in the middle and the company puts it to good use. How?, by having art exhibits and staging concert recitals and chamber music. According to Middelboe the acoustics in the courtyard are fabulous.
I can't see the CEO's office due to him being in there having a meeting. The boardroom has three real plants, the red mahogany boardroom table consists of five tables pushed together and there's a bust of Juilius Hellman, who founded the bank,
1994 wasn't a good year for the bank. Revenues were DKK 4 billion, loss DKK 1 billion. (For more information: SBIK)
Built in the 1960's, the seven-story headquarters for Unibank has the uglies. The square-shaped building has those concrete brown pebbles on its exterior and it definitely hasn't aged well. Even Bodil Bjerk, information chief, doesn't put up much of a fight when I tell her what I think of the outside.
Unibank was formed in 1990 by the merging of three banks. It's now the second largest in Denmark after Den Danske. Revenues in 1994 were USD$1.5 billion, profit USD$86 million or (Revenues DKK 9.4 billion, profit DKK 520 million).
Over 1,000 employees work in this building and several neighboring buildings. Out front I counted over 60 bikes in the bike racks. Bjerk says one of those bikes is her's.
The furnishings in CEO Thorleif Krarup fifth floor corner office are modest but, the view has to be one of the best in town. Being a mile from the city center and across the river lets Krarup take in the downtown view. Of course, right across the river and in plain sight is the central bank of Denmark. (For more information: UNID)
Codan Forsikring A/S
Downtown Copenhagen contains a sparse collection of tall office buildings (tall here means anything over 10 stories) and the one's which are--almost all look to have been built 20 or 30 years ago. That's why insurer Codan Forsikring's 18-story head office building sticks out; it can't be more than five to ten years old.
Ah yes, I'm visiting Denmark's largest insurer (1994 revenues DKK 9.5 billion, assets DKK 55 billion) and as I've mentioned numerous times before insurance companies are my favorite industry group to visit for two main reasons: (1). they're usually well organized--meaning they received my advance material and have notified employees of my pending arrival including security and reception personnel. (2). Insurance companies are extremely fertile grounds for collecting corporate trivia.
The security guard manning the lobby doesn't speak a word of English and points me to a room off to the side. Four people sitting behind desks in the large room answer the phones and handle walk-in customers. One speaks a little English and tries to contact Corporate Communications. No one answers.
Coming back the next day I try to reach Flemming Kosakewitsch, whose head of Corporate Communications but, his secretary says he's not in. I explain what I'm doing to Kosakewitsch's secretary and specifically ask if I could leave background information (news clippings and letter of introduction) but am told "no".
My third visit several days later gets me a phone conversation with Kosakewitsch, who proceeds to announce in an arrogant manner, "I haven't time for you". He informs me they hadn't received my advance material and I'm instructed to MAIL in my advance material again and he'll answer back. Trying to explain that won't work because I'm in town for only a few more days falls on deaf ears.
I find it very odd when he says they hadn't received my advance material. Here's how that works: Before leaving on this two year segment through Europe I already had labels with names and addresses of the companies I'm visiting put on envelopes. Inside the envelopes I've already stuffed several news clippings concerning my unusual odyssey (it helps my credibility). I then have these postcard-size cards addressed to the CEO explaining what I'm doing. At the bottom of the card is where I put my anticipated arrival dates. Do you know how difficult it is for me to forecast the exact date I'll visit a company SIX WEEKS FROM NOW? I'm thousands of miles away, several countries away, with unknown weather conditions and unknown terrain. So, I usually give a time frame of a week to 10 days as to my arrival. Anyway, every six weeks I call my friend Nancy in Seattle, Washington with arrival dates for her to put on the postcards. She then places the postcard in the envelope, seals it and it's mailed from the USA. I mention the USA part because several Scandinavian companies told me getting a letter from the USA really sticks out.
As for Kosakewitsch's assertion they hadn't received my letter, I expect it's more a matter of sloppy work on their part by their IN-HOUSE mail department. When going around the United States I had companies tell me they never received the material. However, weeks or months later out of curiosity I'd check back. In almost every instance they admitted finding the letter after I left. The blame was usually put on someone being on vacation, letter being misdirected or, it was still sitting on the CEO's desk.
I do find out, thanks to the lobby personnel, there's a 13th floor button in the elevator. As I've mentioned before, insurance companies, unlike other companies, ARE NOT superstitious. (For more information: CDFK)
Sophus Berendsen A/S
I'm anxious to get out of downtown Copenhagen and visit companies in suburbia because I've found through seven years of doing this that companies are definitely friendlier in the suburbs. It must have something to do with being away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Seven miles from Copenhagen in suburban Soborg, lies the three-story headquarters of Sophus Berendsen. Revenues in 1994 were DKK 12.3 billion, profit DKK 994 million. Berendsen is the world's largest independent distributor of hydraulics, pneumatics and related products. The company also distributes electronics, offers pest control services in over 40 countries and is one of the largest textile services companies in Europe. Upon walking in the front door and before I can open my mouth, receptionist Lene Schroeder greets me with, "I know who you are" and proceeds to call up my contact person Camilla Randerson, Human Resource Manager.
The building, which houses 45 employees, was built in 1986 but definitely looks older. Why? The light tan-colored brick building has ugly aluminum siding along the windows which gives it a 1950's look.
I check the plants in lobby to make sure they're real. Why? Berendsen's Rentokil subsidiary is one of the world's largest companies in the renting and caring of plants and trees to corporate customers. Yep, they're real.
I ask if there's any special reason why the company moved its headquarters out here. Answer: they already owned the property. Right behind headquarters the company's linen services subsidiary has a big laundry facility. Matter of fact, it's been in operation on the site for over 50 years.
So what's this company doing with a logo of a bear standing upright carrying pieces of metal on its shoulder? The company's roots go back to 1884 when Sophus Berendsen, a German, founded it. The company's first line of business was the trading of iron. (For more information: SPBCB)
FLS Industries A/S
Riding five miles northwest of downtown Copenhagen brings me to the 12-story red brick head office of FLS Industries. Revenues for 1994 were DKK 14.5 billion, profit DKK 425 million. FLS Industries builds cement plants and cement making machinery and is Denmark's only cement producer. Other interests includes aerospace, packaging, building materials and trucking.
It's a campus-like setting with a total of six buildings in the complex. Built in 1950, the headquarters building has bright yellow portable window shades on the exterior of every office window. I've found these window shades are very popular with companies in Sweden and Denmark. Turn the crank and the window shade rolls out. I mention this because you can imagine how funny these very bright yellow shades look on the red brick building with some rolled in and others out.
Well I'm sure glad my latest batch of mail hadn't been forwarded to me yet. Helle Pedersen, secretary to CEO Birger Riisager, greets me in the lobby and says a letter was sent informing me not to drop by because they weren't interested in meeting with me. Since I'm here, Pedersen decides to accommodate me and calls in Torben Seeman Hansen, Corporate Public Relations, to assist her in answering my questions.
Nothing of interest to report here. Founded in 1882, the company has had a machine factory on this site since 1892. (For more information: FLSM)
Novo Nordisk A/S
Well, it's not everyday you walk into the lobby of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical corporation (or any other company for that matter) and find two large life-size bronze pigs hogging the spotlight. But, that's the situation here at Novo Nordisk's four-story headquarters seven miles northwest of Copenhagen.
The very helpful and accommodating Lotte Henrichsen, Executive secretary to CEO Mads Oevlisen, turns out to be my tour guide and answerer of questions. "So, what's with the pigs in the lobby?", I ask. Novo Nordisk, the world's largest producer of insulin, owes its existence to these porkers. Canadian scientists Banting and Best first produced insulin in 1922. Nordisk Gentofte (the Nordisk part of the current company's name) obtained the right from the two scientists to produce insulin by means of an extraction process. Guess which animal was used in this extraction process. Yep, porky pig and his buddies.
Revenues in 1994 were USD$2.2 billion, profit USD$235 million. Novo Nordisk also lays claim to being the world's largest producer of industrial enzymes cornering 50% of the world consumption. For instance, Novo Nordisk supplies the enzymes used in the wide variety of detergents manufactured and marketed by behemoth Procter & Gamble.
Various side streets contain a slew of Novo Nordisk buildings scattered about in this mixed industrial/residential area. Headquarters was built in the 1970's.
Since CEO Oevlisen isn't in, Henrichsen commandeers his fourth floor office for sitting down and going through my questions. Oevlisen's office is definitely out of the norm from what I've been seeing in Scandinavia in that there's plenty of personal items and nik-naks about. My favorite is the drawing in a picture frame with the word "whine" in a circle with the familiar red slash through it (meaning: no whining). Model race cars, model warplanes, a skateboard, a computer, one real plant, a piece of petrified wood and a drawing of his wife are just some of the items. I count 15 ceramic bowls in his office. Why? Henrichsen says Oevlisen's wife handcrafted all of them. His desk is nothing more than a worktable whose ends fold up. The view? Pretty boring looking out and seeing a company plant next door.
The company has a fitness facility several blocks away with five tennis courts, sauna, and tanning salon. Employees can choose to eat in any of the four company cafeterias located in various buildings nearby. It's a 45-minute drive to Copenhagen airport with the nearest freeway being less than a mile away. Nothing special about the U-shaped boardroom table. (For more information: NOVO)
International Service System A/S
Holte, a community 12 miles north of Copenhagen can lay claim to being home base to the biggest cleaning company in the world; International Service System (ISS). Following its merger with USA-based National Cleaning Group in 1993 the company has over 122,000 employees. Revenues in 1994 were USD$ 2.3 billion, profit USD$ 47 million.
A small sign from the road tells you to turn left into the complex but, it's real easy to miss because several miles in either direction they're nothing but residential houses fronting the street. The four white buildings are set back from the road and the place looks almost deserted. Jeez, I hope everyone hasn't gone on vacation. I've been hearing stories about companies in Europe shutting down and EVERYONE going on vacation at the same time.
While locking my bike outside a woman from the reception area steps out and asks me if I'm looking for the hotel located down the street. "No, I'm here to visit the company", I answer. Turns out she's one of the two receptionists and evidently I didn't look the part of a normal visitor.
Oh no, I'm initially told everyone's on vacation but, I luck out when Lise Friis, Group Finance Director, agrees to meet with me. Though she has no advance knowledge of what I'm doing, I proceed to have a super reception. "How come you aren't on holiday like everyone else here?", I ask. "I have to be here to make sure the bills are paid", she replies with a laugh.
ISS used to rent the building next door and it housed (and still houses) the company's ISS university. When the property came up for sale ISS bought it. The three-story headquarters, newly built in 1994, is home to 45 employees.
CEO Paul Andreassen occupies a third floor corner office and it's large. Friis says Andreassen has the TV/VCR for watching CNN and uses a stand-up desk due to his bad back. Looking out his window Andreassen can watch horses gallivanting around the grounds on a farm next door. (For more information: ISSI)
Rasmussen & Schioetz Holding A/S
Several miles of hilly roads north of SSI's headquarters brings me to Rasmussen & Schioetz, Denmark's largest construction company. Sometimes construction companies are interesting to visit because their headquarters are showpieces. Not here. The company built the 2-story structure over 10 years ago and it's real blah, part of a non-descript office park.
Jens Hoerup, Assistant Vice President, says they sold the building and now lease space. Twenty employees in the holding company and 400 employees in company subsidiaries work here.
Head honcho Jens Erik Karlskov, President, occupies a dull upstairs office with a view of the parking lot and a small fishpond. Jeez, he hasn't the usual hardhats or models or pictures of past or future construction projects.
Revenues in 1994 were DKK 4.3 billion, profit DKK 26 million. (For more information: RASM)
Rasmussen & Schioetz Holding A/STopdanmark A/S
Though insurer Topdanmark's company-owned headquarters is only one-story, it's big. Built in 1973, it's about a block long by a block wide and home to 800 employees.
Thomas Flensburg, journalist in the communications department, says the company moved it's headquarters from downtown to suburban Ballerup (six miles west of Copenhagen) in order to consolidate all its employees in one location instead of having them scattered in various downtown offices.
Since Topdanmark made the move out here quite a few other companies have followed suit and turned former farmland into office parks. When the building first opened, executives worked side by side with the masses but, evidently it didn't work out because the executives now have their own wing.
Pretty uneventful visit. The place looks like furnishings haven't been touched since its opening 1973 and I don't see it happening soon since the company lost DKK 427 million in 1994. Revenues were DKK 4.5 billion and assets DKK 15 billion. (For more information: TDP)
NKT Holding AS
It's an exasperating experience visiting cable maker NKT Holdings (1994 revenues DKK 5 billion, profit DKK 366 million) in Brondby, a suburb six miles southwest of Copenhagen. The three-story building looks new and inviting but, that's before I encounter the receptionist. She immediately states everyone's on vacation and I'll have to come back in three weeks. We then go back and forth until I finally persuade her to call up CEO G. Albrechtsen. No luck there because he isn't familiar with what I'm doing and, no, I'm not allowed to speak to Albrechtsen myself. After five minutes of getting nowhere, I elect to call it quits. I then ask for the receptionist's name and that opens up another round of talks concerning why she refuses to give me her name.
I'm outside getting ready to ride off when the receptionist waves me down. She has Joegen Lund Lavesen, Vice President-Financial Director, on his car phone. Lavesen proceeds to explain how the company shuts down for three weeks and EVERYONE goes on vacation at the same time. I thank him for his time and I'm on my way, though, I'm still wondering why the CEO was working. (For more information: NKKT)
Though Ulla Greve Jessen, Secretary to CEO Hans C. Andreasen, gives me a terrific reception, there's nothing worth noting at Jens Villadsens Fabriker A/S three-story headquarters in suburban Herlev. Built in 1967, it's in an industrial area with a McDonald's right across the street. Jens Villadsens Fabriker, with revenues in 1994 of DKK 3.5 billion, profit DKK 231 million, is Europe's largest roofing-felt manufacturer and one of the Nordic area's leading producers and contractors in the roofing and road-materials sectors. I do note CEO Andreasen's desk is a conference table.
Visiting Monborg & Thorsen Holding A/S seven miles southwest of Copenhagen in Hvidovre proves a waste of time as receptionist Lillian Oehmer informs me EVERYONES on vacation. She's not very helpful probably due to my looking over the counter and seeing I've interrupted her reading a gossip tabloid similar to Star magazine. The two-story concrete building sits in an industrial park. Oehmer says the holding company will be moving to downtown Copenhagen in October.
I encounter a very unhelpful receptionist at Det Danske Traelastkompagni A/S. Again I'm told everyone's on vacation but, I find that hard to believe as I see people entering and exiting the place. Located along a railroad siding in an industrial area five miles southwest of Copenhagen, the four-story red brick building looks pretty plain. DDT, a distributor of building materials, had revenues in 1994 of DKK 6.9 billion, profit DKK 211 million.
Visiting department store chain Wessel & Vett A/S had a lot of promise when I dropped by their office the first time. Located behind their downtown Copenhagen flagship store, the entryway contains a life-size sculpture done by O. Staehr-Nielsen in 1935. Titled "Vanity" it's of a woman looking at herself while holding a mirror to her front and back. I was told to come back later in the week. Well, the day I elect to go back I hear CEO J. Basse past away so, I decide to forgo a visit.
Alm. Brands A/S
Lyngby's a beautiful little community about eight miles northwest of Copenhagen. It's got a vibrant tree-lined main street and neat old well-kept homes. Tucked away amongst a grove of tall trees on the edge of town sits the 3-story office of insurer Alm. Brands. Alm is Danish for "general" and brand means "fire". The rear of the property backs up to a freeway.
Two receptionists sit in a glass room and how do visitors communicate with then? Through a stupid and tacky glass porthole-similar to what's on a ship. I'm told no one's familiar with what I'm doing but, they've called someone down to meet with me.
Petter Lundstedt, Senior Vice President, The Copenhagen Reinsurance Company Ltd., comes down to the lobby and is initially not quite sure what to make of me. Reading my introduction postcard he sees where I'm from La Jolla, California. That breaks the ice. Why? He was recently at La Jolla's Scripps Clinic Hospital for heart surgery. "You went all the way to California for heart surgery? Is Scripps Clinic that good?". "Yes", he answers, "it's one of the best in the world".
Well, taking hand-me-downs doesn't bother Alm. Brands because this place was built in the 1960's for another insurance company. When that company outgrew this place, they left and Alm. Brands moved in about 20 years ago. Revenues in 1994 were DKK 3 billion, profit DKK 98 million, assets DKK 11 billion.
Pretty spartan furnishings throughout. Chief General Manager Bent Knie-Andersen (CEO) has a middle office on the second floor. I see several family pictures, spot the computer and note the stand-up desk (bad back). The view? Hasn't got one because the trees are so tall.
I didn't realize I was saving the best for last but that's the way in turns out. Vedback is a waterfront community about twelve miles north of Copenhagen and it's THE place for the city's wealthy to reside. Homes here are big and the vegetation thick. Riding about two miles inland brings me to the very low-key headquarters of Superfos, a construction, chemical and packaging group. Superfos is the world's largest producer of plastic pails and tubs. Revenues in 1994 were DKK 4.3 billion, down from DKK 8 billion in 1993 due to the company selling off its fertilizer division. Profit in 1994 was DKK 165 million.
Oh no, walking into the two-story headquarters I notice the parking lot is nearly deserted. Not ANOTHER company closed for vacation. Phew! I'm in luck. Though most everyone's gone on vacation, Helle Torstensen, Secretary to CEO Peter Hoejland, isn't and readily agrees to show me around.
Built 20 years ago, the 10-building complex brick complex has the feel of a college campus. It's a peaceful site with sculptures dotting the grounds, birds chirping in the tall trees, there's a big reflecting pool between several of the buildings and a large pond on the backside of the property. Sounds like an ad for selling a home. Well, that's sort of correct. Since Superfos sold off it's fertilizer division, it doesn't need all the space and is trying to lease some of the buildings. Over 150 employees still work here. Calling it a "research center", the company brochure prominently touts it's tranquil setting and from what I've seen, rightly so.
CEO Hoejland occupies a first floor office overlooking a garden courtyard. Four real plants, a candy jar and several family pictures highlight his computerless office. (For more information: SFFC)
On the road in the rest of Denmark
Lego Systems A/S
All right, how many of you already knew Copenhagen was situated on a large island? Did you also know getting to the mainland from Copenhagen (which connects to Germany) requires crossing another large island?
Denmark's mainland, known as Jutland, has got to be one of the all-time best places in the world for biking. Besides having separate pathways for bikers, there're great mapped-out trails through the region that'll take you pretty much where ever you want to go using seldom-used paved and unpaved backroads. I've past dozens and dozens of families (many with young kids) spending their holidays biking through beautiful farmlands.
Riding to Billund to visit Lego Systems, the privately-held building blocks company with revenues somewhere in the billion dollar range, I'm on a bike trail but, evidently misunderstand a sign (it ain't easy trying to decipher these Danish signs) and find myself riding on a narrow, very busy two-lane road. Why is the road busy? Everyone's heading to Legoland Park, the kids amusement park built by the makers of those building blocks.
On the outskirts of Billund (population 5,000) I pass a large industrial park containing several massive buildings, each several blocks long. Riding around the perimeter of the park I periodically see several colorful car-size Lego blocks stacked on the grounds. Ah ha, this must be the shipping center, manufacturing center and/or administrative center so, I check it out. Jeez, the whole place is practically deserted. I stop a man driving a Lego company truck and find out it's a company plant.
Following the cars about a mile from the industrial park I encounter Legoland and the massive traffic jam it produces. A quick visit to the information center and I learn headquarters for Lego Systems is on the other side of the park.
Headquarters is a myriad of one-story brick buildings with the 1960-1970's look. The front entrance area is all torn up and it looks like some renovation and add-on work is being conducted though I don't see construction workers. As I'm following the signs to the reception area I notice the parking lots are completely barren. Oh, oh, entering the building I notice the lights are off and the only people inside are several Lego personnel moving furniture around. I ask if they speak English and they shake their heads. I start wandering around the building saying "hello", hoping I might catch someone working. No such luck. The entry door is glass and there's a sign saying no cameras allowed inside. I get my camera off my bike and take a picture of the "no cameras" sign.
Getting to Lego Systems required riding quite a bit out of my main route and I'm a little steamed about going all this way for naught. Why couldn't they have notified me of their closing? The advance material I sent a month ago contained my phone and fax number in California which is checked once a week. Hanging around the entrance for 15 minutes I catch Jan Damn, Manager, European Account Coordination, walking into the building and he confirms what I already knew: the whole place (except for Legoland) shuts down for three weeks in July.
So, what does a guy do in a situation like this? He goes to Legoland! It's packed to the rafters but I manage to work my way through the throngs for a quick walkabout.
Riding through Billund's tiny block-long downtown I spot about 100 people congregating across the street from a church. Everyone's looking over at the church. Some kind of service seems to be ending as dozens and dozens of people pour out of the church including a small high school band in uniforms. I ask a couple of the bystanders what's going on. "Gotfred Kirch Christiansen died over the weekend and services were just held", one answers. "Who was he?, I ask. Turns out the 75 year-old Christiansen was the founder of Lego Systems! He was obviously a beloved figure judging by the dozens of townfolks weeping as he was driven away to be buried in a nearby cemetery.
How small townish is Billund? Christiansen lived in the corner house right across from the church and right behind where I'm standing talking to the bystanders. Though Christiansen's son has been running the company for some time and is reputed to be Denmark's richest man, there's no long line of limos and drivers here as everyone drives their own car (including the son) as the procession leaves for the cemetery. SIDENOTE* After my visit I find out LEGO did try to contact me. However, instead of doing it via fax or phone, a letter was sent. My mail is forwarded from California every three weeks and the next batch contained a nice letter from Hanne Boutrup-Public Relations, saying they looked forward to my visit but, also informing me of their closure from July 10th to July 31st.
Arhus, with a population of 200,000, is the third largest city in Denmark (after Copenhagen and Odense). Four miles from downtown puts me at the front door of MD Foods, a dairy co-operative with 10,000 members (and you probably thought it was a group of doctors selling foods).
Waiting in the lobby/reception area of the three-story structure built in the 1970's I take a seat on one of the nine blue chairs. Looking around the room I note it's absolutely barren of any items having to do with the dairy industry.
The surrounding area is mixed industrial/office use and Ulla Kjer, Public Relations Assistant, says over 500 employees work in the place.
The company was founded in 1970 when four dairy groups merged. The resulting name was Mejeriselskabet Danmark, So, if 60% of your revenues (DKK 12.2 billion) was derived from exports, wouldn't you change your name to something simpler? MD Foods processes 66% of all Danish milk supplies and accounts for 77% of Denmark's cheese exports and 96% of its butter exports.
Small perk it is but, employees get free milk in the cafeteria. I have this hankering for chocolate milk so its down to the cafeteria we go. Kjer's a little nervous because she isn't sure about whose brand of milk will be in the cafeteria because "the designated milk supplier for this area might be a competitor". She can breathe a sigh of relief as the milk is MD Food brand. Me, I'm not happy because there's isn't any chocolate milk.
Up to the third floor we go to check out CEO Jens Bigum's office. There's no computer, no family pictures, three real plants and one lousy item having to do with milk: a ceramic abstract cow.
Korn-og-Foderstof Kompagniet A/S
Several blocks down the road from MD Foods I'm at the two-story headquarters of Korn-og Foderstof Kompagniet (KFK), an agriculture company with 1994 revenues of DKK 6.8 billion, profit DKK 150 million.
Built in 1965 and looking it, the company-owned building is home to 130 employees. Deputy Managing Director Svend Eriksen answers questions and gives me a tour of the place. I first ask him about the big antique contraption in the lobby area. Turns out its a corn weighing machine from 1905.
Besides dealing in grain and feeds, KFK is the largest private importer of coal in Denmark. Where does this coal comes from? A mine in Kentucky.
KFK has co-Managing Directors or Co-CEO's: Albert Beckenkamp and Bent Clausen. Beckenkamp gets the corner office with Clausen next door. Neither have computers and neither have any farming memorabilia. My tour guide Eriksen is third in command. The boardroom seats 12 and like the rest of the building the decor is spartan. For more information: KORN)
Riding 30 miles north of Arhus toward the northeast top part of Denmark brings me to Randers, a quiet town of 60,000 people. When three Danish slaughterhouses merged in 1990, they formed the largest bacon factory in Europe, Danish Crown. Over 15,000 farmers belong to this cooperative which had over DKK 11 billion in revenues last year.
So, as I head four miles from town looking for their offices I'm wondering if I'll get a whiff of the place when getting closer. Wow, what a surprise, the only whiff I get are from the hamburgers cooking next door at McDonald's. The modern two-story headquarters sits between the McDonald's and one of those large one-stop supermarkets.
Though receptionist Jutta Jespersen does her best in trying to find someone to meet with me, I'm out of luck because most everyone is on vacation. Normally over 200 employees work in the place.
The lobby area contains a fishpond and I take a look to see if I can spot any pigfish. Nope.
The only bright point comes when Jespersen presents me with a Danish Crown cap. It ends a long dry spell. Until now, not one company in Denmark had given me any kind of a nik-nak (T-shirt, pin, pen etc.) Matter of fact, the more I think about it, not one Danish company visited had fresh fruit for visitors (unlike Swedish companies where it was the norm).
Jyske Bank A/S
Denmark's financial center is Copenhagen and it's home to the three biggest banks. The number four, Jyske Bank, a nationwide bank with assets of more than DKK 48 billion, calls Silkeborg home. Located in the middle of Jutland (the mainland part of Denmark), Silkeborg has a population of around 60,000 people and nary a building taller than five stories.
As with practically 99% of the cities and towns I've past through in Scandinavia, the downtown area is vibrant and usually contains a pedestrian shopping mall. Silkeborg's pedestrian mall runs about four blocks and has the usual mix of shops, restaurants and services. It's on this mall that I come across Jyske Bank's headquarters. Wow, it's a turn-of-the-century three-story building but it's not very big. This is home to Denmark's fourth largest bank?
Walking inside I see it's a banking branch and ask the woman manning the reception desk where I'd find the corporate offices. She pulls out a copy of one of the news clippings I'd sent in advance and says, "I know who you are". Shortly, Birte Ravn Oestergaard, Marketing Manager, arrives and I receive a warm welcome.
Here's something seen only one other time: handing over her business card I see it has her picture on it. Every employee, including the CEO, has their picture on their business cards. Eastman Kodak was the other company.
Jyske Bank was established in 1967 as a result of four banks in the Jutland area merging. Jyske is another word for Jutland.
Looks are very deceiving here as I find out there's a very large building attached to the backside of this bank and behind the next dozen store fronts on the pedestrian mall. Built in the late 1960 or early 1970's, over 500 employees work here. Upstairs in the old banking branch there're several rooms containing historic bank memorabilia including old furniture, pictures and a ledger from 1922. The best item though is the oil painting from 1924 showing a bank run on a competitor's bank: Den Danske Bank. Okay, so what if it was only a Den Danske Bank's predecessor bank way back when, it still gives Jyske's employees a certain amount of glee showing it off to visitors like me.
CEO Kaj Steenkj really likes photographs. On a large wall in a hallway there's a flowchart showing the roughly top 50 people in the company. A photograph of that person accompanies the name and title. I've seen several large companies do this as a management tool, helping executives put a name and title with the face they've just run into in the hall. But, according to Oestergaard, that's not the case here. "It's done for the benefit of media people like yourself".
We spend a few minutes talking about Jyske Bank not being in headquartered in Copenhagen and Oestergaard dismisses the notion you've got to be there. This leads to my being walked around the trading floor where she points to several of the BLOOMBERGS being used and says, "machines like these help make it possible for us to be located here in Silkeborg."
The nearest freeway is 25 miles away and the nearest airport is 10 miles. (For more information: JYBC)
The hotel scene in Scandanavia
My arms will never be the same after my lodging experiences in Scandanavia. You know those king, queen and double beds we take for granted in hotel rooms in the USA? Evidently they haven't figured out a way to transport 'em across the ocean because they're few and far between over here. Dinky-size twin beds are standard issue and it's a joke. I'm six feet tall and it's gotta be murder for someone taller or wider to sleep on one of those--ESPECIALLY when they place the immovable bed next to a wall. I'm always waking up the next morning with my arms sore from flopping off the bed or banging the walls.
In the USA I'm used to having a bath towel, a hand towel and a wash cloth (for my face). Over here, nix the last item--you're suppose to wash your face and dry your hands with the same hand towel.
Try controlling the temperature in your room over here. Though room brochures will spew out info on your room being individually climate controlled, forget it! The heat and/or air conditioning is all controlled by the maintenance people-who just happen to never be around when needed.
I hate the bathtubs in Scandanavia. They're small and V-shaped, meaning they're narrow at the base. When taking a shower both feet can't stand flat on the bottom and the darn shower curtain touches you.
One item I DO like over here: getting up on a cold morning and walking into a bathroom who's floor heats up.
I tried most of the chains. Scandic Hotels, far and away has the most properties. It sort of reminds me of Holiday Inns, with it's Scandic Crown properties similar to Holiday's Crowne Plaza. Sokos Hotels, an upscale chain in Finland, Reso Hotels, an upscale chain primarily in Norway and Sweden, and SAS/Radisson Hotels, located in the major cities, round out the major players in the high-end market.
Favorite hotels? Sheraton has great properties in Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg. Mainly because they're USA standard meaning: big, with at least double beds and wash cloths. The SAS/Radisson Malmo lays claim to having the biggest rooms in northern Europe. Huge they are, the facility used to be an apartment building.
Bang & Olufsen Holding A/S
My visit to corporate Denmark ends on a whimper. Arriving in Struer (population 5,000), located in the northwest part of northern Denmark, I've come to see Bang & Olufsen--those purveyors of upscale audio and video systems.
Several miles from downtown on a street named Peter Bangsvej (after co-founder Peter Bang) I come upon three, three-story brick buildings with the early 1970's-look. It's company headquarters all right but, the place is deserted. A sign posted on the front door says the period between July 17-August 5 is holiday time. Rats!! A classy company would have notified me of the closure. Looking through the windows into the reception area nary a speaker or stereo system is in sight (let alone a Bang & Olufsen). (For more information: BGON)