On the road in Cincinnati, Ohio 6/29/92
Hook-SupeRx, Inc., is the 6th largest drugstore chain in the country. Headquarters is a 3-story, 87,000 square foot building in an office park about 20 miles north of downtown Cincinnati. About 380 employees work in the plainly-furnished building, which the company leases. 1992 is the first year the company is publicly-held. Philip Beekman, CEO, has a corner office on the first floor with a view of the parking lot. Beekman told me most of the furnishings in his office were already there, which isn't saying much because it's very spartan. Looking at his desk, I mention he has a partners desk (double-sided desk) and Beekman says it's news to him.
Cincinnati Financial Corporation
Cincinnati Financial Corporation is an insurance holding company with revenues in 1991 of $1.1 billion. Headquarters is about 25 miles north of downtown Cincinnati and about 2 blocks from a large regional shopping mall. The company-owned, 9-story, 380,000 square foot building was built in 1985. Joan Shevchink, Director-Publications/Curator, meets me in the lobby, where we sit and go through my questions. About 1,500 employees work in the building, in which employees (as a company tradition) get free soup and crackers in the company cafeteria.
It's lunchtime and as we go up the elevator to the top floor to see the CEO's office and boardroom, I see quite a few employees getting on with soup and crackers. Robert Morgan, the CEO, has a small office-which isn't even a corner office. For more information: CINF
My reception at Heekin Can isn't much to talk about. The nation's largest regional can manufacturer (1991 revenues $353 million, net income $-19 million) has its corporate offices in a 2-story building located about 20 miles north of downtown Cincinnati in an office park complex. I pretty much get the runaround over the phone from the CEO's secretary as I stand in the small reception/lobby. She suggests I come back another time. I unsuccessfully try to explain how, all the other companies left for me to visit are downtown (20 miles away). For more information: HEKN.
Union Central Life Insurance Company
My visit to Union Central Life Insurance Company is a disaster due to several nice, but inept receptionists. The address I have for the corporate offices takes me out to the suburb of Forest Park, which is about 20 miles north of downtown Cincinnati. Built in 1964, corporate headquarters is a large white marble and glass structure situated on 274 acres. I walk into the building and the two receptionists manning the reception area give me a warm greeting. I tell them what I'm doing and ask if they could call Mr. Rossi's (he's the CEO) secretary and find out where or to whom my introduction material trickled down. They BOTH inform me that Mr. Rossi has an office in a downtown Cincinnati high-rise and if the letter was addressed to him-that's where it ended up. They give me his address downtown and I then ask, "Are you SURE you're are directing me to the right place because I don't want to go all the way downtown and find out I should have met with someone here". The two ladies nod there heads. "Have you ever been to the offices downtown?", I ask. No, they reply.
Off I go to downtown Cincinnati and the address takes me to the 17th floor of the 29-story Chiquita Building. I find myself walking into one of Union Central's sales office. I walk up to the receptionist and explain to her what I'm doing. She then says, "what are you doing here?, this is only a sales office and Mr. Rossi only comes by once in a while to pick up his mail". I then tell her how I was at the corporate/home offices in Forest Park and was sent down here. An office manager comes out and I rehash the whole story to her. She apologizes profusely and says she hopes I don't write about the snafu. End of story? Not quite. The next day I'm reading a local business publication and find out Harry Rossi isn't even the CEO, he retired sometime ago!! Why didn't the Union Central people tell me that!!?? With my tight schedule, I'm not able to ride back to visit one of the 30 largest mutual life insurance companies in the country.
E.W. Scripps Co.
As I've come to expect, I get a lousy reception at a media company. E. W. Scripps Co. is the eighth-largest newspaper publisher and 12th largest broadcaster (1991 revenues $1.3 billion, net income $71 million) in the country. The company occupies 6 floors in the Central Trust Tower, which when it was built in 1913-it was the fifth tallest building in the world.
Coming off the elevator on the 10th floor, I encounter a very small reception/lobby area. The tiny reception area contains three chairs, no reading materials and several plaques on the walls-listing Pulitzer prizes won by the company's various newspapers over the years. There's also a bronze bust of E.W. Scripps. The not-very friendly receptionist sends me up to another floor to see Greg Hartel, Manager-Corporate Communications. Hartel seems to eye me with suspicion and his answers are very guarded. I get the feeling he thinks I'm a spy. Two female assistants come into the office and after regaling them with samples of the material I've collected-the two women seem to "open up". Hartel is all-business and we're done in about five minutes. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is declined. About 175 employees work on the 4th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th floors. The company will be moving next month to a new high-rise building several blocks away.
For more information: SSP
I wasn't expecting much as I walk into the 14-story downtown building in which Eagle-Picher Industries has their offices. Why? The company recently filed for bankruptcy. Revenues in 1991 were $599 million, with net income $-16 million. The receptionist gets hold of Thomas Petry's (he's the CEO) secretary, who walks out to the lobby and says they hadn't received the introduction material I sent. I tell her that's strange because all the other companies I visited received the material. I'm then told no one is available to meet with me. Hmmm. Methinks I'm getting the runaround. I think I can explain why they're in bankruptcy: it's because they're located on the 13th floor of the building.
For more information: EPI
Chemed leases four floors in a spiffy-looking 30-story downtown office high-rise. The building, known as Chemed Center, is about a year old. I end up on the 26th floor having my questions answered by the CEO's secretary. Chemed, with 1991 revenues of $352 million, net income $13 million, owns among other companies, Roto-Rooter and National Sanitary Supply Company. I stand up next to the secretary's desk asking the questions. Edward Hutton, CEO, walks by and his secretary introduces me. Hutton shakes hands and without uttering a word, walks away and closes his office door. Jeez, was it something I said? About 50 employees work in the corporate office and the company has two corporate aircraft-both Hawker-Siddleys. For more information: CHE
Star Banc Corporation
Star Banc Corporation, is a bank holding company with 1991 revenues of $577 million, net income $66 million. Star Banc occupies 255,000 square feet or 12 floors of a company-owned 562,000 square building in downtown Cincinnati. Right across the street is Fifth Third Bank, which last month made an unfriendly takeover bid. Patrick Hayes, Vice President-Corporate Director of Marketing and Public Relations calls the rival bank, "the fraction bank". I find out Fifth Third Bank is bigger than Star Banc but for some reason, I didn't have Fifth Third on my list to visit. Hayes is a chain smoker and his office reeks of cigarettes. Though talking to Hayes is interesting (he worked for quite a few years at Procter & Gamble) after two minutes in his smoke-filled office, my eyes start to water. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is declined because "they're both being used".
During lunchtime the next day as I'm sitting in a downtown square watching people, Don Hinkley stops and asks questions about my bike. I find out Hinkley is Assistant Vice President and Senior Trust Officer at Fifth Third Bank AND, he has a BLOOMBERG. I tell him about my trek and how I somehow managed to include Star Banc but not Fifth Third on my list of companies to visit.
*** Several days later it's announced Fifth Third has withdrawn it's bid for rival Star Banc. For more information: STRZ
Cincinnati Milacron, a manufacturer of machine tools, plastics machinery and industrial products is headquartered about 5 miles from downtown in a brick building located next to one of their manufacturing plants. The surrounding area is mostly residential and the place has the 1940's look to it. The security guard/receptionist is a super nice guy and so is Jan Grefer, secretary to Daniel Meyer, the CEO. Grefer comes out to the lobby and tells me I've picked a bad day to visit because everyone is tied up in meetings. She gives me a thick book on the history of the company and she hopes I can come back another day. Unfortunately it's a "one shot" deal for me. Revenues in 1991 were $754 million. For more information: CMZ
Gibson Greetings, Inc.
Gibson Greetings, Inc. is headquartered about 13 miles north of downtown in the well-to-do suburb of Amberly. Situated on a 56 acre site, along with a manufacturing plant, the three story corporate office building and plant total 600,000 square feet. Built in 1957, the company leases the complex. On the front grounds are shrubs that spell out, Gibson Greetings. I have to pass muster with a security guard in a guard booth before I'm allowed on the grounds.
It's 8 AM and Stephen Sweeney, Vice President-Human Resources takes me into his office and lights up a cigarette. Jeez, his office reeks of cigarette stench. What a way to start my day. About 25 employees work in the corporate offices. Benjamin Sottile, the CEO, has a large first floor office overlooking the well-manicured grounds. Sottile has several pictures of aircraft carriers in his office because of his navy background. There's a walking trail around the grounds, which at one time was a public golf course. Original artwork for some of the greeting cards line several hallways. There's no boardroom. Revenues in 1991 were $524 million. Did you know Gibson Greetings is the oldest greeting card company in the world? Yep, the roots go back to 1850, in which the four Gibson brothers started the company. All in all, I was given a nice reception. Why do I mention this? I received a lousy reception at American Greetings in Cleveland and a lousy reception at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. For more information: GIBG
Words on Cincinnati
My visit to Cincinnati brings back memories of when I rode through town five years ago visiting the 650 largest corporations. I had more "bad" receptions from companies in Cincinnati than anywhere else. The shabby treatment received at Western-Southern Life, an insurance company with $5.6 billion in assets, put them on my list of the Five Worst Receptions. Procter & Gamble said they didn't have time for me. Carl Lindner's American Financial Corporation routed me to their legal counsel department-which told me they had nothing to say, which meant ditto to two other Lindner companies; Chiquita Brands International and Penn Central. The guy at Kroger made me feel like a pain in the rear and so did Federated. U.S. Shoe Company was only company to welcome me.
On a more positive note, Cincinnati made this list: The 10 Best Bridges To Ride A Bike Over. As you cross the Ohio River from Kentucky into downtown Cincinnati, you ride over the John Roebling Bridge. Built in 1866, this bridge was the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge (built in 1887). You get a sense of history riding over the bridge plus, the view of the downtown skyline is great.
One other note about Cincinnati. Chili shops are EVERYWHERE. For some reason there seems to be a chili shop on every corner. The two biggies are Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili-those two alone have over 100 stores in the Cincinnati area. With yours truly being a fast-food junkie, I tried 'em both. Yech!
On the road in Dayton, Ohio 7/21/92
It's been drizzling on and off the whole day from Cincinnati to Dayton. Riding up to the headquarters of Huffy Corporation (1991 revenues $678 million) I'm surprised to find no bicycle racks. One would think the maker of the largest selling brand of bicycles in the United States would have racks. The small reception/lobby area contains a wrought iron sculpture by Leo Holmskov entitled Bicycle Girl. On one wall is a framed collection of 51 matchbook covers from 1935 and featured on each cover is a bicycle. Magazines found lying around the waiting area include American Bicyclist, Bicycling, Mountain Biking, Adweek's Marketing Week, Nation's Business, Bicycle Guide, Bicycle Business Journal and City Sports.
Charlton George, Chief Financial Officer, comes out to the lobby and guess what?--because it looks like it's going to rain again, he lets me bring my Cannondale bicycle into Huffy's lobby. That would be like driving a Ford into General Motor's lobby or bringing a Coke into Pepsi's headquarters.
Headquarters is next to Interstate 75, about 10 miles south of downtown Dayton in a company-owned, one-story 47,000 square foot structure built in the early 1960's. Huffy was the first company to move out into this area, which is now built up with office parks and shopping centers. Across the street from Huffy is a small plot of land with corn growing. About 45 employees work in the building, with Harry Shaw, the CEO, having a view of the street.
Being from San Diego, I was surprised to learn Huffy owns Washington Inventory Service, a San Diego based company which is one of only two nationwide inventory counting services. Riding around the back of the building I see a basketball backboard and I check to see who's brand it is. Why? Huffy Sports Company is the leading supplier of basketball backboards in the USA. It's one of theirs. Did you know Huffy Service First (a Huffy subsidiary) is the nation's largest and only, nationwide supplier of in-store assembly, repair and warranty service to retailers? Riding off I realize I should have taken a picture of my Cannondale bike inside Huffy's lobby. Oh well.
Amcast Industrial Corporation
About two miles from Huffy and eight miles from downtown Dayton I find the one-story headquarters of Amcast Industrial Corporation (1991 revenues $271 million, net income $7 million). This manufacturer of flow control products and automotive components is headquartered in a plain company-owned building built in 1958. Not much to say about the place. Phyllis Naylor, Communications Coordinator, informs me the company has one corporate aircraft; a King Air.
The Elder-Beerman Stores Corporation
The Elder-Beerman Stores Corporation is a privately held regional department store chain (48 stores and 13 shoe outlets). Corporate offices are located in their company-owned, 4-story, 200,000 square foot distribution center about 5 miles from downtown Dayton. The lobby, which has several vendors waiting to meet with company personnel contains a portrait of Mr. Beerman (the founder) and a picture of Max Gutmann, the recently retired CEO. Next to the receptionist (Peggy Esposito), who by the way is a terrific lady, are two 3-foot swinging gates. Anyone going in or out the building pass through the gates and people are constantly coming and going. Why do I mention the gates? They make a squeaky noise everytime someone goes through. Bruce Macke, Executive Vice President, takes me up to the fourth floor and goes through the motions showing no interest. Allowed a peek into Milton Hartley's (CEO) office, I see a stuffed badger and count 6 antlers mounted on the walls along with eight duck decoys. The company has one corporate plane; a Citation 3.
Danis Industries Corporation
My visit to Danis Industries Corporation was quick. The privately held building contractor (one of the 75 largest in the USA) is located in a 5-story building on the riverfront called, Riverplace. Thomas Danis is the CEO and his secretary is also the receptionist. I explain to her THREE times what I'm doing and she keeps responding about not being able to give me a donation. I FINALLY get through to her what I'm doing and she says they hadn't received my introduction material and nobody has time for me.
Reynolds & Reynolds
Reynolds & Reynolds is primarily a supplier of information management systems (1991 revenues $600 million). In 1987 the company bought two downtown Dayton office buildings separated by an alley. The buildings were renovated and connected and now house the corporate offices. Paul Guthrie, Director-Corporate Communications, tells me 150 employees work in the 6-story structure. David Holmes, CEO, has a wood-paneled corner office on the top floor with several sailing and boating items scattered around. The company has one corporate aircraft: a Hawker-Siddley.
For more information: REY.
The Standard Register Company
On the fringe of downtown Dayton, near a freeway off-ramp is the two-story headquarters building of The Standard Register Company (1991 revenues $693 million). Walking into the small lobby, the security guard/receptionist knows who I am because he was given notice of my pending arrival and he saw me ride up on the bike. The company's visitor badges are unique: since the company was founded on the principal that continuous forms feed accurately and positively over a machine equipped with pinwheels to engage holes punched in the margins of the forms-it's only fitting Standard's visitors badges look like one of its products. In other words, the visitor badge has holes punched in the margin-which makes it look like one of the forms they make.
G. B. Chadwick, Vice President, Customer Service & Communications, takes me into the beautiful wood-paneled boardroom on the second floor where we sit down and go through my questions. On the bottom right corner of Chadwick's business card it reads, "Recycled Paper, 10% Post-Consumer". About 700 employees work in the corporate offices and an adjacent plant, which were built in the 1920's (total square footage for both is 377,000).
Quite a bit of renovation was recently done on the corporate offices and Chadwick tells me a humorous story concerning J. Darragh, the CEO. It goes something like this: the wood paneling in the boardroom contains intricate carvings and a search was made to find someone who could replace and carve paneling to match the existing wood. It's a lost art that has declined over the years but, they were able to find a 90 year-old man who agreed to do it under one condition; no one would bother him. So as the story goes, the old man had been tapping away for several days in the boardroom behind closed doors. Next door to the boardroom is the office of Darragh, President and CEO. Darragh could hear the tap, tap, tapping going on next door and finally his curiosity gets the best of him. Darragh walks into the boardroom and stands behind this tiny old man, who's wearing a baseball cap and has a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth, tapping away. Darragh looks at what the old man is doing and tells him one of the lines looks a little crooked. Without turning around the old man says, "what do you do here" and Darragh replies, "I'm the President". Then the old man retorts, "well, why don't you go back to doing that" and with that the old man continues tapping away and Darragh does a retreat.
Darragh's wood paneled corner office has a fireplace and a couple dog pictures. Dayton Airport is 14 miles away and the company has one corporate aircraft, a Learjet.
Taking a country road I head about 20 miles north of Dayton, to Troy (population 20,000). A few miles out of Dayton and it turns into farmland, with fields of ripe corn and snow peas all around. Something happens though that scares the dickens out of me. Riding past a huge cornfield I keep hearing this popping sound which I figure is probably a couple of kids taking target practice with their guns. Of course with my wild imagination, I picture these kids seeing me ride by on my bicycle and decide to take potshots at this moving target. Well, I no sooner get done thinking this to myself when I hear this loud bang. It sounds like it came about 10 feet from me and for an instance, thought I had been shot. I look over into the cornfield and see what looks to be a machine gun mounted on a stand and it's painted red, white and blue. Meanwhile I keep hearing these popping noises all around the cornfield and it finally occurs to me what's going on: the farmer had installed automatic air guns on timers in the cornfield to scare away the birds!
Hobart Brothers Company
The address I have for Hobart Brothers Company is Hobart Square. So when I get into downtown Troy I ask three people where to find the corporate offices. Each ones says, "do you want Hobart Corporation or Hobart Brothers Company?" Well, it seems Hobart Corporation is the company which makes industrial/commercial restaurant equipment and the company I want is Hobart Brothers Company, a privately-held company which makes automated welding systems, aircraft ground support systems, computerized production controls, metal spray technologies and robotics.
Corporate offices are located on Main Street in a company-owned, 3-story, 60,000 square foot structure built in 1941, which looks like a cross between Art Deco and Frank Lloyd Wright. On the walls in the spartan lobby/reception area are three framed pencil sketches of past Hobarts.
I receive a warm welcome from William Hobart, Chairman and CEO. Mr. Hobart, who is in his late 60's, takes me to his office where we spend an hour conversing. Having visited (so far) over 1,100 companies, I would put Mr. Hobart on my top 5 list of Favorite People Met. While talking, Michael Wolf, President, drops in for a minute because he wants to meet "the guy going around the country on a bicycle visiting corporations". Also dropping by for a minute is Peter Hobart, Vice Chairman and younger brother of William Hobart. Peter is in charge of international operations, which makes up 30% of the company's business. I ask William what his company revenues are and after several seconds, I realize I've put William Hobart on the spot. I then say, "well, to be on my list you have to have revenues between $300 million and $1.5 billion in revenues". Hobart then says his company is "approaching $300 million".
William Hobart has an interesting office. He has a corner office with curved windows and a view of Hardees, a fast-food chain and the local library. On one wall is a four-foot high, black and white, Ansel Adams-type poster of the Matterhorn. "Why?", I ask. Hobart says he's always wanted to climb it but, has only gotten as far as the base. Hobart has two stand-up desks in his office, along with a normal desk-with the later having been his father's. One of the stand-up desks is wood and the other is metal. William Hobart's grandfather started the company back in 1917 and it was eventually taken over by William's father and two uncles. Anyway, William's father made a stab at making office furniture (ala Steelcase and Herman Miller) and it never worked out but, the metal desk William uses in his office was one of his father's products. Besides having quite a few books and lots of family pictures in his office, William has 5 clocks-two of, which are Russian. On a shelf is a desktop plaque that reads "No Surprises".
William Hobart gives me a booklet on the dozen steel houses the company built back in 1938, which was to be the prototype of things to come. The Second World War came and with steel being needed for the war effort, housing production ended. After the war, technologies changed and that was the end of steel houses. The houses are still in existence in Troy and have been put on the Register of Historic Places. Also in Troy is The Hobart Welded Sculpture Park.
On the road in Columbus, Ohio 7/27/92
About 25 miles north of downtown Columbus is the college town of Delaware (population 18,000), home to Ohio Wesleyan University. It's also home to Greif Brothers Corporation, (1991 revenues $437 million) a manufacturer of shipping containers, containerboard and related products. Corporate offices are about three miles from downtown Delaware in a company-owned, one-story 12,000 square foot structure. Situated on 25 acres, the place looks more like an elementary school. As I wait in the small lobby for the receptionist to track down who or where my introduction material ended up, an older gentleman (he's easily in his 70's) walks in and as he passes me, asks if I've been helped. "Yes", I reply. It turns out the older gentleman is John Dempsey, the CEO, and though (for some unknown reason) the company didn't receive the introduction material sent several weeks earlier, Dempsey spends several hours talking and showing me around the place.
Nothing fancy about the corporate offices. The building was built in 1951 and looks it. Furnishings definitely have the 1950's look. When the place was built 40 years ago, there was nothing but barren land for several miles. Now, residential homes surround the headquarters. Greif Brothers lets the neighborhood grow vegetables on company property, which explains the small field of corn.
John Dempsey (78 years old) became CEO of the company in 1947 at the age of 34. Dempsey has a grandfatherly/paternal air about him and has a great sense of humor. Walking into his wood paneled office you can't help but notice the painting of Jesus Christ prominently hung on a wall behind a conference table. Matter of fact, if you get the company's 1991 annual report-the back cover is a picture of the Jesus Christ painting in Dempsey's office. Items in Dempsey's office include, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, a 100 year-old Simplex (still in working order) time-punch clock, a roll-top desk from 1877 and a wooden barrel-the later being the company's first product over 113 years ago.
About 40 employees work in the place and you really get the feeling it's a close-knit group. For instance, one of the office workers recently had a baby and there were complications. For the last three weeks, women in the office have taken turns every night cooking a meal at home and taking it over to the woman's home.
As I leave, Dempsey walks me by the drinking fountain. Near the fountain is an antique Coca-Cola dispensing machine. Dempsey puts in a nickel and pulls out a cold, refreshing Coke in an EIGHT-ounce bottle. I've seen quite a few antique soda-pop machines but this is a classic. Matter of fact, the bottle says, Coca-Cola Classic. Dempsey also gives me a small wooden cross. For more information: GBC
On the outskirts of Delaware, heading back to Columbus, I stop by the corporate offices (or so I thought) of Countrymark Co-op. Walking into the lobby of the one-story building, the receptionist informs me the corporate offices moved to Indianapolis over a year ago and this is now a regional office. Aughhhhhh!!!! A month ago when I was in Indianapolis I remember seeing a big building downtown with the name, Countrymark on it. With over 143,000 farmer/members, Countrymark is one of the bigger farm co-ops in the country.