On the road in and around Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky...
Long John Silverís
About five miles north of downtown Lexington is the four- story, 170,000 square-foot headquarters building of Long John Silverís. With over $800 million in revenues, the privately held company (taken private in 1989 via a LBO) is the nationís largest quick-service seafood restaurant chain. It has almost 1,500 stores.
The headquartersí site used to be a 105-acre tobacco farm. In 1979 the company bought the property, built the corporate offices on 28 acres and sold off the rest. I see a softball field on the well-manicured grounds as I ride up to the front door. Bruce Cotton, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, gives me a warm welcome and an extensive tour.
About 350 employees work in the place. Everyone eats in the basement company cafeteria, which is (no surprise), a Long John Silverís. Cotton takes me to the test kitchen where new recipes are sliced, diced, dissected, tasted and evaluated. Soon the company plans to introduce broiled fish in its restaurants. Several types of broiling equipment are being tested today.
One of the conference rooms is called The War Room. Over the door thereís a quotation from the Peter Sellers movie "Dr. Strangelove." "You canít fight in here; this is the War Room."
Another conference room has 11 clocks on a wall showing the time in different parts of the world. The company buys fish from all over the world. This way company employees know what time it is in the places they call frequently (Alaska, Oslo, etc.).
The executives are on the 3rd floor of the four-story building. CEO Clinton Clark has a small office whose walls are covered with Long John Silverís ads. Itís tough to beat Clark to the office in the morning because he lives in an apartment on the first floor of the building. His family lives in New Jersey and he commutes home on the weekend.
Kentucky Central Life Insurance Co.
Kentucky Central Life Insurance Company leases 193,000 square feet of a 331,000 square-foot, 22-story downtown office building. About 780 employees work in the building, which was built in 1979 and is the second tallest structure in Lexington. Revenues for Kentucky Central Life were $301 million in 1991.
One of the security guards on the first floor directs me to Edward Winiarczyk, Vice President Administrative Services. When the security guard sees the Occidental Petroleum decal on my clipboard he tells me he used to be the late Armand Hammerís personal bodyguard when Hammer came to Kentucky.
A short discussion of Armand Hammer...
I tell the guard about my visit to Occidental Petroleumís headquarters in Los Angeles a few years back. My request to see Hammerís office was denied because Hammer was taking a nap. Hammer was in his 90ís at the time and CEO of this publicly-traded $15 billion company.
The guard remembers Hammer taking 15-minute naps and waking up sharp as a whip and raring to go. Hammer would come to Lexington for the Kentucky Derby and because Occidental had a big coal operation in the area.
Anyway, back to Kentucky Central...Burnett, Jr., CEO, has a no-frills corner office on the 21st floor with a view of the University of Kentucky campus several miles away.
Winiarczyk and I start talking about tall buildings so I tell him the story of my visit to AIGóthe big New York City-based insurance giant. AIGís headquarters is in an over 80-story Art Deco building built in the 1930ís. For a while it was the worldís tallest building. Anyway, atop the structure is a small glass-enclosed room with a 360-degree view of the area. Itís used by the company for cocktail parties although thereís only room for about 15 people. When I visited AIG, my guideóa womanóand a security guard took me to the top of the building. We all got into this tiny express elevator which zoomed us to the top. When the doors opened, the security guard walked out the glass door and hopped right up on the outside railing. I, following right behind, went right out to the railing too. The security guard starts yakking away about the view, identifying other buildings and so on, when all of a sudden I look down and realized how incredibly high we are. I froze. The guard noticed I wasnít saying much and asked me in a sarcastic voice, "You arenít afraid of heights are you?" "Oh, no", I said trying to be macho in front of the woman but I felt my face changing colors. I executed a quick, safe, although somewhat embarrassing back step inside.
A Visit to the Mayorís Office...
I drop by the Mayorís office to find out how things are going in the city of Lexington. The Mayor isnít in but I spend a few minutes talking to Robert Wiseman, Executive Assistant to the Mayor. Wiseman tells me the cityís Economic Development Agency hasnít been very aggressive in bringing industry to the area but that will be changing. Wiseman says Lexington wonít woo companies like other cities, however, by giving large tax incentives, deals on property and so forth. He didnít say what is planned.
A Few Notes on Lexington:
I like this city of 250,000. People are friendly; downtown is vibrant; the suburbs are nice and thereís a big university. Lexington makes my list of Ten Best Cities. So far my list includes:
Lexington is also home to Transylvania Universityóa private liberal arts school with an enrollment of 1,100. Itís the oldest university west of the Alleghenys. Two U.S. vice presidents, 50 U.S. senators, 101 representatives, three House Speakers, 36 governors and 34 ambassadors went to this university.
And just in case youíre wondering, no, a vampire bat isnít the school mascot.
In and around Louisville...
The bike ride from Lexington to Louisville takes me past gorgeous horse farms on the outskirts of Lexington and through Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky. About 10 miles southeast of downtown Louisville (Kentuckyís largest city with a population of over 300,000) I find the corporate offices of Thomas Industriesóa manufacturer of lighting fixtures, vacuum pumps and compressors. 1991 revenues were $408 million.
The company leases the third floor of a three-story office building. About 35 employees work in the building. The receptionist is reading a book when I walk in and she acts very perturbed that Iíve interrupted her. The lobby/reception area is very small. In the boardroom is a plaque with the following verse:
Let us not forget that a customer
Is not an interruption in our workó
He is the purpose of it.
He is not an outsider in our businessó
He is a part of it.
If it were not for the customer,
There would be no reason for our being here!
Thomas Fuller, CEO, has a corner office. It has a golf picture and a race horse picture. Golfing and horseracing are his only two vices, he tells me. Fuller assures me the lighting fixtures throughout the offices are the companyís own brand.
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Although KFC is a subsidiary of PepsiCo I added KFC to my list for several reasons: 1) Iíve visited many fast-food companies (Burger King, McDonaldís, Wendyís and White Castle to name a few); and 2) KFC had worldwide retail sales of $6.2 billion in 1991.
Headquarters is about seven miles from downtown Louisville on a company-owned, 25-acre site. There are two buildings. One is a white, plantation-type building known as the White House. Connected to the White House, via an underground walkway, is a Technical Center (total square footage for both is 300,000). About 800 people work in the two buildings.
Walking into the White House (built in 1970) I see Colonel Harland Sanderís office. Though Sanders died in 1980 at the age of 90, his office has been left pretty much intact.
Down the hall in the Colonel Sanders Museum there are many pictures of the Colonel with various celebrities. My favorite part of the museum is the collection of old Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials from the 1960ísótheyíre hilarious.
Thereís a photograph of the Colonel with Norman Rockwell. Rockwell, who was in his 80ís at the time, painted the Colonel who was also in his 80ís.
Employees eat in the basement cafeteria which features a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC (all these restaurant chains are owned by PepsiCo). Soft drinks (Pepsi products of course) are free.
The company maintains a softball field, volleyball courts and a basketball court; a fitness center is being built in the Technical Center building. Thereís also a lake on the grounds patrolled by two swans.
As Jean Litterst, Manager Internal Communications/Public Affairs, takes me around the grounds I kid her about the trees around the lake which still have their X-Mas tree lights. She says itís easier to leave the lights on the trees year round.
John Cranor III, CEO, occupies a corner office on the third floor that looks very Sante Fe. The floor in his office is terra cotta tile; the chairs, table, cabinets, paintings and vases have a Santa Fe motif. Cranor has two (real) 10-feet-tall cacti in his office. The only item that doesnít seem to fit the decor is an extremely heavy brass rooster on one of the coffee tables.
Conventions I Have Cursed:
I leave Louisville just in time because tomorrow the city hosts the National Street Rod Association, which is billed as the Worldís Biggest Car Show. Over 12,000 vintage cars are due in town (pre-1949 manufactured motor vehicles).
Why do I hate conventions? Because they play havoc with my ability to find a decent hotel room, thatís why. When I went through Cincinnati I had a heck of a time finding a room because the National Square Dance Association was in town (over 25,000 dancers). In Indianapolis, I had to deal with the International Kiwanis convention (15,000 of them) and in Dallas I kept tripping over the attendees to the International Doctorís Convention (15,000).
I left Pittsburgh the day the tattoo artists had THEIR national convention. Actually, I found this convention pretty interesting. I still remember the day I rode the elevator with this man in a business suit. You should have seen the expression on his face when the elevator stopped on the main floor and filled up with men and women COMPLETELY covered with bizarre tattoos. Where was my camera when I needed it?
On the road in and around Southern Indiana...
But first a hard-earned lesson:
The bike ride from Louisville, Kentucky to Jasper, Indiana is about 90 miles. Though itís a tough, hilly route, the countryside is gorgeous. Just then I have reason to remember a lesson I learned hard way. Coming out of Louisville, Iím biking down a backroad when I notice a sign that says the road is closed five miles ahead. So I stop and ask several locals if Iíll be able to get through on a bike. They all tell me itís possible. I ask them the key question:
"Is there a bridge out?" Nope, they are quick to assure me. Itís just road construction. Now at this point I canít help but remember an earlier calamity that began the exact same way. Hereís what happened back then when I was riding into Columbus, Ohio and encountered a similar sign:
This sign says the road is out five miles ahead and all cars must take a detour. Now understand, it has already been a long day, Iím 10 miles from Columbus and the detour points toward the interstate freeway. Bikes arenít allowed on the freeway so who knows how far MY detour will be.
So I stop at a nearby roadside fruit stand and ask the guy there if he thought I could get through with my bike. The guy answers, "sure." Relying on his apparent knowledge, I head down the road for five miles until I run smack into a demolished bridge. Yeah. Oh and I forgot to mention itís been raining on and off all day and the dark clouds are massing behind me.
So I take stock of the situation. The other side of the road is separated from me by a wide, three-foot deep creek with a fast-moving current. Itís rocky, muddy and very slippery. Hmmm. The moment of truthódo I ride back FIVE miles to begin the who-knows-how-long a detour (weíre definitely talking at least 15 miles) or do I chance mud and raging torrents to cross the creek.
I choose the creek. In preparation I unload my panniers (saddlebags) and take off my shoes. My first trip, I wade across the creek carrying my bike. Then I trudge back to the other side to bring over two of my panniers. My third and last trip is the most dangerous. This trip I must carry across my last two panniers and one contains the VERY VALUABLE Bloomberg Traveler.
Visions of slipping and watching the BLOOMBERG float away hang in front of my eyes for the whole trip across. I even imagine calling up Bloombergís New York City office to tell them: "Hi guys, guess what? I lost the BLOOMBERG in a creek."
Lucky for me my worst-case scenario doesnít happen. But I donít get off completely scott free. I no sooner cross the creek the final time and breathe a sign of relief when it starts pouring rain. As I stagger to my bike I slip and fall in the stupid mud. Some days my job is hard to love.
Back to my current detour decisionóI decide to trust the sign, not the locals.
Jasper (population 10,000) is home to Kimball International, a manufacturer of office, hospitality and healthcare furniture. The company also owns Kimball and Bosendorfer pianos. That explains the a Kimball piano in the lobby.
CEO Doug Habig comes out to the lobby and greets me. Though heís due somewhere else, Habig says, "Iíve got time to talk to someone who rode his bike 90 miles today to see us".
The two-story, roughly 200,000 square-foot, company-owned headquarters building (itís actually two buildings connected by a covered walkway) is located about a mile and a half from downtown Jasper. Thereís also a huge Kimball manufacturing facility thatís about two blocks away. The closest commercial airport is in Evansville, Indiana (60 miles away) so the company has a Falcon 50 aircraft.
About 400 employees work in the building. Usually buildings of this size have a cafeteria but not Kimball. Habig explains most people go home for lunch. I ask Habig about his commute time. "Three minutes", he answers. Definitely one of the advantages
of living in a small town. Habig says he can leave his office and be teeing off on the golf course with his son 10 minutes later.
Habig takes me to his office, furnished with Kimball products of course. I check. Habig has a beautiful circular ebony wood desk and a matching cabinet for his computer. He also uses a stand-up desk. Iíve seen quite a few CEOs with stand-up desks. They usually give me one of three answers when I ask them why: 1) bad back; 2) used one in the Navy; or 3) antsy and likes to move around a lot. Habig tells me he falls into the last category. You would never know this man is the CEO of a company with 1991 revenues of $555 million. The view he has from his first floor office is of a small enclosed employee break area. Later in my motel room I thumb through Kimballís annual report and see five Habigs listed as members of the Board of Directors. I open up the local phone book and I find them all listed.(For more information: KBALB)
George Koch Sons, Inc.
In an industrial area about a mile from downtown Evansville I find the brick headquarters building of George Koch Sons, Inc. (Itís NOT George Koch & Sons.) The privately-held company manufactures products sold to other manufacturers such as industrial baking ovens, spray booths, conveyor systems and surface preparation machines. The company is also one of the oldest franchised Carrier air conditioning distributors.
The lobby has a first for meóa knight in a full set of shining armor. The knight isnít real but the suit of armor is. The companyís logo is a knight in armor with the letter "K" on the knightís shield. The small lobby/reception area also has several glass cases containing examples of the companyís earlier products: tin cookie and donut cutters from 1895, tin horns (the kind you blow) from the early 1900ís, and a collection of miniature pewter cars of the 1930ís.
I meet with James Oskins, Assistant Secretary and Comptroller, whoís been with the company for 30 years. He tells me about 200 people work in the company-owned building which Oskins estimates was built in the 1930ís.
Atlas Van Lines
Right across the street from a huge Whirlpool manufacturing plant and about half a mile from Evansville Airport is the one- story, 128,000 square-foot headquarters building of Atlas Van Lines. With revenues of over $250 million, Atlas is the fifth largest moving company in U.S. Atlas is a double LBOófirst by Wesray in 1984 and then again in 1988 when 27 agents bought the company.
As I enter the building, I canít miss seeing a large blue stained glass picture on the wall of the companyís famous hydroplane, Miss Atlas Van Lines. Built in the 1960ís, the company-owned building looks its age. Its 11-acre site includes two tennis courts.
Norman Gee, CEO, has his office right by the front entrance. Itís filled with all kinds of personal stuff. I count 25 Bossons heads (porcelain collectibles), five real plants, a computer, an Indiana University teddy bear, a "Go IU" pillow, a red & white lawn chair (Indiana Universityís colors), a United States flag, seven miniature moving vans and, last but not leastóa moving van made out of his business cards INSIDE a glass bottle.
Then I really put my foot in my mouth. Meeting with Robert Miller, Special Consultant, I tell him I find downtown Evansville really "blah." Turns out Miller, who worked with Atlas for years before retiring and becoming a company consultant, heads the local Chamber of Commerce. Heís very offended by my assessment of Evansville. He wants to spend more time with me so he can defend his town but heís late for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new car repair shop. Whew.