On the road in and around San Francisco, California:

American Building Maintenance Ind.

My visit to American Building Maintenance Industries (1991 revenues $746 million) takes me to the 26th floor of a 41-story downtown office building. I ask Arcalli Rippolone, Executive Secretary: Office of the President, if the company has the janitorial/maintenance contract for this building. She laughs and says yes, plus maintenance contracts with most of the office buildings in downtown San Francisco.

About 200 employees occupy two floors in the building that has been home to the company since October 1989. The 1989 earthquake irreparably damaged their former headquarters and they had to move.

I always like to ask companies why they chose a particular headquarters’ location. For example, MCI told me they located in Washington, DC to be two blocks away from the FCC. Many times companies choose a particular city because it’s where the company was founded or because of its proximity to a transportation hub. Then again, many a time location is decided based on where the CEO lives or wants to live.

American Building Maintenance Industries has its Corporate Headquarters in San Francisco and its Corporate Office in Los Angeles. Rippolone tells me Sydney Rosenberg, CEO, lives in Los Angeles and so the place he hangs his hat is designated "Corporate Office". (For more information see: ABM)

Potlatch Corp.

Potlatch Corporation occupies half of the 24th floor of the 25-story Maritime Plaza building. The forest products company (1991 revenues $1.2 billion) has leased space in the building for about 20 years. The distinctive-looking building has large steel beams criss-crossing the outside, giving it a box-like appearance. Hubert Travaille, Vice President: Public Affairs, tells me people call the building the box the Transamerica Pyramid came in. The landmark 48-story Pyramid, located two blocks away, does look like it could fit in the Maritime Plaza "box."

Richard Madden, CEO, has a corner office with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Pipe-smoking Madden, an engaging man, has a large collection of business books in his office. Madden shows me what makes the books so special—most of them are signed by the authors. (For more information see: PCH )

Delta Dental Plan of California

Delta Dental Plan of California, a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation is one of the largest dental health carriers in the U.S. with revenues in 1991 of $1.2 billion. Located downtown in Delta Tower—a 28-story structure built in 1989--the company employs about 1,200 people.

Jeff Album, Public Relations Associate, gives me a thorough tour of the place and loads me down with a ton of background material on the company. Maybe it’s because I tell him I never heard of Delta Dental. Album says one in four Californians have Delta coverage.

Then I ask Album about company perks. "Well," he replies. "We all have good teeth."

Charles Schwab Corp.

Oddly enough, Charles Schwab Corporation, the world’s largest discount brokerage, (1991 revenues $795 million) leases its space—all 28 floors of the Charles Schwab Building. The building is located about 12 blocks from the water and, like most of downtown including the magnificent edifices in the financial district, it’s built on landfill.

Tom Taggart, Manager: Corporate Communications, rolls out the red carpet for my visit and takes me places where even he hasn’t been before—i.e. the roof of the building. Up on the roof there’s a never-completed jogging track and a new generator. The day after the 1989 earthquake, Schwab was the only stockbroker in Northern California still operating thanks to its back-up generator. Since then Schwab decided to have a back up to the back up installed. But of course, the most impressive thing about the roof is the view.

The first floor lobby is a large open room with an electronic stock market ticker on the wall flashing away. Twenty theater-style seats in the room allow off-the-street market watchers to sit and follow the stocks. I count 28 people standing/sitting around—the majority are Chinese. Chinatown is several blocks away.

About 1,700 employees work for Schwab in San Francisco. Since parking is expensive in downtown San Francisco, one of Schwab’s perks for senior management is reserved underground parking. The company cafeteria is unofficially called Le Schwab.

Charles Schwab isn’t in but I get to see his corner office on the 28th floor. It’s not very big and not very fancy. Schwab collects modern American art. His collection includes pieces by Al Held, Sam Francis, Diebenkorn and sculptor Mark diSuvero. On a side table I count over 25 tombstones. He also has several family pictures. (For more information see: SCH)

BankAmerica Corp.

BankAmerica Corporation (1991 revenues $9.9. billion, net income $1.1 billion) is the bank holding company for Bank of America. Built in 1967, the 779 foot tall, 52-story Bank of America headquarters building anchors the downtown financial area. It’s the second tallest structure in San Francisco. (The nearby Transamerica Pyramid building is taller but has only 48 floors of office space; 212 feet of its total height of 853 feet is spire).

The building directory lists the executive offices on the 40th

floor so up I go. Coming off the elevator I encounter a security guard who controls the opening and closing of the big glass doors leading to the reception area. Things go smoothly here because the guard has a note about my pending arrival and immediately calls Peter Magnani, Vice President: Corporate Public Relations. Truly wonderful.

The view from CEO Richard Rosenberg’s office is spectacular! Though his office isn’t really that big, the high ceilings and large picture windows present a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay.

The lobby on the executive floor displays the helm of the ship Portsmouth. In 1846, when Mexico controlled California, war broke out. Many settlers wanted U.S. instead of Mexico control. On the morning of July 9th, 1846, a U.S. sloop-of-war, the Portsmouth, under the command of John B. Montgomery, landed a contingent of marines in San Francisco Bay. These marines raised the American flag over the San Francisco area for the very first time. (For more information see: BAC)

Arcata Corp.

Across the street from Bank of America’s headquarters, I visit Arcata Corporation—the privately held book and magazine printing company, with about $550 million in revenues. The receptionist buzzes me into the lobby.

There I have a bizarre, five-minute confrontation with Sheryl Stucky, who’s manning the receptionist desk. Sheryl tells me I should speak to someone in Baltimore, Maryland because the company’s plant is there. "But Edward Scarff, CEO, has his office here," I reply.

"Yes," she counters, "but there’s only five of us in this office." I try to explain I’m visiting parent and holding companies, not company plants but she doesn’t get it and refuses to ask Scarff’s secretary about my advance materials. I can’t figure out if she’s dense or just difficult or both. I finally throw up my hands.

On my way out I ask her for her name and title. She hesitates and then asks me if I’m going to write about her treatment of me. I answer diplomatically and she finally tells me her title: "Office Helper." Office liability is more like it.

The Gap

Who would of thought the Gap (1991 revenues $2.5 billion, net income $230 million)--with its friendly people-oriented image and all—would refuse to talk to me.

Corporate offices are in a new, six-story building near the Embarcadero, practically underneath the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. A former Hills Brothers coffee plant across the street shows signs of recent renovation into an office complex. All in all this down-at-heels warehouse district seems slowly revitalizing. The Gap’s relocation to the neighborhood probably started the process.

Walking into the lobby I see some six-feet-tall black and white photographs on the walls. I recognize the photographs from the Gap’s ad campaigns. Four of the photos are by photographer Annie Leibowitz and feature boxer Evander Holyfield, actor John Corbett (from Northern Exposure), Anthony Kied—lead singer for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane Mard, actress, and model Naomi Campbell.

Mark Spindler, Director of Facilities, comes down to the lobby area and informs me Donald Fisher, CEO, received my advance materials but won’t have time to meet with me. He doesn’t want anyone else to meet with me either. Why, I ask. He hates to delegate, Spindler answers. Yeah, right.

(For more information see: GPS)

Esprit De Corps.

I cringe when I first speak with the receptionist at clothing manufacturer Esprit De Corps. She tells me the company has had three CEO’s in the last two years and she has no idea who may have received my advance materials. She calls Danny Kraus in Public Relations. I’m in luck. Kraus gives me an extensive tour of one of the most unusual corporate headquarters I’ve ever visited.

This privately held manufacturer of primarily women’s clothing had approximately $900 million in revenues in 1991. Headquarters is a mile from downtown San Francisco in a company-owned building. The building used to be a winery, and before that a spice warehouse.

All around I see wood—wood floors, massive wood beams running across the open rafters. Even the employee cubicles are made of wood. The floors are Douglas Fir softwood—not hardwood. In fact all women wearing spike heels are required to remove their shoes before entering the building. The receptionist has a small cabinet next to her desk which contains a dozen pair of flat shoes in different sizes so high-heeled visitors can comply with the company’s "flat shoe" policy.

And talk about nice recreational facilities! First, there’s a three-acre, private company park with a par course and running trail, plus the only grass tennis court in Northern California. Employees can even play croquet on the tennis court. In the company fitness center employees can take advantage of the usual fixtures: treadmills, weights and aerobics classes; but they can also use a punching bag, climbing rope, a kayak, two canoes and a windsurfer.

My favorite perk is the employee bike parking lot located inside the safe, warm confines of the fitness center. Need more. Esprit maintains a cabin in Lake Tahoe, surrounded by mountains, intended for the use of all full-time employees.

About 450-500 employees work in the main building and two nearby buildings. Throughout the main building visitors can feast their eyes on one of the largest and most extensive collections of Early American quilts in the U.S. During office hours, Esprit allows the public to wander the building and see the collection on a self-guided tour.

The company cafeteria, called "Esprit Cafe" doesn’t carry the usual company cafeteria fare. Want espresso, latte, fruit or homemade soup? Step right up. Want a burrito? Go somewhere else.

While talking to Kraus in the cafeteria (oops-cafe), I hear honking of a food truck—you know, the kind that serve food on construction sites. Kraus explains the trucks drop by every day at lunchtime to sell to employees with carnivorous cravings. I also notice a sign on the soda dispensing machine announcing "free soda while it lasts." It was recently installed in the cafe but it won’t be here for long. When CEO, Fritz Ammann, first saw the soda machine he ordered it removed because it didn’t fit the company’s healthy, good-for-you cafe image.

Getting back to the wood—every employee’s desk is custom-~P / 26 made. Until recently the company operated an in-house, woodworking shop on the third floor. For example, the unusual L-shaped receptionist desk is made from Koa wood from Hawaii.

The company’s huge freight elevator—the company’s only elevator—has a softwood floor and two Amish quilts hanging on the inside. I’ve never seen that before.

Esprit co-founder, Susie Tompkins, recently bought out her ex-husband’s half of the company in a long, publicized battle. I find her office on the first floor next to an outside sculpture garden. There’s a "Clinton for President" poster on a wall along with several pictures of her with Bill Clinton. She keeps a bowl filled with apples and an arrangement of flowers—fresh every Monday. I see a small statue of a dog and ask Kraus about it. It’s Tompkins’ German Shepherd, Moose. Moose often comes to work with Tompkins and follows her around the place. When I ask Kraus if anyone else brings their dog to work; he gives me one of those "yeah-right" looks.

Nobody works overtime here at Esprit. At 5:45 p.m. the lights in the building flash on and off. This tells employees they have 15 minutes before the lights in the building go out. Why the curfew, I ask. The answer amazes me—Esprit believes employees should have a life other than work.

Here’s something else you don’t see at many companies. Esprit compensates employees’ volunteer activities; the company will match up to 10 hours volunteer work per month with pay for approved volunteer activities.

Rather than a formal boardroom, Esprit holds meetings in the Skylight conference room—formerly a greenhouse.

Since this is one of the few company headquarters I’ve visited where I don’t feel conspicuous walking around in my T-shirt and shorts, I ask about the company’s dress code. Here’s what the employee handbook says: "Esprit emphasizes a simple and self-assured look which may be informal, but should be appropriate for working with the public and performing job duties. We encourage Esprit clothing to be worn and support this position through the employee discount program on Esprit clothing. "It’s all true. During my extensive tour, I don’t see anyone wearing a suit and tie and I see lots of jeans.


Williams-Sonoma (1991 revenues $312 million) is located in a three-story building about two blocks from Pier 39 and the famous Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco. Most people know Williams-Sonoma sells specialty kitchenware in its retail stores and through its catalog. You may not know, however, that the company also owns Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, California Closet Company, and mail order companies Chambers (bed & bath furnishings) and Gardeners’ Eden.

The lobby furnishings look like a Williams-Sonoma store. One case displays a collection of late 18th century European pastry molds. Since it’s December, the lobby also has the mandatory Christmas tree.

Elaine Anderson, Executive Secretary, comes to the lobby and agrees to answer my questions. I never get past the lobby. The CEO’s office and boardroom on the top floor are off limits because of a meeting. (For more information see: WSGC)

Basic American Foods

Basic American Foods is an appropriate name for the company who first brought instant mashed potatoes to the marketplace. With $430 million in revenues last year, this privately held company produces the world’s largest crop of dehydrated potatoes and ships the most fresh potatoes of any company in the U.S.

Jack Hume, founder of the company, invented instant spuds in 1955. The rest, as they say, is history.

The company occupies one-and-a-half floors of a 10-story building located on the fringe of San Francisco’s financial district, about a block from Chinatown. The building has seen better years. Louise Noble, Executive Assistant, points at the plush Bank America headquarters building which we can see from the window and says rather sadly, "we used to be on the 47th floor over there."

Basically the company supplies food service operators (Sysco, Rykoff-Sexton and many others) with products such as dehydrated beans, hashbrowns, garlic and onions. So naturally the boardroom features three large color photographs hanging on one wall—one of a potato, one of an onion and one of a bunch of garlic.

Homestake Mining Co.

I visit Homestake Mining Company (1991 revenues $411 million) in the middle of their move. The company decided to move its executive offices from the 9th floor to the 11th floor. Janette Buchman, Secretary to the Chairman of the Board, apologizes for the mess.

Founded in 1877, Homestake—an international gold mining company—is the oldest continuously listed company on the NYSE. Randolph Hearst bought the company and headquartered it in San Francisco. (Randolph Hearst is the guy who built a small weekend getaway known as Hearst’s Castle in San Simeon.)

CEO Harry Conger’s corner office overlooks Chinatown. Conger has lots of mining stuff in his office including several antique mining scales, antique mining lamps and ore samples. There’s also a picture of Conger with President Bush.

The lobby has a small collection of gold coins and several large samples of ore containing gold. (For more information see: HM)

The Sharper Image

The Sharper Image (1991 revenues $142 million) greets visitors to its headquarters with a 20-feet metal knight-in-armor guard at the door. The reception area also contains glass cases filled with some of the gadgets you find in Sharper Image’s stores and catalogs.

Unfortunately, on the two days I drop by, I encounter two different snotty, unhelpful receptionists. Amy is the worst. She’s sitting at the receptionist desk when I arrive and, as far as I can tell, she isn’t doing anything. She won’t give me her last name; brazenly she tells me to be sure and report that she wouldn’t. Then she tells me I need to call Brian Peck in Public Relations and make an appointment. "That’s fine, can you call him for me please?" I ask, trying to be polite. "No," she tells me gleefully. "You need to use the phone around the corner." It’s a pay phone. I return to Amy to try again. "Listen, Mr. Peck’s office is right down the hall, 10 feet away; you don’t seem very busy. You’re still going to make me plunk a quarter in a pay phone and call him!?"

"Yes," is her smug reply. She’s enjoying this. To make matters worse when I spend my quarter and call Peck, all I get is his voice mail. I’ve had enough so I leave.

Right next door I find a Sharper Image outlet store and the company’s original retail store. I ask employees in both stores if they ever get surprise visits from the executive honchos. All the time, they tell me.

Here’s a money-saving tip: buy a share of the company’s stock. Then save money. In the CEO’s letter to shareholders in the company’s annual report there’s a P.S. at the bottom:

P.S. We offer a 15% discount to shareholders. We invite you to receive this benefit. Simply show your mailing label intact, or a quarterly report, to enjoy this discount in our stores or by mail.

(For more information see: SHRP)

Now a few random thoughts on the San Francisco area. . .

One day, during my stay in San Francisco, I decide to visit the Pacific Stock Exchange. Turns out the Exchange doesn’t allow visitors and doesn’t have a public viewing room. Seems like a dumb public relations move to me. But then San Franciscans are a smug bunch. I notice that all the local newspapers and magazines refer to San Francisco as "The City" rather than by name.

Meanwhile, the 1,500-room San Francisco Marriott is a terrific place to stay but come on--$1.50 for a can of soda?! That’s what I have to pay in the hotel’s vending machines. How many people carry around six quarters to plunk in a soda machine? Of course most hotel in-room mini-bars charge as much as $2.50 for a can of soda so I guess it could be worse.

I’ve stayed at quite a few Hyatt Hotels but this time I decide to try the more expensive Park Hyatt. So, for those of you who want to know—what does more money get you at a Hyatt?

Here’s the main difference—at Park Hyatt your room key and mini-bar key come attached in a small leather carrying case. O.K., enough haranguing. Without a doubt, San Francisco is one of America’s great cities and one of my favorites.

Wells Fargo & Co.

As I stand in the office of Carl Reichardt, CEO of Wells Fargo & Co.—holding company for Wells Fargo Bank—I can’t believe what a difference five years make. When I visited Wells Fargo (1991 revenues $5. 0 billion) five years ago I endured one of my worst receptions ever.

Here’s how it went back in 1987. A corporate communications manager told me I had just three minutes to ask questions. So I stood there and asked him my questions while dodging pedestrians in the hallway. The manager blatantly watched the clock and responded "I don’t know" to almost every question I asked. He was so rude and angered me so much that I immediately went and closed my 12-year-old checking account with Wells Fargo.

Now, back to the present—the company-owned, 13-story headquarters located in the San Francisco financial district was built in the 1960’s. The company has had its offices here since 1852. Henry Wells and William Fargo founded the bank in San Francisco. I’m surprised to find out Fargo and Wells also started the American Express Company in New York City.

Wells Fargo History Museum, on the first floor, is loaded with artifacts and memorabilia surrounding the development of Wells Fargo, the state of California and the American West. I’ve seen hundreds of exhibits, displays and museums at companies but this one ranks as one of the best.

Kim Kellogg, Vice President & Manager, shows me around headquarters. The top floor, called the Penthouse, has the company’s boardroom. Interestingly, Carl Reichardt has an "open door" policy which means none of the senior executives on the 12th floor have doors to their offices. Reichardt’s doorless corner office isn’t very fancy for a bank CEO’s office. I see several western paintings hanging on the walls, a miniature stagecoach (the company’s logo is a horse drawn stagecoach), and a bronze sculpture of John Wayne.

Since Reichardt isn’t in I can’t ask him about the gold spittoon on the floor. This is the second spittoon I’ve seen in a CEO’s office. When I was in Houston, I visited a CEO at a petroleum company who had a tall spittoon in his office. When I asked him about it he told me he’d began his chew habit when he worked in the oilfields. Since oilmen can’t smoke because of the fire danger, many of them chew tobacco instead. He still chews hence the authentic (and dirty) spittoon.

(For more information see: WEC)

Transamerica Corp.

With assets of more than $30 billion, Transamerica Corporation (1991 revenues $6.8 billion) is one of the largest financial service companies in the United States. The company-owned, 48-story headquarters building—called the Transamerica Pyramid—is San Francisco’s tallest and most recognizable building.

William McClave, Vice President: Corporate Communications, brags about the lean size of the corporate staff (only 90) as we zip up to see the boardroom on the 47th floor. I’m amazed that Frank Herringer, CEO, didn’t locate his office up here on the 47th floor. The views are incredible.

Herringer’s office contains several photographs of him golfing with people like Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer, plus a baseball signed by Bobby Brown. Who’s Bobby Brown, I ask. The President of the American League, McClave answers. I also see photographs of Herringer with Presidents Ford and Nixon.

For you trivia fans: the largest floor in the Pyramid (built in 1972) is the fifth floor—it’s 21,025 square feet. The smallest floor is the 48th—it has 2,025 square feet of space.

(For more information see: TA)

Shaklee Corp.

I find Shaklee’s corporate offices easily because they’re located in a distinctive, 36-story structure with large outside terraces on the top floors complete with full-size potted trees. For this reason the building is called Shaklee Terraces.

I explain my mission to the receptionist and she whips out one of the company’s new high-energy snack bars called "Carbon-Crunch" for me to try. It’s very tasty. Shaklee makes many products: detergent, vitamins, shampoo, and diet drink mix to name a few. The company doesn’t sell its products in stores; it uses direct distributors kinda like Amway. Bear Creek Corporation is a subsidiary of Shaklee. Bear Creek direct markets gourmet food and gift fruit baskets (Harry and David). It’s also one of the nation’s largest suppliers of roses through its Jackson & Perkins operation.

I meet with Karin Topping, Director: Public Relations. She greets me and hands me a batch of trading cards. The cards have pictures of cyclists on them. Topping says the company sponsors a cycling team; a couple have even qualified for the Olympics. I’ve never heard of the Shaklee team but 7-11, Motorola and Coors companies all have well known bike teams.

Shaklee is a subsidiary of Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., a Japan-based company with revenues in 1992 of $2.7 billion. Fiscal 1992 sales for Shaklee (for a period of 15 months) were $562 million.

The company leases the top six floors in the Shaklee Terraces building and employs about 200 people. I find out David Chamberlain, CEO, is a fitness freak. One of the company’s ads, touting its Physique Workout Maximizer Supplement drink, shows the 48-year-old Chamberlain pumping iron and displaying an impressive muscular physique. I get to see Chamberlain’s office on the 35th floor. It contains a large grandfather clock and a photograph of Sir Edward Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest.

Shaklee owns an impressive art collection. I count over 30 Ansel Adams photographs. Topping tells me that Adams personally dropped by to make sure his work was displayed properly. There are also several Georgia O’Keefe paintings, including a rare, free form sculpture and a marvelous painting entitled "Clouds With Moon." The most impressive work is a beautiful 10-by-30-foot Chinese screen titled "Dream of the Red Chamber." Its intricate detail is something to see.

The boardroom’s most spectacular feature is a 30-foot panoramic photograph of San Francisco taken in 1878 by renowned photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Funny thing—when I visited Wells Fargo earlier this week I saw its 75-foot version of the SAME photograph in Wells Fargo’s boardroom.


I don’t see much at SFFED Corp, holding company for San Francisco Federal Savings and Loan (1991 revenues $311 million). But the sign in R. L. Gordon’s office (CEO) makes my visit worthwhile. It says: "Bureaucracy—the process of converting energy to waste." There’s also an Indian breastplate hanging on one of his walls. (For more information see: SFFD)

On the road in and around Oakland, California:

Well the people in the Bay area ought to be grateful to me. They have had a drought going on for several years but since my arrival it has rained six of the last seven days! The only silver lining to this string of bad biking weather is the fact that I feel justified riding BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) under San Francisco Bay to Oakland. Taking a bike on BART requires adherence to several rules: 1) bikers must use BART before 6:30 A.M.; 2) bikers can’t put their bikes on the elevators or escalators to get down to the underground stations.

So visualize the following: At 5:30 A.M. I ride my bike through the streets of San Francisco in the pouring rain until I reach the BART station. Then I lug my heavily laden bike down three levels of stairs to catch the BART to downtown Oakland. (Gotta admit, it’s a clean, fast, efficient operation and almost worth the trouble.) Once I arrive in Oakland—at 6:30 A.M.—I have to haul my bike up three flights of stairs to the street. It’s still pouring rain and it’s pitch black because the sun won’t come up until 7 AM.

Oakland, I’ve heard, is not exactly a low-crime district either. I could stand around and talk to the various winos hanging out by the entrance but I decide to ride around town until I find shelter. Salvation ahead—a Taco Bell. Thankfully, Taco Bell now features a breakfast menu. Nothing tastes better to me at this moment than a steak burrito and two tacos on a cold, rainy morning. Ahh, life is good.

Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream

Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream (1991 revenues $355 million) is the second largest premium ice cream company in the U.S. (Kraft’s Breyer’s is #1.) West of the Mississippi the company calls its ice cream Dreyer’s; east of the Mississippi the company sells its brand under the name Edy’s.

Corporate offices occupy the second and third floors of a three-story complex of retail shops along College Avenue. The University of California—Berkeley’s campus is about one mile east of the complex.

I was surprised to discover that the "Grand" in Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream refers to the company’s origin on Oakland’s Grand Avenue. I always figured it referred to the ice cream’s taste.

It’s 8 A.M. when I arrive. CEO, Gary Rogers’ secretary comes out to the brightly decorated reception area and tells me they never received my advance materials and no one is available to talk with me including her. I try for a little sympathy by reminding her I came by bike in the cold winter rain. No dice. (For more information see: DRY)

A visit to U.C. Berkeley...

I’m so close to U.C. Berkeley I decide to go for spin around the campus. Berkeley makes my top ten list of favorite college campuses. This beautiful campus sits at the edge of the Berkeley hills. It has an interesting and impressive array of off-campus retail establishments. They give me the feeling I’m in a time warp and have traveled back to the 1960’s/Woodstock era. Far out.

Crowley Maritime

With over $1.1 billion in revenues, privately held Crowley Maritime is a big international player in the transport and shipping business. The company owns barges, tugs, passenger ships and tankers. Crowley Maritime even has the contract to provide passenger service from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to Bay Island—better known as Alcatraz.

This year the company celebrates its 100th birthday. I ask Richard Simpson, Vice President: Public Relations, why the company recently moved from San Francisco to Oakland. He admits the company received a good deal on the new rent but says the fact that a majority of its employees live on this side of the bay also weighed heavily in the company’s decision.

In its 100-year history, the company has only had two CEO’s: Thomas Crowley (Founder) and his son and current CEO, 78-year-old Thomas Crowley, Sr.

The company leases the top four floors of a new 10-story office building about a mile from downtown Oakland. In the lobby area and throughout the building I see pictures and scale models of the company’s various tankers, barges and tugs.

Crowley’s office has a telescope. I look through it to see where it’s pointed. It shows me nearby Lake Merritt.

The Clorox Company

The corporate offices of the Clorox Company (1991 revenues $1.7 billion) were built in 1976. The nine-story, 500,000 square-foot structure (the second tallest in Oakland) is owned by Clorox and they occupy 17 floors.

The company has located the main reception area on the 13th floor (how lucky) because of the terrific view of the San Francisco skyline from its windows.

I meet with Fred Reicker, Director of Corporate Communications. From the window he points out several downtown buildings, condemned and empty because of the 1989 earthquake.

Reicker surprises me when he runs through the names of the consumer products his company produces and markets. The list includes some very familiar names: Kingsford charcoal, Formula 409, Fresh Step (cat litter), Liquid-Plumr, Combat (roach insecticide) and Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing.

The boardroom on the 24th floor has a collection of 76 bird drawings by Alexander Wilson. Seems odd somehow—birds and bleach. (For more information see: CLX)

Western Temporary Services

Privately held Western Temporary Services is an international temporary help service with over $200 million in revenues in 1991. Headquarters is in a complex of company-owned, two-story buildings about two miles from downtown Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek is a booming community with a population of 65,000 about 15 miles east of Oakland.

Nancy Ward gives me a warm welcome. She is Executive Assistant to Robert Stover; he is CEO and he founded the company back in 1948.

Ward shows me Stover’s first floor corner office. I count four antique typewriters, two comptometers (old style adding machines), eight pictures of Stover golfing, one U.S. flag and a black rocking chair. I notice an autographed picture of Paul Harvey, the news commentator, behind his desk. A sign on a wall says: "Attitude is everything".

On a shelf I spot a small Santa Claus. I ask Ward if the Santa has special significance. Ward ends up taking me over to Santa’s Warehouse. Turns out Western Temporary Services supplies Santas to shopping centers around the country. Last year the company trained over 3,000 Santas in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Western Temporary requires its Santas to attend Santa School before they can get work as an official Santa helper. It’s the only Santa supply service with this requirement. (Ho-Ho-Ho classes?) Most of the Santa suits in the warehouse are out but I count over 100 still in stock. I also count over 30 Easter Bunny suits.

A nature moment...

Leaving Walnut Creek on my way to Concord, I ride a ridge alongside Mt. Diablo. The mountain is the highest point in the region. I stop to take a picture of the beautiful valley below. The rain finally stops (it’s only temporarily, of course) which gives me an opportunity to take a picture of the next batch of rain clouds coming my way. I turn around and look the other way and see a huge, I mean gigantic, rainbow. I take lots of pictures and then put away my camera and prepare to ride off. Suddenly a fox, wearing its beautiful orangish-red, thick winter coat, runs out into the open field. Naturally by the time I fetch my camera he’s gone.

On the road in and around San Jose...

LSI Logic Corp.

Meet Mr. Potato Head. Bruce Entin, V.P.: Corporate Communications for LSI Logic Corporation (1991 revenues $698 million), introduces us. LSI uses Mr. Potato Head to help explain the company’s products. LSI Logic manufactures customized circuits and other similar products. The design of the circuit allows customers to integrate various electronic building blocks onto it—roughly akin to adding items to Mr. Potato Head.

LSI Logic has corporate offices in a one-story building near downtown Milpitas. Before I go any further, here’s a quick geography lesson on Silicon Valley. Fremont, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Cupertino, and Sunnyvale are the names of the communities adjoining San Jose. San Jose—with a population of almost 800,000--is the 11th largest city in the U.S. San Jose, plus all the fore-mentioned towns, form the core of Silicon Valley. San Jose calls itself the Capital of Silicon Valley.

Now back to LSI Logic. LSI stands for Large Scale Integration. The company occupies six nearby buildings where they manufacture chips and circuits.

Meanwhile, it’s "open" parking at the corporate offices. This means the CEO (Corrigan) has to find a parking spot like everyone else. I have no difficulty spotting his car, however. It’s the white Rolls Royce.

Now that I’m in Silicon Valley I like to check CEO’s offices for their computer choices. Corrigan has an Apple computer, a Quotron machine and a pile of circuit boards in his office.

(For more information see: LSI )

Quantum Corp.

Quantum—a computer disk drive maker—has a brand new, 37-acre campus-like headquarters. Quantum built these five buildings (433,000 total square feet) to its personal specifications. In addition, Quantum (1991 revenues $1.1 billion) has started construction on a 61,000 square-foot addition so business must be good. My hosts at Quantum are Catherine Hartsog, Director: Corporate Communications and Michael Brown, Executive Vice President.

The two-story buildings encircle a large grass-filled courtyard. There’s a sand volleyball court, horseshoes and a basketball court. The main lobby area has elegant red leather chairs, which are very comfortable. Conference rooms are named after famous artists. I pass the Van Gogh Room and the Monet Room on my tour.

W.J. Miller, CEO, has a long, narrow, plainly furnished office with a view of office cubicles. Company policy forbids executives from having offices with window views of the outside. I see an Apple Powerbook computer on Miller’s desk. (For more information see: QNTM)

Anthem Electronics

Anthem (1991 revenues $420 million) is the country’s fifth largest distributor of semiconductors and the largest distributor of disk drives. The company-owned, two-story structure houses 240 employees about five miles from downtown San Jose in a light industrial park.

While talking with Jacqueline Mercer, Senior Executive Assistant, I get the feeling the company has this thing about birds. The company’s logo has an eagle’s face in the letter "A." Then Mercer tells me the company (which is 24 years old) wanted to be called Eagle Electronics but found out the name was already taken so Anthem makes do with a subsidiary called Eagle Technology.

Continuing its fixation with animals that fly, the company named its conference rooms after birds. I see the Eagle room, the Hummingbird room, the Falcon room and the Hawk room. Even Robert Throop, CEO, keeps several eagle statues in his office. (For more information see: ATM)

VLSI Technology

This maker of computer circuits leases four two-story buildings in a R&D park about four miles from downtown San Jose.

Here’s the first thing I find out: everyone here, from the CEO down, must wear a nametag while at work. I’ve only encountered two other companies in my extensive corporate travels with similar policies: Nalco in Naperville, Illinois and Indiana Gas in Indianapolis, Indiana. VLSI not only insists I wear a nametag, they insist on where I put it. I’m wearing my usual T-shirt with no pocket so I try to clip my visitor badge onto my pants pocket. No go. The guard tells me to clip the tag somewhere on my T-shirt.

VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) had revenues in 1991 of $413 million. It employs 1,200 people.

Robert Young, Manager: Marketing Communications, gives me an enthusiastic welcome and a tour of the place. Conference rooms are named after cities. CEO Alfred Stein’s office on the second floor has an interesting collection of color-photo micrographs. These are colorized pictures of the insides of a circuit board. Oh and guess what? Stein doesn’t have a computer.

(For more information VLSI)

The Levelor Corp.

Whew, what a change. I finally visit a company that has nothing to do with the computer industry. Privately held Levelor, with revenues over $200 million, is the world’s largest maker of window coverings—primarily venetian blinds and mini-blinds.

The company was founded in New York City back in the 1890’s. I ask Debra Smith, Manager: Administrative Services, and Jeanne Nagy, Administrative Assistant, why the company moved to Sunnyvale, California. The answer: one of the company’s new principals (the company was sold a few years ago) lives nearby.

The company’s lobby has a large display of Levelor blinds. One is about six feet by six feet; when you close the blinds you see a picture of an American flag. Levelor custom-designed this one during the Gulf War. I also see a six-foot set of dark red blinds shaped like a valentine, and blinds emblazoned with the names and logos of Major League baseball teams. What’s next? Playboy centerfolds on blinds?

About 90 employees work in the place. Since there’s no formal boardroom, most serious meetings take place in the all-glass "Fish Bowl" conference room.

Silicon Graphics

Sitting in a lobby for 90 minutes usually frustrates me but I’m glad I wait around to talk with Harry Pforzheimer, III, the Director of Corporate Communications at Silicon Graphics. Silicon Graphics is a computer workstation manufacturer specializing in 3-D simulation.

From my blue leather chair in the lobby, I can tell Silicon Graphics does things a little differently. I can see exposed ceiling beams painted pink, and a winding black spiral staircase leading up to the second floor. The conference room near the reception desk is called the "Abyss Room."

A complex of 17 two-story buildings makes up the campus-like headquarters of Silicon Graphics. It’s located a few miles from Downtown Mountain View. About 1,700 employees work here.

Employees in each building get to choose names for their conference rooms. In the executive’s building the employees chose movie names: "The Hunt For Red October Room," "The Abyss Room" and the "Terminator 2 Room" to name a few.

The cafeteria, called Cafe Iris, features a free, CD-playing Jukebox. For exercise, employees can use three fitness centers, a tennis court, a volleyball court, a par course and a soccer field.

The company practices an "open" parking system where no one has a reserved spot.

CEO McCracken’s office is spartan. It doesn’t even have a door and its "view" is the parking lot. I count three real plants in his cubicle along with a computer.

On June 30, 1992, Silicon Graphics merged with MIPS Computer Systems. Before the merger, revenues for 1992 were $739 million; net income $51 million. After the merger, revenues for 1992 were $866 million; net income $-118 million. (For more information see: SGI)

Sun Microsystems

In this land of two-story buildings, Sun’s five-story headquarters in Mountain View sticks out. The building used to house a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company which worked on government defense projects. Sun Microsystems (1992 revenues $3.6 billion; net income $173 million) bought the building in 1990. They completely renovated the 260,000 square-foot structure. Now about 900 employees call it home.

When I walk into the reception area I see a large glass case containing magazines and trade publications from around the world. All of these publications have one thing in common—they feature Sun Microsystems on their covers. I count 24 magazines in all including: "Fortune," "Business Week," "Der Spiegel," "Cadence" and "Machine Design."

Cindee Mock, PR Manager: Corporate Press Relations, gives me a whirlwind tour of the place. First we visit Scott McNealy, the company’s 38-year-old co-founder and CEO, in his middle office on the top floor. McNealy’s on the phone so I look around his office. First I notice a box of Dunkin’ Donuts filled with fake donuts—Dunkin’ Donuts is a big Sun client. I also see a San Jose Shark (NHL hockey team) uniform signed by the players (McNealy’s an avid hockey player) and a golf ball washer. This golf ball washer shows evidence of extreme wear and tear. I wonder if there’s a nearby golf course missing one of these devices (no one at Sun would confirm this). Then again, maybe it’s something you can special order from the "Sharper Image" catalog.

(For more information see: SUNW)

Short history lesson on Stanford University

Back in 1885, California Senator Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane, in memory of their only child, Leland Jr. who died of typhoid fever, founded Stanford University. The campus adjoins the city of Palo Alto on 8,200 acres of farmland, land formerly owned by the Stanfords.

The 660-acre Stanford Research Park is located on campus. This huge complex houses 55 firms, employing 25,000 people. Hewlett-Packard has its corporate headquarters here along with Varian Associates, Syntex Corporation, defense contractor Watkins-Johnson, and many others. Xerox has a large research facility here. Many of these companies own their buildings but not the land. When the Stanfords donated the 8,200 acres to the University they stipulated the land could never be sold.

Varian Associates

Varian Associates, founded by Russell Varian in 1948, was Stanford Research Park’s first tenant. They’ve been here since 1955. Varian (1991 revenues $1.4 billion) is a diversified electronics company that designs, manufactures and markets high-technology systems and components. The company is the world’s largest manufacturer of microwave, power-grid, and X-ray tubes plus it’s one of the world’s largest producers of semiconductor fabrication equipment. It’s also a leading supplier of equipment and services for treating cancer with high-energy radiation.

Corporate offices are in a two-story, 26,000 square-foot, company-owned structure built in 1991. Two other Varian buildings and this one surround several centuries-old oak trees.

Bill Bucy, Senior Public Relations Representative, gives me an extensive tour of the art-filled building, home to its 44 employees. Solid maple panels and veneers mixed with stainless steel trim grace the walls, giving the place a fancy but not too fancy atmosphere.

The boardroom is a huge, state-of-the-art wonder. It’s 3,000 square feet and features teleconferencing and a computer-controlled, multi-media display system at the CEO’s finger tips. The handsome horseshoe-shaped boardroom table is constructed of maple and stainless steel. A staircase from the boardroom leads directly upstairs to the CEO’s office. I walk by CEO Tracy O’Rourke’s, office but don’t go in because he’s on the phone.

Artwork—paintings, sculptures, pottery—mostly by contemporary California artists, is everywhere. The conference rooms includes prints from a non-California crowd that includes Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Renoir. The works include: Vincent Van Gogh’s "Irises" and "The Drawbridge at Arles"; Monet’s "Artist’s Garden at Giverny" and "Zviderbirk at Amsterdam"; Degas’s "Ecole de Danse" and "Dancers in Pink"; and Renoir’s "The Esterel Mountain" and "The Boating Party". (For more information see: VAR)

Syntex Corporation

I sure get the feeling I’m getting the runaround at Syntex (1992 revenues $2.1 billion; net income $472 million), a pharmaceutical company which develops and manufactures human and animal drugs. I find corporate headquarters in a complex of 21 concrete and glass buildings in the Stanford Research Park.

After waiting 30 minutes in the lobby for Jan Potts, Public Affairs Associate, to come get me, I find out she’s waiting for me in the lobby of the building next door. Unfortunately "next door" means a block-long walk in the cold and pouring rain. It takes me 10 minutes just to put all my rain gear back on (rain hat, rain gloves, rain boots, rain jacket, rain pants—you get the picture).

Then I ride my bike to the building "next door," take off ALL my rain paraphernalia and start to walk in. Potts meets me at the entrance and says, "I’m sorry but we haven’t got time to talk to you right now."

Potts goes on to tell me Syntex is laying off 25% of its staff, and the people in her department are busy "putting out fires." Sounds a bit fishy to me and for some reason I don’t believe it. So, before I ride away I ask two Syntex employees I meet crossing the street if it’s true about the 25% layoff. They both say no, not true. (For more information see: SYN)

SRI International

In the late 1940s, Stanford University’s brain trust created SRI (Stanford Research Institute). No longer affiliated with the university, SRI International operates as a private research and consulting firm with over $325 million in revenues. This self-supporting organization has no shareholders or endowments.

Headquarters is located on a 70-acre site in Menlo Park, about two miles from Palo Alto and Stanford University. Of SRI’s 3,200 employees, 2,300 work in the complex of buildings at the Menlo Park campus. The campus mixes new and old buildings. Some of the buildings were government barracks used during WWII as a hospital. Students used to live in some of the other buildings. The grounds include several basketball courts, a par course, a weight room and a volleyball court.

Carolyn Simonds, Public Relations Specialist, shows me around. My vote for most interesting building is the International Building. I especially enjoy the display of gifts given to SRI from foreign companies and governments. Here’s a sampling: a gaucho (cowboy) set from Argentina; carved wood figurines from the Philippines; a Mecca gold dagger from the King of Saudi Arabia; two three-feet-tall Tang Dynasty statues; a 18x12-foot Persian rug—I’m told it’s worth $250,000. But I am far and away the most impressed with a pair of ivory palace lanterns intricately carved from two six-foot elephant tusks, Ching Dynasty 1736-1796 AD.

I ask Simonds if SRI International makes the world a better place. Sure enough, the company helped the U.S. Post Office develop a better bar-code reader. There’s more—SRI’s 3-D image-processing technology helps simulate head surgery to train neurosurgeons. Plus, in the 60’s, SRI brought the computer age into the user-friendly age by manufacturing the first mouse. And here I always thought Apple Computer made the mouse first.

Impressed? There’s more. SRI also developed ERMA, the first bank automation system in the world, for Bank of America. In the process they developed MICR, today’s worldwide magnetic ink character recognition system—those funny shaped numbers that appear on the bottom of bank checks. Finally, while investigating a petrochemical substitute for the tallow and coconut oil used to make soap, SRI stumbled upon something they called dodecyl benzene. Dodecyl benzene in turn became the basis for the world’s first and most famous household detergent—Proctor and Gamble’s TIDE.

Raychem Corporation

Raychem (1991 revenues $1.3 billion; net income $-17 million) uses technology based on the special properties of polymers for metals and chemicals. The company has developed thousands of products. Here’s a tiny sampling: Raychem’s wiring, insulation components and connectors help carry the electrical signals that control a 747 jetliner’s take off; they also regulate your telephone’s ringing and your light switches at home. These products, along with many others, are on display in the company’s boardroom. Spencer Sias, Manager of Public Relations, takes the time to explain almost every product to me.

Raychem—the name comes from radiation + chemistry—has a bunch of two-story, red-tiled-roof buildings that stretch about a half-mile along a road in Menlo Park. About 4,000 employees work in the complex, which includes a manufacturing plant on-site. All total there’s 1.2 million square feet.

The company’s address, 300 Constitution Drive, led me to believe I’d find headquarters downtown next to the county courthouse. Instead Constitution Drive runs through a light industrial area. Company employees work and play on the 80-acre site which offers two basketball courts, two volleyball courts, weight lifting and aerobics facilities, as well as plenty of room to jog.

I’m somewhat disappointed in CEO, Robert Saldich’s, small, no-frills, shabby corner office on the first floor. Saldich’s plain digs have one great feature, however. His office opens directly onto a large, enclosed patio filled with plants and flowers. Sias points to a hidden gate in the patio wall, which allows Saldich to make an quick exit. Hmmmm. Sounds like a good way to escape a pesky writer on a bicycle. (For more information see: RYC)


Ampex—the inventor of video recording—is headquartered in Redwood City. A Russian engineer, Alexander M. Poniatoff, founded the company in 1944. The name comes from Poniatoff’s initials plus "ex" for excellence. The company was privately held until July 1992 when it had an Initial Public Offering. Revenues in 1991 totaled $525 million.

Corporate headquarters consist of five company-owned, two-story buildings built in the 60’s. Redwood City is about 20 minutes south of San Francisco and 20 minutes north of San Jose.

Janice Titus, Marketing Communications Manager, shows me around and answers my questions. About 800 people work in the campus-like complex of buildings.

The company has a small museum full of treasures. I see quite a few Oscars and Emmys on display. Titus tells me Ampex holds over 1,700 patents.

CEO Edward Bramson (42 years old), bought the company from Signal Companies in 1987. He has a first floor office near the main reception area. Bramson’s very small office has some intriguing things in it—a Regaro chair, a toy Ferrari, a dark-red carpet, and two circus scene paintings. But the first thing I notice is the Energizer Bunny sitting on Bramson’s windowsill. The company, Eveready, is an Ampex customer.

Here’s something interesting: U.S. intelligence agencies have

been customers of Ampex since the 1950’s. The government purchases recording products from Ampex. These record signals from spy satellites and listening devices. Ironically, since Britisher Bramson is not a U.S. citizen, he can’t enter the classified areas of the buildings he controls.

(For more information see: AMPX)

DHL Corp.

The corporate offices of DHL Corporation—the international air shipping company—are housed in a seven-story building on Twin Dolphin Road. Dean Christon, Manager of Marketing Communications, explains that the building sits on the old site of a Marine World parking lot. Now the address makes sense.

DHL (over $600 million revenues in 1991) has about 350 employees. The first thing I see in the company’s lobby is one of the company’s express package drop boxes; nary a Federal Express, UPS or Airborne drop-off box in sight. CEO Patrick Foley’s office is modest. A basketball signed by a bunch of unfamiliar names sits on one shelf. Foley tells me he used to have a basketball signed by the Golden State Warriors (NBA team) but he donated it to a local school. The school raffled it off in order to raise money for its soccer team. In return for the donation, the school’s soccer team signed a basketball and presented it to Foley.