On the road in and around New Haven, Stamford and Greenwich,
But first a visit to New Haven and Yale University:
Located near downtown New Haven (population 130,000), the Yale University campus has some impressive gothic-like buildings. Unfortunately, it also adjoins an unsavory part of town.
One building particularly catches my eye. Built in 1932, it’s called the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. "The Guinness Book of World Records" lists it as the world’s largest facility for indoor sports and recreation. From the outside, the massive 14-story building looks more like a cathedral than a physical education facility. (One of the building’s nicknames is "The Cathedral of Sweat.")
Here’s what’s in the building: A 25-yard pool with seating for 2,100, a basketball gym with seating for 3,100, three indoor rowing tanks for the school’s crew team to practice year round, a 50-meter practice pool (which is the largest above-ground swimming pool in the world), 27 squash courts and 8 handball/racquetball courts. There's more: three running tracks; two polo rooms (the first of their kind anywhere); several golf rooms; three weight rooms; rooms for exercise, dance & ballet; a fencing salon; a wrestling room and gymnastics room (formerly the boxing room); and several basketball and volleyball courts. These days the place is showing its age in more ways than one—paint is peeling off the walls, plus there’s no masking the odor of 60 years of use.
Sheer curiosity: the Knights of Columbus:
Founded in 1882 and over 1.5 million members strong, this Catholic fraternal organization chose the name "Knights of Columbus" after Christopher Columbus, the Catholic discoverer of America. At the same time, the term "Knights" signifies the knightly ideals of spirituality and service to Church, country and fellowman.
Its corporate offices anchor one end of downtown New Haven. It’s an imposing 23-story structure designed by Kevin Roche and built in 1969. It has four massive cylindrical corner towers and is built on a landfill.
Harvey Bacque, Assistant to the Supreme Knight, spends several hours with me, answering my questions and giving me the VIP tour. Supreme Knight is kinda analogous to a corporate CEO.
To buy insurance from Knights of Columbus you have to be a member. Revenues from insurance sales for 1992 were $991 million, net income $51 million. You don’t, however, have to be Catholic to work here. I ask.
The organization has an extensive art collection of mostly religious art. In CEO Dechant’s corner office on the 20th floor, there are charcoal drawings of the last six Popes, a pewter statue of Christopher Columbus, a bronze of Mother Teresa, quite a few religious oil paintings and a television with a VCR. To my surprise, I don’t see a Bible.
There’s no boardroom and no recreational facilities. But the cafeteria occupies the building’s top floor and the view from all four sides is terrific.
On the fourth floor I tour the extensive Knights of Columbus museum. Over 500 artifacts, documents, items of Columbiana and significant works of art reveal the history, formation and activities of the Knights of Columbus. On display is a decorative ceramic tile Columbus carried from Spain on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He intended it for the continent’s first church.
Speaking of churches, the Knights has one of those on the fourth floor. It’s constructed of latticed red oak and the interior is faced with gold leaf. The tabernacle and lighting fixtures are polished brass. The Crucifix is 17th century German and carved of ivory.
Pope John Paul II, to thank the Knights of Columbus for their donations towards the restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, presented them with the massive cross from the statue of Christ on top of the basilica.
How would you like to work in a building, surrounded by Long Island Sound, with unlimited use of a private beach, two tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool and horseshoes? That’s the life for employees of Echlin Inc. a supplier of automotive products (1992 revenues $1.8 billion; net income $64 million.)
Company headquarters sits on a site of a former beach club. Echlin bought the property in 1981. The surrounding area is all residential.
I walk into the lobby dressed in my usual apparel (Bloomberg T-shirt, rugby shorts and topsiders.) The receptionist looks me over, then informs me, "You won’t be seeing anybody dressed like that." "No problem," I tell her. I change into the long pants that I always carry with me in my backpack.
I meet with CEO Frederick Mancheski and Milton Makoski, V.P.-Human Resources. Mancheski has a great view of Long Island Sound from his third floor office. He shows me his collection of small rocks picked up on his travels (I count over 50.) A picture of a bird painted by his daughter hangs in Mancheski’s office.
In the summer, employees and their families use the grounds as their own private club. Barbecues are held just about every night. The company also lets quite a few local organizations use the grounds for fund raising events. (For more information: ECH)
Riding through Norwalk (population 77,000), I make a stop at this 115,000 square-foot store. My curiosity is sparked by the huge sign hanging on the front of the store which reads: "World’s Largest Dairy Store, as Featured in ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not.’"
Upon further investigation I find out this single store did over $100 million in business last year. The "1992 Guinness Book of World Records" lists Stew Leonard’s as having the highest sales per square foot of selling space ($3,470 per square foot annually.) This in an industry that averages between $300 and $500.
Stew Leonard’s carries about 800 items compared with the 30,000 items at your average grocery store. The store is packed with customers. So why is the place so popular? Well, everything’s very fresh. Customers can watch various dairy products being measured, packaged and put on the shelves through special viewing windows. There’s also a small petting zoo out front. There’s also lots of free samples.
Near the front entrance I stop at the company’s ice cream stand. Though the line is long, I wait to buy a cone. On a scale of 1 to 10, this cone rates only a five.
Coldwater Seafood Corporation
Darien, Connecticut is a wealthy waterfront community (population 60,000.) Next door to Darien is the idyllic waterfront village of Rowayton, population barely 500. Palatial homes with boats moored at private docks line its inlets.
Many years ago Rowayton was a fishing port. That explains why Coldwater Seafood has its corporate offices here. It’s a company-owned, two-story, 16,000 square-feet waterfront building with a private dock. Coldwater Seafood, with revenues over $300 million, is the U.S. marketing arm for a group of Icelandic fishermen.
The company’s 35 employees each receive an unusual perk—all employees get an hour of free tennis a day at a nearby tennis club.
Magnus Gustafsson, President, has a corner office on the second floor with a view of the surrounding docks. Gustafsson’s office contains a wood carving of a whale, a large map of Iceland, and two paintings by an Iceland artist of—what else—fishing scenes.
When I visited Union Carbide, a chemical company, back in 1987, I arrived with high expectations and left in a major huff. I had seen pictures of their modernistic, 1.2 million square-feet headquarters (designed by architect Kevin Roche), situated on 540 acres of woodland. Union Carbide has won awards for its design, especially for the way it blends in with the natural habitat. So I wanted to see the place.
I never got closer than a half mile away. Some guy from Corporate Communications drove his car out to the guard gate where I waited and answered my questions standing in the road. This was probably due to the company’s highly publicized chemical explosion in Bhopal, India. Even though almost a year had passed since the accident, they still weren’t over their fortress mentality.
So, back to the present. I can tell things have changed from the attitude of the security guards—they’re hospitable to me! I get clearance to ride up to the building. Along the way I pass several dozen Canadian geese hanging around the grounds (goose goo everywhere.)
The building is only four stories high but it spreads out into 15 wings. James Barton, Director: General Services, greets me at the front entrance. He gives me an extensive tour.
Since my first visit, Union Carbide (1992 revenues $4.9 billion; net income $-187 million) has sold off many of its assets and no longer owns its headquarters site. About 1,000 employees work here in this massive complex.
Employees have lots of recreational activities available here: a par golf course, several softball and volleyball fields, jogging trails through gorgeous terrain and a fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment.
Barton says everyone has the same size office except for the CEO and President. But even though CEO Robert Kennedy’s office is twice as big all the others—it’s still very small and spartan. He does have a nice view of trees and park though. Employees have spotted wild turkeys, deer, foxes and quail on the grounds.
Union Carbide doesn’t have a formal art collection but I pass by an antique Russian vase and a painting called "Grand Canyon," by Andrew Wyeth.
Westchester Airport is 40 minutes away and New York’s La Guardia airport is 50 miles, so the company’s on-site helipad comes in handy.
The company is very security conscious. I see guards and security cameras all over the place. Barton answers my questions in a conference room. When he takes me to see the CEO’s office and boardroom, I leave my backpack in the room. When we come back 15 minutes later, we surprise two security guards rifling through my backpack. Barton chuckles. (Barton is head of security.) What’s so funny? I want to know. Still smiling Barton explains: every so often he stages a bomb threat. He places a suspicious box somewhere on-site and then sits back and sees how long it takes his security guards to find it. Apparently the guards thought my unguarded backpack was the "bomb". (For more information: UK)
Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc.
I don’t get to talk with anyone at Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc. but they have one of the more interesting lobbies I’ve ever seen. First I enter a set of glass double doors flanked by two life-size statues of Foo Dogs—they look like lions guarding the entrance. Then I go through a second set of glass double doors into what looks like a large antiques store. I see a baby carriage from the Civil War, a 1776 cooking vessel, eight armoires, a 19th-century solid oak opticians desk, a 10-foot replica of the pillars of King Solomon’s mine, an 18th-century Dutch oak desk/secretary, a 100-year-old highboy, lots of antique vases, a Japanese breakfront, a 19th-century English armchair, rocking chairs, grandfather clocks, a Pennsylvania painted blanket chest and a couple of huge roll-top desks.
In March of this year, Ethan Allan completed an initial public offering. For the three months ending March 31, 1993, revenues were $99.2 million, with net income of $-17 million.
Eileen Kent, the friendly, helpful receptionist, spends 20 minutes calling people, trying to find someone with time to meet with me. She doesn’t succeed but she sure is nice to try.
(For more information: ETH)
On the road in Stamford, Connecticut...
I visited Pitney Bowes, a manufacturer and marketer of mailing, shipping, copying, dictating and facsimile systems (1992 revenues $3.4 billion), six years ago. My visit was on October 19, 1987--the day the Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 500 points—referred to in history books as Black Monday. It was mid-morning. A man from Corporate Communications had just started giving me a tour when he got word to drop whatever he was doing and get back to Corporate Communications pronto. They needed him to handle a flood of phone calls from nervous investors.
So here I am again and this time, all seems well with the Dow. Headquarters is in Stamford, Connecticut—the same neighborhood where Pitney Bowes was founded over 70 years ago.
Designed by I.M. Pei & Partners, the crescent-shaped, pink and gray granite building overlooks Stamford Harbor and is about two miles from downtown Stamford (population 120,000.)
Deanna Sokolowski, Director: Investor Communications and Advertising, answers my questions and gives me a tour. The company has about 1,000 employees.
One wing of the building contains a dramatic 300-feet-long atrium. The cafeteria anchors the end of this atrium. It has great food. Employees can choose to sit and eat indoors or out.
CEO George Harvey’s plainly-furnished corner office has a view of Long Island Sound. His office also features a working fireplace, but Sokolowski tells me he never uses it. The boardroom has a circular boardroom table with a piece cut out of it.
Scattered throughout the building is an extensive art collection. The artists are mainly Americans and include Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichenstein, Robert Mapplethorpe, Claes Oldenberg, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. (For more information: PBI )
General Host Corporation
General Host Corp. (1992 revenues $558 million) operates 288 Frank’s Nursery & Craft stores. General Host is the largest chain of specialty retail stores devoted to the sale of lawn and garden products, crafts and Christmas merchandise in the U.S.
The company leases space in a new four-story office building located next door to the train station. There’s an office for CEO Harris Ashton, space for Joan Bernardo, Ashton’s Executive Assistant, and Bernice Halpern, the receptionist and that’s all.
I enjoy talking with Joan and Bernice, two super ladies. Since Ashton isn’t in today the women have some free time so I entertain them with tales of my adventures. Joan and Bernice asks me questions like: "Do you eat enough? Are you married? What does your mother think of you doing this?"
They tell me that one of the reasons the company can operate with such a small staff at company headquarters is because Ashton uses the computer in his office to monitor the progress of each store. (For more information: GH)
If you have a credit card from a major financial institution, odds are you’ve received an insert with your bill at least once, inviting you to purchase small electronics at a discount rate or receive special air fares. CUC International is the firm who arranges these services for financial institutions.
For a yearly fee of $49, individuals can join Shoppers Advantage and get discounts on goods, services and dining. CUC International has more than 25 million members. Revenues in 1992 were $644 million; net income $25 million.
CUC leases all five floors of a plain building several blocks from downtown Stamford. Sandra Morgan, Vice President: Corporate Communications, says about 200 employees work in the place. It has a definite "no-frills" look to it.
Walking into CEO Walter Forbes’s corner office I count three of those carved-wood coyotes (the three-foot tall ones) poised in the howling position. There’s also a life-sized wood carving of a hawk. I ask him about the leather jacket next to his desk. He explains he received it as a birthday present recently. Forbes can’t wear the jacket, however, because it’s stiff as a board— several coats of glue will do that. (For more information: CU)
I’m revisiting Xerox (1992 revenues $14.7 billion; net income $-1 billion) because two of my best friends work in the San Diego office of Xerox and insist my less-than-friendly reception back in 1987 was a fluke.
Xerox headquarters is on a 25-acre site on Long Ridge Road, which is about three miles from downtown Stamford.
Upon entering Xerox headquarters, I find myself in a four-story atrium. A huge blue banner hangs down one atrium wall with the words "The Document Company." This 225,000 square-foot headquarter’s building was built in 1979. Originally Xerox owned the building but now leases its space as a result of a sale/leaseback.
Finding a seat while I wait in the reception area poses no difficulty. The two long black and blue sofas could easily accommodate 16 people. Next I check out the dozens of glass display cases in the lobby. It’s a permanent exhibit with three sections, one is called History of Written Communication; the second is Origins of Printing; and the third is Origins of Writing. Some works are originals and, of course, some are Xerox copies. The collection includes an authentic "Book of the Dead" written in Hieroglyphic script on papyrus in 600 BC. There’s also a mosaic floor inscription from the Byzantine Church in Antioch, circa 607 AD. It’s heavy chipped stone set in mortar.
When visitors get enough history, they can examine Xerox’s new, high-tech 5775 Digital Color Copier machine. Judd Everhart, Manager: Media Relations, comes out to meet me in the lobby and gives me a tour. My friends from San Diego were right. Everyone is very nice this time around.
Everhart walks me by several copying rooms so I can see all the Xerox machines in use. Nary a Canon or a Minolta in sight. (For more information XRX)
With the largest refinery on the East Coast and the largest independently-owned refinery on the West Coast, Tosco Corporation (1992 revenues $1.9 billion; net income $-3 million) is one of the largest independent refiners in the U.S.. Tosco produces approximately 400,000 barrels of oil per day which is about 3% of the total U.S. daily production of petroleum products.
Tosco leases two floors in a two-story office building. It’s a stone’s throw away from Long Island Sound. About 100 employees work here. Daniel Mulderry, Director of Investor Relations, explains that the company’s name comes from combining the first letters of each word in the company’s old name—The Oil Shale Company.
CEO Thomas O’Malley collects art. His eclectic collection is scattered throughout the place. Most of it is tribal art. O’Malley’s first floor corner office has a great view of Long Island Sound. My favorite item in his office is an antique wooden golf club.
Tosco has a BLOOMBERG in their investment department. So before I go I show Mulderry how to punch up my column: BIKE <GO>. (For more information: TOS)
A few words about the town of Greenwich.
This town of 60,000 is one of the wealthiest if not THE wealthiest community in the U.S. The hustle and bustle of New York City is only an hour’s train ride away from the countryside of Greenwich. Mansions line the waterfront. Huge estates dot the hilly, heavily-wooded, pristine backroads. It’s a great place for bike riding.
I stop in at town hall to ask Comptroller William Bliss some hard questions. First of all I ask him if Greenwich, a community of 60,000, isn’t too big to be calling itself a town. Bliss laughs and agrees but says the residents like the idea of living in a town rather than a city.
Greenwich does have a certain small-town flavor to it. For example, the local police force directs traffic after the weekly church services finish. Bliss boasts about Greenwich’s enviable financial condition. The town has no bonds and no debt. The town’s biggest employer is the U.S. Post Office.
The Town of Greenwich is run by a Representative Town Meeting form of government. It’s comprised of 229 members and a three-member Board of Selectmen.
Off the coast of Greenwich, in Long Island Sound, there are two islands owned by the town. The beaches on the islands are packed in the summer and ferries transport people back and forth. Don’t, however, try visiting these islands unless you have the proper identification. They’re off-limits to non-residents.
W.R. Berkley Corporation
A four-story brick building in downtown Greenwich houses the corporate offices for W.R. Berkley, an insurance holding company. It had revenues in 1992 of $567 million; net income $52 million.
I receive an enthusiastic reception from Robert Gorin, Senior Vice President: General Counsel and Secretary. The company is named after William R. Berkley, the 47-year-old Chairman and CEO. He founded the company in 1967 while attending Harvard University. He was 21 years old at the time. Berkley’s name appears on "Forbes" annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in the U.S.
About 40 employees work here. The building has a kitchen on each floor. Why? I ask. Berkley himself designed it this way. William Berkley is—to put it mildly—on the rotund side and loves to eat. Gorin tells me Berkley isn’t shy about his fondness for food. A kitchen on every floor insures that no matter where and when the company has a meeting, food is always nearby.
Since the company writes property and casualty insurance, I guess the pictures of hurricanes decorating the second-floor boardroom aren’t that unusual. There’s also a map of San Francisco which marks the centers and magnitude of earthquakes in that area between 1972-1989.
William Berkley is an avid collector of art and collectibles. He reportedly has one of the world’s finest watch and Lionel train collections. On the company’s 1992 annual report cover there’s a reproduction of the painting, "Country Politics," by Thomas Hart Benton. Berkley owns the original.
Berkley is meeting with someone in his office when I stop by, but he invites me in for a quick look. It’s a lot less fancy than I expect. I’ve read that Berkley’s home in Greenwich, with 30,000 square feet, is very luxurious. (For more information: BKLY)