On the road in Westchester County, New York...


Back in 1987, when I tried to visit IBM, the company told me NOT to come by its headquarters in Armonk, New York. This was back in the old BIG BLUE days. When I showed up anyway, unfriendly security guards turned me away but not before I was verbally chewed out for daring to visit in spite of the companyís non-welcome.

How the mighty have softened...itís now late April, 1993. The companyís recent troubles have included huge losses, and thousands of laid-off employees. Louis Gerstner, an IBM outsider, was named CEO last month.

Armonk, in Westchester County, is a heavily-wooded area of rolling hills, lakes and large estates. IBMís street address is simply: Old Orchard Road. I stop at a convenience store several miles from IBMís headquarters and ask the two store clerks (both in their 20ís) to please give me directions to IBM. Iím out of luck. Neither one of them knows where it is! Consider how unbelievable this is. Armonk is a small townóabout 5,000 peopleóand itís home to one of the worldís largest corporations (1992 revenues $65 billion; net income $-5 billion.) The companyís been here for over 30 years and these two clerks have lived in the area several years. Yet they still have no clue where IBM is located?! Talk about keeping a low profile.

I do manage to find headquarters. I ride my bike up a long steep hill to IBMís guard shack. Itís about a quarter of a mile from the main road. From the guard shack, you canít even see IBMís headquarters. I explain to the guard who I am and ask him to call CEO Gerstnerís secretary for the name of my contact person. No dice. He tells me I have to find a pay phone and do my own calling.

"Whereís the nearest pay phone?" I ask, already suspecting the answer. "Follow this hill down into town and youíll see a Texaco station," the guard answers. Sigh.

From the Texaco gas station I call IBM and so begins my TWO HOUR vigil at the Texaco pay phone. Yes, Gerstnerís office received my advance materials but, no, I canít step on IBMís grounds until I get clearance from IBM security.

Now it gets pretty comical. For the next two hours, at approximately 15 minute intervals, the phone rings at the gas station for me. Each time itís a different person from IBMís security department. Each one of them explains how my clearance has to be approved from someone higher up.

Iíve read stories about IBMís layers upon layers of management; now I know what that means. These guys probably have meetings to decide about meetings.

Finally the call approving my visit comes through. It instructs me to proceed up the steep hill to the guard gate, again. Of course no one has bothered to tell the guard at the guard gate of my new approved status so I have to wait again for the guard and security to exchange a flurry of phone calls. Iím beginning to wonder how anything gets done at this company.

My ride past the gate, up the driveway to IBM headquarters is very scenic. The hilly 434-acre site used to be an apple and cherry orchardóhence the name Old Orchard Road.

As I pass a big parking lot, I notice a yellow sign which reads: "Rental Car Returns." Wow, IBM has its own on-site rental car return area, just like an airport.

Janet Carnegie, Manager: International Media Relations, gives me a warm reception when she meets me in IBMís new atrium reception area. This atrium connects to the 417,000 square-foot main building, built in 1962 and designed by architect I.M. Pei.

Carnegie walks me around the place, and the more I see, the more Iím disappointed. First of all, I just wasnít expecting to see orange carpeting everywhere. Also, all the escalators give the place an anachronistic, out-of-date look.

The well-kept grounds, however, are beautiful. They contain jogging trails, four tennis courts, softball fields and a helipad. Employees frequently see deer and coyotes wandering about.

I donít get to see Gerstnerís corner office but that doesnít surprise me. After all, heís been on the job less than a month.

Oh, and one more thing. IBM has always been famous for its staid dress code. And itís trueóall the men look alike in their suits with white shirts. Then thereís me. Iím wearing bike shorts, my Bloomberg T-shirt and loafers without socks. I volunteer to change into long pants before my tour but Carnegie tells me it isnít necessary. As I walked down IBMís hallways, everyone stares at me. Maybe I will play a small part in Gerstnerís plans to change

things at IBM. (For more information: IBM)

NYNEX Corporation

About 10 minutes from downtown White Plains, population 50,000, I find the corporate offices of NYNEXóa former Bell phone company (revenues in 1992 $13.2 billion)

My first impression of NYNEX is security guards, lots and lots of security guards. There are guards in the lobby, guards in the parking lot, guards near the front doors, guards next to the elevators, and probably others I missed.

Maureen Flanagan, Director: National Media Relations, meets me in the lobby. Before we leave for a tour, I check the pay phones off to the side to see if theyíre NYNEX phones. Yep.

About 800 employees work here. The company has a cafeteria but no executive dining rooms. Next to the cafeteria the company provides a state-of-the-art fitness center called the "Shape Shop."

NYNEX has an extensive art collection scattered throughout the building. Painted aluminum screens of peopleís faces by Kathleen McCarthy is the most unusual. The boardroom contains several cast bronze sculptures including "Orator" by Byran Hunt and "Where Clouds Are Born" by Jeffrey Maron. (For more information: NYN).

International Paper Company

I visited International Paper Company (1992 revenues $13.6 billion) back in 1987 and got the brush-off. Well, since IBM and NYNEX treated me much more graciously this year than six years ago, Iím hoping International Paper has mellowed too.

Corporate offices are in a four-story, blue glass building in an office park in Purchase, New York. The unfriendly receptionist tells me everyoneís out to lunch. I tell her itís no problem, I donít mind waiting, and I take a seat in the lobby.

Well after I wait an hour and a half I start to get restless. I mean how many times can you thumb through "Pulp & Paper" and "Paper Age," the only two publications on the coffee table? The receptionist tells me to come back another time. I explain that a guy on a bike canít just come back "some other time" but sheís not sympathetic.

Finally, a man walks in, doesnít introduce himself, hands me a card with a name and number on it, and tells me: "Call this person for an appointment, heís not available today." As he turns to walk away, I ask him his name and, without even turning his head around, he tells me "John Flynn." Then he walks out the door. Later I look up his name in the companyís annual report: John Flynn, Staff Vice President & Director of Human Resources. Inhuman resources more like. (For more information: IP )

Westchester County Airport

A few miles from White Plains I ride by a small regional airport. For such a small airport it has surprisingly extensive passenger jet service to far away places. The terminalís pretty unique. It consists of two 50 year-old quonset huts stuck together.

Some very big corporate names have hangers and corporate jets based here. Hereís just a partial list: Champion International, Olin, General Signal, Xerox, IBM, Readerís Digest, Amax, Unilever, Cheesebrough-Pondís, PepsiCo, Phillip Morris, Union Carbide, Loral and Texaco.