On the road in and around New York City: Part Deux.
But first more miscellaneous notes about New York City: the Good, The Bad, And The Ugly...
This is the only city I’ve ever visited where I find security cameras INSIDE office building elevators.
New York City has the best pizza in the U.S.
Not once in all my visits to New York City supermarkets did a cashier say "hi" or "thank you."
The Orleans Walnut Linzer at Rigo—a Hungarian pastry shop on East 78th Street—easily makes it into my Pastry Hall of Fame. Delicious.
New York City is home to two of the best bridges in the U.S. to ride a bike across. 1) the Brooklyn Bridge 2) the George Washington Bridge.
The worst streets for potholes—world famous Park Avenue.
The Pierpont Morgan Library, housed in a turn-of-the-century mansion built and lived in by the great financier J.P. Morgan, is a great museum.
Several office buildings in the mid-town/Park Avenue area have security guards with vicious-looking guard dogs patrolling at lunch time to dissuade "drug dealing."
New York City has hundreds and hundreds of street vendors selling "Rolex, Gucci, Cartier, Movado and Tiffany" watches for $25. I asked them what kind of guarantee comes with the watch. All of them told me "three years".
The Titan Industrial Corporation
Privately-held Titan Industrial Corp. is one of the world’s largest steel marketing companies. Revenues last year were over $750 million. It’s also the world’s largest non-mill tinplate distributors.
Corporate offices are on the 10th floor of a high rise in midtown Manhattan. Peter McDougall, General Traffic Manager, sits down with me in a conference room to be interviewed but first I want to know: "What does a General Traffic Manager do?"
McDougall explains he’s in charge of making sure customers get their steel orders. This includes following materials through production, arranging for deliveries to ports and railheads, chartering vessels, and arranging inland deliveries and custom clearances. I guess it also includes meeting with bicycle riders.
About 60 employees work here. Contemporary and modern art lines the walls. Chairman Jerome Siegel, who founded the company back in 1946, has his wife to thank for the art collection—she owns an art gallery.
Chairman Siegel is a diehard basketball fan. His office has a dozen photos of Siegal posing with various NBA basketball players i.e. Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan. I also see several pictures of Siegel with President Clinton.
Carter-Wallace impresses me immediately. I walk off the elevator into its lobby and am surrounded by deep red wood paneling and elegant furnishings. Carter-Wallace (1992 revenues $673 million) sells toiletries, pharmaceuticals and pet products. I study the drawings hanging on the walls. There are several drawings of New York from "Harper’s Weekly" magazine— published in 1870--and also a 100-year-old sanitary and topographical map of the City. It shows the location of sewers, meadows and marshes.
Laurette Reisman, secretary to CEO Henry Hoyt, Jr., checks with some people and then tells me the company isn’t interested in "participating in your project." She recognizes my Bloomberg T-shirt though and tries her best. (For more information: CAR)
ITT is a biggie (1992 revenues $22 billion; net income $-885 million.) I want to visit them again to check out their new offices near Rockefeller Center. The old headquarters were on Park Avenue. Steven Erenburg, Director: Corporate Communications, says they lease 14 floors and have about 250-300 employees. I almost don’t make my meeting with Erenburg. The ITT security
people in the building lobby deem I’m not "dressed appropriately." I explain about my U.S. corporate bike tour and how hard it would be to keep a suit and tie in my bike’s saddlebags. Finally the head of security decides to make an exception in my case. (For more information: ITT)
Gilman Paper Company
To get to Gilman Paper Co. I take a private escalator up to its reception area. Gilman Paper is a privately-held pulp manufacturer whose offices are located in Rockefeller Center.
What a strange reception area. The walls in the large elegant room are covered in silk cloth; the wood trim is birds-eye maple; the floors are black steel. The room has a Japanese modern look to it. The two male receptionists are dressed all in black.
"Are you required to wear black?", I inquire.
"It’s a uniform look," one of them answers.
I’m told CEO Howard Gilman received my advance materials and "we will be getting in touch with you." Well this is New York and nobody "gets back to you." So I never get further than this remarkable lobby.
Orion Capital Corporation
Corporate offices for Orion Capital Corporation, an insurance holding company, are in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the most famous and tallest of the complex of buildings making up Rockefeller Plaza.
I meet CEO Alan Gruber in his office. He doesn’t seem pleased to talk with me. His secretary tells me she persuaded the reluctant Gruber to meet me because she and other staff members wanted their company listed in my travels.
I promise not to take more than five minutes of his time and I don’t. I do find out revenues in 1992 were $648 million and net income totaled $43 million. This is a bare bones operation with only 18 here in this office. Gruber tells me the company was founded 17 years ago and was named after the constellation Orion. Gruber has a computer in his office and a collection of Confederate bonds from the Civil War. (For more information: OC)
Value Line Inc.
Value Line, a publisher of investment information, has very gloomy headquarters. I can barely find my way to the reception desk because the hallway is so dark. The walls are kind of grey and the carpeting is dark blue and badly worn.
Revenues in 1992 were $74 million. This is a company where stockholders can be sure that management is not squandering their money on office furnishings.(For more information: VALU)
Viacom International Inc.
Viacom International is the entertainment and communications company that produces MTV, Showtime and Nickelodeon. They’re also the 12th largest cable television operator in the U.S., and own five television and 13 radio stations. Revenues in 1992 were $1.9 billion.
Corporate offices are on the 28th floor of a 54-story tower in the Times Square area. Waiting in the reception area to meet with Hilary Condit, Vice President: Corporate Relations, I try to watch all 12 television screens in the lobby at once. Each is tuned to a different channel.
The best part of my visit comes when we zip down the elevator to the floors occupied by MTV and Nickelodeon. Our first stop is MTV. Here the receptionist’s desk is under a canopy supported by live tree trunks. Her desk is a boulder. Actually it’s a fake boulder but fake or real, this is the first boulder desk I’ve seen. A rotating glass pastry display—you know, like the ones you see in diners—has several fake pieces of pie on its shelves next to several legitimate statues and awards MTV has won.
Next we skip through Nickelodeon’s floor. There the receptionist sits at a desk with large wheels. Many Nickelodeon props line the hallways. My favorite is a large aquarium filled with fake fish swimming back and forth. (For more information: VIA)
Polo Ralph Lauren
Headquarters for Polo Ralph Lauren, the privately-held apparel and home furnishings retailer with over $1 billion in revenues, NOT above their classy flagship store at Madison Avenue and 79th street. Instead it’s in a building on Madison near 57th street.
Stepping off the elevator I come face to face with a large bronze of a polo player on a horse. The reception area looks like an English aristocrat’s country manor. Dark wood paneling covers all the walls and they’re hung with huge oil paintings—all men— dressed in clothes from 100 years ago. Several brown leather couches and five leather chairs with that old-money weathered look complete the decor. Over 40 coffee table-type books lie scattered on (what else) a coffee table. This place looks like one of the Polo stores only it’s ten times more plush.
I find the receptionist in the act of pouring large bags of M&M candies into a giant sterling silver bowl. Another oil painting hangs prominently above and behind the receptionist’s desk. It’s a painting of Ralph Lauren trying to pass himself off as an English lord. Anyway after I wait 15 minutes, Mary Hartman from Public Relations comes to the lobby and tells me the company isn’t interested in talking to me. I tell her I’m disappointed but at least I picked up some interesting tidbits just from their lobby/reception area. "You can’t write about our lobby unless it has been cleared with us," she immediately answers. "I can write about anything I see," I explain and off I go.
Tiffany & Co.
I think Mark Aaron, Vice President-Investor Relations, finally agrees to meet with me because the folks at Tiffany & Co. (1992 revenues $486 million) are getting tired of seeing me everyday. Corporate offices are on the 5th floor of the company’s 10-story flagship store at 57th street and Fifth avenue.
For nine straight days I walk into the store, stride onto a manned elevator and get off on the 5th floor—corporate offices. Usually I encounter Kay Freeman, the reserved yet friendly receptionist who keeps telling me to come back. She finally gets permission for me to meet Aaron.
Freeman’s desk has a large Tiffany vase filled with different exotic flowers every week—my favorite in this particular nine day period are the parrot tulips. Piled on the other side of Freeman’s desk are six Tiffany coffee table books. A display glass in this waiting area is filled with Tiffany trinkets for sale.
During one of my trips up to the fifth floor I share an
elevator with actor Donald Sutherland. He’s wearing sunglasses. He didn’t pester me for my autograph. Professional courtesy I guess.
Aaron can’t take me to see any of the corporate offices. He tells me Tiffany’s "just doesn’t do that". (For more information: TIF)
Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
I’m a former Boy Scout and I should get a badge for my efforts to meet with someone at Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. The Girl Scouts (1992 revenues $31 million; net income $-318 thousand) is the world’s largest voluntary organization for girls, with membership totaling more than three and a half million in 118 countries. Its affiliate groups are the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).
Headquarters are in a new 30-story building on Fifth Avenue. Thanks to strict security, no one goes in the building’s elevators before getting security clearance. Anne Knoll Nixon, Communications, comes down to meet me in the building lobby but she’s very reluctant to talk with me. I can’t help wondering if the recent front-page "Wall Street Journal" story about the Girl Scouts’ possible misappropriation of funds from its famous cookie sale has anything to do with her reticence.
Ms. Nixon does finally agree to take me up to the cafeteria but there’s nothing much to see. I do notice the receptionist wears a green uniform. No badges though.
Farrell Lines Inc.
Farrell Lines is a privately-held maritime shipping outfit. So it’s no surprise to me to step off the elevator and find three model cargo ships—each eight feet long—on display in glass cases in the reception area. There’s also a model of a 100-year-old sailing ship.
Corporate offices are in a 22-story building in lower Manhattan. Right across the street is the former U.S. Customs House, now a designated national historical landmark. Farrell has about 124 employees and has been here since 1962.
Elizabeth Lang, Corporate Secretary for Farrell Lines, gives me a tour. The offices are very nautical with lots of wood paneling throughout. A plaque in the lobby identifies the wood paneling as Rhodesian Walnut from East Africa.
The boardroom is a replica of the office of John Farrell, who founded of the company in 1925. The room features a non-working fireplace, a spyglass, and part of the company’s extensive collection of original Currier & Ives.
Dow Jones & Company
I can’t wait to visit Dow Jones & Company (1992 revenues $1.8 billion). Five years ago, on my first trek around the country, "The Wall Street Journal," Dow Jones’ flagship newspaper, wrote a front-page piece about my quirky trip through corporate America. Unfortunately, the next year when I showed up to visit Dow Jones, I was given the brush-off.
Before my visit this month I write Peter Kahn, the company’s new CEO, and explained I will be passing through New York City again and can I stop in for a visit. Kahn writes me a nice reply and invites me to drop by.
Dow Jones is headquartered in the World Financial Center, a spectacular waterfront complex in lower Manhattan. World Financial Center has three main towers—the American Express Tower, the Merrill Lynch Tower and the Oppenheimer Tower. Dow Jones leases floors in the Oppenheimer Tower.
Visitors to Dow Jones & Company must check in with security personnel in a room off to the side called the Visitor’s Center. A guard calls up each visitor’s company contact, gets clearance and then issues visitor’s badges. However, that’s not all these guards do. I notice a strange-looking machine behind the counter; it looks like an X-ray machine.
"What’s that?" I ask, pointing to this contraption.
"It’s a mailscan machine", the guard answers. "Suspicious-looking letters and packages are put through the machine to catch bombs, animals and other undesirable objects." I wonder if the old sandwich in my backpack will pass. It does.
While in the Visitor’s Center visitors can look at the black and white photos of New York City scenes hanging on the walls or flip through large black binders filled with back issues of "The Wall Street Journal." They go back five months.
After I pass this security point I get sent up to meet with Roger May, Director of Corporate Relations. My visit consists of seeing his office. I’m disgruntled since Kahn’s gracious letter led me to expect more of a tour. The brevity of my visit is probably inevitable, however. I ask May: "Who’s your competition?" "Bloomberg," he tells me. Then he looks pointedly at my Bloomberg T-shirt. (For more information: DJ)
Oppenheimer & Co., Inc.
Oppenheimer & Co., a privately-owned securities and investment banking firm, is part-owner of the 40-story Oppenheimer Tower in the World Financial Center.
I meet with chain-smoking John Ryan III, Senior Vice President: Director Public Relations. He tells me 1,700 employees work on Oppenheimer’s 14 floors. Ryan takes me on an extensive tour. We check out the executive dining room on the 40th floor, the senior executives’ offices on the 39th floor, and the trading floor—home to several BLOOMBERG’s.
The company owns a huge collection of folk art. Here’s just a sampling: a mosaic panel from Roman 3 AD, a sarong from Indonesia, an 18th century scroll from the China Ching dynasty, a Roman statue from 2 BC, and dozens of African masks.
My visit to American Express reminds me quite a bit of my visit to IBM. On my first trek around the U.S. five years ago, these two companies were flying high and both of them told me to get lost. Now it’s 1993. Both firms have faced turbulence lately and each has a new CEO’s. IBM treated me more graciously this time around. Not so American Express—the more things change, the more they stay the same, especially for a guy in bike shorts.
American Express’s headquarters is the 51-story, company-owned American Express Tower in the World Financial Center. The main reception area reminds me of a bank line. I wait behind 18 other people in a zig zag roped-off line to talk to one of three receptionists. "Next..."
When it’s my turn the receptionist directs me to a house phone to call CEO Harvey Golub’s, secretary. I notice SIX displays filled with American Express Gold card applications. Brenda, one of Golub’s secretaries, tells me they have no record of receiving my introduction materials. So I leave some more materials and wait for a call back. It never comes. (For more information: AXP)
In and around Long Island, New York...
What’s 118 miles long and 20 miles wide—it’s Long Island, New York—the largest island adjoining the continental U.S. With its population of 2.6 million it would rank as the fourth largest city in the country if it were a city.
Interesting fact: The U.S. has 37,000 zip codes. The two wealthiest zip codes in the nation are on Long Island—Great Neck (11024) and Rosyln (11576). The third richest is 90210--Beverly Hills, California.
Many wealthy New Yorkers have summer "cottage" (read huge estates) on Long Island in an area known as the Hamptons. These tony beachfront communities (Southhampton, Bridgehampton and East Hampton) seemed full of themselves. Why? First of all, the town of Southhampton is the only place I’ve ever visited or even heard of with street signs posted reading: "All persons are required to wear proper attire on our public streets. Ordinance #82." Kinda makes me wish I’m sporting ripped jeans, black leather and devil tattoos. Second: the local police stopped me in town and told me bikes aren’t allowed on Main street. Well excuse me.
King Kullen Grocery Company
I’m intrigued before I even set foot in King Kullen Grocery Co.’s headquarters. The grocery bags used by this privately held supermarket chain read: "world’s first supermarket." So when I meet Thomas Cullen, Vice President and third-generation Cullen in this, the family business, I ask him if it’s true. He assures me King Kullen was, in fact, the world’s first supermarket. He cites as proof the findings of the Smithsonian Institute. According to this august institution, King Kullen was the first grocery store to meet all five criteria for a modern supermarket: 1) separate departments, 2) self-service, 3) discount pricing, 4) chain marketing, and 5) volume dealing.
The company’s first store opened August 4, 1930. Piggly Wiggly stores were number two in the supermarket race.
Corporate offices are in Westbury, Long Island on the second floor of a huge building that’s also a company distribution center. CEO John Cullen’s plainly-furnished office is an eye-opener. On the wall behind his desk hangs the stuffed and mounted head of a huge, vicious-looking shark he caught himself.
In Melville, Long Island, tucked away behind another building in a cul-de-sac, I find the plain white one-story headquarters of Arrow Electronics. Arrow is the world’s largest distributor of electronic components and computer products. They sell to industrial and commercial customers.
I meet with Stephen Kaufman, the CEO. He tells me the company leased this space for ten years and finally decided to buy the place. We sit on a white wraparound sofa in Kaufman’s large corner office. I ask him why he doesn’t have any plants in his office. Kaufman makes me laugh when he explains he got rid of the plants because he was tired of the plant people barging into his office anytime they wanted to water the plants. He’s describing exactly what happened during my visit to King Kullen Grocery earlier the same day. While I was in Thomas Cullen’s office this "plant" woman walks in and starts watering the plants. She walked between and around our chairs, openly listened to our conversation, and even interjected a remark at one point. No wonder Kaufman’s plantless.
Kaufman tells me about the rocking chair in his office. It’s from the Young Presidents Club—an association of company presidents under 45 years of age. On a member’s 45th birthday the Club boots them out. I notice some other unusual items in Kaufman’s office: there’s a two-feet-tall hour glass, a charcoal drawing of Berlin, and a framed picture of Fenway Park—the home of his favorite baseball team.
Arrow Electronics (1992 revenues $1.6 billion) treats all of its 400 employees the same when it comes to parking. Kaufman has to find a spot, just like everyone else. (For more information: ARW)