On The Road in Baltimore

McCormick & Company

Joan Booker, receptionist, says to have a seat and someone from Press Relations, will be out shortly to meet with me. Seeing as how I'm seated on a bicycle for most of the day, sitting around in a chair doesn't sound inviting so I wander the lobby area of McCormick & Company-the world's largest spice company.

On a wall hangs a 5x12 oil painting of the Ann McKim, a clipper ship from the 1830's. Down the end of the large open lobby I see what looks to be a replica of an English pub. Booker says it's an early English TeaHouse. Built, designed and constructed in 1934 by Baltimore architect Edwin Tunis it originally stood on the seventh floor of the company's old headquarters building in downtown Baltimore. When McCormick & Company built its new corporate offices out here in suburban Sparks in 1991, the teahouse was disassembled, moved and reconstructed.

Antique spice bins filled with spices such as ginger, red pepper, vanilla, turmeric and cloves line one wall of the teahouse. Over a fake cooking fireplace there's a plaque with the following words by W.M. McCormick, who founded the company in 1889, "make the best-someone will buy". Why did W.M. McCormick have the teahouse built? Traveling around the country visiting companies to sell his spices and tea, McCormick found himself many a time literally having to wait outside in the cold to meet with someone. McCormick promised himself he would never treat visitors in such a manner, hence the teahouse.

As I'm admiring the extensive woodwork in the teahouse, a man walks in, introduces himself (though I don't catch the name I assume he's the Press Relations guy) and proceeds to give me an enthusiastic welcome. The man heard I was in the lobby and wanted to meet me, even though he was late for a meeting and only had a minute to talk. Great! I'm saying to myself, this Press Relations guy is being nice because he's giving me the brush-off. Just then, another man walks in and identifies himself as Allen Barrette, Manager-Press Relations. After conversing for another minute, the first man excuses himself and leaves. Since I didn't catch the man's name or title and didn't want to look like an idiot I ask Barrette, "what's his title again"? "Mr. Thomas is Chairman of the Board and CEO", answers Barrett.

Situated on a heavily-wooded, hilly 48-acre site, this good-looking, four-story, 93,000 square foot headquarters building of McCormick & Company (1992 revenues $1.5 billion, net income $95 million) sits in the back part of a large office/light industrial park complex. Sparks, Maryland is 20 miles north of Baltimore and two miles from Hunt Valley, THE fashionable business address for companies in the Baltimore suburbs.

Where do the 175 employees get together for meetings? In conference rooms named after spices of course. Ever pick up an annual report that smells? Each year McCormick & Company's annual report is scented. The scent of the 1992 report is cinnamon. Barrett walks me to the cafeteria. Why? I want to see if the salt and peppershakers on the tables contain McCormick & Company's own brand. They do.

Employees shouldn't have a problem knowing when nutmeg or black pepper was first used because displayed on several floors there's a series of large wall murals describing the history of spices.

With CEO Bailey Thomas in a meeting I can't ask him about his hat collection. I count over 20 unusual hats, with the strangest being the Indian headdress and fireman's helmet. Barrett says Thomas has over 100. I count four live plants in Thomas's fourth floor corner office including a healthy-looking vanilla plant. I also count five clocks with one being a Howard Miller grandfather clock.

Leaving the property I stop near the front entrance and take pictures of the two swans and eight ducks in the pond. A few minutes earlier I was up in Thomas's office and had a splendid view of the waterfowl. I keep getting closer and closer to the pond and the birds don't act skittish at all. Hmmm, must be used to visitors. Snapping away with my camera and inching closer I see they seem to have no fear of humans. It's about two feet from the edge of the pond when I realize why the birds haven't moved-they're all fakes!

PHH Corporation

While waiting in the lobby to meet with Deborah Giles, Manager-Editorial Services, the answer to the first question I was going to pose to Giles is found. How did PHH come up with their name? A display case in the lobby telling the company's history contains the answer. In 1946 three fellows with the last names of Peterson, Howell & Heather, respectively, founded the company in Baltimore.

Business for PHH (1992 revenues $2 billion, net income $56 million) falls into three service categories: vehicle management, relocation & real estate and, mortgage banking.

When businesses made an exodus of decaying downtown Baltimore in the early 1970's, Hunt Valley became the magnet. It's 20 miles north of Baltimore and easily accessible by Interstate 83. Here in 1972, PHH built it's eight-story, 148,000 square foot, fortress-type headquarters on a seven-acre plot three blocks from I-83.

Does CEO Robert Kunisch hold court on the eighth floor? Nope, that's where the 300 employees have lunch. Kunisch is ensconced on the seventh floor with a view of the helipad on the grounds. Nothing fancy about Kunisch's office although I guess the 10 wood ducks and one wooden swan are there to keep him company.

USF&G Corporation

With bad memories from my first visit to USF&G Corporation it's with trepidation I ride up to the 40-story headquarters of this insurance holding company (1992 revenues $3.5 billion, net income $35 million, assets $13 billion).

Built in 1974, there's a large plaza area surrounding this building located in downtown Baltimore, which is void of any landscaping or sculptures.

The first visit six years ago ended up with a nasty security guard telling me to "get that damn bike off our property". This was right after the guard was told by a company official (who's name the guard refused to divulge) to tell me "we aren't interested".

This time while locking the bike near the front entrance, Michael Stafford, Jr. approaches and says, "aren't you the guy going around the country for Bloomberg"? Being eager to see a friendly face in potentially hostile territory I answer, "that's me". Stafford goes on to say he's a trader for USF&G (Portfolio Manager-Axe-Houghton Management) and has THE BLOOMBERG at his desk. Better yet: he reads my stories.

We zip up to Stanford's office where he introduces me around the office. I tell them a story of my recent visit to New York City: On the weekends I'd go riding around Central Park. A biker, who's also a bond trader for Bankers Trust, recognized me and proceeded to say how much he and the other traders at work loved reading my adventures in Bloomberg Magazine. This adulation seem to lose its luster when the trader informed me the magazine is kept in the men's room. Seeing I'm offended the trader says, "no, seriously, having your magazine in our bathroom is a compliment". Look out Readers Digest, your lock on being #1 in bathroom reading material may be in jeopardy!

After the tour by Stafford I talk to Gloria Kilpatrick, assistant to Kerrie Burch-Deluca, who's Assistant vice President-Corporate Communications. Having visiting dozens and dozens of insurance companies, I've found that 47 times out of 50 they own their headquarters building. Not here. USF&G leases floors 19 on up.

I tell Stafford and Kilpatrick of my unpleasant experience here six years ago. "We have new top management and it's a whole new company" says Stafford.

The USF&G Building has been in the local news recently because four baby peregrine falcons have been spotted on the 33rd-floor "cliff" of the building. I wonder if the proud parents, Beauregard and Felicity, handed out worms instead of cigars.

Alex Brown, Inc.

Alex Brown, Inc., a holding company, who's principal subsidiary is Alex Brown & Sons, an investment banking and securities brokerage firm, has a long history. Founded in 1800, Alex Brown & Sons is the oldest investment banking firm in the US.

Tradition is big at Alex Brown (1992 revenues $455 million, net income $59 million), that explains why the company's address of 135 E. Baltimore Street is misleading. Senior executives have their offices on five floors in a gleaming new high-rise across the street. The 135 E. Baltimore Street address is used because the company has had the same three-story building on the corner site since 1900. It's even more impressive when Thomas Schweizer, Jr., a Managing Director, shows me a picture of the great Baltimore fire of 1904 in which this very building is the only structure left standing.

From the outside, it's non-descript, blah-looking structure with the name Alex Brown & Sons over the entryway being the only identification. Once inside it's another story. Upon entering you can't help but look up and feast your eyes upon the world's largest working Tiffany dome, along with marble pillars and black ornamental iron railings lining the second floor.

Expecting a lobby or waiting area? Not here because space is a premium. A security guard sitting about five feet from the door greets you. Behind her is the large open room crammed with desks, computers and people. Schweizer has the only enclosed office and it's stuck in the back. I like his rolltop desk.

Upstairs is the Partnerís Dining Room, who's use is limited to the 60 partners. I ask Schweizer if he would describe Alex Brown & Sons as a regional firm or boutique. Schweizer says they're a "national specialty firm". There's no boardroom.

Legg Mason Inc.

Legg Mason, a brokerage firm with 83 offices, occupies five floors in a high profile, 29-story building overlooking the Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor waterfront, a great model for city center renewal, is lined with hotels, shopping centers, restaurants and visitor attractions.

Bruce Genther, Senior Marketing Associate, says about 500 employees work in the green-glassed high-rise which features the company's name atop the sides.

Legg Mason (1992 revenues $336 million, net income $30 million) adheres to an "open door" policy. I can vouch to that. Just past the main receptionist's post is an entryway leading to a large open room containing quite a few desks. The first desk upon entering is inhabited by CEO Raymond Mason-talk about being upfront.

Crown Central Petroleum Corporation

With 1992 revenues of $1.8 billion and net income $-6 million, Crown Central Petroleum, a refiner and marketer of petroleum, operates 425 retail gasoline and convenience stores in seven Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states.

Corporate offices occupy the 16th floor of a 25-story building in downtown Baltimore. Ellen Barr, secretary to CEO Henry Rosenberg, says they received my advance material but, Rosenberg isn't in and since he never delegated it to anyone-no one can talk to me. Hmm. I tell Barr I'm on my way up to the 24th floor to visit privately held American Trading & Production Corporation and I'll check back. "Are they going to talk to you?", Barr asks. "I don't know", I answer back. I wonder why she said that?

Browsing through Crown Central's proxy statement as I head up to the 24th floor of the same building it shows American Trading and Production Corporation (ATAPCO) owning 51% of Crown Central's Class A Common stock and 12% of Crown Central's Class B Common stock. Short and sweet would describe my visit as the receptionist hands me one of those "post-it" notes from CEO Louis Thalheimer' secretary. It reads, "Private company-Do not wish to answer any questions". Now I know why Barr asked if anyone at ATAPCO was going to talk to me.

A plaque in the first floor lobby says the building was built in 1963 and is named the Blaustein Building-after Jacob Blaustein, who founded the seemingly secretive ATAPCO.

The Walters Art Gallery

This general art museum located on historic Mt. Vernon Place near downtown Baltimore makes my list of top ten museums in the country. Henry Walters (1848-1931) bequeathed his art gallery and his collection of 22,000 works of art to his native city "for the benefit of the public". The original building built between 1904 and 1909 is modeled after Italian Renaissance and Baroque palace designs. A wing was added in 1974. In 1991 a nearby mansion built in 1850 was added on. What's the highlight of the museum? No, it's not the Old Masters paintings, the Asian art or illuminated manuscripts but, the collections of arms and armor from the late medieval and Renaissance periods. Knights in shining armor and their weapons are displayed in a stone vaulted gallery in the basement, which gives you the feeling (on purpose) of being in a dungeon.