On the road in Delaware

 

W. L Gore & Associates

It makes sense for W.L. Gore & Associates' headquarters to be located in Newark, Delaware next to a DuPont Company factory. After all, marketing specialized electronic wires insulated with polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, a polymer familiar to consumers as DuPont's Teflon, got the company started in 1958.

Privately-held W.L. Gore & Associates, with over $600 million in revenues, makes a diverse range of products in the electronic, medical and industrial fields. But you probably know them as I do, the ones responsible for GORE-TEX. You see the GORE-TEX fabric label on skiwear, running suits, footwear, gloves, golf suits, fishing and hunting garments. Firefighters, U.S. Navy pilots, U.S. Army and Olympic athletes wear GORE-TEX fabric gear. Even the fellow on an unusual three-year bicycle trek around the country visiting corporate headquarters has it on his rain gear and winter gloves.

Corporate offices are in a blah-looking, two-story structure built about 35 years ago. A large DuPont employee recreation park (containing softball fields, wooded areas and picnic tables) serves as a buffer between Gore's property and the DuPont plant. Gore's property isn't without its outdoor pleasures: next to the headquarters building I pass a covered picnic area complete with BBQ's, picnic tables and a volleyball court.

It's noon time when I show up and Learis Donovan, secretary to CEO Robert Gore, answers questions while relieving the switchboard/receptionist.

Donovan corrects me for calling Robert Gore the CEO. You see, W.L. Gore & Associates is a lattice organization. Which means there are no titles at Gore. Everyone is an associate. Instead of bosses, you have sponsors who guide, encourage and evaluate associates on their teams. Does it work? Evidently. The lattice system gives associates flexibility and freedom that has resulted in hundreds of patented and proprietary inventions.

What's a downside to this lattice organization at Gore? Well, so much for working your way up the corporate ladder for that big corner office because at Gore they're all the same; small, plain and about the size of two walk-in closets. Robert Gore's spartan office is the one nearest the front door entrance. A large green chalkboard hides most of the cheap-looking wood paneling in Gore's office. The view out his first floor window? The parking lot.

Robert Gore's mother and father (Wilbert and Vieve) founded the company. There's no boardroom.

Hercules Inc.

How would you like to be second banana for over 80 years? It doesn't seem to bother Hercules, the chemical company with revenues in 1992 of $2.9 billion, net income $168 million.

In 1912, the US Circuit Court for the Third District found that E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co, which then controlled about two-thirds of explosives production in the United States, had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Court ordered Du Pont to divest half its explosive business, which was divided between two companies: Hercules Powder Company and Atlas Powder Company.

So, even though Hercules has transformed itself over the years into a worldwide producer of chemicals and related products, it has always kept the corporate offices in downtown Wilmington-only a few blocks away from DuPont's mammoth fortress-like complex. If one were to judge the two companies solely by headquarters instead of revenues, then Hercules would win hands down.

Built in 1983, the 12-story, blue reflective glass structure is a beaut. Inside you're greeted by a 200-foot high, 90-foot square atrium containing over 4,000 plants and trees including quite a few fig trees. Over 1,200 employees work in the 700,000 square foot building.

Donald Kirtley, Vice President-Public Affairs, walks me around the place and shows-off some of the company's impressive art collection. Between 1918 and 1958 Hercules published an annual calendar. The first calendar was published for the year 1918 with a reproduction of a commissioned oil painting by A.D. Fuller entitled "Not This Trip, Old Pal". It depicted an American serviceman leaving for duty during World War I. Over the years, oils and watercolors commissioned reflected the events at the time. Lining the walls of the executive floor are the original works of these artists including works by Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell, Peter Hurd and over a half-dozen by Delaware native N.C. Wyeth. My personal favorite though are the three marble spheres of kinetic sculpture by Kenneth Davis outside the building entrance. The solid spheres, weighing three quarters, one and a half and three metric tons, rotate on a film of water.

City of Wilmington

Stopping by Wilmington's city hall I talk to James Williams, Director of Commerce. Gung-ho Williams seems to think this city of 70,000 will take off once the proposed convention and trade center is built. Why? Three reasons: Location, location and location. Amtrak stops in downtown Wilmington and is between the busy Philadelphia to Washington corridor. Wilmington, according to Williams would be a natural stopping off place to hold meetings and small conventions. Delaware's no-limit interest laws has transformed Wilmington into the credit card capital of the world. Four of the top five U.S. issuers are headquartered here. That itself, explains how a city this size has such an impressive downtown skyline.