On the road in the Netherlands

Nederlandse Gasunie N.V.

I'm in downtown Groningen, a city of 160,000 near the northern border of The Netherlands. Thirty miles to the east is Germany and 120 miles southeast lies Amsterdam. I assumed headquarters for Nederlandse Gasunie, a natural gas trader and carrier with 1994 revenues of NLG (Dutch guilders) 15 billion, profit NLG 80 million, would be housed in a big building in downtown. Nope, tall historic churches hold the spotlight here.

Asking several locals for directions to the company I receive strange answers such as: "Oh, you're looking for the monkey temple" or "you want directions to the witch's castle" and "you mean the Rocky Mountains building". I'm left scratching my head and wondering what the heck are these people talking about?

Two miles from downtown I find out. Swallowing up more than a city block is the hulking 18-story, orangish-colored structure. Two things immediately stand-out: (1) instead of a squared-off roof there's a pattern of uneven heights atop the structure creating a mountain peak effect and (2) the base of the building slopes out-similar to a ski slope.

Locking my bike up I notice the extensive and fancy parking facilities for bikes. Must be at least 300 bikes parked out here in nice, new wooden enclosures with believe-it-or-not separate lighting in each enclosure-it's a far cry from some of the cheap-looking, unlit, wobbly, aluminum roof structures I've been seeing. Walking inside I first have to contend with talking through glass to security guards who, behind their desks look like bank tellers.

Ype Kroeger, marketing, answers questions and shows me around. "How come your name isn't atop or on the sides or anywhere else on the outside of this unusual landmark building?" "Don't need to, everyone knows it's our building", he answers. The company moved into the 450,000 square foot structure last year. Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands performed the official opening on April 22, 1994.

One of the more impressive features of the Ton Alberts and Max van Huut designed-building is the 16-story spiral staircase in the lobby. Looking up, the freely suspended stairs seem to climb forever.

About 1,000 employees work here. Over 300 regularly ride their bikes to work (that's 30% of the workforce!). There's an 850-car parking garage adjacent.

They aren't superstitious here because there's a 13th floor listed on the elevator. Conference rooms are named after scientists and inventors such as the Newton room or Pascal room. The 400-seat auditorium is impressive and the seats comfortable.

Why is the company located in Groningen? Natural gas fields were discovered in this area around the beginning of 1960. The company was founded in 1963 and is 50% owned by The Netherlands government, 25% by Exxon and 25% by Shell.

Nothing unusual about the boardroom or the oval-shaped boardroom table. General Managing Director (CEO) George Verberg has a corner office on the 17th floor with a great view of the countryside. I also make note of his laptop computer. (For more information: NGAS)

 

On the road in Amsterdam

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

I was expecting headquarters for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to be situated next to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport; the fourth busiest in Europe after London, Paris and Frankfurt. Actually it's in suburban Amstelveen, five miles from the airport and eight miles from downtown Amsterdam.

Built in 1967 (and looking it), the three-building complex is home to 1,000 employees. Getting on the property requires passing through a guarded gated-entry.

Nice guy Maurits Kalff, External Communications, gives me a thorough tour of the place, which includes lunch in the cafeteria. Entree of the day is nasi garni, an Indonesian dish of fried egg and rice. Not bad. But then again, I'm one of those who thinks food served on airlines is pretty darn good.

Founded in 1919, The Netherlands government owns 37% of the airline. 1994 revenues were NLG 9.2 billion, profit NLG 470 million.

CEO Pieter Bouw hangs his hat on the seventh floor of the tallest building, which is nine-stories. His large corner office offers an expansive view of the surrounding area. From here to the airport five miles away is nothing but thick forest, part of a park. Bouw sits right above the tree-line allowing him a birds-eye view of planes landing and taking off from Schiphol Airport. Looking around his office I don't see any model planes. I ask Bouw, "Boy, I thought it was mandatory for airline CEO's to have company model planes in their office, how come you don't have any?". Bouw answers, "We're a company of people, planes don't make the company, it's the people".

The donut-shaped boardroom contains three real plants, a TV-VCR, 18 black chairs and a bust of Dr. Albert Plesman, who founded the company. (For more information: KLM)

Ballast-Nedam NV

Several miles from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines but still in suburban Amstelveen lies Ballast Nedam, the second largest construction company in The Netherlands. Revenues in 1994 were NLG 2.8 billion, profit NLG 91 million.

The welcome is warm and the visit fun thanks to Hans Belt, Head of Public Relations. Since I like to know if companies use their own products I immediately ask Belt if the company built it's headquarters building. The answer: yes. When Ballast-Nedam erected this six-story, 200,000 square foot building back in 1969, it was consider the boondocks. Now, dozens of other commercial buildings and apartment complexes ring the area. Actually, right next door is a new, good-looking glass office building but it looks empty. I ask Belt about it. Ballast-Nedam does quite a bit of construction in the Middle East. Right before the Gulf war broke out the company signed contracts for a huge project in Saudi Arabia. How big were the contracts? Big enough for Ballast Nedam to erect the new building next door to house 500 new employees working on the project. When the war started, everything was put on hold. It still is.

CEO Rein Schermer's sixth floor corner office contains the obligatory hard hat, four real plants, no computer and several framed original etching maps from the 1600's, one map shows Dutch colonies and the other-the Middle East.

Over 500 employees work here. A couple blocks away you can catch a tram, which will have you in downtown Amsterdam in 20 minutes.

Walking into the boardroom I instinctively head towards the two plants to see if they're real or fake. Belt says, "they're real, we have nothing but real plants here". Boy, he sure is embarrassed when it turns out they're fake. The triangle-shaped table is watched over by Queen Beatrix, whose picture occupies a prime spot on the wall. (For more information: BALN)

Otra NV

Still in suburban Amstelveen I visit Otra, one of Europe's largest distributor's of electric equipment. Revenues in 1994 were NLG 3.5 billion, NLG 81 million.

Otra has occupied the four-story, reflective glass building since 1990 and over 250 employees work here. Meeting with Jan de Vries, Company Secretary, in his first floor office I learn Sonepar Distribution (a French company) has a majority stake in Otra (the two combined companies form Europe's largest distributor of electric equipment).

Don't have to go far to look into CEO Roelf Smedema's corner office. It's next door to Vries's. Smedema sits at a black table, has fresh flowers every week, three real plants, no computer and a blah view out his window of a very small pond-like body of water. (For more information: OTRN)

Heineken NV

Finding one's way around the criss-crossing streets of the downtown area of Amsterdam can be very trying and confusing until you get the hang of how the canals run. Hopelessly lost looking for another company I come across Heineken's headquarters by accident. An old Heineken brewery sits across the street from headquarters though you have to cross over a canal to get there.

Surrounded by rows of apartments, the five-story headquarters looks like several buildings/townhouses connected together. Entry is via a red brick turn-of-the-century structure with a classic black wrought iron fence out front. I'm 101% sure this had to have been someone's home. Opening the two big wooden doors I find myself hemmed into a 15 foot by 15 foot enclosed area with two security guards sitting on the other side of a large plate glass window smoking cigarettes. There's no opening in the glass, which means I have to talk through the stupid window. Six feet in front of me is another set of doors with a sign in Dutch. I ask about the sign and find out from the guards it says you can't enter the second set of doors until the first set of doors are completely closed.

Waiting for Rose Steverink, Corporate Communications, I'm directed to a small room off of the 15 x 15 enclosed area but, still situated between the two sets of double doors. The room contains a circular table, five red chairs, Heineken postcards (with pictures of Heineken beer on them) and dried flowers. When

Steverink arrives I ask about the double set of doors. Turns out there's a legitimate need for this type of security: several years ago former CEO Alfred Heineken was kidnapped.

Well, I'm right about part of this place being a former home. Who's home was it? None other than Gerard Heineken who founded the company back in 1864. The house was built in 1890 and I'm sure it really cut down on his commute time going to work at the brewery across the street.

Over 250 people work here. Of course, the neatest part of the building is the section containing Heineken's old home and that's where I find Chairman's Karel Vuursteen office. In The Netherlands, Chairman of the Management Board is equivalent to the CEO in the USA. Instead of a Board of Directors, it's called the Supervisory Board. Thanks to trees blocking the view, from Vuursteen's second floor corner office he can barely see the old brewery across the street. The walls are white, the black furniture is leather and the floor carpeted. Count two family pictures on his double-sided partners desk, a porcelain beer pump and two recycling cans in a corner.

Walking into the boardroom, located next to Vuursteen's office, you get a sense of history and tradition. It's partly due to the wood floors, fireplace and the small framed pictures of 27 past members of the Supervisory Board hanging on a wall.

Lunch in the no-frills cafeteria is so-so. I'm finding making or building your own sandwich is popular in The Netherlands. You grab your favorite slices of bread, pick out the cheese and the type of meat you want which is already measured out into single-serving pouches sealed in a cellophane material and then slap it all together with whatever else tickles your fancy. Passing the section containing liquid refreshments I notice ice cold Heinekens occupying part of the bin. Which reminds me, on the way to the cafeteria we passed two vending machines: one dispenses soft drinks and the other, cans of Heineken.

We head across the street to the old brewery, which was closed down several years ago when a brand new facility in Zoeterwoude opened about 20 miles from here. However, the new brewery didn't pull in the visitors the company had hoped for so, this 1868 brewery was gussied up and is now one of Amsterdam's most popular tourist attractions.

Jeez, must be over 100 people waiting in line to get in here for the tour. However, there's that old saying, it's not what you know but who you know as Steverink ushers me past everyone else for a personalized tour. The best part? You know how Anheuser-Busch has its Clydesdale horses? Well, Heineken has its impressive Shire horses. The horses and stables are in the rear of the brewery. How do they name these big animals? After members of the management board.

Revenues in 1994 for the world's largest exporter of beer was NLG 10 billion, profit NLG 603 million. (For more information: HEIN)

Greenpeace International

I'm riding along one of the canal streets in downtown Amsterdam looking for Greenpeace International's offices but have no idea what I'll find. Will it be upstairs above a health food store with peace stickers all over the outside or an old flop house converted into offices. Maybe it'll be a boat moored along the canal (there're literally thousands of people living in houseboats alongside the canals here) or an office building shared with other like organizations.

Wow!, it's a neat, seven-story brick office building from the turn-of-the-century. I wasn't expecting the place to be so low-keyed. I passed the building twice before finally seeing the small Greenpeace International plaque outside the door.

You can't just walk in, you have to be buzzed in. It takes both hands to open one of the thick, heavy wooden doors. I also note the sticker telling you smoking isn't allowed inside. Once inside I head to the two receptionists. On their counter are at least a dozen pamphlets and brochures on various causes. Prominently displayed on the wall behind them are five yellow bumper-sticker-size banners, which read; "stop nuclear testing".

Jim Gillespie, Organization Director, admits he isn't the best person to talk to about Greenpeace's headquarters because he's new, having been here only a month. He does however, suggest I bring my bicycle inside because Amsterdam has a reputation for bike thievery. It's true, I've never had so many complete strangers in a city come up and warn me to be very careful where I lock the bike.

It turns out headquarters for this non-profit, non-political, environmental organization is the former head office of an insurance company, which built the structure in 1905. It's a beautiful building which doesn't have to worry about being torn down because it's been designated a "National Monument" (along the same lines as the National Register of Historic Buildings in the USA). For an organization that thrives on it's sometimes radical and unorthodox methods, it's kind of ironic they've taken over the digs of company which belongs to an industry known for its conservatism.

We go through my questions sitting in Steve D'Esposito's fourth floor, corner office. He's Executive Director, Greenpeace International, but, in several weeks Thilo Bode, replaces him. A huge magnetic National Geographic Society map covers one wall. On the map are markers showing various Greenpeace operations going on around the world. A particularly large number of markers seem to be on the spot in the south Pacific where France plans nuclear-testing. Yes, the four plants in his office are real.

Gillespie guesstimates about 125 people work here. Dress is very casual with quite a few male and females in shorts, several males sporting earrings and one woman walking the halls barefoot.

Why did Greenpeace, which was founded in Canada in 1971, move to Amsterdam in 1987? Gillespie says it had something to do with the legal climate in The Netherlands being more favorable.

The cafeteria isn't the norm. It's very casual, with a homey almost communal atmosphere. Oh, oh, I wouldn't last long here, they only serve vegetarian food.

While we're walking around, Gillespie stops and asks several people if they can confirm the rumor, which has been circulating about the building. Everybody is familiar with the rumor but, no one knows if it's true. The rumor? During World War 11, this was headquarters for the notorious German SS.

I've been to over 1,800 companies and organizations and it's the first time I've seen a linoleum floor in the boardroom. The boardroom, also called the yellow room because its painted bright yellow, contains five tables (which can be reconfigured) and a TV-VCR. Board members sit in bamboo chairs.

Greenpeace has no aircraft but, has seven ships, a helicopter, one hot air balloon and, 30 rubber dinghies.

ING Group

About a week before arriving in Amsterdam I picked up the issue of Fortune magazine with its annual listing of the Global 500. I thumb through it checking their lists of companies with mine. Unbelievable!, for some reason I don't have ING Group on my list. ING Group, a financial services company with over US $206 billion in assets, is Europe's ninth largest bank and fourth largest insurance company. How could I have missed them? it's even more embarrassing when you consider they been in the news quite a bit with their taking over failed Barings Bank.

Not having time to send the usual advance material I show up at their 17-story headquarters cold turkey, so to speak. It's a modern-looking structure fronting a freeway five miles from downtown Amsterdam. The company's name and logo (a lion) are prominently displayed on the sides of the building. Next door there's the blue reflective glass World Trade building complex. On the receptionist's counter sit three toy lions and guarding the glass doors leading to the elevators are two mean-looking, four-foot high lion woodcarvings. Several 30-foot live trees dot the large marbled-floor lobby.

Awww right! I tell my sad story about not having ING Group on my list to Wieger Sietsma, Corporate Communications, and he agrees to meet with me. Why? He's quite familiar with Bloomberg with ING Group being one of the biggest users of BLOOMBERGs in The Netherlands.

Questions are answered during lunch in the first floor cafeteria. The meat in the goulash is a little tough but, the string beans are good.

Over 200 employees work here. The company's art collection consists mostly of Dutch artists and is post-war. I can't see CEO Aad Jacob's corner office on the 15th floor because he's in a meeting. The boardroom on the 16th floor is pretty ho-hum. They aren't superstitious here as I make note of the 13th floor button in the elevator.

Revenues in 1994 were US$ 21 billion, profit US$ 1.3 billion. (For more information: INTNC)

Elsevier NV

Elsevier NV owns 50% of publisher Reed Elsevier with London-based Reed International PLC owning the remaining 50%. Elsevier's nine-story building with its name atop, sits next to the freeway three miles from downtown Amsterdam. The brown concrete slab structure has the early 1970's-look and is in definite need of a makeover. Sure enough, getting closer I spot construction workers on scaffolding up on the sides and it IS getting a makeover.

Boy, though there's construction going on you can tell the rubbish-strewn parking lot and grounds aren't normally very well taken care. There's even a dead seagull no more than five feet from the front entrance!

Thanks to the two friendly receptionists I find out my contact person is Henny Wynands. It's 8:50 am and she's due any minute so I stand next to the reception desk. In a display off to one side I can see a set of Grote Winkler Prins (encyclopedias).

When Wynands walks in a receptionist stops her and explains who I am. Wynands looks over at me (I'm only five feet away) and keeps talking to the receptionist in Dutch. She then walks away into the elevator. The receptionist says to me, "I was told to tell you she hasn't time for you". I ask the receptionist, "Does she speak English?". "Yes", the receptionist answers. Exasperated I tell the receptionists, "Then why didn't she tell me herself? She didn't even acknowledge my presence and acted like I wasn't even standing here". They agreed her behavior was on the tacky side. I ask for Wynands job title and am told she's secretary to the Board of Directors.

I'll be visiting Reed International PLC (the other 50% owner) when in London and compare the two. (For more information: ELSNC)

Royal Ahold NV

According to my map, getting to supermarket retailer Ahold's headquarters in Zaandam looks pretty simple: grab a ferry in downtown Amsterdam and it'll plop me and my bike on the other side of the river only several miles from Zaandam, a riverfront community of over 100,000. Of course things are never as easy as they appear. Upon reaching the other side I find there's no "straight shot" route to Zaandam because the waterfront is lined with all kinds of shipping and industrial plants. This "several miles" ends up taking me over two hours thanks to endless dead end streets and people giving me wrong directions.

After being misdirected to two other Ahold buildings in the area I finally find the right place. The marble-clad, 200,000 square foot, 5-story structure is a real beaut and looks like it was worth all the trouble getting here.

Jan Hoe, Vice President-Public Relations, marches into the lobby and in a brusque manner says he isn't familiar with what I'm doing. I explain and he says, "why would we want to be in a book about headquarters?, we operate retail stores". It's all downhill from there as Hoe gives me the brush-off.

But wait, the story isn't over. Later that day I drop by the Amsterdam offices of Bloomberg Business News and tell Raymond Frenken, who runs the office, what happened at Ahold. He says I should contact David Murrow, Corporate Communications Manager at Ahold. Why? Because Murrow is a fellow American AND, Ahold has a BLOOMBERG in the Corporate Communications office. Hmm, it's worth a try, after all, Ahold with over US$16 billion in revenues, is one of the largest supermarket retailers in the USA (BI-LO, Giant, Finast, Edwards and Tops chains) and the biggest in The Netherlands (Albert Heijn chain) with chains also in Portugal and the Czech Republic.

I message Murrow on the BLOOMBERG and in a few minutes I receive a reply: an open invitation to visit the company.

The next day I'm back at Ahold and Murrow gives me an extensive tour of the place. Scattered throughout the floors are pieces of company memorabilia such as old cans of food with Albert Heijn's name on them. Ahold roots go back to 1887 when Albert Heijn founded the company. Ahold's name is derived from the "A" in Albert and "H" from Heijn and/or you could say it's the "H" in holding company.

This is the first company visited in The Netherlands to have a fitness facility and includes a well-equipped weight room, aerobics room and an indoor squash court.

Over 100 employees work here. How did American Murrow end up in Amsterdam? He's married to a Dutch woman. Conference rooms are named after historic windmills in The Netherlands. Entering each room there's a plaque with a picture of the windmill and a brief history.

I ask Murrow to show me their BLOOMBERG and I'm surprised to find out it sits right across the desk from Jan Hoe, the gentleman who gave me the cold reception.

Top man in the company, Cees van der Hoeven-President, occupies a third floor office with a view of the harbor. I count 25 tombstones, a chess set and three miniature toy tractor-trailer trucks with company names painted on the sides.

I'm finding out executives in The Netherlands have two sets of business cards. One is the "American" card where executive's first and last names are printed. The other is the "Dutch" card, which prints the last name but, only the first initial of the first name. From what I'm told you could work with a colleague for 30 years and never know his first name! Normally however, disclosure comes after a period of time working together.

In the boardroom hang portraits of the two sons of founder Albert Heijn. Both were executives with the company but, looking at their dates on the bottom of the picture frames I notice one died pretty young. I ask Murrow about it and it turns out the one brother was kidnapped and murdered! Boy, first I find out Mr. Heineken was kidnapped and now this, that explains the extensive security I've been encountering at companies in The Netherlands. (For more information: AHLN)

Ranstad Holding NV

Amsterdam's second downtown is five miles southeast of town in the suburban Diemen/Zuidoost area. Because of problems such as height restrictions, canals and general lack of space for big buildings in the downtown area, many companies have set up shop out here. With it's gleaming office tower complexes and criss-crossing highways, the area could be mistaken for parts of Dallas, Houston or suburban Chicago.

Ranstad Holding, an international temporary help company with 1994 revenues of NLG 3.8 billion, profit NLG 112 million, owns one of the best-looking buildings in this area. Built in 1990, the 12-story brownish-grey tiled edifice with it's name atop the sides looks sharp from far away and close-up. You know the world-famous, widely-photographed Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia?, it looks great from far away but when you see it up close it loses it's luster (i.e. needs a paint job).

Arriving 8:30 AM, I learn from the security guard/receptionist most employees don't start until 9:AM so, I sit down in the quiet lobby and wait. Around two minutes to nine, as if on cue, hundreds of employees start pouring in the front doors and filing past me as they make they way to the elevator banks. I make mention of this because normally it's the scene I see at 5:01 PM when workers are hurrying home. In the morning I'm used to seeing employees trickle in to work several at a time.

Anyway, one of those walking in with the masses is Hielkje Beetsma, assistant to Founder and CEO Frits Goldschmeding. She invites me up to Goldschmeding's office (he's traveling) where we go through the questions.

Over 650 employees work here. The company's name; Ranstad, literally meaning "rim-town", is a circle of cities in western Netherlands. Goldschmeding established the company in 1960 stemming from a thesis on temporary work that he wrote as a student of economics.

The 12th floor contains the boardroom and meeting rooms while CEO Goldschmeding occupies a middle office on the 11th. He gets fresh flowers in his office every week, has two real potted palm trees and being an avid sailor, has several pictures of his sailing ship hang on a wall.

(For more information: RSTD)

NV Koninklijke KNP BT

KNP BT, the name resulting from the merger of KNP and BT, occupies the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of a seven-story building in the Diemen/Zuidoost area. The company's three main business sectors

Distribution (distribution of graphic paper and office supplies), Packaging (production and distribution of board packaging) and Paper (manufactures coated paper) had 1994 revenues totaling NLG 13 billion, profit NLG 325 million.

Every company visited in The Netherlands seems to have a picture, statue or bronze bust of Queen Beatrix in the lobby or boardroom. Here it's in the lobby. I ask Heleen van Thienen, Corporate Communications, if it's a mandatory requirement for companies. She laughs and explains it's out of respect. I then ask, "what's the story on koninklijke?". It's the Dutch word for royal. Turns out the only way a company can use koninklijke in its name is by having it bestowed upon them by Queen Beatrix. How does one get that designation? If your company has survived in business for over 100 years and been a good corporate citizen then she may OR may not give you the honor. Another way is to be the queen's supplier of goods or services such as being her bakery, dry cleaners or airline of choice (KLM, also called Royal Dutch Airlines, is a good example).

KNP BT's lobby area contains two large glass display cases filled with company memorabilia such as a ledger from the early 1900's, a silver inkwell and a silver candle holder which is putting much the highlight of corporate headquarters. The building was built in 1979 with KNP BT being a tenant since 1988.

ABN-AMRO Bank

Wow, ABN-AMRO's headquarters, built in 1987, isn't so much tall but, long. About three blocks long. Situated in suburban Zuidoost and a block away from a train station, it's home to 3,000 employees.

I'm expecting a great reception here not because it's The Netherlands's biggest bank but, because they have hundreds of BLOOMBERG's.

Entering the lobby and making my way to the two receptionists I note the two security guards sitting behind a glass booth. The two receptionists aren't helpful at all and I have to pester them to try and find out who's my contact person. Employees going past the receptionists slide their identification cards through a slot and the turnstiles open up. Visitors have to be buzzed in past a three foot tall glass door. On the other side of the glass door is a large lobby with plenty of chairs for visitors to wait plop down in. Me, I STAND for 20 minutes on the outside looking in as dozens of visitors get buzzed through. When I ask if I can sit down in the lobby I'm told it isn't possible.

Jules Prast, Chief Spokesman, comes down to lobby and says they never received my material and he hasn't a clue as to what I'm doing. Fortunately, I'm lucky he's familiar with Bloomberg because that gets me in the door and up to his office. Unfortunately however, that's all I get to see in this monster-size building.

He isn't interested in showing me around and my requests to see the boardroom and CEO's office on the second floor are dismissed because "an appointment is needed".

ABN Amro, with assets of NLG 127 billion, lays claim to being the largest foreign bank in the United States with 187 offices. (For more information: AAP)

Company tidbits

Getronics NV, with 1994 revenues of NLG 1.4 billion, profit NLG 80 million, supplies information systems and telecommunication services. I receive a letter signed by P. Thibaudier, Corporate Development, acknowledging receipt of my advance material and the message, "We inform you that it is not possible to receive you during your visit to our area". Well, since it doesn't say WHY they can't receive me I guess I better stop by. Headquarters is a four-story glass building about five miles southwest of downtown with its name atop the place. Suzanne Voskuil, secretary to Thibaudier, comes down to the lobby and explains her boss is very busy working on quarterly reports and hasn't time. Normally I would make a stink. However, I refrain. Why? Blame it on a combination of Voskuil's terrific personality, good looks and charm which takes the fight right out of me.

Wolters Kluwer NV, primarily publishes medical, scientific, legal and tax publications. 1994 revenues were NLG 2.7 billion, profit NLG 382 million. Headquarters is a beautiful four-story, Art Deco structure built in the 1920's. After many uses over the years including a long stint as a public service building, Kluwer bought the place in 1991 and has done a great job in preserving its uniqueness. It's the little things such as the radiator heating ducts in the lobby being shaped like eagles or the intricate wood carvings on the huge wooden entry doors. Located in the downtown museum square area, 60 employees work here. The 25 black leather chairs in the boardroom are quite comfortable.

Have a nice visit at CSM NV thanks to Monique Stroomberg, secretary to CEO Gerard van Loon. The company owns a four-story building in an office park area of Diemen. Built in 1982, around 100 employees work here. Last year sugar refiner CSM (Centrale Suiker Maatschappij) celebrated its 75th anniversary. CSM is a big supplier of ingredients to the bakery industry. Matter of fact, it's Westco Products subsidiary is the market leader in bakery ingredients on the west coast of the United States. Revenues in 1994 were NLG 2.6 billion, profit NLG 164 million. Of course I have Stroomberg walk me to the cafeteria so I can check the sugar packets. Yep, they're CSM's all right. Buying chocolate-flavored or strawberry-flavored sugar sprinkles and pouring them over your cereal or waffles is big in The Netherlands and you know who is the market leader in this product.

I get the bum's rush at BolsWessanen NV, which markets food and beverage products with almost 50% of its 1994 revenue of NLG 5.3 billion coming from the USA. I should have known it was coming because the receptionist was puffing away on a cigarette and the whole lobby area stunk. Headquarters is a 5-story building located in an office park in suburban Amstelveen. The receptionist puts me on the phone to talk to Arye Kwak, Corporate Secretary and VP-General Affairs. I'm greeted by a brusque "yes?" and am shortly told in the same manner "I haven't time for you".

KBB NV, occupies the third floor of a six-story building in suburban Zuidpoost. Don't see any toys in the spartan lobby and don't get a very nice welcome. Duro Meurs, company secretary to the Board, tells me via the lobby phone to "come back in several weeks". I try explaining I'm only here for a few more days but that doesn't matter to her. Revenues in 1994/95 were NLG 5.7 billion, profit NLG 122 million. Why do I mention not seeing any toys? Besides operating 242 department stores, KBB is a specialty retailer with 13 chains and over 1,400 outlets. Chains include Signature Jeans (clothing), Bruna (bookstores), Prenatal (maternity), Welcome (infants) and, that Rolls-Royce of toy stores: FAO Schwarz.

I'm somewhat surprised Leo Steijn, Manager Media Relations-Fokker, agrees to see me. Stories in the local press mention airplane manufacturer Fokker being in dire financial straits and will be reporting huge losses. Fokker, the oldest manufacturer in the world still producing and marketing aircraft under it's own name, leases a large eight-story building in Zuidoost. Over 1,000 employees work here but, Steijn says they'll soon be leaving here and relocating at the Amsterdam airport where they have a big plant. I noted the three model Fokker airplanes on the reception desk along with large 6 feet by 6 feet pictures of company planes lining the lobby walls. The boardroom and CEO's office are on the 7th floor. I can't see the CEO Ben van Schaik's office because "he's in a meeting" and the boardroom is uneventful except for the three pictures of Fokker planes. Revenues in 1994 were NLG 2.3 billion, loss NLG 449 million. (For more information: WLSN, CSMNC, WESS, KBBR, FOKNC )

 

On the road in Utrecht & Rotterdam

Cooperative Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank B.A.

Thirty-five miles southeast of Amsterdam lies Utrecht, a surprising big city of 300,000 people.

By far the biggest mover and shaker in town is Cooperative Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank (more commonly known as Rabobank). Rabobank, a bank cooperative comprised of 600 independent banks with total assets over NLG 269 billion, is the second biggest bank in The Netherlands and one of the world's 50 biggest banks.

It's not hard to find headquarters because the massive reflective glass, block-long, block-wide structure looks a whale out of water. Located in downtown Utrecht, it butts up to the railroad tracks.

Checking in with the receptionist I note the tombstone for a bond underwriting sitting on the counter where visitors sign in.

Magazines to read while waiting include Business Week, The Economist, Financial Times newspaper (all in English) and the Het Financieele Dagblad (in Dutch).

Herman Wijffels, Chairman Executive Board (equivalent to CEO) answers my questions and shows me around the place. Built in 1984, the 10-story, company-owned edifice is home to 2,000 employees.

Colorful modern paintings line the walls on the executive floor (6th floor) but that's not what I find in Wijffels's office. On the wall behind his desk there's a serene painting of a Dutch landscape. "Any special reason why you have that painting on the wall?", I ask. Seems Wijffels is a fellow bicycle aficionado and on the weekends rides for miles and miles. He says the painting reminds him of what he sees on those rides. The painting shows thick woods, a river and a small village with the customary big church in the center of town. Boy, that painting is right on the mark because IT IS typical of the beautiful countryside around here.

The company's logo is definitely one of the more unusual encountered. It's an image of a man walking across an orangish-brown sundial. The boardroom contains a donut-shaped table along with a bust of Queen Beatrix. (For more information: RABO)

Nederlandse Spoorwegen

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (The Netherlands Railways) with 1994 revenues of NLG 4.2 billion, profit NLG 76 million, has only one shareholder and that's the Dutch government. However, starting in 1996 the government plans to privatize and do away with its annual NLG 450 million subsidy.

As expected I find headquarters a block from the railroad tracks. Built in 1918 with sort of a quasi-Art Deco look, the eight-story red brick structure with stain glass windows is a beauty. With 22 million bricks, it's the biggest brick building in The Netherlands.

What's interesting is to step outside and look down the block. Before your very eyes you can see the railroad's 150 years of existence. Occupying a spot down the street is the railroad's first head office built in the mid-1800's. Next to it is the company's second, built in the late 1800's and then of course there's this building. On the backside, across the street from here there's a tall modern high-rise, which is the latest railroad building. So, I ask Frits Lintmeijer and Marischka Leenaers from corporate communications why Dr. Rob den Besten, Managing Director, hangs his hat in this old building instead of the new one. They don't know but it might have something to do with this spiffy building being a designated National Landmark.

Utrecht is the railway center of Holland and I'm told over 1,200 trains a day past through this city (over 50 an hour) which explains Nederlandse Spoorwegen being headquartered here.

Don't get to peek into Besten's corner office on the second floor because neither Besten nor his secretary are in and his door is locked. Rats!, now I'll never know how many choo-choo trains (if any) he had on his shelves.

SHV Holdings NV

This is very demeaning. I'm in downtown Utrecht trying to visit SHV Holdings and I'm trapped in their entryway between two sets of glass doors! Headquarters, a 4-story structure built in 1959 looks more like a government municipal building than a company's head office.

So, I'm in this six-foot long glass enclosure and sitting behind a desk about 30 feet away is a security guard/receptionist who I talk to via an intercom. I explain why I'm here and end up waiting in this damn booth like I'm some kind of criminal. I repeatedly ask if I can enter the lobby area and the answer is the same, "no".

After 15 LONG minutes I'm finally rescued by Cypriaan Hooft Graafland, Company Secretary. In the center of the lobby there's a glass display case with scale models of coals barges and a 10-ton floating barge. On a wall are covers of company annual reports from 1968 to the present, which is odd because it's a private company. A big black rock also graces the lobby. SHV Holdings, with over NLG 24 billion in revenues in 1994, trades in and produces energy, raw materials, food and non-food articles.

SHV originated in 1896 from a merger between a number of large coal trading companies. It's a privately-held company owned by the descendants of the founders and their relatives, and members of the Supervisory Board of Directors and Executive Board of Directors. As Hooft walks me around he reiterates the fact this is a privately-held company and hopes I'll respect the company's privacy when writing my story. About 100 employees work here and actually the place isn't anything special so he needn't worry.

CEO Paul van Vlissingen occupies a top floor middle office with no plants, blue chairs and sits at a round desk. I find another reminder of Queen Beatrix in the boardroom, this time it's a small bronze sculpture of her. The table is Haitian wood.

For more information: SHV)

Akzo Nobel nv

Heading 30 miles due east of Utrecht puts me in Arnheim, a blue collar city of 100,000 people and home to Akzo Nobel, the big chemical concern operating in over 50 countries with more than 70,000 employees.

Located a mile from the city's center, Akzo Nobel headquarters is part of a complex of six large company buildings in a campus-like setting. Getting on the grounds requires conferring with three security guards manning the gate. The tallest building, a 10-story wonder with the early 1970's look to it, has the company's name atop its sides but, executives occupy the newest building; a white, four-story structure built in 1990.

Evidently things are done in three's here: three security guards and now three receptionists. Richard Kok, Head of Corporate Communications, (that's what his business card reads--not manager or director but, head) answers questions and shows me around the place in which over 2,000 employees work in the various buildings doing administration and research & development.

I've always been intrigued with the company's logo (the company frequently runs ads in business publications). It's an outline of a man (just his upper body with the face facing sideways) and his arms are outstretched as if he's showing somebody the size of a monster fish he caught (or wished he caught). Kok gives me a brochure on its history. The logo was adopted in 1988, here's what it says: "The original idea was inspired by a fragment of bas relief dating from 450 BC. Found on the Greek island of Samos, it can now be seen in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is called a meteorological relief because it shows three different systems of measurement used in ancient Greece-a fathom from Ionia, a cubit from Egypt and an Athenian foot. The relief is thus both a scientific and artistic symbol, and Akzo saw in it the values it wanted expressed in its new identity. Akzo's new face encompasses the idea of striving and achievement-the measure of Akzo's success today."

Wow, I count 10 family pictures in CEO Cees van Lede's third floor corner office. The room is colorful with red furniture, white carpeting and red curtains. There's a map of Scandinavia from the 1600's (Akzo merged with Nobel, a Swedish company in 1994) on a wall, two real plants, a miniature company flag and a view of the duck pond on the front grounds.

And it's no surprise when I find a small statue of Queen Beatrix in the boardroom. Akzo hasn't any corporate aircraft and a downside to being in Arnheim is the hour drive getting to Amsterdam airport. Revenues in 1994 were NLG 22 billion, profit NLG 1.1 billion, with a fifth of revenues coming from its healthcare products (birth control pills, home pregnancy tests, veterinary products, generic drugs). (For more information: AKZO)

Snippets on companies in the Utrecht area

Stork NV, manufactures industrial equipment and provides services used in a variety of industries such as textiles, meat & poultry processing, food & beverage and liquids transportation. Revenues in 1994 revenues were NLG 4.2 billion (US$ 2.4 billion), profit NLG 81 million). Located in Naarden, a nice quite town 15 miles from Utrecht and 15 miles from Amsterdam I ask Gerdjan Rapati, Corporate Communications Manager, why they're located here. "We used to be in Amsterdam until 1987, then moved out here. We're about two miles from where the traffic starts to back up going into Amsterdam".

Sixty employees work in the company-owned four-story tan brick building with grey trim, which mixes in with neighboring homes and apartment buildings. The company's roots go back to 1827 and yes, there was a Mr. Stork.

Two miles from Stork I visit Hagemeyer, an international marketing, sales and distribution group with 1994 revenues of NLG 4.7 billion, profit NLG 217 million. The company imports brand name products. For example: it's automotive products segment holds the import and distribution right for Saab, KIA and Lada automobiles and Renault commercial vehicles plus, operates the Avis car rental franchise in The Netherlands.

Though the three-story headquarters lies only a block away from the freeway it's practically hidden from view thanks to trees and heavy shrubbery. Entering the premises requires passing a security guard at the gate and there's no sign out front anywhere letting you know this is Hagemeyer's headquarters. Grazing peacefully on the property next door are sheep and several cows. I do see a company flag outside. The lobby area contains four teak wood sculptures.

Noor Verheul, secretary to Chairman Andrew Land, greets me in the lobby and in a very apologetic manner apologizes that no one has time to meet with me. This is due to merger talks going on between Hagemeyer and Koninklijke Borsumij Wehry, a Dutch trading company having financial difficulties. Local newspapers have mentioned the talks going on.

Visiting music company Polygram NV in Baarn leaves me frustrated. The 3-story concrete slab building isn't anything to look at but it's in a neighborhood of huge old homes which companies have turned into offices. Birds are chirping outside as I enter the building. Receptionist Sytske Herbert says CEO Alain Levy and the rest of the big shots work out of the London office. Extremely helpful Herbert calls up Levy's secretary in London and puts me on the line so I can find out if my advance material was referred to London. Turns out they aren't familiar and I give them fair warning of my visit to London in several months.

Headquarters for ACF Holdings, which trades, markets and distributes products for the healthcare industry, fronts a canal four miles north of Utrecht in Maarssen. There's a big plant behind the four-story head office. Glass display cases in the lobby show company product lines as well as several old chemist books. According to Ingrid Sierid, secretary to CEO Peter Blom, the company never received my advance material and "no one has time to talk to you". Revenues in 1994 were NLG 1.4 billion, profit NLG 2.5 million. (For more information: VMFN, HAGNS, ACHNC, PLG)