On the road in Portland


It's a good 15 miles from downtown Portland to NIKE's headquarters in suburban Beaverton. The rain is coming down hard as I turn into NIKE's main entrance. Up ahead there's a guard shack with a stop sign next to it. Sometimes it's fun to ride on through without stopping just to get a reaction from the guards. Approaching the shack I'm still not sure if I'm going to run it but, this voice in my head keeps egging me to, "just do it, just do it!".

I'm directed to the Nolan Ryan Building, the newest (1992) and largest (225,000 square feet) building on the NIKE World Campus. I spend the next hour and a half getting a tour and the lowdown on this spectacular modernistic complex of 10 buildings thanks to the accommodating Dale Grealish, Guest Services Coordinator.

First off, each of the 10 buildings (with a total of 875,000 square feet) is named after a prominent NIKE athlete who has excelled in his or her sport. The names of the buildings are as follows and in case you aren't up on sports I've listed their specialty: Mike Schmidt building (baseball), Nolan Ryan (baseball), John McEnroe (tennis), Joe Paterno (football coach), Joan Benoit-Samuelson (marathon runner), Alberto Salazar (runner), Bo Jackson (football & baseball), Michael Jordan (basketball), Dan Fouts (football) and Steve Prefontaine (runner).

Entering the 175 acre campus, of which only 74 acres have been developed, I rode under a foot bridge and past a large collection of flags. Grealish says the approximately 48 flags flying represent the countries that NIKE does the most business with (NIKE does business in over 90 countries). The foot bridge (along with two others) cross over the three entrances to the campus, connecting a 3-mile running path around the perimeter of the property.

As expected, the company's fitness center and recreational facilities are VERY impressive: a full-size basketball gymnasium, indoor running track, weight & aerobic rooms, three racquetball courts, one squash court, two tennis courts and a soccer field.

NIKE (1996 revenues $6.4 billion, net income $553 million) seems to have this yearning to put names on everything. The banners hanging in the gymnasium are labeled with the names of people who supported NIKE over the years. Buildings are linked by covered facades featuring commemorative plaques honoring more than 175 athletes with whom NIKE has been closely associated with over the years.

Upon entering each building, glass display cases hold items pertaining to whoever the building is named after. Used (smelly?) NIKE shoes are popular. For instance, on display in the John McEnroe Building are NIKE shirts and shoes worn by McEnroe while winning a tournament.

Hungry? The approximately 2,000 people employed on campus get to choose from three restaurants in the Joan Benoit-Samuelson Center. The main cafeteria is named Cafe L.A. in honor of her winning the Olympics in Los Angeles. The corporate dining room is named Bowdoins after the college she attended in Maine. The wood paneled, cherry wood floor sports bar is named Boston Deli in honor of her favorite city and where she won the Boston Marathon. Shelves and walls in the bar are lined with plaques, pictures and all sorts of sports memorabilia. The best part of this cozy, booth-filled bar is the lack of cigarette smoke. You see, the campus is a smoke-free facility. This means you can't even sit in your car in the parking and light up.

A life-size, realistic bronze sculpture of a referee guards the door into the sports bar. It's titled, "The Referee", by Jack Dowd. About a dozen other sculptures inhabit the campus including two works by my favorite; J. Seward Johnson. One is of a fisherman and is titled "Midstream", the other of a girl sketching and it's called "Designer".

So where does CEO Phillip Knight hang his hat or is it hang his shoes? On the fourth floor of the John McEnroe Building. There's a distinct oriental flavor to the decor on the executive floor. Most noticeable are the glass doors with rice paper motif. In all the buildings except for the fourth floor of this one, conference rooms are named after various NIKE shoes. Here, the executives were each allowed to name one room of their own choosing. The meeting room next to tennis buff Knight's office is called the Wimbledon room. Another is called Fenway Park because the executive is a loyal Boston Red Sox fan. So, how important to the company is recently retired basketball superstar Michael Jordan? Important enough to have an office NEXT DOOR to CEO Knight's.

Have I mentioned the on-site child-care facility or, the Fitness Assessment Institute, where all employees can have extensive physical testing done such as EKG and hydrostatic weighing?

With most of the company's plants overseas, the corporate jet (a Gulfstream) comes in handy for those long flights.

I ask Grealish what the job description of a "Guest Services Coordinator" entails. She says a lot of it involves giving athletes (potential endorsers of NIKE products) tours of the facility. Since I'm solely a Sperry top-sider wearing bike rider, I don't expect a call from NIKE anytime soon.

Louisiana-Pacific Corporation

I'm on the 42nd floor of the 43-story U.S. Bancorp building, the tallest in Portland and for that matter, the state of Oregon.

Louisiana Pacific, one of the largest lumber producers in the world, occupies the top two floors.

Walking up to receptionist Lorilyn Donovan, you can't help but notice the large 12 foot tall by 20 foot long redwood carving of a forest scene dominating the wall next to her desk. The carving is made up of 12 inch wide panels-each 10 inches thick. Louisiana-Pacific (1992 revenues $2.2 billion, net income $177 million) is a leading redwood manufacturer. Anyway, before I can introduce myself, Donovan exclaims "Oh, you're Paul the bicycle rider" and extends her hand for a handshake. "Any idea who my contact person is?", I ask. "me", she replies. When a company designates the receptionist to meet with me it usually means one of two things: they don't place much importance on my visit or, they know I'm in good hands with their knowledgeable and personable receptionist. In this case it's the later (see sidebar)

The company sure likes sculptor Lorenzo Ghiglieri. Walking around the two floors I count over a half dozen of his bronze works, two of which are of eagles. Donovan says pop star Michael Jackson and the Pope have works by Ghiglieri.

CEO Harry Merlo's wood paneled corner office on the 43rd floor overlooks the Willamette River several blocks away. On a clear day, Mt. Hood (11,235 feet) can be seen 50 miles away. A pencil drawing of Ronald Reagan hangs on a wall as does a picture of Merlo with former President Gerald Ford. On another wall hangs an oil painting of Merlo's mother and father by the multi-talented sculptor Lorenzo Ghiglieri. I count four real plants in Merlo's orange carpeted office, a black leather sofa, three pictures of Merlo posing next to deer shot by him, a picture of the Eagle 3-the company yacht and, a mounted fish on a wall. Magazines found on Merlo's coffee table include Tennis, Fortune, Newsweek and Showboats International.

With operations in such out of the way places as Hayden Lake, ID, Ketchikan, AK, Barberton, OH and Samoa, CA it helps to have corporate aircraft. Louisiana-Pacific's includes a Gulfstream 4, Gulfstream 2 and two Learjet 35's.

Befitting a lumber company, a wood sculpture of a duck shares the boardroom with the kidney-shaped, cherry wood boardroom table.

Sidebar: The Good, The Bad And The Lovely

A savvy company knows you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. For many people, the receptionist is the first face to face contact with a representative of the company. CEO Harry Merlo of Louisiana-Pacific knows this, which is why he personally interviewed Donavon for the receptionist position. Clearly an asset to the company, the personable Donavon makes my Receptionist Hall of Fame. Read on for another member of the Hall of Fame and one who makes the Hall of Shame:

Headquarters for Corning Glass Works is a black-glassed building in the picturesque town of Corning, New York. Entering, I'm greeted by receptionist Winifred Frampton, who hands me a manila envelope. It contains an annual report and history of the company. I ask Frampton to contact someone who could answer questions about the building. A man identifying himself as Manager, Corporate Information, comes out to the lobby. After looking at my questionnaire he brusquely states, "I haven't got time for this", turns and walks away.

As always, I walk across the street and start snapping pictures of the building. This is to help me remember details of the place. Shooting away, I see Frampton waving me over to the building. She says, "I apologize for the way he treated you". I reply, "That's okay, I don't have an appointment, I just show up and I realize I'm not a very important person". "Well, that's not how we do business. Come inside with me". Practically pulling me inside she makes several phones calls and I end up meeting with a senior vice president. The upshot being, if Frampton hadn't taken the initiative-my perception of Corning Glass would be of a rude, abrupt and not very friendly company.

Stepping off the elevator, I see this beautiful blonde manning the reception desk at Bally Corporation offices in Chicago. Walking up I give her my best, "good morning!". She doesn't even look up, let alone acknowledge my presence. After explaining what I'm doing she scrunches up her face and in a sarcastic manner says "so!, what do you want?" A few minutes later when meeting with a Bally public relations person I say, "you have one of the rudest, nastiest receptionists I've ever encountered". The PR woman responds, "oh, don't mention that in your book because she's only a temporary. The regular receptionist is very nice and will be back next week". Right, I've never been here before and I'm suppose to know she's a temporary plus, that's justifies her behavior?

U.S. Bancorp

I stop on the 10th floor of the 43-story U.S. Bancorp building to meet with Donald Bowler, Jr., Senior Vice President-Communications and Investor Relations, for U.S. Bancorp, a super regional bank holding company with $21 billion in assets. Built in 1983, the company occupies 30% of the 750,000 square foot structure, which features a helipad on top. Don't get to see the CEO's office, boardroom or company's coin collection because "they're all in use".


PacifiCorp occupies two and a half floors of a company-owned, 16-story building several miles from downtown. Portland's new convention center is a block away. With PacifiCorp as the core anchor, the city is hoping other companies will follow its lead in revitalizing the area.

PacifiCorp (1992 revenues $3.2 billion, net income $-341 million), the third largest electric utility company west of the Rocky Mountains, also owns a major telecommunications utility. Pacific Telecom, an 87%-owned subsidiary, is one of the nations largest nonBell telephone companies.

I receive a warm welcome from the very accommodating Marsha Carroll, Manager Shareholder Services & Administration, and Sue Campbell, Executive Assistant to CEO Al Gleason. Seems the local newspaper is doing a story on my Bloomberg-sponsored trek and isn't happy just getting a picture of me standing outside PacifiCorp's headquarters. Nope, the photographer wants my bike and I pictured on the executive floor talking to the receptionist. Problem is, my bike is sopping wet from riding in the rain. This would be bad for the beautiful hardwood floors and expensive-looking rugs in the reception area. Agreement is reached for a shot of my trusty steed and I on a lower floor sans the expensive rugs.

CEO Gleason's corner office contains a Mickey Mouse phone and one of those antique wooden wall phones. Why? He used to head the company's telecommunications subsidiary. I note the fresh flowers in his office and a wood carving of a bear. Campbell opens a drawer in Gleason's desk and his large stash of sugar candies is no longer secret.

Pendleton Woolen Mills

Privately-held Pendleton Woolen Mills started out in 1909 making Indian blankets. Now, the company is known worldwide for its Pendleton virgin wool sportswear.

On the fringe of downtown is historic Old Town, an area with history and lots of potential for its old buildings. Here, in a complex of three interconnected buildings (including an old car dealership) totaling 80,000 square feet, are the offices for Pendleton Woolen Mills.

A large oil painting of C.M. Bishop (1878-1969), who founded the company in Pendleton, Oregon hangs in the lobby. The lobby sofas and chairs are covered with the company's familiar plaid design found on its clothing line.

Broughton H. Bishop, the no-nonsense, 66 year-old Chairman and son of the Founder, meets with me in a small showroom. Though the 4-story structure dates back to 1863, it's only been called the Pendleton building since 1990. The company's previous headquarters for 60 years was a dozen blocks away.

Bishop's third floor corner office is small and very drab. I count over 100 books in a bookcase-all having to do with wool. An oil painting of Mt. Hood and a small picture of sheep highlight this lifeless office. Looking out his window, Bishop has a view of the old customs house across the street.

The company's revenues have been pegged at $200 million. Bishops says they're "less than $200 million". For some reason, I can't picture the stuffy, conservative business suited Bishop wearing a Pendleton shirt.

About 200 employees work in the place with parking assigned by seniority. Parts of Old Town is still pretty much a skid row area. This explains the presence of private security guards hired by Pendleton to patrol the area around its buildings.

Standard Insurance Company

Half the companies I drop in on are privately-held, mutuals or co-ops, many of which purposely keep a low profile. I've always prided myself in the thoroughness of my research in compiling my list of companies to visit. Very few businesses with revenues over $300 million have escaped my eye. Standard Insurance Company is one of those.

Walking around the financial district in downtown Portland I spot an office building named Standard Insurance Company Plaza. Hmmm, must be a subsidiary of another insurance company (which nowadays is a safe assumption to make). Never-the-less, Mr. Nosey here goes inside and gets an annual report. Egads! With 1992 revenues of $938 million and assets of $2.7 billion, this life insurance company should have been on my list!

I normally send an introductory letter along with news clippings to the CEO two weeks before my anticipated arrival. It's going to be tough just walking in off the street with no advance warning, asking to meet with someone and have them show me among other things; the CEO's office and boardroom.

Turns out to be no problem. Why? For one, Steve Hopkins, Manager-Corporate Communications, is a super person and very flexible. Second, Standard Insurance has several BLOOMBERG's and is very familiar with Bloomberg Business News.

Built in 1963, Standard occupies nine floors of the 17-story, company-owned building known as Standard Insurance Company Plaza. Across the street, Standard occupies seven floors of a 27-story, company-owned building built in 1984 and known as Standard Insurance Company Building. Roughly, 1,200 employees work in the two.

The company's former name, Oregon Life Insurance Company, explains why the company is headquartered in Portland. The headquarters building's claim to fame is a weather device atop the structure- constantly flashing to locals the current temperature and upcoming weather changes.

Nothing fancy about CEO Benjamin Whiteley's large corner office on the 17th floor. A painting of Leo Samuel-Founder (1847-1916) prominently hangs on a wall. I spot two computers (one an Apple Powerbook), three real plants, a wooden walking stick, and a white hard hat with Portland Trailblazer stamped on it.

R.B. Pamplin Corporation

Wow!, with almost $700 million in revenues, this privately-held operator of asphalt, concrete and textile companies has one of the smallest corporate staffs I've come across for a company its size. There's Chairman Robert Pamplin Sr., his son-Robert Pamplin, Jr., Marilyn Stewart, Administrative Assistant to the Chairman, Kathie Tourijigian, Administrative Corporate Accountant, and that's it!

Offices are on the 18th floor of the 27-story Standard Insurance Company building. R.B Pamplin is named after its 82-year old Chairman Robert Pamplin Sr., who founded the company back in 1966. Pamplin really didn't start working full time for his own company until 1976. Why? From 1957 to 1976, Pamplin was President, then CEO of Georgia-Pacific, the giant lumber company. Though Georgia-Pacific moved its corporate headquarters to Atlanta years ago-I notice they have offices down the hall from Pamplin.

The reception area is filled with lots of Civil War relics, due to Chairman Pamplin being a Civil War buff and native of Georgia. On a wall is an unauthenticated letter of Robert E. Lee's dated April 20, 1861, announcing his resignation from the Army of the United States. In a glass display case are cannon balls, swords and Confederate money. Nearby are two oversized Chinese stirrups.

Stewart and Tourijigian occupy desks next to each other in the reception area with Pamplin Sr. and Jr. having separate offices.

Why the television and VCR in Chairman Pamplin's corner office? Stewart says more and more businesses now days send tapes in lieu of making presentations in person. I make note of Pamplin's double-sided desk, the Confederate flag in the corner, and the framed pencil drawing on the wall of his parents.

Willamette Industries, Inc.

I'm looking out the big picture window on the 38th floor of the 38-story First Interstate Tower. Some say this structure is taller than the 43-story U.S. Bancorp building 10 blocks away because it's on higher ground. Occupying the 38th floor are the executives of Willamette Industries, an integrated forest products company with revenues in 1992 of $2.4 billion, net income $82 million.

Friendly Cathy Baldwin, Corporate Communications Manager, greets me in the lobby and takes me away from the huge picture window and the snobby receptionist, who seems to treat every visitor with disdain.

Willamette Industries, named after the river which passes through the city several blocks away, occupies five floors in the tower. Over 200 employees work in building, which has been home to the company since the 1960's.

Earlier I visited Louisiana-Pacific and their cherry wood kidney-shaped boardroom table. Owning or controlling 1,196,000 acres of forests, I'm assuming Willamette's boardroom table will do justice to its background in wood. Yep, the long maple boardroom table is a beaut. A felt cover fits over it when not in use.

Pope & Talbot, Inc.

Why does Pope & Talbot, an integrated wood-fiber products company, have dozens and dozens of drawings on its lobby walls of San Francisco scenes in the 1800's? Julie Silver, Administrative Assistant to the Chairman and President, says it has to do with the company's roots. Pope & Talbot (1992 revenues $544 million, net income $-2 million) started back in 1849 hauling goods on its ships in and out of the waters around San Francisco.

Leasing space, over 120 employees work on the second floor of the 11-story building, home to Pope & Talbot since 1981.

It's no problem checking out the boardroom, seeing as how that's where the interview takes place. Prominently hanging on a wall are two large oil paintings of the two Popes who founded the company. The boardroom table is mahogany and embedded with strips of copper plating.

Portland General Electric

My visit to Portland General Electric, an electric utility, comes up short in uncovering corporate trivia. I do however, get a thorough tour thanks to Bruce Ruminksi, Community Resources.

PGE (1992 revenues $884 million, net income $90 million) leases space in a complex of three buildings downtown known as World Trade Center. Over 800 PGE employees work in the center.

The tallest of the three structures is 17-stories and it's on the top floor I find CEO Ken Harrison's office. Nothing fancy, he does have a construction telescope, an antique miniature scale and what I'm finding to be mandatory in Portland offices; an oil painting of Mt. Hood.

The basement contains the company's fitness center called, the "Fat Factory". The 50-something year-old Ruminski is a fellow avid cyclist. Matter of fact, every summer he heads over to Europe and leads a month-long bike tour. I think he does it to escape Portland's non-stop rain. The city brags it gets only 37 inches of rain-less than Houston, Atlanta or Baltimore. What they don't tell you is this: You can get an inch of rain in Houston within one hour. In Portland, it drizzles for nine straight days to get their one inch.