On the road in Minneapolis

General Mills, Inc.

Six miles west of downtown Minneapolis and after hanging a left off of General Mills Boulevard I'm on Betty Crocker Drive. Up ahead stands the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed dark greenish-clad headquarters of General Mills. Jeez, I can't believe they've named a street after someone who was never real. Then again, when visiting the headquarters complex of Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California I recall riding down streets named after Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

A four-foot tall untitled bronze sculpture by Joel Shapiro greets you upon entering the small lobby. Lining the lobby walls are several bright colored works by well-known artists including "Dutch Wives" a silkscreen by Jasper Johns, "Two Pyramids/Four Colors" a painting by Sol Lewitt and, an untitled charcoal on paper by Joel Shapiro. The General Mills art collection, the majority of which are contemporary pieces, contains over 1,200 paintings, original prints, sculpture and tapestries with a full-time curator overseeing the works of art. The parklike grounds on the 148-acre General Mills site contain quite a few outdoor pieces. My vote for the strangest piece easily goes to Siah Armajani for his untitled work in 1989. Made of glass, steel, wood and sheet metal-it's a block long covered walkway zigzagging its way out to a large company parking lot.

Formerly an apple orchard (with several trees still around), over 2,000 employees work on the site, which has seen several additions over the years to the four-story, 393,000 square foot structure.

Until 1985 General Mills conducted tours of the Betty Crocker Kitchens located on the basement floor. Were the tours popular? Over the years an estimated 1.5 million Betty Crocker fans took the tours. The company stopped for several reasons including; spying by competitors and the cooks being unnerved by always being on display. Boy, I have VIP status because I'm taken downstairs to see the 10 kitchens. Each kitchen is named and decorated after a different area of the country. Of course the Hawaiian kitchen has the Polynesian look, the Williamsburg kitchen the colonial look and so on. I make a point to see the California kitchen. Why? For some strange reason Midwesterners seem to think Californians are all wacky and I'm curious as to how the gang in the kitchen perceives us. (I might interject here: traveling around the country via bicycle for the last six years I've met many people who are curious as to why I do it. As soon as I mention I'm from California-they all seem to have that look on their faces which says-that explains it.) All is well, the California kitchen is painted green and covered with yellow lilies.

Next to the kitchens, which by the way smell heavenly because mixes for bread making machines are being tested, is the Betty Crocker library. Most companies, including General Mills, have a corporate library containing reference books, law books, trade publications and so on. The Betty Crocker library, complete with a librarian, contains over 2,000 books and 60 current magazines on cooking. What's one of the librarian's perks? The cooks down the hall let her sample their wares. Oh, did I mention the dozens of Betty Crocker cooks all being female?

Down the hall from the kitchens and locked behind several glass display cases are products from Keebler, Nabisco and Kellogg. Why? To keep tab on the competitor's new products and packaging. Ahh ha! that explains the competitor's products I spot in CEO Brewster Atwater, Jr's office. Though Atwater runs a company with revenues in 1993 of $8.1 billion, you wouldn't know it by his plain, no-frills office. What's the view from his corner office containing three real plants and no computer? It overlooks that awful-looking commissioned covered walkway I mentioned earlier.

Since the company operates over 600 Red Lobster and almost 400 Olive Garden restaurants I assume there would be one on-site. Nope, just two cafeterias. My five-hour visit is highlighted by a trip to a nearby Red Lobster, where I'm treated to a delicious lunch. The downside is I forget to check the company cafeterias to see if Yoplait yogurt, Cheerios, Gorton's fish, Bisquick biscuits and Betty Crocker's Hamburger Helper (all General Mills' products) are being served.

On site is a full service gas station. Why? Back in 1958 when General Mills moved the six miles from downtown, this area was barren and considered the boonies. The gas station allowed employees to drop the car off for repairs without taking time off from work. Come wintertime the gas station serves a more important function to employees; jump starting frozen batteries.

Kudos to Craig Shulstad, Director of Public Relations, for his enthusiastic welcome. This in light of General Mills for some unexplained reason never receiving my advance material sent a month ahead and my just "showing up" at the front door.


Carlson Companies

Carlson Companies founder and Chairman Curt Carlson has, as the saying goes, "done good". Over 50 years ago Carlson created Gold Bond trading stamps. Now his privately-held empire with over $10 billion in revenues encompasses more than 75 corporations including, Radisson Hotels, over 450 TGI Friday's and Country Kitchen restaurants and Carlson Travel Network-with over 2,100 agencies around the world.

Located on 320 acres twelve miles west of downtown Minneapolis and rising 15 stories next to I-394, the twin, champagne colored reflective glass towers of Carlson Center are impressive. A 5-story, 100-foot in diameter rotunda lobby connects each 280,000 square foot tower. The backside contains a 22-acre lake and a 3,000 seat amphitheater. A parking garage houses 1,700 cars. Walking down the marble-clad hallways one can't help but feel Carlson built himself a monument.

Over 1,000 employees occupy one tower with outside tenants in the other. Next to the first floor reception area are several rooms filled with floor to ceiling glass display cases containing through-the-years company memorabilia. Before entering the rooms a life-size bronze of Curt Carlson greets you.

Tona Erickson, Public Relations Consultant, gives me an extensive tour. Nothing impressive about Carlson's 15th floor corner office with a view of downtown Minneapolis. It's small and pretty much barren of mementos. I then remember all his personal nik-naks are in the museum/display downstairs-including quite a few pictures of him with various Presidents. I do note the phone built into his desk and the porcelain eagle perched on a stand. Carlson, in his late 70's, regularly appears on Forbes magazine's annual listing of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

Carlson's Swedish roots is evident in the company's executive dining area called, The Retreat. Located in an alcove off to the side of the main executive dining room is the Viking Revival Room. This room houses the original panels and furniture from a 1910 Swedish manor house. Pine high-backed chairs, a breakfront, a massive dining table, wall panels, an elaborate chandelier and ceiling cornices-are resplendent with carvings of Nordic folklore. The sculpted furniture shows Nordic warring gods and kings as well as fair young maidens. Sticking out like a sore thumb in this room filled with dark wood is the 12 foot tall, white Kakelugn, a Swedish porcelain tiled stove from the 1800's. For some reason I can't picture Swedish meat balls being cooked on the Kakelugn.

Fingerhut Companies, Inc.

Fingerhut Companies occupies a four-story building in suburban Minnetonka, fifteen miles west of Minneapolis. The company-owned, off-brown colored brick structure was built in 1985.

Believe it or not, there was someone named Fingerhut and last year this multi-media direct marketing company posted record revenues ($1.8 billion) and earnings ($75 million). Fingerhut is one of the nation's largest catalog marketers as well as a producer of direct response TV infomercials.

Rakesh Kaul, Executive Vice President, and William Colucci, Senior Vice President, tells me over 800 employees work in the 200,000 square foot building situated next to a residential area.

In the basement there's a circular indoor running track as well as office cubicles. What's unusual is the "infield area" being filled with cubicles. This means employees make their way to the stairs/elevators from their cubicle via walking across four lanes of running track. What's even more unusual is this: I've visited over 1,400 companies and seen hundreds of fitness facilities but only twice have I found punching bags in the fitness room. One is here and the other at Land's End, also a mail order catalog company in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. At both places I ask employees if they ever paste faces of the CEO on the bags before punching.

The sign on CEO Theodore Deikel's door probably makes employees think before entering. It's a take-off on those street signs-the ones with the red circle and the line running through it telling you not to do something. Deikel's has the word "surprises" in a large red circle with the familiar slash running through it.

Walking past the "no surprises" sign in Deikel's office brings me face to face with his son's "big toe" picture. Seems Deikel's teenage son was going through an experimental stage and showed his father a picture he snapped of his own foot. Father was impressed with son's photography enough to have the picture enlarged to an 8x10, framed, and hung in a prominent position on his office wall. Oh by the way, did I mention the son's big toe in the picture is visibly infected?

Though it's obvious Deikel has a great sense of humor, the other picture in his office has just as much importance to him. In it he's part of a crowd in Washington DC witnessing along with President Clinton, the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Palestine.


With over $47 billion in revenues, the title of largest privately held firm in the country goes to Cargill. The company buys, processes, stores, transports and sells agricultural and other bulk commodities on a worldworld basis.

Never heard of the company? Cargill likes it like that. Visiting back in 1988 I was given an extensive tour of the gorgeous complex. Later, I remember various members of the local media as well as officials from other locally-based companies being astonished (methinks envious might be a better word) to hear of the publicity-shy company giving access to an outsider-worse yet; someone showing up on a bicycle.

This time I'm not so lucky. My contact people in Cargill's Public Affairs department aren't in today and my tight schedule doesn't allow returning another day. I'm still going to give you the low-down on the place because it's so impressive.

Located beside Lake Minnetonka, 12 miles west of Minneapolis, the 250-acre site blends in well amongst the surrounding residential area. The 150,000 evergreen trees on the property might have something to do with it. The trees were planted to help preserve moisture, prevent soil erosion, weed infestation and, replace original older trees. A cluster of three-story, pyramid-like buildings with a total of 530,000 square feet, housing 1,800 employees make up the Cargill Office Center. A 283-yard enclosed walkway links the Office Center to Cargill's headquarters’ building: a beautiful 63-room replica of a French chateau. Built in 1930 by a prominent Twin Cities native, the building and surrounding property were purchased by Cargill in 1944.

The headquarters building is 325 feet long and contains 43,000 square feet. Talk about building something sturdy: the outer walls of tile and brick are 17 inches thick. The 14 fireplaces remain but many of the 16 tile bathrooms have been converted to storage or office space. I remember seeing the boardroom on the second floor. Elegantly furnished in French provincial style, I would describe it more as a sitting room than a boardroom because there isn't a boardroom table. The chateau overlooks a one-acre concrete pond plus, four artificial lakes dot the grounds.


Home for SUPERVALU, the nation's largest food wholesaler and the 14th largest food retailer (1993 revenues $12.6 billion), is suburban Eden Prairie, fifteen miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis.

Maria Murad, Manager-Internal Communications, says when the company built its 3-story, 178,000 square foot headquarters on this 140-acre site in 1980; there was nothing else around. Now, this area is booming with corporate parks and housing developments.

The building overlooks a large tranquil marsh/pond area with the rest of the property heavily wooded. Deer are frequently seen wondering across the front of the building and of course flocks of messy Canadian geese use the place as a pit stop. Who knows, maybe a few of the older birds might remember the farmhouse that formerly stood on the site.

Nothing worth noting about the interior of the building. On the outside though, it's open parking for the 700 employees. If CEO Michael Wright is the last one in-he has to find a parking spot like everyone else.

National Computer Systems Inc.

About two miles down the road from SUPERVALU lies the six story, blue reflective glass headquarters of National Computer Systems (1993 revenues $306 million). Though the company calls itself "an information services company for the education, business, financial and assessment markets", you might know them as the ones which provide scanning systems to score the SAT tests.

That explains the six foot tall, yellow #2 soft lead pencil in CEO Charles Oswald's office. His first floor, computerless office contains green carpeting, green furniture and overlooks a large marsh. On his walls hang several contemporary paintings by Jaspar Johns.

Though the company's logo is atop the building, Robert Kleiber, Director of Analysis and Investor Relations, says National Computing Systems leases 2/3rds of the space in the structure.

International Multifoods Corporation

The view's great from the 49th floor reception area of the 51-story Multifoods Tower in downtown Minneapolis. Binoculars near the big picture windows allow lookie-loo visitors like me to gawk at the countrysides in the faraway distance. Four Japanese Kabuki dolls fill a glass display case behind the receptionist's desk and reading material on a coffee table includes Time and Life magazines plus, three issues of Reader's Digest.

Lori Anderson, the capable executive assistant to CEO Luiso, walks me around the place. International Multifoods (1994 revenues $2.2 billion), a processor, distributor and marketer of food products, occupies four floors in the 4th tallest building in Minneapolis. The 51st floor contains the building's mechanical equipment, there's an employee training center on the 50th, and 125 employees work on the 43rd, 47th and 49th floor.

In CEO Luiso's corner office on the 49th floor I note the binoculars, pair of boxing gloves, a computer and the cookie jar. The see-through cookie jar is filled with folded-up "Food for Thought" sayings. Reaching in the jar I pull one out and it reads, "Life has value only when it has something valuable as its object"- the saying is attributed to Georg Wilhelm Friedrick Hegel.

Did you know Multifoods is the nation's largest distributor to US vending machine operators and the second largest distributor of pizza ingredients to US pizza restaurants? Neither did I.

The NWNL Companies

One only has to see this insurance company's headquarters on the fringe of the north end of downtown to understand why its company's logo incorporates pillars. Anchoring both ends of the six-story structure are rows of massive marble-clad pillars. Ruth Weber, Public Relations Manager, says the pillars in the company's logo are representative of the architecture of the headquarters building and stand for strength and stability.

Built in 1963, the 200,000 square foot structure is one of three buildings comprising the headquarters complex. Located across public streets and connected by underground walkways are the two other buildings. Built in 1980, the tallest (22-stories) contains almost 550,000 square feet of space. The newest (built in 1987), is 15 stories and contains 425,000 square feet of office space.

Over 2,500 employees work in the three buildings. I learn NWNL stands for North West National Life.

The sixth floor has been undergoing complete renovations and this week marks the return of executives and staff after months of working in temporary quarters. The door leading into CEO John Turner's corner office ranks as one of the tallest I've come across; it's easily fifteen feet. A new boardroom was built but, it's nothing fancy-though the rosewood boardroom table is nice.

Bemis Company, Inc.

Since my last visit three years ago, Bemis Company moved it's corporate staff from one downtown office building to another several blocks away. So, it would seem I have a legitimate excuse to visit the company again. It's confession time however as I tell Mary Jo Gornik, Communications Coordinator, the real reason I'm back again to this manufacturer of flexible packaging and specialty coated and graphic products: It's their plastic bags. You see, I put my T-shirts and shorts inside plastic bags-then place the bags inside the panniers on my bike. During the first visit I was given reading material on the company and the various booklets were put in heavy duty plastic bags-similar to the ones found in hotel room closets. Three years later and withstanding hundreds of unpacking and repacking, the bags are still holding up great but, I'd like to have some back-ups. Gornik readily obliges.

Bemis Company, 1993 revenues $1.2 billion, occupies the 23rd floor of a 40-story building. Oil paintings of the two Bemis brothers, who founded the company, stand guard over the horseshoe-shaped table in the boardroom.

Inter-Regional Financial Group

Inter-Regional Financial Group has its home base in Dain Bosworth Plaza, a spiffy-looking 40-story tower built in 1991. IFG, a holding company, is the 15th largest securities firm in the country (in terms of investment executives) thanks to its two regional broker-dealers; Dain Bosworth and Rauscher Pierce Refsnes. Joseph Jennings, Director of Investor Communications, says about 90 IFG employees work on the 19th floor, with Dain Bosworth personnel occupying floors 9-18 for a total of 800 employees.

An impressive, colorful and unusual company art collection lines the various floors. The collection runs the gamut from realistic to abstract and whimsical to serious. Is there a central theme? Yes, each piece contains human figuration.

CEO Irving Weiser has several colorful Jaspar Johns paintings in his 19th floor corner office. Framed in clear plastic is a ticket stub signed by baseball player Dave Winfield. What's the significance of the ticket? It's the game in which the Minnesota Twins ballplayer achieved the milestone of 3,000 hits. Weiser laments he wasn't at the game that day.

A walk around the trading floor finds quite a few BLOOMBERG's in use and several traders admitting to reading my exploits.

Lutheran Brotherhood

Though the 17-story headquarters of Lutheran Brotherhood, isn't as tall as some of its downtown neighbors, the unusual rose-colored reflective glass exterior is eye-catching. With over a million members, $33.5 billion of life insurance in force and $12 billion in assets under management, Lutheran Brotherhood is the second largest fraternal benefit society in the US.

Life insurance, health insurance, annuities and mutual funds are just of few of the products offered to its members. Somebody must be doing something right here because the big three major insurance analysts have given Lutheran Brotherhood (one of only 15 US life insurers holding this distinction) the highest possible rating for its claims paying ability: AAA from Standard & Poor's, AAA from Duff & Phelps, and A++ (Superior) from the A.M. Best Company. Want to sign up with them? There's a catch: only Lutherans can purchase Lutheran Brotherhood products. However, Sara Barron, Public Relations Specialist, assures me you don't have to be Lutheran to work here.

Down the hall from the cafeteria on the second floor and tucked away behind a plain red door is a company art collection with an astounding collection of works. The small plaque next to the door reads Religious Art Gallery but, gives no indication of the riches that lie on the other side. On display are over 100 sketches, drawings, lithographs and etchings by the likes of Rembrandt, Durer and Picasso.

Norwest Corporation/First Bank System

Looks like bank holding companies Norwest Corporation ($51 billion in assets) and First Bank System ($26 billion in assets) are running neck and neck for building bragging rights. Norwest occupies the first 19 floors and the 54th floor in its 54-story Norwest Center tower. Meanwhile, several blocks away, First Bank occupies floors 2-30 in its 53-story tower called First Bank Place East. The winner? Easy, built in 1988, it's the art deco-clad Norwest Center tower.

Michael Bares, Manager-Minnesota Communications, walks me around several floors to show-off part of Norwest's art collection. Modernism (period between 1875-1945) is the theme with my favorite piece being the high wheel bicycle (circa 1890) hanging prominently from the reception area wall on the executive floor.

Checking out Norwest Chairman Lloyd Johnson's corner office on the fourth floor I like the double-sided partners desk he uses and note his lack of view from being near the ground floor.

Over at First Bank System, I can't see President, CEO and Chairman John Grundhofer's office on the 29th floor. Why? For security reasons. Grundhofer was kidnapped a few years ago. Guess I can't blame them for passing on letting a lookie-loo like me poke around the head honcho's office.

Sheri Simmer, Administrative Assistant, does however escort me to see First Bank System's cherrywood, canoe-shaped boardroom table.

What do Norwest and First Bank System, two super regional banks, have in common? Neither one owns their headquarters building.

IDS Financial Services

Though IDS Financial Services is a subsidiary of American Express, if it were a stand-alone company its 1993 revenues would be $3.2 billion, net income $358 million. IDS stands for: Investors Diversified Services.

Headquarters is the landmark 51-story IDS Tower. Though it doesn't have as many floors as the nearby 54-story Norwest Center or 53-story First Bank Place, at 779 feet-it's the TALLEST structure in Minneapolis and for that matter-Minnesota.

IDS Tower is still unofficially called by many locals, the "finger" building. When it was built in 1972 it dwarfed everything and anything around it-sort of like when giving the middle finger salute.

The charming Lynn Closway, Manager-National Media Relations, stuffs me with her delicious homemade cookies before embarking on a tour of the 17 floors the company occupies, including the 29th floor where the executives hold court. Nothing unusual to report here. I do note the extreme friendliness of the various IDS people encountered. It's the complete opposite of the shabby, whaddoyawant-we haven't got time for you-treatment I received when visiting American Express, their New York City-based parent.

Dayton-Hudson Corporation

I thought for sure headquarters for Dayton-Hudson (1994 revenues $19.2 billion), the nation's fourth largest retailer, would be above their flagship Dayton store in downtown Minneapolis. Nope. Offices are across the street on the 13th, 14th and 15th floors of the IDS Tower.

Meeting with Robert Longendyke, Director-Public Relations, on this snowy Monday I ask why he's dressed like someone out of an Eddie Bauer catalog. Turns out Monday and Fridays are casual days.

Dayton-Hudson is comprised of Target, a chain of 506 discount stores and Mervyn's, a moderate-price 265 department store chain along with 63 Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's department stores.

Honeywell Inc.

Several miles south of downtown Minneapolis on a 28-acre former company factory site sits the long, three building complex comprising Honeywell's headquarters. About 2,200 employees work in the buildings, with the tallest of the three being eight stories.

Patricia Hoven, Vice President-Community and Local Government Affairs, makes a few calls and comes up with the total square footage of the complex: 958,000 square feet. Meanwhile, I check the thermostats in the lobby area to make sure they're made by Honeywell. Yep, they are.

The view from CEO Bonsignore's 5th floor middle office? A boring view of a freeway. How is employee parking assigned? By seniority. The longer you work here the closer you get to park to the building.

Medtronic, Inc.

One would think a great employee perk at Medtronic, the world's largest manufacturer of pacemakers, would be to get a discount on one if he or she ever needed it. "No", that's the answer I get from super nice guy Dick Reid, Corporate Public Relations, at their 3-story, 151,000 square foot headquarters ten miles north of Minneapolis.

The 30-acre site contains two other buildings, including a manufacturing facility, with a total of 1,500 employees. Built in 1978, why is this complex located in an out-of-the-way, mostly residential area? The founder used to play on the property when he was a kid and bought the land later as an investment. When Medtronic (1993 revenues $1.3 billion) was looking for a site to expand operations-it was a no-brainer, since the founder already owned the property.

None of the executives have corner offices. Why? It's a circular building. Soccer enthusiast CEO William George, has a soccer ball in his office signed by the youngsters on the team he coaches.

International Dairy Queen Companies

Wow!, out of the 5,471 Dairy Queen stores in the US, Canada and other foreign countries, only one is company-operated. All the rest are franchised. Ditto for the 480 Orange Julius and 90 Karmelkorn stores.

No big neon signs with the familiar DQ logo mark International Dairy Queen's six-story headquarters located 12 miles south of Minneapolis. Lisa Christenson, Communications Coordinator, says the company moved into the place a year ago. Though IDQ (1993 revenues $310 million) owns the building and roughly 280 employees work in the place, outside tenants occupy floors three and four. That is, until their lease runs out and it's "see ya" to them.

Is there a company cafeteria? Sort of. A full-size, working replica of a Dairy Queen manned by trainees serves lunch. How close to the real thing is the DQ? Since some DQs have speaker boxes for ordering at their drive-up windows-this headquarters DQ has a walk-up speaker box off to the side of the counter so the trainees can practice taking orders. As a frequent visitor to DQ I note the prices on the menu board seem awfully cheap. No wonder, Christenson says employees get 30% off.

National Car Rental Systems

Walking into the lobby of National Car Rental Systems I knew right away someone had made a big boo-boo. Receptionist Betty Vaughn confirms it. Seems National Car Rental always has a brand new General Motors car in its lobby (since General Motors owns the company it makes sense). On display is a 1994 Sunbird LE Pontiac. So what's the problem? The color is a bright red--as in the company color of a certain other car rental company.

A glass display case in a corner of the lobby holds a suit of armor worn by a Japanese general from the Kama Kura era (1192-1331). It was a gift from Nippon Rent A Car.

Built in 1982, over 900 employees work in the five-story, orangish-brown brick, 336,000 square foot building located 12 miles south of downtown. Employees who win company contests and awards get to park next to the building in a special area called the green lot. Conference rooms in the employee training center are named after philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle.

I can understand the baseball signed by former Baltimore Oriole Boog Powell in CEO Larry Ramaekers' office, since the two went to school together. But what's with the working stop and go traffic signal in his office with the green constantly flashing? In National's new add campaign it just kicked off, "green means go", as in no waiting.

On the road in St. Paul

Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company

Though the mailing address for Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company (3M) says St. Paul, the sprawling 425-acre headquarters complex actually lies six miles east of town in suburban Maplewood.

The place is HUGE! with over 13,000 3Mers working in 40 buildings. Several records are set here: (1) the most square footage I've found at a corporate headquarters; 8.1 million and (2) the most cafeterias at a headquarters site; 17.

Straddling the I-94 freeway is the tallest of the buildings; the 15-story gray structure housing top management. Steve Sanchez, Media Relations Counselor, clues me in on how to tell what goes on in the various buildings: rust-colored brick buildings are research facilities and the gray-white buildings are administrative headquarters.

I visited 3M six years ago and was given a shabby welcome. It consisted of a man in a management position coming to the lobby and telling me I have five minutes to ask him questions. We stood the whole time as well my having to endure his constant looking at his watch and his huffing gestures which was to let me know I was wasting his time. The worst part was he did this in front of about a dozen visitors in the lobby and did a great job of making me feel insignificant. Matter a fact, a woman visitor who witnessed the "five minutes", came up to me later and said she couldn't believe the way he treated me.

Though I again don't get past the lobby, at least we sit down while going through the questions. How would you like to pay the monthly electric bill for the complex? It's $590,000 a month. The heating/cooling bill is $245,000 a month.

3M operates 70 vans in their Commute-A-Van program with about 550 employees participating. The place also has one of the largest parking facilities I've come across: 2,700 reserved parking spots and 8,700 general parking spots and no noticeable bicycle racks.


The St. Paul Companies, Inc.

The mural greeting you upon entering this insurance company's headquarters is mighty impressive. Called, "Mississippi River", it's 14 feet high and 95 feet long. Designed by Ken Moylan and painted by muralist Michael Bolin in 1993, it depicts the area along the river between nearby Fort Snelling (now a historical site) and St. Paul in 1853.

Founded in 1853, St. Paul Companies (1993 revenues $4.5 billion) is the oldest business corporation in Minnesota.

Built in 1991, the 17-story, 570,000 square foot office tower is connected across the street via a skywalk to the company's former 500,000 square foot headquarters in downtown St. Paul. Skywalks are big in this frigid part of America. Minneapolis touts it having the largest skywalk system in the country, while St. Paul goes head to head with Des Moines, Iowa for bragging rights as to who has the OLDEST skywalk system.

My tour with Patrick Hirigoyen, Senior Manager-Corporate Communications includes a stop at the company's antique fire mark collection. A 100 years ago, a metal plaque with your insurance company's distinctive logo/name was placed on the front of your property to let the fire department know you were insured. On display are over 40 fire marks, including ones from Egypt, Portugal, Sweden, Greece, Spain, Germany and Austria.

Talking with CEO Dale Leatherdale in his 17th floor corner office I note the stand-up desk. He admits using it because he gets antsy sitting at a regular desk for long periods. A bronze bust titled "Bambino" holds center court in Leatherdale's office. The "Bambino" is of course baseball Hall of Famer Babe Ruth and he's in the famous "called shot" pose where he points to a spot over the outfield wall and proceeds to hit the next pitch there for a home run. The view from his office? According to Leatherdale, he can see "state, church and history". Say what? On a hill several blocks away in one direction lies the beautiful Minnesota State Capitol, an Italian-Renaissance building built in 1904 and designed by Cass Gilbert-who also designed the Supreme Court Building in Washington DC. On a hill several blocks in another direction sits the Cathedral of St. Paul. Modeled after St. Peter's in Rome, it's one of the largest church buildings in North America-seating 4,000. What's the "history" Leatherdale was referring to? The mighty Mississippi River meanders through town several blocks away. A sidenote. One of my side projects has been to visit all 50 state capitols. With the enormity of the nearby Cathedral of St. Paul, it's the first time I've seen a state capitol building upstaged.


Waiting in the first floor lobby area of the 19-story Ecolab Center in downtown St. Paul I watch a maintenance man spray and wipe the entrance glass doors. Walking over I ask to see the can of window cleaner he's using. Sure enough, it's Ecolab's own brand. Ecolab (1993 revenues $1 billion) develops and markets products and services for cleaning, sanitizing and maintenance needs.

Built in 1968, the 237,000 square foot building is nothing fancy until stepping off the elevator on the 19th floor. The thick carpet, high ceilings and 1970's decor gives the place a grandiose look similar to something one might see on the old Dynasty television show. Why is that? William Rosengren, Senior Vice President, and Lois West, Director-Public Affairs, tell me years ago, a former CEO and his wife lived on the top floor.

CEO Pierson Grieve's corner office contains various pictures of him with astronaut John Glenn and Presidents Reagan and Clinton. There's also a limited edition bronze of "The Cheyenne" by Frederic Remington, a stuffed geese hanging down from the ceiling on a string (which he shot), a working miniature copper waterfall and, a picture of basketball players Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Dr. J. (Julius Erving) posing together.

On the executive floor (19th) I saw this profound anonymous quote "If you don't make dust, you eat dust". When using the restroom on the first floor I come across another profound anonymous quote, only this one is scrawled on a bathroom door. It reads "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down".

The Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company

To their dismay, Mark Berryman Hier, Director-Public Relations, and Marian McLain-Johnson, Media Relations Specialist, can't seem to find anything unusual about their company's headquarters. It's partly my fault because I've been regaling them with quirks found at other insurance company's headquarters: USAA in San Antonio has the world's longest office building (1/2 mile long), Kemper and Nationwide Mutual have chapels in their corporate headquarters (employees have been married in them), American National in Galveston, Tx has the life insurance policy of Bonnie & Clyde on display in their lobby, just to name a few.

With $112 billion of life insurance in force, The Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company is the tenth largest mutual life insurance company in America. Revenues in 1993 were $1.8 billion. Minnesota Mutual dominates the mortgage life market, providing 62% of the country's total mortgage life protection.

The company is low-key and not flashy. Ditto for the 21-story, 400,000 square foot, company-owned headquarters. Built in 1982, the concrete structure anchors one end of downtown St. Paul. I do find something worth mentioning: atop the building is a carillon.

Cray Research

Receptionist Mary Lou Knudsen has clout at Cray Research, the world's largest supplier of supercomputer systems. How else can you explain the dozens and dozens of owls lying around the reception desk and surrounding tables? Knudsen has hundreds and hundreds of owls in all shapes and sizes. Crystal, porcelain, wood, even a neon light owl. Many of the owls she posses are the result of regular visitors to the company presenting her with owls picked up on their various business travels.

Built in 1990 and located a dozen miles south of St. Paul, the good-looking, four connecting building complex (479,000 square feet) sits on a company-owned, 156-acre site. The majority of the property has been left in its natural prairie land state.

A small man-made lake greets visitors entering the property and as nice guy Frank Parisi, Vice President-Corporate Communications, explains, the lake is also the site of a company picnic called "Duckie day". How did this annual affair come about? Seems an anonymous employee was in the habit of placing a rubber duckie in the lake. This meant everyday the maintenance man would have to fish it out. Finally, the maintenance man grew tired of this daily ritual and a memo was sent to employees in effect saying no more rubber duckies are to be place in the lake. Well, imagine the look on the maintenance man's face when he shows up for work the next day and finds hundreds of rubber duckies floating about in the lake.

What time do the 900 employees come to work? Whenever they want. What time do they leave? Whenever they want. There's no formal starting or stopping time at Cray Research (1993 revenues $895 million, net income $61 million). A jogging/walking trail meanders through the grounds as well as two sand volleyball courts, a softball field and a fitness center.

CEO John Carlson has no computer in his office. I'm not surprised. Visiting over 30 computer-related companies in the Silicon valley area, the majority of CEO's were computerless. His spartan office contains a baseball signed by the staff and a framed copy of a funny cartoon. The cartoon shows a successful-looking executive sitting behind his big desk gleefully barking the following to his secretary via the intercom: "Send the press release of my having been named CEO to Miss Fletcher, my fourth grade teacher, who once said I'd never amount to anything"."

Mall of America

Woodfield Mall in suburban Chicago once held the title of the nation's largest enclosed shopping center. Now, Mall of America with 2.4 million square of retail space (425 stores) is top dog. Add the seven acres of Knott's Camp Snoopy, the largest indoor themed entertainment park in America, and you have 4.2 million square feet under cover.

It's big, but it's really not that overwhelming. The complex is shaped like a square with three levels. My favorite facts about the place? Over 700 people belong to the mall's walking club, you know, ones who walk malls for exercise. There are over 13,000 free parking spots AND, they give guided tours of this place! Who the heck is that out of it that they can't see a mall on their own? In 1993, over 12,000 tour buses and 378 Japanese groups visited Mall of America.

West Publishing

Privately-held West Publishing, the largest publisher of legal materials in the country, is shy. My previous visit ended very quickly after being coldly told "we're not interested in talking to you". But, as we all know time changes things. Corporate headquarters are no longer in downtown St. Paul in a building overlooking the Mississippi River but, on a company-owned 264-acre spread in suburban Eagan, 12 miles from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Evidently the new surroundings has made the company more hospitable to visitors on bicycles because I have a great time meeting with Dorothy Molstad, Manager-Media Relations and her assistant, Wendy Nelson.

The place is massive. Built in 1990, the tallest building on site is a six-story, 796,000 square foot structure housing corporate offices. Behind it lurks the huge one-story, 866,000 square foot facility housing warehouse/shipping/press and bindery operations. Nearby is the 117,000 square foot computer center and 102,000 square foot purchasing/personnel building.

Revenues have been estimated to being anywhere from $500 million to $800 million (they wouldn't confirm). The company prints nearly 60 million books and pamphlets a year. What kind of books? Well, ever been in a lawyer's office or better yet, watch the television show L.A. Law? Ever notice all those expensive-looking encyclopedia-like books lining the shelves? That's West Publishing. United States Code Annotated, Federal Reporter, U.S. Code, and Corpus Juris Secundum are just a few of the publications. In 1975, West Publishing introduced WESTLAW, the largest computer-assisted legal research service in the country. The company's College Textbook Division publishes over 1,000 college, high school, and elementary school titles.

Over 4,900 employees work in the various buildings. Many employees tend to stay with West Publishing their whole careers partly, because of the company's paternal attitude. For instance, how many other companies do you know serves free milk and gives out two pieces of free fruit to employees every Tuesday and Thursday? We're talking 44,000 pieces of fruit and 2300 gallons of milk a month in the three cafeterias.

The place is loaded with trivia. On display in a glass case is a copy of the book "The Firm" and it's signed by author John Grisham. Next to it is "The Pelican Brief" signed by Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. West Publishing's complex is so big, it has its own zip code and, it's the largest printing facility west of the Mississippi River. Next to preacher Billy Graham, who's headquartered in Minneapolis, West Publishing is the second largest mailer in the state. That definitely had something to do with UPS building one of their largest distribution centers right across the street from West Publishing.

The company has an extensive contemporary American art collection on display. The common thread? Each piece has something to do with law. Examples: Waterfalls No. 16 by Joseph DiGiorgio, reminds us of the need for laws to protect our natural resources. Summer of '88 by Chuck Forsman, raises issues regarding global warming.

Lining the two mile walking trail around the grounds are 20 nest boxes for bluebirds. Bluebirds, who used to cover the eastern half of the United States, have seen their numbers drastically reduced. Working with the National Audubon Society, West Publishing employees volunteer their time to watch over the boxes-keeping away predators, parasites and other problems.

Riding off the property I'm VERY careful not to have an accident. Why? Well, with over 700 lawyers working in the headquarters building could you imagine the ensuing rush out the doors to hand me their business cards?