On the road in Boston

Thomas Cook Travel

Showing up at the headquarters of privately-held Thomas Cook Travel at 10:30 AM I'm told if I return at noon, President, CEO & Chairman David Paresky will spend a few minutes with me before hosting a business lunch in his office at 12:30. Meeting with the head honcho of a $2 billion in revenues company is a definite lure so I readily agree to return at noon.

I pass the time riding around the surrounding area which is primarily office parks and residential homes. Three miles away is the campus of Harvard University, fives miles in the same direction is downtown Cambridge and another mile after that will put you in downtown Boston.

It's 12 noon and Paresky's secretary informs me Paresky just called from his car phone and is running late from a morning business meeting. "No problem", I tell her. It's now 12:25 and several of the businessmen Paresky is due to have lunch with in his office have arrived and have gone up to 5th floor reception area to wait for Paresky. Me, I'm still waiting in the first floor lobby of the 5-story building. I've resigned myself to the fact Paresky's going to come flying into the lobby, shake my hand, apologize for being late and, try to get rid of me as quickly as possible.

It's 12:35 when Paresky walks through the front door, plops down his brief case, pulls up a chair next to me and sits patiently for 10 minutes while I ask questions. I hurriedly go through my paces, letting him know I'm aware of his luncheon meeting.

Why is the company located here? Roots. Paresky's first travel agency was founded (and is still located) across the street from the Harvard University campus (Paresky's alma mater) in 1965.

About 650 employees work in the 136,000 square foot building. If Paresky changed the company's parking policy it might have saved him a few minutes of time today. It's open parking, which means Paresky had to park way out in left field because he was one of the last ones in.

"I thought Thomas Cook Travel was owned by a company in England?" I ask. "We have the rights to the name in North America". he answers. Paresky says revenues in 1993 were over $2 billion, with $1.6 billion of that in airline tickets.

"Can I see the boardroom and your office?", I ask. "Sure, let's go", he says. Heading up the elevator I notice we get off on the third floor instead of the fifth floor, which is the top floor. "Why is your office on the third instead of the fifth?", I ask. " "I don't see any reason why I need to be on the top", he answers.

The contents of Paresky's large corner office is definitely out of the ordinary. First, there's the antique Edison photograph player from the early 1900's. Before I can ask; does it work?, he's slipping a record on the turntable and music comes spewing out of the box.

Guarding one corner of Paresky's wood floor office is a miniature bronze cannon. However, the biggest and most unusual item is the 10 feet wide, six feet tall, wood dashboard of an antique sailing ship. I've seen several CEO's with ship’s steering wheels but this is the first time I've encountered the entire dashboard to go along with it.

Before leaving, nice guy Paresky walks me through another floor to point out something: employee cubicles face the windows while offices are in the interior.

TAD Resources International, Inc.

I'm on Massachusetts Avenue, a main shopping drag near downtown Cambridge but, this area isn't where yuppie retailers like The Gap, Ann Taylor and The Nature Company hold court. The high-end store on this low-rent block is a run-down Woolworth's and it's atop the storefront of this five and dime store that I find the offices of privately-held TAD Resources International, a temporary help services company which specializes in engineering and technical support staff.

My bike and I are buzzed in off the street only to encounter a dumpy hallway, a stairway and an elevator, which along with everything else could definitely use a paint job.

Hoofing it up to the second floor I find the receptionist, who controls the comings and goings out the front door via a security camera monitor. It's then on up to the third floor where I meet with William Katter, Vice President & General Counsel.

Nothing fancy about the decor in this place, with the office furnishings looking second-hand. Why is this company with over $600 million in revenues located in such low-rent surroundings? Two big reasons according to Katter: CEO David McGrath, Jr., a former student at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded the company here back in 1956-so the location has sentimental value plus, since the company owns most of the block-rent is cheap.

Over 165 employees work here. Who occupied the space before TAD moved in 1961? It was previously a regional office for Woolworth's.

The company doesn't have a boardroom, CEO David McGrath has a middle office overlooking the bustling street below and, TAD stands for "The Associated Designers". TAD Resources has 220 offices worldwide with over 75,000 temporary and contract employees.

Harvard University

If you were President of the oldest, wealthiest and arguably most prestigious institution of higher learning in the United States and ruled a domain which encompassed 400 buildings on 380 acres of prime land in the Boston-Cambridge area-which building would you hang your hat? You most certainly think it wouldn't be a dormitory but, that's the case here at Harvard University.

President Neil Rudenstine oversees a faculty of 2,200, a staff of 12,000, a university with the richest endowment in the country (valued at $5.78 billion) and had operating income of $1.3 billion in 1993. Yet, the man occupies a first floor corner office in a 4-story brick building with the upper two floors serving as living space for freshman.

Then again, the building isn't your average building. Built in 1720, Massachusetts Hall is the oldest building still standing at Harvard. Matter of fact, the building was occupied by Continental Army soldiers during 1775-1776 and, has always had student rooms.

Though my advance material was received, Jim Wigdahl, Staff Assistant tells me, nobody is available to meet with me. My request to take a peek at President Rudenstine's office is vetoed so I can't verify his having a working fireplace.

I find out the president has a problem with unwitting students tapping on his windows to be let in--thinking his office is part of the dorm. Oh well, if it gets too bad he could always escape to one of Harvard's major off-campus facilities which includes the 3,000 acre Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass, the 265-acre Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Mass, the 113-acre Case Estates in Weston, Mass, Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC or, the Villa I Tatti in Florence Italy.

The New England

About a half mile from downtown is an area known as the Back Bay. Many, many moons ago the bay was filled in and has since become home to many of Boston's finest hotels, shops and restaurants. Insurance companies have also made the area their home. Standing outside The New England's 10-story, fortress-like headquarters I can look across the street and see Liberty Mutual's headquarters as well as John Hancock's 60-story landmark building several blocks away.

The cavernous entryway/reception area is impressive, not just for it's size but for the grandeur the eight giant murals on the walls bring to the room. The murals, by Charles Hoffbauer, depict scenes from the American history-primarily the Revolutionary War period. One shows Paul Revere sounding the alarm across the countryside in 1775, another shows George Washington taking command at Cambridge in 1775 and yet another shows the Declaration of Independence being hailed in Boston in 1776.

Meeting with Peter Harrington, Vice President-Public Relations, I find out The New England's roots go way back to 1835 when Judge Willard Phillips acquired a charter for the country's first mutual life insurance company. In 1993, NEL's revenues totaled $2.8 billion, net income $89 million, with over $65 billion in assets under management.

Sidebar: Of the US life insurance companies operating today, the earliest to be formed was the Presbyterian Ministers Fund in Philadelphia in 1759. Since its purpose was top provide annuities for men of the cloth and not the general public, it has never grown rapidly. Though The New England acquired its charter in 1835, it didn't begin operations until 1844. Mutual of New York (MONY), chartered in 1842, began operations in 1843 and is often considered the second oldest life company in the US.

Built in 1941 and occupying a city block, NEL's building is home to over 2,000 employees. Atop the structure is a gold-colored cupola.

Checking out CEO Robert Shafto's corner office on the ninth floor I wonder out loud why he isn't on the tenth (top floor). "Tradition", is the reply. I count two real plants, a computer, a large globe and a strange looking device on a shelve called an arithmeter. Developed by Elizur Wright in the 1850's, the arithmeter is a cylinder-shaped, logarithmic device used to show reserve valuation tables.

Pretty traditional boardroom, with an oil painting of founder Judge Phillips hanging over the fireplace.

Liberty Mutual Insurance

Visiting Liberty Mutual three years ago I was given an enthusiastic welcome, an extensive tour of the 10-story complex, interviewed for the company's in-house employee publication and left the place with a big smile on my face thanks mostly to Edward Frackiewicz, Jr., Manager-Consumer Affairs.

The "glad you stopped by" attitude is definitely not the order of the day this time because David Hoffman, Assistant Vice President & Director of Corporate Public Affairs, has the personality of a tomato and makes me feel like I'm wasting his time. My visit is over in five minutes with most of the questions asked being answered "I don't know"-with no attempt made to obtain the answers.

The 425,000 square foot headquarters building is similar to The New England's across the street in that it's 10-stories tall, takes up a city block and has a fortress look to it. Insurance companies like to build these massive hulking structures because I guess it makes them look solid and stable. The company-owned structure was built in two parts, the first in 1937 and then added on to in 1956. Over 1,300 employees work in the place.

Lucky for me I run into John Cusolito, Jr., Advertising and Public Relations Manager, as I'm exiting the building. He asks me if I'd be interested in walking a few blocks to check out the Liberty Mutual Medical Service Center. "What, you guys have your own medical center?", I reply. "The only insurance company to have one", he answers. So, it's down the street we go.

Liberty Mutual, with revenues of $5.6 billion, net income $321 million and assets of over $20 billion, is the largest provider of workers compensation insurance and related services in the country. Liberty Mutual's medical center specializes in and is dedicated to the treatment of occupational injuries; having treated or admitted more than 250,000 patients. We aren't talking about some small clinic here either, there are over 150 rehabilitation nurses on staff, a nationally recognized prosthetics department which designs, fabricates and fits artificial limbs for amputee patients from all over the country and, a very impressive occupational therapy center. The occupational therapy center enables patients to return to work by simulating their trade. Examples: there's an actual tractor-trailer cab equipped with a video screen to provide a job-simulated setting for truck drivers, an indoor loading platform enabling patients to perform warehousing work, a brick layers' frame to allow masonry workers to simulate their craft and, a multi-work station-outfitted for repetitive tasks typical of many trades such as carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.

John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company

Insurance companies are, without a doubt, my favorite companies to visit. Why? They're well organized, usually own their own headquarters complex and, are fertile grounds for amassing corporate minutiae. By "well organized" I mean they've received my advance material, have designated someone to meet with me and have made security and reception area personnel aware of my pending arrival.

It figures, I no sooner get done telling you the virtues of visiting insurance companies when I run into one which runs counter to what I've been telling you.

Headquarters for John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance is called John Hancock Place and it's comprised of three company-owned buildings: the landmark 60-story, reflective blue-glassed John Hancock Tower (built in 1976 and having 1.6 million square feet of rentable space), the 26-story Berkeley Building (built in 1949 with 651,000 square feet of rentable space) and the 10-story Clarendon Building (built in 1927 with 368,648 square feet of rentable space).

The lobby area of John Hancock Tower, manned by four security guards, becomes my hangout. Why? Seems CEO Stephen Brown's secretaries don't recall receiving my advance material and are little help in offering to find someone to meet with me. I spend what seems like hours over the next three days talking to at least six different people, being transferred, put on hold, told to call back later in the day, told to call back later in the week and, asked to resubmit my advance material. I hate it when companies give me the excuse that they never received my advance material. If my letter was never received then how come it was never returned to sender by the post office? or how do you explain other companies in town receiving the material? Many times after leaving a city, I'll check back with companies to see if they were ever able to track down my letter. Sure enough, 9 times out of 10, it seems the letter was received but was "misdirected".

Why am I being so persistent here? With assets over $46 billion, 1993 revenues of $12.7 billion, net income $198 million-- John Hancock is a "biggie" plus, the 60-story Hancock Tower is the tallest building in New England. It's also the building that had problems with its glass windows falling out and crashing below on unsuspecting passer-bys.

This is one of those visits where the challenge of getting someone to meet with me turns out to be more interesting than the visit itself. My pow-wow with Becky Weisel, Assistant Coordinator-Public Relations, takes all of five minutes. Can I see the CEO's office on the 59th floor? No, but I'm told there's an observatory open to the general public on the 60th floor. Boy, lack of friendliness here makes me want to type an anonymous letter to the CEO telling him so. Oh what the heck, I'm not afraid to sign my John Hancock to the bottom of the letter.

More on the road in Boston

Bank of Boston

In many cities, locals have unceremoniously and unofficially renamed office buildings. Most of these name changes usually reflect the true shape of a structure. In New York City there's a building known as the "lipstick" building because its shape looks like a lipstick dispenser, an insurance company's building in Hartford, CT is called the "boat" building because it's shaped like a boat's hull, in Minneapolis the 51-story IDS Tower is still affectionately called the "finger" building because when it was built its size dwarfed all the neighboring structures-similar to how one's middle finger towers above the other four.

Stopping several locals for directions to the Bank of Boston's headquarters I'm informed it's called the "pregnant" building. One only has to see it to understand. Rising 41-stories, the rosewood marble-clad structure doesn't really stand out amongst the rest of the high-rise brethren in Boston's compact financial district. That is, until you look about halfway up the sides of the structure. It looks like construction workers got confused and started building out instead of up-caught their mistake-then continued upwards.

The first floor lobby is being renovated but Karen Schwartzman, Director-Media Relations, says when the work is done-the four, 12x15 foot murals by N.C. Wyeth will be hung back up on the walls. Commissioned by the Bank of Boston in 1924, the murals depict commerce at sea.

Built in 1971, the over $41 billion in assets bank occupies more than half the space in the 1.3 million square foot edifice.

CEO Ira Stepanian's corner office on the 25th floor isn't very big and has a view of the state capitol building several blocks away. I count four real plants, note the computer and, the four antique piggy banks displayed on a shelf.

United Asset Management Corporation

The 44th floor of the 46-story One International Place is home to United Asset Management Corporation, which provides investment management services through 39 operating firms managing over $102 billion (primarily pension funds for institutional clients). There's a One International Place and a Two International Place, combined the two good-looking buildings, built in 1989, form the largest office complex in town.

My meeting with Richard Robie III, Vice President, goes smoothly as he patiently answers all my questions and then walks me around the offices. Nothing fancy about the place-even CEO Norton Reamer's small, middle office with navigational charts on the wall isn't anything to write home about. It's the tour of the company's new unfinished boardroom that has me whispering and looking over my shoulder. Huh? Seems business is so good the company needed more space so it took over the recently vacated space of its next door neighbor. So what's the problem? Seems this next door neighbor was none other than the CIA.

What was the CIA doing renting digs deep in the heart of Boston's financial district? Robie doesn't know but says they had to first take out a large walk-in safe before work could begin converting the space into a boardroom.

United Asset Management was started in 1980 and went public in 1986. Revenues in 1993 were $450 million, net income $53 million. Thirty-eight employees work on the floor along with who knows how many forgotten CIA bugging devices.

Eaton Vance Corporation

Eaton Vance (1993 revenues $189 million, net income $27 million), investment managers-which manages over $15 billion in assets, owns a 13-story building in the financial district. Actually they call it a 12-story structure with a penthouse to avert the bad karma associated to the number 13. What's on the 13th-oops I mean penthouse floor? The company cafeteria for the 300 employees.

So on what floor does one find CEO Dozier Gardner? Nowhere. Actually, he's across the street on the 18th floor of a 38-story high-rise. So, over and up I go. It's my lucky day: I catch Gardner with a few minutes to spare between meetings so he ends up being the one answering my questions.

Nothing fancy about his small, corner office with a view of the harbor. I kid him about having a fake plant.

Fidelity Investments

Three years ago I visited Fidelity Investments and was given the runaround so many times I gave up-which runs counter to my persistent nature. I'm back for another try at the country's largest mutual fund company and second largest discount brokerage firm. As of April 29, 1994, Fidelity had $253.8 billion in mutual fund assets under management, $68.2 billion in customer assets in brokerage accounts and $40.4 billion in other managed assets for a grand total of $362.4 billion in customer assets.

Walking into the small lobby of 82 Devonshire Street, a nine-story, 250,000 square foot structure built sometime in the early 1900's, I spot a security guard leaning against his stand-up desk. "I'm looking for Edward Johnson's secretary", I announce. The guard directs me up to the fifth floor where I encounter an unfriendly receptionist who says, "who let you up here?"--delivered in such a tone as to make one feel he were an unwelcome, unsavory transient off the street. After explaining my reason for being here (as well as my reason for existing), the huffing and puffing receptionist makes a few calls to see where or who ended up with my introduction material sent to CEO Edward Johnson 3rd.

Turns out I'm to see Constance Hubbell, public relations, who's located in another building several blocks away. "Aw, jeez", I say to myself, I hate going to another building to ask questions about the headquarters building because past experiences means I won't be brought back to where the big cheeses roost. Before departing the fifth floor I glance around the lobby area and note Worth magazine being the only reading material found on the coffee table (Worth, a monthly magazine, is published by Fidelity).

It takes three days but I'm finally able to set up a time to meet with Hubbell. I don't know why I bothered. Her lackluster greeting let's me know I'm taking up her valuable time and my eight minute visit in her office is constantly interrupted by phone calls, as well as people walking in and out asking her questions-with no apologies extended for the intrusions because I'm made to feel I AM the intrusion. My request to see the headquarters building down the street is quickly dismissed as not being possible. I'm given a recent newspaper article detailing office space the company occupies in Boston, then, basically shooed out the door.

Over 6,500 employees work in about a dozen locations around the downtown Boston area. Fidelity leases the majority of the 1.7 million square feet of space it occupies, including its headquarters building-which it used to own.

Continental Cablevision

Headquarters for privately-held Continental Cablevision, with over $1.1 billion in revenues, is on Lewis Wharf in a 7-story waterfront building called The Pilot House. Estimated to be 194-years old the structure was believe it or not, at one time the tallest structure in the country!

The reception area is on the third floor and I find out from CEO Amos Hostetter Jr.'s secretary they received my introduction material but, the fact Hostetter hasn't done anything with it and he isn't in means no one can meet with me. Several return visits over the next few days prove futile. Boy am I disappointed because they've done a heck of a job preserving the insides and outsides of the place. Exposed brick, exposed ceiling beams and nautical furnishings in the lobby area makes one feel as though he's gone back in time a 150 years.

In the 1800's, ship's pilots would use the red brick building for cleaning up, changing clothes and waiting to catch their ships going out to sea. How do I find out this information if no one in this splendidly preserved, company-owned building will talk to me? By going up and down the elevator about a dozen times. What? Hanging in the elevator is a framed 8x11 plaque detailing the building's origins. I ask the security guard in the lobby if it's possible to have a copy made. "Nope", he says, "you're going have to do what I told another writer to do-ride up and down the elevator copying the information".

Though Continental Cablevision occupies most of the building I find out from the security guard that an attorney occupies the small top floor which looks more like a lookout post. I'm told the lawyer's most famous client is the music group, New Kids On The Block. Boy, with all the money the hot group is pulling in, I guess you could say his ship came in.

State Street Boston Corporation

Things are looking pretty interesting as I step off the elevator on the 4th floor of the 33-story building housing the corporate offices of State Street Boston Corporation. This is the executive floor and lining the hallway walls are antique fire buckets and antique mastheads from sailing ships-two collectable items I've never come across before. There's no chance to do any admiring because I'm confronted by not one, not two but, three security guards.

Calls are made and no one is familiar with my project so, I leave material behind. Three more visits over the next three days finally lands me in the office of George Bowman, Jr., Vice President-Community Affairs.

State Street, with 1993 revenues of $1.2 billion, net income $180 million and assets of $18 billion, is the third largest US manager of tax-exempt assets and the largest manager of international index assets. Assets under management total $142 billion.

My visit to the 202-year old company is a dud thanks to the unhelpful Bowman just going through the motions. It would be nice to get another look at the mastheads and fire buckets but Bowman isn't interested in making this visitor happy. What's the use of having a collection of anything if you can't show it off? Though the company's name is on the building, State Street leases space and occupies the first 12 floors.

Polaroid Corporation

The Charles River separates the cities of Boston and Cambridge. About the same distance separates the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from Polaroid Corporation's headquarters in Cambridge.

Polaroid (1993 revenue $2.2 billion, net loss $51 million) occupies a sandy-colored, four-story building in a complex known as Technology Square. Six years ago I endured a "get lost" encounter and three years ago it was the same. The third time's a charm or at least that's how the saying goes.

A display of pictures taken with Polaroid film line the walls in the first floor lobby area. The security guard/receptionist, who by the way is a real nice guy, connects me to several people in the PR department. I again get the brush-off.

What is it with this consumer-oriented company? I remember the first visit six years ago leaving such a bad taste in my mouth I immediately stopped lugging Polaroid's One Step camera around, which was in addition to the big bulky Nikon FE2 35. Space in my saddlebags being a premium, I downsized to a compact Olympus AZ-200 with a built-in zoom lens and its been my camera of choice for the last three years.

Boston notes

On my short list of favorite "big" cities, Boston easily makes it. Maybe it's all the colleges (MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, Boston College, Boston University), or the good-looking women, or the incredible Italian pastry shops in the North End. Maybe it's the waterfront location or the city's historical heritage or, the certain smugness/arrogance of its people.

Others on my list of favorite "big" cities includes Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Indianapolis and Austin.

I stopped by hotel operator Sheraton Corporation (owned by ITT) on four separate occasions and was unable to meet with someone at their offices in a downtown high-rise. Boston is home to three of the best hotel properties I've stayed in, which are run by three of the best chains in the business: Hyatt Harborside Hotel, The Westin Copley Plaza and Marriott Copley Place.