Start of my first three-year trek around the USA
On August 14, 1986, my bike and I flew from San Diego to Bellingham, Washington. Why Bellingham? EXPO 86 was happening in Vancouver, British Columbia and, with Bellingham 100 miles north of Seattle and only 60 miles south of Vancouver; it seem foolish for me to be so close to my first World's Fair and NOT go. (Actually I wanted to fly directly into Vancouver but all the flights were booked) I spent only one day at EXPO 86 due to my aversion to crowds and waiting in long lines.
On the road in Seattle, Washington
What do Burlington Northern, Boeing, Paccar, SAFECO and Nordstrom have in common? They're all headquartered in beautiful Seattle. People dress up in Seattle. I had envisioned downtown being filled with people wearing lumberjack-type clothes but the place has a cosmopolitan flavor. Matter of fact, Seattle even has a Brooks Brothers store.
When I was putting together my master list of the names and addresses of the corporations I would be visiting, quite a few of the corporations used P.O. boxes as their mailing address. Some had mailing addresses such as SAFECO: SAFECO Plaza, Seattle, Washington or Ralston Purina, Checkerboard Square, St. Louis, Missouri or, McDonald's, McDonald's Plaza, Oak Brook, Illinois. So, until I got to Seattle and either looked up their address in the phone book (if it was listed), or gave them a call for the information, I didn't know if Safeco’s headquarters were located downtown or out in a suburb.
Safeco was the first company visited. It's located about six miles north of downtown and about two blocks from the University of Washington campus. The 21-story building with the name Safeco embedded on the top of the structure definitely stands out.
I showed up on a Wednesday and was told to come back on Thursday. I came back the next day and a secretary in the public relations department took me up to her desk and answered my questions the best she could. The name Safeco is derived from Selective Auto and Fire Insurance Company. There's a great view of Mount Ranier from the upper floors and the three buildings that comprise Safeco Plaza contain over 580,000 square feet of space. The complex was built in 1973 but looks newer.
Paccar, builder of Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks, is located about 10 miles east of downtown Seattle in a suburb called Bellevue. Offices are in a plain-looking office building right next to a shopping mall and a bowling alley. When you walk into the main lobby of the building, there's a directory noting Paccar is on the seventh floor. The top floor (12th) houses a restaurant. I was told no one could, or would speak to me until next week. Explaining I was leaving town the next day proved futile. Coincidentally, I was reading one of the local newspapers that evening (the Seattle Times) and read an article about Paccar. The article talked about Paccar's low profile and how the company has not made any effort to provide information to the investment community beyond its legal requirements as a publicly traded company. I felt better after reading the article and decided the treatment I received there was the norm.
Boeing is a company that uses a P.O. box as their mailing address. About six miles south of downtown Seattle is an airfield and across the street from this airfield is a long complex of buildings and airplane hangars. The airfield is called Boeing Field and corporate headquarters is one of the buildings amongst the long complex of Boeing buildings and hangars. There are security guards standing outside the entrance and the main reception/waiting area was pretty small. The lobby area contained a portrait of Mr. Boeing and a display case of model airplanes. Naturally, the planes in the case were models of Boeing planes. I met with Lee Lathrop, Corporate Manager-Internal Communications, and he made short work of me. Real cut and dried.
Boeing Field is where customers take delivery of their new planes. I saw lots of brand-spanking new planes parked at the airfield. How strict is security at Boeing? I noticed one of the Boeing airplane hangars had a sign atop the hangar and it said in big letters: "Boeing Military Planes." What caught my eye were the fake owls atop a couple of the letters, (evidently to keep the pigeons from nesting); I thought it would make a great picture. I got off my bike (I was on Marginal Way, a busy PUBLIC street in front of the hangar), and proceeded to take a picture. In an effort to get the whole hangar in the picture, I put one foot up on the street curb. I no sooner had my foot up on the curb, than a Boeing security car pulls up and the security man gets out and tells me I can't take pictures. I told him I was on a public street but he said my one foot is on the curb and that's private property.
The headquarters for Nordstrom is atop their flagship store in downtown Seattle. Nordstrom is a regional specialty retailer and had recently opened a store in San Diego. I liked the quality of their merchandise and had become a regular shopper at their San Diego store. The flagship store is HUGE, with 245,000 square feet of space plus approximately 23,000 square feet of corporate and administrative offices. It was explained to me there is no CEO but a "Board of Five." As I was taken around the corporate offices, I noticed everyone was wearing the "Nordstrom-look" in clothing apparel. The lobby area had historical photos of early stores.
Burlington Northern, a transportation and energy company, leases space in the 47-story First Interstate Bank building downtown. Built in 1982, it's a good-looking skyscraper. I took the elevator to the main reception area on the 45th floor. When you come off the elevator, the receptionist is sitting behind a desk on the other side of electronic glass doors. I guess I looked decent because she buzzed open the doors. I wasn't able to get anybody to talk to me. I did find out they also occupied the 46th floor. I left a copy of the questions I ask with the receptionist and asked if they could be filled out and mailed to me back in San Diego. (Note: The questionnaire was filled out and sent to me by Ronald Reimann, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, and a note was attached saying that he was sorry he missed seeing me.)
Before I left Seattle, I had to check out Clyde Hill and Medina. These two suburbs of Seattle had been listed in Rand McNally's book, "Places Rated Almanac" in a listing of the "34 Metro Areas with the Most Affluent Suburbs." Seventy-four suburbs around the country made the list (For instance; the metro area of Chicago had 8 suburbs listed, San Francisco had 6) and I intended to visit them all and see how they compared as far as types of homes, kinds of cars driven, terrain, vegetation, and commercial activity. I wasn't too impressed with Clyde Hill but had a great time riding around Medina. Clyde Hill had homes that were "too new." Medina had lush estates overlooking Lake Washington. I also checked out Hunts Point, which I was told is where wealthy families, such as the Nordstroms, have family compounds.
Halfway between Seattle and Tacoma is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Halfway between the airport and Tacoma is Weyerhauser's magnificent headquarters. The 489-acre site is located just off of a busy freeway but the heavily wooded area gives you a feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere. The first words out of my mouth were "Wow, now THIS is a corporate headquarters!" The 5-story building is very long. Matter of fact, the building contains 354,000 square feet, which is equivalent to a 35-story skyscraper (space-wise). The receptionists in the lobby area were nice, the man I ended up talking to was nice, (James Bradbury, Communications Manager, Corporate Communications), and from what I saw and the people I met, the word "classy" kept coming to mind.
I received a great tour of the place. There're about 900 employees and 1,300 parking spaces so finding parking spot is not a problem. The fourth floor is the main entrance and there is an interesting self-guided tour of a forestry exhibit. Visitors coming to see the exhibit can have lunch in the company cafeteria, which is also located on the fourth floor. Food in the cafeteria was pretty good (I had liver and onions).
There is a 10-acre man-made, creek-fed lake, which is stocked with rainbow trout (no fishing is allowed), swans and Canadian honkers. I was there around lunchtime and saw some fellows playing volleyball. There's an exercise room, weight room and basketball courts. If you're a jogger, there are lots of trails on the grounds. There is a large U.S. flag flying and it sits atop a 120-foot laminated wood flagpole built in one of Weyerhauser's plants. Speaking of plants, a fact sheet given to me mentioned there were over 1000 plants in the building (40-plus species). The fact sheet also mentioned the U.S. flag flying out front measures 30 feet by 50 feet in the summer and a smaller flag is flown in the winter. Weyerhauser's headquarters was built in 1971 and has won numerous awards and recognition. It was easy to see why. As I rode off on my bicycle from Weyerhaeuser, I wondered how many, if any, of the over 600 corporate headquarters left for me to visit would top or be comparable to Weyerhauser's beautiful and impressive grounds, building and classy people.
West Coast Grocery
It was after a 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon when I left Weyerhaeuser and, I wanted to get to West Coast Grocery before 5 p.m., or I would have to hang around Tacoma until Monday. I had heard stories about Tacoma being a dump and wasn't too keen on being stuck there. West Coast Grocery was located near the waterfront, across railroad tracks, in an area that reeked of smelly wood. It was after 4 p.m. when I found West Coast Grocery's corporate offices and I quickly walked in the front door, still wearing my riding shorts and sweaty T-shirt. I got an enthusiastic welcome from the receptionist and was told they had been expecting me but, were beginning to think I wouldn't show up today as I had said I would on the postcard sent earlier to the CEO. I also got a very warm welcome from Lester Bona, Assistant to the Chairman, who was the one designated to handle my visit. The information I had on West Coast Grocery was that it was a privately-held wholesale grocer with sales of over $1 billion. Imagine my disappointment when Bona informed me West Coast Grocery had been sold and was now a subsidiary of Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Super Value Stores. I hid my disappointment and followed Bona on a tour of the offices. Very simple and plain. The boardroom definitely stood out because it was a small room with a huge circular table.
I ended up spending the weekend in Tacoma. The Sheraton Hotel in downtown is new and has excellent rooms. The Washington State Historical Museum near downtown is one of the best I've seen. Did you know the Tacoma Dome about a mile from downtown is the largest wood-dome arena in the world? I don't know if it's from smelters or wood mills but Tacoma needs to do something about the awful stench in the air.
On the road in Portland, Oregon
I was in Portland, Oregon for four days and every day the temperature was over the ninety-degree mark. It had been hot and dry during my stay in Seattle. Maybe those stories I read about the Northwest having rain every other day was just that: made-up stories. It reminds me of San Diego and all those earthquake stories; kind of helps keep all the East Coast people from moving out.
Fred Meyer, Inc.
Corporate headquarters for Fred Meyer, Inc., a retail general merchandise/grocery chain, is a three-story warehouse-looking building in southeast Portland. Nothing fancy at all. Fred Meyer is a privately held company and according to my research, has over $1 billion in sales. The business card handed to me by Jim Williams, Assistant Vice-President, said it all: "Fred Meyer-One Stop Shopping Centers." They lease the building.
PacifiCorp leases space in a downtown building. I ended up talking to Glenn Gillespie, Media Relations Supervisor, Pacific Power. PacifiCorp is the holding company and Pacific Power (electric utility) is a subsidiary. Gillespie was the first person to show interest in my bicycle trek. Up until now, no one at the companies I had visited showed any curiosity as to what I was doing and why. Not much to say about their headquarters. Gillespie noted I would probably say that about a lot of the gas & utility companies because they are a closely regulated industry and fancy headquarters would raise eyebrows.
Louisiana-Pacific leases space in one of Portland's tallest buildings. You take an elevator to the 41st floor and then transfer to elevators that take you to the offices on the 42nd and 43rd floors. Nice view of Portland from up there. The boardroom, as to be expected from a lumber company, had a good-looking boardroom table.
United Grain Corporation
United Grain Corporation is a very secretive privately held company with offices in a downtown Portland building. I went there several times and was told no one was available to talk to me. The receptionist area reminds me of a dentist office. I went back a third time and the receptionist brought out a lady who reiterated there was no one who could talk to me. I told the lady I felt like I was getting a run-around and wished she would be up front and tell me if I was ever going to get someone to talk to me. She looked at me and said, "no one wants to talk to you" and with that answer, I turned and walked out. What do they do at United Grain Corporation? I assume it's the buying and selling of grain. Of all the research directories I had used in gathering information on private companies, only one had listed United Grain Corporation and they, (the "Trinet Directory of Leading U.S. Companies" by Control Data Corporation) showed them having revenues of almost a billion dollars. Why don't they spend a little on public relations?
Beaverton, Oregon is home base for Tektronix ($1,389,000,000), the world's leading manufacturer of oscilloscopes. Go about 10 miles west of Portland and you find Beaverton (population 31,000). A company-owned 365-acre industrial park with buildings arranged in a campus-like setting is corporate headquarters. I was directed to a building a few blocks away in which Tektronix leased additional office space. Jan Ohman, Corporate Public Relations Manager, was the person I spoke with. I wasn't given a tour but I did ride my bike in and around the industrial park. Mixture of new and old buildings.
Portland was an eye-opening city. I had envisioned it to be a sleepy river town and found a thriving area with all the makings of a major city.
The trip through Seattle and Portland had been a "test run" so to speak, a chance to somewhat get an idea of what was in store for me. I flew home to San Diego from Portland and 10 days later I was on a plane to Minneapolis, Minnesota.