On the road in Houston
Riding into town from the airport, I pass a Maxwell House coffee plant and the aroma could be smelled a mile away. The strong smell ranks right up there with the aroma of chocolate inhaled cycling by the headquarters and adjacent manufacturing plant of See's Candy in South San Francisco, California.
Spend a couple nights at the Westin Galleria, a clone of the one in Dallas; both are attached to upscale enclosed shopping malls.
Coastal Corporation, a diversified energy company, leases seventeen floors (350,000-square feet) in a 30-story glass building about three miles from downtown Houston. I meet with Robert Wells, Director, Corporate Communications. Over 1000 employees work in the building, which has been headquarters since 1978. There's a cafeteria but, no executive dining rooms. Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are served in the cafeteria. Vice Presidents, on up get reserved parking spots. Company has five corporate aircraft plus some charters. Iím able to see the CEO's office and the boardroom. CEO Oscar Wyatt, Jr., has his office on the seventh floor. Why not the 30th? Wells says Wyatt hates waiting for elevators and originally wanted his office on the first floor but, his security people made him settle for the seventh. No corporate art collection. It's 30 miles to Houston's Intercontinental Airport. Wells scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Entering the lobby of Panhandle Eastern, a natural gas company, I get the third degree from the security guard wanting to know what I was doing outside snapping pictures of the building. Headquarters, a company-owned, 200,000-square, six-story structure built in 1959, sits on a four-acre site about six miles from downtown Houston. I meet with Mack Price, Manager, Corporate Communications. I just about gag in Priceís office due to the heavy cigarette stench from his chain smoking. When asked if the company has a smoking policy, Price says smoking is optional. Several senior executives chew tobacco and it stems from their earlier days working the oil fields and not being allowed to smoke near the oil rigs. There is no executive dining rooms and the 450 employees eat in a cafeteria. Senior management gets reserved parking. There are seven corporate aircraft and Iím not able to see the boardroom or CEO's office. Price's business card is unusual in that itís large (3 x 5). Itís large to enable people to write or make notes on it. Price scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale. I would give him 10 points except for his rudeness in making me endure his smoking.
Sysco, the largest wholesale distributor of food and related products to the food service industry in the country, leases space in a 17-story glass office building about five miles from downtown Houston. Kathleen Donovan, Director, Marketing Services warmly greet me. Sysco had been in the building since 1981 but, will be moving next year to a new building being built for them. There is no corporate art collection, no cafeteria, no corporate aircraft. Over 250 employees work in the building. CEO Woodhouse likes to backpack and his office walls are adorned with several pictures of his trips. The main reception floor is located on the lucky 13th floor. Iím given an 80% polyester, 20% cotton Sysco shirt. Donovan scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
American General Corporation
American General Corporation, an insurance holding company, is headquartered in a 42-story building known as the "America Tower." American General Center sits on a 36-acre plot about a mile west of downtown Houston and contains five buildings, the tallest being the America Tower, completed in 1985. American General is the 15th largest insurance organization in the world. I meet with John Boswell, Vice President, Organization and Personnel, on the 40th floor. What a great view of downtown Houston! Iím not allowed to see the CEO's office or boardroom for "security reasons." Over 2300 employees work in the company-owned complex and vice presidents on up get reserved parking. There is a cafeteria but, no executive dining rooms. There is one corporate aircraft and it's 15 miles to Hobby Airport and 30 miles to Intercontinental Airport. Boswell scored 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
I go to the headquarters of Tauber Oil, a privately held company, and get told no one is in who could talk to me. Offices are in a brand-new, 12-story office building a few miles from downtown Houston. According to what a security guard tells me, Tauber is just one of several tenants in the building and leases space.
The address I have for Perpetual Corporation, a privately held company with interests in banks, newspapers, real estate, television stations, mortuaries and insurance, was on Kirby Road, a few miles from downtown Houston. Had read many stories about the reclusive owner, Joe Allbritton, and was wondering if anyone would talk to me. Well, you can imagine what an idiot I feel like when the receptionist says they had received my postcard but, the corporate offices were in Washington, D.C. and I was standing in one of their real estate offices. Here again, is another example of mistakes made by publishers of reference directories of privately held companies. Don't these publishers verify material they put in their books?
Texas Commerce Bancshares
Texas Commerce Bancshares was on my original list of companies to visit but, was merging with Chemical Bank so I crossed 'em out. Anderson Clayton was also on my original list but, had been acquired by Quaker Oats.
I pay a visit to Hughes Tool, even though the company was being taken over by Baker International Corporation. Hughes Tool leases the top floor of the 65-story Texas Commerce Tower building. I take the elevator to the 60th floor where Iím given a special pass that allows me to continue up to the 65th floor. Coming off the elevator on the 65th floor, you are then buzzed through glass doors. I meet with Donald King, Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs. The building was built in 1982 and the 55 employees have a spectacular view. IĎm not allowed to see the CEO's office but, I do see the boardroom. King scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
My visit to Entex, a natural gas company, doesn't take long. The receptionist in the lobby area makes several phone calls trying to find out where my postcard to the CEO had ended up. The receptionist ended up calling the CEO's secretary and was told to tell me, "they weren't interested in participating."
Texas Eastern, a diversified energy company, is located in a 46-story building known as "1 Houston Center." There's a "2 Houston Center" and a "3 Houston Center." I talk to Carol Buck, Community Relations Coordinator. Texas Eastern at one time owned their headquarters built in 1972 but, now it's a sale-leaseback arrangement. There's a museum on the first floor that usually has Western exhibits. An indoor shopping mall called, "The Park" is located in the complex. Over 2000 employees work in the building. Vice Presidents on up get reserved parking spaces. Buck scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Before visiting Texas Eastern, I locked my bike across the street, out front of the main entrance to the First City Tower. As I got on an elevator to take me to the lobby of the building housing Texas Eastern, I look across the street to see if my bicycle is okay. Itís GONE!!! Of course, Murphy's Law takes effect as the elevator slowly descended, stopping at EVERY floor. I run across the street and sure enough, my bike is gone! I go inside and ask the security guard in the lobby if she had seen someone take my bike. "Nope", she says. Iím really upset. The bike was weighted down with all of my clothes, notes, etc. I couldn't see how anybody could carry it away. I walk around the perimeter of the building and ask a security guard in the shipping and receiving area if he had seen my bike and he says, "Yep, it's in our storage room." It seems the security people have a control room with closed-circuit television monitors and one of the guards saw my bike parked outside the front entrance, which is a no-no. He had called another security guard who dragged my bike around back.
Tenneco is headquartered in a company-owned, 30-story building built in 1963. I go there three times before I finally connect with someone. Suzanne Thomas, Corporate Information Manager, answers questions and shows me around. Thereís no corporate art collection, no formal dining rooms and Iím not allowed to see the CEO's office or boardroom. About 4000 employees work in the building. Many of the top executives don't have reserved parking spots because they are driven to work. My request to see their fitness center is approved and after getting a tour of the facility, I can see why many of the companies already visited in Houston kept asking me if I had seen Tenneco's fitness center. The impressive fitness center is located atop a parking garage adjacent to Tenneco's headquarters and among its many amenities are an indoor jogging track, half-court basketball, Nautilus equipment, and a couple of racquetball courts. The company is very strict about letting visitors or outsiders into the cafeteria-fitness center area and initially the security people weren't going to let me in but, smooth talking by Thomas got me through. Thomas scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Cooper Industries, primarily a manufacturer of electrical and electronic products, leases floors 39, 40, 41 and 42 in the 49-story First City Tower building. Thomas Campbell, Vice President, Public Affairs, answers questions but, two of his assistants (who's names I can't recall) were the ones who give me a tour. The offices are furnished in Early American and there's quite an impressive corporate art collection. Much of the art was Early American but, there were items such as a chair which was bought from Elizabeth Taylor (which I sit in), and a bowl of which only two were made and actress Liza Minelli has the other one. I see the boardroom but, wasn't able to see the CEO's office because it was in use. There's a cafeteria and 300 employees work on the four floors. Campbell scores 8 points on my 1-10 scale but, the two super lady assistants who show me around score 10 points each.
Texas Air is located in a downtown building called, Allen Center. I had already been to see the receptionist twice and had been told both times no one was available to see me. On my third visit, I was told to see David Messing, Associate Public Relations Manager, who was located in the American General Center (the office complex housing American General Insurance, who I had already visited), a couple of miles away. I ride over to the American General complex and meet with Messing. I don't know why I bother. Messing's coldness and indifference reminds me of the fellow I talked with at NWA (Northwest Airlines) in Minneapolis. Messing originally wanted to answer the questions over the phone but, after some begging on my part, he comes down to the lobby. About the only question Messing didn't answer with , "I don't know", was when I ask him how many employees are at corporate headquarters?--10, and how long has headquarters been located in the Allen Center?--since 1980. One reason for Messing's not knowing answers to my questions might have been the fact he had never been to the corporate offices in Allen Center. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom were denied, one would have thought Messing would have taken the opportunity to see if it would be possible for me AND him to see it. Messing scores 5 points on my 1-10 scale. Allen Center also houses a Doubletree Hotel and, I of course, went inside and bought a tin of their excellent chocolate chip cookies.
First City Bancorporation
I go to First City Bancorporation of Texas, twice, and was told both times no one was available to talk to me. I had just read in the paper where they had reported hundreds of millions in losses and somehow get the feeling I was being given the runaround.
I also gave up on Houston Industries, a utility company headquartered in a plain, boring-looking building. The receptionists and secretaries were unhelpful and the fellow who's name I was given was out both times I visit.
Pennzoil leases space in a 36-story tower which, along with another black-glassed building, is known as "Pennzoil Center." The complex was built in 1975 by Gerald Hines and is one of those buildings which doesn't look as good close-up as it does far away. I talked to H.M. (Mickey) Gentry, Media Coordinator. Iím told there is "no way" I can see the CEO's office or boardroom. Over 1200 employees work in the building. Pennzoil has two corporate aircraft and their corporate art collection consists of a mineral rock collection. There is an executive dining area and there's no company flag out front. There is a company store on the first floor selling Pennzoil paraphernalia. Gentry scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
Transco Energy Corporation
Transco Energy Company is located in the 64-story Transco Tower, the tallest building outside a downtown area in the country. After visiting Transco twice, I finally make an appointment to see Gretchen Weis, Media Relations Coordinator, Corporate Communications. What a building! There's 1.6 million square feet of office space in the building of which Transco occupies 1 million square feet and 40 of the 64 floors. Transco leases space from Gerald Hines Interests, the owner and developer of the building. Gerald Hines, a big-time developer along the same lines of Trammell Crow (Dallas), has his corporate headquarters in the Transco Tower but, according to the information I have, Hines isn't big enough to be on my list of privately held companies to visit. Weiss gives me a nice tour of the monstrous building but, her chewing gum during the tour is a little annoying. The first floor lobby area houses Transco's corporate art collection, a collection of American watercolors. Transco's lobby area is on Level 2, just an escalator ride from the first level. The Transco Tower is about five miles from downtown and practically next door to the Galleria Mall and across the freeway from Sysco, a company I visited a few days earlier. When I visited Sysco, the lady told me it was about an hour's drive to Intercontinental Airport and about a 35-minute drive to Hobby Airport. When I ask Weiss how far it was to the airport, she answers, "Twelve minutes." Why the difference? The 10-story parking garage adjacent to Transco Tower has not one, but two lighted "helistops" or, as I know them, "heliports." Transco owns four airplanes and sixteen helicopters, with some of the 'copters being used to shuttle employees back and forth to the airports. I do get to see the boardroom but, not the CEO's office because a meeting was going on. There's a cafeteria and executive dining rooms, a fitness center with a fitness director and 1800 employees work in the building. Thereís an employee lounge area complete with ping pong and pool tables, a 250-seat auditorium, a piano and, 1439 parking spaces for employees, with reserved parking for officers of the company. At night a 7000-watt revolving beacon, similar to the ones that topped skyscrapers in New York and Chicago in the 1930's, lets the building be seen 30 miles away. A three-acre, landscaped park with jogging trails and a 64-foot waterfall are part of the building's grounds. A very impressive building. Weiss scored 6 points on my 1-10 scale.
While in Houston, I ride around the Astrodome, ride around the huge 175-acre Texas Medical Center and Hermann Park (large city park). Check out Rice University and found it to have one of the best off-campus shopping/eating areas I've seen on my trip. West of downtown Houston, you will find three of the most affluent suburbs in the United States: Bunker Hill Village, Hunters Creek Village and Piney Point Village. River Oaks, THE place to live in Houston, is a very low-keyed area where the homes are large and stately. Houston, one of the largest cities in the country, has no zoning. It also has a very impressive downtown skyline. If I had to choose between living in Dallas or Houston-- Dallas would be it. Business-wise, the companies in Houston treated me much better than the ones in Dallas.
Sunday morning, April 3, 1987, I fly from Houston to San Antonio-a distance of about 200 miles. I had read a lot of articles talking about "booming" San Antonio, the tenth largest city in the country with a population of about 850,000, and was anxious to see what the hype was all about. First thing I did though, was to ride downtown and check out the Alamo. What a tourist trap! It's right smack in the middle of downtown surrounded by souvenir shops, people hawking this and that and tour buses parked all over the place. What an undignified setting! Hemis Fair Plaza, site of the 1968 Hemis Fair, is a tourist trap. The whole downtown area is pretty rinky-dink.
I have three companies to visit: Tesoro Petroleum, Valero Energy and H.E. Butt Grocery. Even though it was Sunday and it was raining, I make a trial run to the headquarters of the companies I was visiting.
H.E. Butt Grocery
H.E. Butt Grocery, a privately held regional supermarket chain, is located near downtown in an enclosed complex of buildings on a site which, for almost 100 years, housed a military arsenal. A sign out front reads, "H.E.B., Serving Texans Since 1905, HEADQUARTERS OFFICES, Formerly, UNITED STATES ARSENAL, 1859-1947." Closed iron gates prevent me form riding onto the grounds. It's a beautiful headquarters complex with the buildings painted an off-white with brown trim. The tallest structure looks to be four stories and I notice several closed-circuit TV cameras atop several of the buildings. The grounds are very well maintained and, as I circled around the complex, I find the backside to front a river with bike paths and walkways on each side of the narrow waterway. A small plaque near the river walkway tells you H-E-B renovated the complex in 1984-85 to provide headquarters for the supermarket company, which was founded 1905 in Kerrville, Texas. I had envisioned their headquarters to be a dumpy, no-frills, warehouse-type building and was genuinely surprised.
Valero Energy is located about six blocks from the downtown area in two brown buildings, each about 14 stories. If I hadn't seen the name, "Valero", on the side of one of the buildings, I'd have thought it was a hospital or college dormitory. I peek in the front lobby windows and see a cafeteria on the first floor and also notice closed-circuit cameras mounted on the sides of the buildings.
Tesoro Petroleum is located about a mile from the main entrance of the airport in two identical, black-glassed buildings about 8 stories each. Atop one building is the word, "Tesoro", in big, black letters and atop the other building in similar lettering is the word, "Petroleum." A restaurant open to the public connects the two buildings. Looks to be part of a business park.
Tesoro Petroleum and Valero Energy's headquarters look to be pretty boring and, from what I had seen of San Antonio, Iím not too impressed. ItĎs Sunday evening, itĎs drizzling and, except for H.E. Butt's headquarters, I hadn't seen anything in San Antonio to make it worth staying around another day. If I did stay around another day, there was always the chance of H.E. Butt not wanting to talk to me because they are a privately held company. I end up flying home to San Diego the same day I arrive in San Antonio.