Upstate New York

My girlfriend, Petra Muehlmann, and I fly Northwest Airlines from San Diego to Detroit, change planes and fly onto Toronto, Canada. Riddle me this one: How did my bike manage to make it to Toronto and hers didn't? We spent about four hours in Toronto's airport waiting for the airlines to track it down. Two days later the bike gets delivered to our hotel room. Nobody at the airlines ever does explain what happened but, I have a good idea: I read several newspaper articles about Northwest having wage problems with their baggage handlers and mention was made of handlers intentionally misrouting baggage in Northwest's Detroit hub.

If I'm visiting the largest corporations in the United States, what the heck am I doing in Toronto? Several reasons: (1) I want to see what the largest city in Canada looks like, and (2) Toronto is only about 100 miles north of Buffalo, New York, home to five companies on my list.

About 500,000 people live in the city of Toronto and more than 3 million live in the metropolitan area. Toronto is the corporate headquarters hub of Canada as New York City is to the United States. Toronto is clean and has quite an extensive underground pedestrian walkway system for getting around the downtown area in lousy weather. We wander around Toronto like a couple of lookie-loos and were unsuccessful in getting a peek inside the venerable Maple Leaf Gardens which is located near downtown and is home to the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. Have a good time going through the Chinatown area, which is suppose to be one of the largest in North America and I personally taste the pastries at four bakeries in Little Italy. We visit the Toronto Stock Exchange. Tried as we could, we couldn't find any ghettos in Toronto. Iím also intrigued by the fact all soda pop came in 8-ounce cans and wonder why in the United States everything comes in 12-ounces? Many people had told me I would find Toronto a cosmopolitan city-similar to San Francisco. No way. Toronto's a big-time city but, it isn't in the same league as San Francisco.

Niagara Falls is 75 miles southeast of Toronto and 20 miles north of Buffalo. The falls themselves were pretty spectacular but, I couldn't get over how dumpy and trashy the landscaping on the American side of the falls looked compared to the manicured, well-maintained grounds on the Canadian side. The city of Niagara Falls (population 71,000), has a pretty impressive convention center for a city that size but, other than looking at the falls, it's got zilch. Lots of chemical plants (infamous Love Canal), not too far from the falls and there was a lousy odor in the air.

Rich Products Corporation

Rich Products Corporation, a privately-held firm with sales of over $650 million, is located a few miles from downtown Buffalo in an industrial area. I had added Rich Products to my list of privately held companies to visit even though they didn't have the required $1 billion in revenues because, I used to wolf down their frozen chocolate eclairs. The company-owned, four-story, white building has its name on the front of the structure. Company flag flies outside and across the street in a small, company-owned park stands a Seward Johnson sculpture of a man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper. Peter Ciotta, Assistant, Corporate Communications/Public Relations, answers questions and shows Petra and me around. Rich Products was named not because of the richness of their desserts but, after Robert E. Rich, Sr., founder and still Chairman of the Board. Did you know Rich Products developed the world's first non-dairy replacement for cream in Rich's Frozen Whipped Topping and, Coffee Rich was the first frozen liquid non-dairy creamer?

Scattered throughout the building is an extensive modern art collection which includes a Roy Liechtenstein piece. The headquarters building was built in segments from the 1950's to the last addition in 1980. There is one corporate aircraft, no cafeteria but, there are break rooms and vending machines for the 300 employees. I don't get to see the CEO's office or boardroom on the fourth floor because meetings are going on. Across the street from headquarters is an outlet store. While Petra and I were checking out their product lines, a company official calls over and tells the cashier to give us a free sample of their ice cream. The ice cream was better than average. Besides supplying retailers and foodservice markets with frozen products such as seafood, bakery goods, desserts, toppings, vegetables and icing; Rich Products owns the Buffalo Bison, an AAA baseball team and, two radio stations in the Buffalo area. Ciotta scores 6 points on my 1-10 scale.

Two blocks down from Rich Products we passed the headquarters for Mentholatum, a privately-held company with about $100 million in revenues and makers of those well-known brands: Mentholatum Ointment, Fletcher's Castoria and Red Cross Toothache kits. Besides noticing that the street out front of Rich Product's was all torn up for construction, I couldn't help but notice Buffalo overall, has got to have the worst potholed streets in the United States.

Delaware North

About a mile from downtown, in an area which at the turn of the century housed Buffalo's wealthy, I find the headquarters for Delaware North. This privately-held diversified holding company has sales of about $1 billion dollars and has its hands in a lot of different businesses. Below are listed a few:

Foodservice Operators. Operate food concessions at airports, convention centers, zoos, parks, racecourses and arenas. Caters the food for the Ascot Racecourse in England which is owned by Her Majesty, the Queen. Provides food catering to onshore and offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nation's largest pari-mutual operator with facilities in: Greyhound Parks in Arizona and Arkansas, Jai Alai in Daytona Beach and Melbourne, Florida. Thoroughbred racing in New York and Kentucky. Harness Racing in Buffalo.

Publish in-flight magazines for some of the big airlines such as TWA, Delta and Northwest Orient. Also publish team programs, magazines for NBA teams, NHL teams and Major League baseball teams.

Own APOCA which is the largest auto parking company in the world. It parks an estimated 150 million cars in 300,000 spaces each year. Owns the Boston Gardens, home of the Boston Celtics and NHL Bruins. Operates Flea Markets in Arizona, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Owns and operates businesses involved in typesetting, foundry and die casting, metal fabrication and has a partnership in a chain of bowling alleys.

Owns a home appliance and microcomputer distributorship and a wholesale food, paper and cleaning products distributorship.

I was given a warm and enthusiastic welcome by Samuel Gifford, Vice President, Corporate Communications, even though, for some unknown reason they hadn't received my postcard. Current headquarters is an unassuming 3-story, 44,000-square foot structure with the company's name on the front of the building. I mention, current headquarters, because Gifford walked me two doors down from their present offices to an old, elegant mansion being restored and renovated to serve as new corporate headquarters. The new digs will have only 11,000-square feet but, what a place! We're talking fireplaces, original intricate wood carvings, hanging chandeliers and gold leaf in the ceilings. Getting back to the current headquarters, there's a very small lobby with closed-circuit cameras and a receptionist. Delaware North has one corporate jet and the Jacobs family founded and controls the company. I get to see the CEO's office and boardroom. Most boardrooms are very formal and have a serious look about them. Delaware North's boardroom was along those same lines except for the poster hanging from one of the walls. I've seen this poster in quite a few novelty stores: It's a picture of a butler, standing next to a Rolls Royce with the caption, "Poverty Sucks!" Gifford, a nice guy, scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.

Tops Market, Inc.

Tops Market, Inc., a privately-held regional supermarket chain with revenues of about $1 billion dollars, is headquartered about five miles from downtown Buffalo in an industrial part of town. It's a no frills-looking, two story building. Big black letters on the front of the building say, "N-F-S", which stands for "Niagara Frontier Services." An article in a local newspaper mentions the company had changed its name to Tops Market, Incorporated, from Niagara Frontier Services. The receptionist was cold and abrupt and sends me down the street to a building which houses Public Relations. Entering the building down the street, Iím told no one could help me because the public relations guy wasn't in and neither was his secretary. The indifferent receptionist scores 1 star on my 1-5 scale for receptionists.

I read an item in the local business journal which listed the corporate headquarters of Marine Midland Bank as being in Buffalo which, according to the information I had was incorrect; headquarters was in New York City. I went to the bank's main office and was told my information was correct.

Empire of America Federal Savings Bank

Empire of America Federal Savings Bank which is promoted and known to many people as the "Big E", leases the first three floors of a 24-story building in downtown Buffalo. How much closer to downtown could you be when the building is called, "One Main Place?" Given a super welcome by Kenneth Houseknecht, Corporate Communications Officer. The building was built in 1967 and is connected to an enclosed shopping mall. There's a cafeteria and executive dining rooms and a security guard is the receptionist in the main lobby area which also houses a bank branch. Iím able to see the CEO's office and boardroom. CEO Paul Willax has something unique hanging on his office wall: a framed collection of his business cards as he worked his way up the bank's corporate ladder from Manager to Assistant Vice President to Vice President on up to the top card which says, "CEO and Chairman of the Board." Houseknecht scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.

Goldome

Down the street from the "Big E" is Goldome, the largest mutual savings bank in the country. However, Joyce Buchnowski, Public Relations Coordinator, tells me that a month after my visit Goldome will go public. Corporate headquarters is a 12-story, $55 million building built in 1983 and adjoining it is a magnificent Beaux-Arts building with, you guessed it, a gold dome on the top. I see the boardroom but, the CEO's office was off limits because he was in. There's a cafeteria and several executive dining rooms. Executive Vice Presidents on up get reserved parking spots. Other tenants occupy the company-owned building. The vaulted ceilings in the Beaux-Arts building are definitely awe-inspiring. Haven't figured out why the address for Goldome is, One Fountain Plaza, when I didn't see any fountains out front. I enjoy going to the executive floor and seeing the company's elaborate antique piggy bank collection and seeing a display of old and unusual money. For instance, thereís a misprinted bill showing a dollar on one side and ten dollars on the other side. Buchnowski scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.

Buffalo, on the whole, is a pretty interesting city. I like it when cities like Buffalo have new buildings AND keep interesting old buildings. Buffalo seems to have a zillion magnificent old churches and the new Light Rail Rapid Transit System which runs through downtown, was impressive. City Hall is an impressive, imposing Art Deco building. Houseknechtof, the Corporate Communications Officer from the "Big E" takes me to lunch in an old skyscraper downtown designed by the famous architect, Louis Sullivan. I do remember riding through a predominantly black part of town and suddenly, after crossing an intersection, being in a predominantly Polish section. It reminds me of my friend in Kansas City and the invisible boundary line.

Leaving Buffalo, we head east towards Rochester riding through beautiful farm and wine-growing countryside. Did you know Rochester is the third largest city in New York with 250,000 people? Neither did I. At one time, Gannett and Xerox had their corporate headquarters in this mid-sized city.

Eastman Kodak

The corporate headquarters for Eastman Kodak is about six blocks from downtown Rochester in a complex of buildings dominated by the 19-story Kodak Tower. Over 7000 employees work in the huge, company-owned complex of buildings. Ron Roberts, Manager, Corporate News Services meet me in the lobby. Roberts answers my questions and shows absolutely no interest in my project. Reason I mention his lack of interest is because on his business card he gave me; he had crossed-out his old title "Editor-in-Chief, Kodakery, Corporate Communications", which I assume was the company newsletter, and wrote, Manager, Corporate News Service. I would have thought someone with a news-gathering background would at least ask me something like, "How's your trip going?", or "How did you come up with the idea for this project?" There were quite a few airline in-flight magazines scattered around the lobby waiting area and as one would expect, several copies of Popular Photography magazine. There are two cafeterias and an executive dining area. Senior executives get reserved parking spots and there are two racquetball courts, and a gymnasium with badminton courts. Company has five corporate aircraft, two of which are jets. Company flag flies below the United States flag on the same flagpole.

Kodak had been one of the first companies I wrote to in asking for sponsorship/funding of my project and I was impressed by the reply I received from Jim Barr, Director, Worldwide Events Group. Basically, the letter said the company wasn't interested but, it was done in a nice, personal way as opposed to sending me a form letter or not acknowledging my letter at all. I was very disappointed in my reception at Eastman Kodak because I had arrived in Rochester on a weekend and had decided the visit to Eastman Kodak was worth waiting around two days for and, when I did go there, my visit lasts less than ten minutes and I never get past the lobby area! Roberts did tell me Eastman Kodak has its own bank; Eastman Savings & Loan. It isn't a credit union but, a bank and it's only open to Kodak employees. Branches of the bank are only located at company facilities. Robert's business card has a little piece of company marketing on it in that it had his picture on it. I didn't think to ask Roberts if CEO Chandler has his mug on his business cards also.

So, after getting a brush-off at Eastman Kodak what does one do? As one CEO once said, "Don't get mad, get even." From the beginning of this trek, I had been taking pictures with Kodak film and using Kodak prepaid processing mailers which, allowed me to send my film off to be developed and then mailed to my home, instead of lugging around rolls film I shot. I now switched over to Fuji film and, as a matter of fact, I had Petra take a picture of me standing in front of the Kodak Tower holding up a box of Fuji film. Roberts scored 7 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE: I was really steamed when I arrived home in San Diego and received the annual report and other literature Roberts sent to me because one of the brochures mentioned giving public tours of Kodak Park. Why hadn't I been told of the tour? Kodak Park is a city within a city on the outskirts of Rochester. Catch these facts: Kodak Park encompasses over 2000 acres with more than 200 manufacturing buildings stretching for seven miles, the plant has 27 miles of streets, 22,000 telephones, operates its own railroad with 19 miles of track and cafeterias feed about 28,000 Kodak people a day.

While in Rochester, Petra and I enjoy going through the International Museum of Photography, housed in the elegant, 50-room mansion and estate of George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak. I had assumed (wrongly) the University of Rochester would be a "city college"-type campus with plain buildings and not much of a campus. Instead, I find a beautiful, landscaped campus next to a river with good-looking new and old red brick buildings. Petra was really disappointed in having to fly back to San Diego from Rochester but, she was due back to work.

Niagara Mohawk

Leaving Rochester, I head east to Syracuse to visit Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation and Agway, Incorporated. A couple of blocks from downtown Syracuse stands the spectacular Art Deco headquarters building of Niagara Mohawk. While waiting for the receptionist to find out where my postcard had trickled down to, I go bonkers looking at the incredible Art Deco detailing which went into such things as the elevator doors, lobby murals, and lighting fixtures. Using the restroom to change into my long pants was an exciting experience because of all the detailing on the walls, sinks and toilets. Okay, I admit it, I'm an Art Deco freak. Anyway, after changing into my long pants, I go back to the receptionist and learn the fellow who was going to meet with me has an appointment and Iíll have to wait. With rain due later in the day, I can't afford to wait around plus, from past experiences with utility companies a lousy reception is more than likely. The receptionist hands me a brochure on the building and I leave. From the brochure, I find out the 6-story building was built in 1932 and postcards bearing its picture have headed the local best-seller list for years. The name, "Niagara Mohawk" is on the front of the building over the entrance.

The streets of downtown Syracuse are all torn up. I ride over to Syracuse University which is on a hill a few miles from downtown, and go inside the monstrous Carrier Dome which seats something like 30,000 people for basketball. Wasn't impressed with this city of 170,000.

Agway

Agway, the largest farm co-op in the country, lies in Dewitt, a suburb about ten miles from Syracuse. The 6-story, white building with black windows was built in 1964 and is leased. The name, "Agway" is atop the building along with an American flag. I talk with Arthur Fogerty, Senior Vice President, Corporate Relations, who just kind of goes through the motions. Fogerty says itís six miles to downtown but, he probably zips on the nearby freeway whereas my bicycle computer calculated ten miles. I see the boardroom but, there's no CEO's office because he's a full-time farmer. The top management officer is William Hiller, President and General Manager. As I found in other farm co-ops, Agway has a large number (18) on their Board of Directors and the principal occupation of each is farming. I knew there was a no-smoking policy because entering the building I pass a whole slew of smokers puffing away outside the front doors. It sure did look tacky. Over 1300 work in the building and there's a cafeteria and an executive dining area. Company has no corporate aircraft. Over 101,000 farmers in twelve northeastern states own Agway. Behind headquarters is a small shopping center, otherwise it's a residential area. Fogerty scores 7 points on my 1-10 scale.

New York State Electric & Gas

About 6:00 p.m., I pass by the corporate headquarters of New York State Electric & Gas about five miles northeast of downtown Ithaca on a two-lane highway. Seems to be a couple of connecting buildings, the tallest being four stories. In big letters on the side of one building it says, "New York State Electric & Gas Company." Standing on the side of the highway taking pictures, I look to see what kind of view they have if they were looking out the top floor and I see empty, grassy fields with power lines and phone lines running through. Buildings looked like they were built in the 1960's and, as Iím finding out about utility companies, they are usually headquartered in plain, no-frills buildings. I was smart taking pictures of the place because I wasn't able to return the next day because of heavy rains.

I have a great time though, wandering around downtown Ithaca, a neat little town of about 30,000. I also ride in the rain to check out the campus of Cornell University. The campus sits on a hill a few miles from downtown Ithaca and I would have to rate this the most beautiful college campus I've seen so far on my trek. Ithaca has that small-town atmosphere but, gets all the cultural benefits of a major university.

Leaving Ithaca in the rain, I headed to Corning, home to Corning Glass Works. I envision the town of Corning (population 12,000) being a "company" town similar to Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas, or Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. You enter a valley as the town of Corning comes into sight and, as you get closer you see lots of red brick buildings and several smoke stacks suggesting a turn-of-the-century manufacturing town which time forgot. Along the one side of the tranquil Chemung River is a large complex of new and old buildings which I easily guess to be a plant facility owned by Corning Glass Works. Even though the town is small, I figure there will be plenty of places to stay because of business people needing places to stay while conducting business with Corning Glass Works. Sure enough, in downtown Corning stands a relatively new, 130-room Hilton Inn. When I go inside to inquire about a room, Iím told they were all booked up because the Corning Hilton was serving as the headquarters center for a big 4th of July car race in Watkins Glen, up the road about twenty miles. I still don't understand why people pay good money to see cars drive around as fast as they can in circles. Seeing as it was getting dark and I didn't have many options, I hung around the desk bugging the clerks for a cancellation. I luck out in getting a cancellation and so, that's why I didn't complain about the room reeking of cigarettes or being infested with spider webs.

Corning Glass Works

On Friday morning, July 3rd, I walk into the black, 9-story headquarters building of Corning Glass Works. I don't know why the building is black, but it just doesn't blend in with the area. Downtown Corning is about a quarter mile away across the Chemung River. After locking my bike outside, I walk in and the receptionist says, "You must be the biker, we've been expecting you", she then hands me a big manila envelope. Opening the envelope, I find an annual report, a pamphlet with an overview of Corning Glass Works and a brochure on the town of Corning. I thank the receptionist for the literature and ask if it would be possible to talk to someone who could answer some questions about the corporate headquarters. She makes a phone call and soon, John Abrams, Manager of Corporate Information, walks up to me. After introducing myself, I ask Abrams if he has a few minutes to answer some questions about the corporate headquarters. His manner of speaking and pained expressions on his face were evidently to let me know he had better things to do than waste time with me as he asks to see my questions. After looking over the questionnaire for about two seconds, he says he didn't have time to answer my questions and wants to know why he couldn't just mail me the answers? Judging by the unfriendly, rude way Iím being treated, I figure itís useless trying to explain to him why I want to go down the list and ask the questions myself so, I give him a copy of my questions and he immediately turns and walks away.

What I did next was to go outside, walk across the street and start taking pictures of the headquarters building. I always try to take pictures of each company's headquarters for proof that I actually went there, for possible pictures for my book and for helping me to remember what the place looks like. Anyway, I'm out there taking pictures when the receptionist from the lobby walks out the front door and waves me over. She says, "Somehow I sense you weren't satisfied with your treatment", I respond with, "I think the guy is a jerk." She says, "Come with me and I'll find someone to talk to you." I tell her, "Look, it's okay, I know I don't have an appointment and I just kind of show up unannounced and I'm not a very important person and I realize I'm lucky if someone will talk to me." The receptionist shakes her head and replies, "That's not the way we treat people around here", as she brings me back to the lobby area. She makes a few phone calls and eventually, David Van Allen, Vice President, Corporate Communications, comes down to the lobby. Itís a VERY awkward situation as Van Allen sits down with me in the lobby and goes through the questionnaire. The headquarters building was built in 1957 and is company-owned. There are two outdoor tennis courts and an indoor jogging track. About 6500 employees work in the surrounding area and thereís a cafeteria and executive dining room in the headquarters building. When asked if Corning Glass has a corporate art collection, Van Allen says to be sure to visit the Corning Glass Center located in a complex behind the headquarters building. Vice Presidents, on up, get reserved parking. I never get past the lobby area. Van Allen does arrange for me to get into the Corning Glass Center, free of charge, (I think it normally costs $3.00). Abrams scores 1 point on my 1-10 scale and the only reason he gets one point is because he physically came to the lobby to meet me. Van Allen scores 6 points. Winifred Frampton, the super receptionist who, in my book went far and above the call of duty, scores 5 stars on my 1-5 scale for receptionists. If Frampton hadn't stepped in, my perception of the company based on my meeting with Abrams, would have been that of a cold, indifferent organization. Unfortunately, even after meeting with Van Allen, my feelings are mixed.