It was Friday and my next company to visit was Ashland Oil in Ashland, Kentucky about 130 miles south of Columbus, Ohio. If I left early enough, I knew I could make it in one day but, I didn't want to take the chance of not making it in time and having to wait around Ashland until Monday to visit Ashland Oil. I took a Greyhound bus.
Ashland, Kentucky with a population of around 30,000, is an interesting community sitting along the Ohio River. Armco Steel has a huge plant near town and the downtown area has a lot of old historical buildings.
Ashland Oil is headquartered about 2-1/2 miles from downtown on a hill. I received a warm and enthusiastic welcome from Roger Schrum, Manager, Corporate Media Relations, and from Lucy Davis, Community Relations Representative. A small sign with the company's name and logo is out near the street. Corporate headquarters sits on a beautiful company-owned, 80-acre, wooded site, which is a bird sanctuary. There are two similar-looking buildings; the 6-story Headquarters building, which has 172,741 square feet and was built in 1980, and the 6-story structure known as "Building #2", has 188,281 square feet and was built in 1971. I was given a very extensive tour of the facility. How extensive? Well, remember when I told you I always like to check to see if a company uses their own products? I was taken to the company garage out back and sure enough, the mechanics were using Valvoline motor oil in the company cars (Valvoline Motor Oil is a subsidiary of Ashland Oil). A 7/10-mile-jogging trail runs through the property and noontime walks around the well-kept grounds are popular. Parking isn't a problem with 1008 spaces for 980 employees with vice presidents on up, getting reserved spots. There's quite an extensive art collection, most of it being contemporary. There's a cafeteria and executive dining room. Company has six corporate aircraft and a helicopter with the nearest airport eighteen miles away. The CEO's office is on the top floor; it's a corner office with a view of the parking lot and wooded area. Davis and Schrum said they saw my write-up in the Wall Street Journal and I guess it would explain the VERY extensive fact sheets they prepared for me which had loads of trivial (and I mean VERY trivial) information such as: a COMPLETE listing of serving inventory in the cafeteria (ash trays-144, dinner forks-841, salt & pepper shaker sets-51 etc...), number of typewriters in corporate headquarters-257, the size and make-up of the drapery found in the boardroom (50'x9'H., 100% wool and, the number of work orders the maintenance group performs each year (12,000). I made out like a bandit at Ashland getting a grab bag of goodies: an Ashland hat, jacket, reusable poncho, cigarette lighter, coffee mug, pen, first-aid kit and a small tube of Tectyl 900 (a rust preventative manufactured by Valvoline Oil). I told them I had no room on my bike for all the goodies and they agreed to send them to my home. People I met, saw or were introduced to at Ashland's headquarters were sincere, nice people. Davis scored 10 points and Schrum scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
I spent Friday and Saturday nights in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, with a population of 63,000, is the second largest city in the state. Charleston is the largest with only 65,000. As I was riding around the downtown streets of Huntington, I met a fellow from Japan who was touring the U.S. via bicycle. This guy had started on the West Coast and was making his way to the East Coast. I was very impressed because: 1) he was riding solo in a foreign country; 2) his bike looked like a junker which had seen better days; and 3) his command of limited English didn't seem to deter him.
Sunday morning, I rode 50 miles east of Huntington to Charleston. I spent the night in a nice Marriott in the downtown area and, if you're wondering why Marriott would locate a big hotel in a city of only 65,000, it's because Charleston is the capitol of West Virginia. The state capitol building and grounds have got to be the most beautiful in the country. Even though it was a Sunday, the city was packed with people because an annual steamboat regatta extravaganza was coming to the end of its 10-day run. From what I was told, over 1 MILLION people annually attend this big whoop-de-do. Monday morning, I caught a train to Richmond, Virginia. The train ride saved me several days of riding (it's about 250 miles from Charleston to Richmond) but, I will one day return to the area with my bike because the terrain between those two cities is spectacular.
I arrived in Richmond in the late afternoon and spent the night in a Residence Inn, a chain of properties which is a cross between a hotel and an apartment. Each unit is like having your own apartment, complete with full kitchen. I like the idea and concept except for two problems I had with my room: 1) whoever had stayed in the room before me must have been cooking cuisine from India because there was the unpleasant stench of some exotic spice which couldn't be dissipated with disinfectant; and 2) the room also reeked of cigarettes and I don't know about you but, there's nothing worse than taking a shower, putting on clean clothes and finding yourself smelling like cigarettes. How bad were the smells? Bad enough that even though I had a complimentary room for two nights, I checked out after the first night.
Tuesday morning it started raining as I made my way to the corporate headquarters of Best Products, a discount retailer, which is located next to Interstate 95 (about ten miles from downtown Richmond). Headquarters consists of three buildings located on a company-owned, 70-acre site. The first building, a 68,000-square foot structure built in 1979, is called the Eagle Building. Why? Because guarding the entrance are two giant Art Deco eagles patterned after those that were atop the Airline Terminal Building in New York City in 1939. The second structure built in 1986 is called the Atrium Building, is rectangular with an atrium entrance. The third building, also built in 1986, is called, The Wedge, is a curving structure which links the other two buildings. As I waited in the lobby area to meet with Johnel Brown, Regional Public Relations Manager, you couldn't help but notice some of the company's unbelievable contemporary art collection. When you walk in the front entrance you are greeted by: an eight-foot bear which is made entirely out of old shoes, a mounted display of door stops and several jukeboxes. Total square footage for the three structures is 295,000. As Ms. Brown walked me through the complex, I was awed by the very extensive, very unusual and at times, bizarre collection of modern contemporary art scattered ALMOST everywhere. I say, ALMOST everywhere, because the CEO's office was like an oasis-nothing unusual with the furnishings being traditional with lots of family pictures on his desk. The boardroom is another story. Picture this: You enter the darkened room and find a triangle-shaped wood table. You flip a light switch and lights, which are embedded IN the wood and shaped like stars, light up. In the middle of the boardroom table is a crystal ball that lights up! Hmmm. I wonder if the board members hold hands and have seances. The tallest building is three stories, smoking is permitted anywhere and the CEO smokes cigarettes. Brown wasn't sure about the number of employees but, there are 1200 parking spaces with directors, on up, getting reserved spots. Recreational facilities are quite extensive with jogging trail, three basketball courts, two tennis courts, one racquetball court, and softball field. Company has no corporate aircraft with the nearest airport being fifteen minutes away. The company gives tours of the complex and it is worth a visit to see the very unusual corporate art collection. An elevator cab is similar to one in the RCA Building (1939) in New York City, a water lily carpet pattern is adapted from a Jack Beal silkscreen (1977), lamp posts in parking lot are modeled after a 1923 style and a floor tile walkway is patterned after a turn-of-the-century cafe. Ms. Brown scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Reynolds Metals Company
On a company-owned, 155-acre site about five miles northwest of downtown Richmond, sits the headquarters of Reynolds Metals Company. I arrived in a heavy downpour, which started as soon as I left Best Products and, of course, persisted, until I pulled into Reynolds Metals. I walked into the main lobby area and what did I see on display but, a Cannondale touring bicycle similar to what I was riding. Do you know what my first reaction was to seeing the bike? It was, "Oh no, I always get lousy receptions at companies having anything to do with bicycles!" (See Southland Corporation, Kimberly-Clark, RJR Nabisco and Air Products.)
I met with Lou Anne Nabhan, Director of Corporate Communications Services, who told me headquarters consisted of three buildings: the 3-story Executive Office Building built in 1958, the 6-story General Office Building built in 1968, and the Reynolds Automation Center built in 1978. Approximate square footage of buildings is 620,000 square feet. Parking is not a problem with 1600 parking spaces for 1300 employees with vice presidents on up, getting reserved spots. Smoking is allowed with CEO William Bourke, smoking cigarettes. The tree-lined grounds are well kept, and there's a large reflecting pond outside the Executive Office Building. I did get to see the boardroom located on the first floor but wasn't allowed to see the CEO's office on the second floor. Ms. Nabhan scored 9 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE Besides sending me an annual report, I was sent a listing of the 108 pieces comprising the company's corporate art collection. Nabhan added a note saying Reynolds Metals' entire aluminum sculpture collection (41 pieces), was donated to Virginia Museum of Art in 1987.
Dominion Resources, a holding company whose main subsidiary is Virginia Electric & Power, leases space in the Federal Reserve Building located several blocks from the central downtown area. Their lease is up in 1989 and Anne Grier, Manager-Human and Administrative Resources, says they would probably be moving. Dominion leases the 14th and part of the 15th floor for a total of 30,000-square feet in the 24-story building which was built in 1987. About 95 employees work in the building with the twelve top people (executives), getting reserved parking spaces. There's a cafeteria and a formal dining room. There are no restrictions on smoking and the company has one helicopter. I did get to see the CEO's office and boardroom. Grier scored 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
Universal Leaf Tobacco Company
According to Universal Leaf Tobacco Company's annual report, they're the world's largest, independent leaf tobacco dealer. Headquarters is in a nondescript, 3-story building located a few miles from downtown Richmond. Entering the main lobby are plaques on the receptionist's desk; one said, "Thank you for smoking" and the other said, "The Surgeon General smokes." I asked the receptionist if it was true about the Surgeon General smoking and she shrugged and said, "I don't know because the plaque has been around for a long time." I was given a warm reception and tour by Betty Groseclose, secretary to CEO Gordon Crenshaw. The building was built in 1947 and Universal Leaf bought it and moved into the structure in 1968. About 150 employees work in the plainly decorated, functional building. Company officers get reserved parking spots, there's cafeteria, no corporate art collection, two corporate aircraft and I didn't see any security guards or closed-circuit cameras. The most interesting part of my visit was being taken to their "sample room." Universal Leaf is sort of like a middleman between the farmers who grow tobacco and the cigarette manufacturers who buy it. The "sample room" is basically a room where samples of tobacco leaves in 15-pound bales are graded. It is a large room using only natural lighting because artificial light changes the color of the tobacco leaves. One of the workers pulled out a bale of tobacco leaves and, believe it or not, it smelled like a smoked ham. I did get to see the CEO's office and the boardroom. In the boardroom was a collection of tobacco vases dating from 1770, which are used for storing tobacco. The whole building reeked of tobacco. Crenshaw smokes cigarettes and a pipe and Groseclose smoked two cigarettes during the course of my short visit. Groseclose scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
James River Corporation
I lucked out getting to the corporate headquarters of the James River Corporation the day I did because things weren't looking so hot. Headquarters is a company-owned, 4-story former warehouse located on the banks of the James River. The day I was there, the river was reaching flood stages and already the winding road running along the riverbank and dead-ending at James River's headquarters was partially under water. No sign outside the building identifies the place as headquarters for James River Corporation, one of the largest paper companies in the country. Across from headquarters is a company paper mill that is over 100 years old and still in use. The main reception area is on the third floor. I met with Tyler Bird Paul, Manager, Corporate Relations. The headquarters building was originally built in 1925 and the James River Corporation bought and converted it into their offices in 1969, the year the company was started. About 300 people work at the corporate offices, which are pretty plainly furnished. There are no restrictions on smoking, senior vice presidents on up, get reserved parking spots, and I noticed no security guards or closed-circuit cameras. Right before arriving at the headquarters office is a small, company-owned park on the banks of the James River, which is open to the public. No art collection, no recreational facilities but, there's a new cafeteria. As I've been finding out, paper and lumber companies usually have a large number of aircraft, mostly because plants and mills are located in out of the way places. There are ten corporate aircraft. Paul scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Situated on a hill, you get some interesting views from the headquarters of the Ethyl Corporation. Looking south, you can look down and see the headquarters of the James River Corporation on the banks of the James River. Looking west, you can see the walls surrounding a real prison located several blocks away and, looking east, you get a good view of central downtown Richmond several blocks away. Now, if you were standing on the banks of the James River and looked up on the hill, you would see several white, Georgia-Colonial style buildings, which look like an estate or a resort hotel. Sitting on a company-owned, 54-acre site, the place does look like a hotel and, as a matter of fact A. Prescott Rowe, Vice President, Corporate Communications, told me several times a week people stop by and inquire about room accommodations. The buildings look like they were built in the 1800's but, were built in 1960 and 1966 with the tallest being three stories. Construction was in progress on an additional building that will house a fitness center that will include a lap pool and an indoor jogging track. Just going by the name, I assumed Ethyl was in the oil and gas business but, they are primarily a chemical company which even owns an insurance company, First Colony Life Insurance Company. I almost didn't get to talk to Prescott because the receptionist told me I needed an appointment and was indifferent to my situation. At one point, I had gotten on my bike and was all set to ride off when I realized I wasn't being dealt with properly and went back in and became persistent but, in a nice way. I didn't get to see the CEO's office or boardroom because they were both in use. About 450 people work at headquarters, which has a cafeteria and formal dining room. Managers on up, get reserved parking and the company has two corporate aircraft. Rowe scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
CSX Corporation, a holding company primarily engaged in transportation and natural gas, is headquartered in a new high-rise office building (about 25 stories), in downtown Richmond called, One James Center. I visited CSX on three separate occasions over a period of two days and struck out every time. The first time, I was told by the receptionist no one was available because of a board meeting. The next day I stopped by twice and was told by the receptionist, no one was available because the board meeting was still going on. I tried calling the public relations department three times and no one answered. I didn't see the company's name on the outside of the building, so I'm assuming CSX leases space.
It wasn't too difficult for me to keep going back to visit CSX because I was staying at the Omni Richmond Hotel, a spiffy new hotel adjacent to the building housing CSX's corporate offices.
Richmond has a very impressive downtown skyline for a city with only 220,000 people. I like the city. Must be something going on for a city that size to have seven companies on my list headquartered there. Besides being the state capitol, Richmond is a financial center; how many other cities that size can lay claim to being home to a Federal Reserve Bank? Which reminds me, when I finished visiting Dominion Resources in the Federal Reserve Bank Building, I went and toured the money exhibit in the lobby area of the building. Plenty of security was evident in and around the building.
In my younger years, I was a Civil War nut and so, I had a great time in Richmond riding down Monument Avenue which contains several dozen large statues of Confederate War heroes. Hollywood Cemetery, located a few miles from downtown, has the distinction of being the largest burial grounds for Confederate soldiers (over 15,000). Also buried there are two U.S. Presidents: James Monroe and John Tyler. I spent about an hour riding around the grounds, stopping to read tombstones and wondering what it would have been like being a white person or a black person and living in Richmond during the Civil War period.
I went to a local American Express office in downtown Richmond to cash a personal check and was told there was a charge for doing it. I told them I had been travelling around the country for over a year and had been to at least half a dozen American Express offices and there had never been a charge for cashing a personal check. I asked if this was a new policy. They reiterated it had always been their policy to charge. Hmmm. When I get to New York City I'll tell them about the incident at American Express's corporate headquarters. I had become very disgusted with the attitudes of the employees at the American Express offices; they are never friendly and make it seem as though they are doing you a big favor by waiting on you. Why do I bother having the Gold card if shabby treatment is all I get?
Riding around downtown I rode by the corporate offices of Media General which owns the morning and evening newspapers in Richmond along with television stations and other newspapers around the country. With only about $500 million in revenues, they weren't big enough to be on my list. I did check out the spectacular lobby area of the Sheraton Jefferson Hotel, a National Historical Landmark.
I left Richmond on a rainy Thursday morning as I headed towards Norfolk. I had figured the highlight of the day would be going through historic Williamsburg but, boy, was I disappointed. Colonial Williamsburg seemed so phony; there's no atmosphere. Wasn't too impressed by the campus of the College of William and Mary.
Leaving Williamsburg after about an hour, I caught a ferry near Jamestown which took me across the James River and from there, I made my way into Norfolk, Virginia's largest city with almost 300,000 people.
Sovran Financial, a bank holding company, is headquartered downtown in a company-owned, 24-story building built in 1968. Near the top of the white structure, the name, "Sovran", is embedded. I met with Barbara McDonald, Assistant Vice President. Sovran occupies about a third of the building's 410,000-square feet. I spent a few minutes talking to CEO Clifford Cutchins, III,, who, by the way, has a great view of the Norfolk Naval Shipyards from his eighth floor office window. Cutchins fit my bill perfectly of what I envisioned and stereotyped a Southern banker to be, a courtly gentleman. I was taken aback though, by Cutchins' meek handshake but, I guess when you're the CEO and Chairman of the Board, you can shake hands however you want. There's a cafeteria but, no formal dining rooms which is kind of unusual for a bank. The top three levels of executives get reserved parking. The building looks nicer farther away than it does close up. McDonald scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
The other company in Norfolk for me to visit was Norfolk Southern, a transportation holding company (railroads and North American Van Lines), which leases four floors in the same building which houses Sovran. A public relations man at Sovran, whose name and business card I neglected to get, asked me who I was going to be seeing at Norfolk Southern and I told him I didn't know and so, we got in the elevator and went to Norfolk Southern's offices. The public relations man walked me into the office of his counterpart at Norfolk Southern, Robert Fort, Assistant Vice President, and just kind of deposited me in Fort's office with no advance warning to Fort. I felt uneasy because I don't think Fort appreciated having me brought into his office unannounced and kind of dumped into his lap. Fort seemed uncomfortable and not interested in my project. I was told I couldn't see the CEO's office or boardroom on such short notice which are located on the 10th floor. I did tell Fort about my reading an article in the local newspaper about the "topping off" ceremony the other day for the company's new 21-story headquarters building being built several blocks away. Mr. Fort told me they would be moving into their new quarters in 1989. One hundred eighty-nine people work in Norfolk Southern's corporate offices. There's an executive dining room but, no cafeteria. The company doesn't have a corporate art collection but, does have railroad memorabilia although it isn't located at corporate headquarters. The company has four corporate aircraft. Fort did give me a key chain with the company's name and logo on it. Mr. Fort scored 6 points on my 1-10 scale.
Riding around Norfolk and surrounding towns such as Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, you could definitely tell you are near the nation's largest naval base. It was Friday around noon and my next destination was Washington, D.C., about 200 miles north. I decided not to waste two days riding to the nation's capitol but, elected to fly and spend the weekend in D.C. playing tourist and getting a feel for the city. First, I had to check out of my room at the Omni International Hotel. The hotel has a great location; on the riverfront, close to downtown and practically next door to "The Waterside", a waterfront pavilion with over 100 shops and restaurants but, I'll always remember it because of the 19-minute wait in line to check out at 12:00 noon. I counted sixteen people in front of me and twelve people behind me waiting to check out with only ONE employee manning the checkout counter. I counted twelve people waiting to check in with two employees waiting on that group. Boy, did I hear a lot of grumbling as I waited in line.