On the road in Arizona
On March 24, 1988, my bike and I fly into Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. I had been to Phoenix earlier in my trek to visit Circle K Corporation and Greyhound Corporation but, was back to visit three more; Ramada Inc., Best Western International and Amerco (U-Haul).
The address I have for Ramada Inc., 3838 E. Van Buren Street, takes me several miles from the airport. Riding up to the building, it looks just like one of their Ramada Hotels built in the 1960's. Revenues for Ramada Inc., in 1987 were about $750 million. After checking in with the receptionist and waiting around in the lobby/reception area for about 20 minutes, I learn Iíve come to the wrong building. Iím in the offices of the Ramada Inn, Hotel Group--the corporate offices of Ramada Inc. are about 5 miles away. The lobby area did have an interesting display on the history of Ramada Inn. Did you know the word, Ramada, in Spanish means, "shady resting place"? Also on display are pictures of "openings" of new Ramada properties in the 1960's.
The corporate offices of Ramada Inc., are located in a new 4-story office building located two miles from downtown Phoenix. Ramada leases 23,209 square feet of space on the fourth floor. I meet with David Thompson, Vice-President, Corporate Communications, who doesn't easily give out information and I have to pry it out of him. There's no cafeteria or executive dining, no corporate art collection, no recreational facilities, no visible security and no corporate aircraft. I do see the boardroom but not the CEO's office. I tell Thompson that Iíve stayed at dozens of Ramada Hotels, Inns and Ramada Renaissances along the way and was disappointed in their inconsistencies. Some of the properties are new and modern and some were old and dumpy. Thompson scores 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
Best Western International
Best Western International, the world's largest lodging chain, has their corporate headquarters on a 5.3 acre site about 8 miles from downtown Phoenix. The good-looking 3-story, 64,000 square foot, company-owned structure is fashioned after Spanish missions. Over 125 variety of plants adorns the well-landscaped grounds. Entering the building, Iím greeted by two receptionists and off to the side behind large plate glass windows is a huge trading pit-like room housing their reservation center. The huge room sits located below the reception area, allowing visitors like me to watch-the over 100 people manning the phone lines. Also on the lobby/reception area walls are old Best Western directories from the 1940's and 1950's. I receive a warm and enthusiastic welcome from Lori Frearson, Staff Writer, Corporate Communications. My first question to her; Do you get very many people who think your corporate offices are a Best Western property and try to check in? Frearson laughs and says itís definitely a problem because several times a week people drive up to the entrance and walk in trying to register. I thought the building looked to be one or two years old and am surprised to hear it was built in 1977. About 500 employees work here but, that figure is seasonal because during the busy travel season, extra help is hired in the reservation center, which is considered part of the corporate headquarters staff.
There's a cafeteria (which prepares about 200 gallons of coffee each week), vending machines and, department directors on up get reserved parking. There's no corporate art collection, no recreational facilities, although walking around the beautiful grounds is popular, and the company has no corporate aircraft. Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport lies about 4 miles away. I do get to see the CEO's office and the boardroom. The walls of one lobby we walk down are filled with pictures of company directors from the 1940's and 1950's. I mention to Frearson (as I did during my visit to Ramada) that Iíve stayed at quite a few of the company's lodging facilities and was a little disappointed in the inconsistencies of the properties. Frearson ends up being the one to talk with me because the company wants her to interview me for a possible article in the company's in-house publication. Frearson scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Almost next door to Best Western's headquarters in an office building are the executive offices of Doubletree and Compri Hotels. I stop by because I want to meet Sandra Luke, Director of Central Reservations. I had written to Doubletree around the beginning of my trek and asked if they could accommodate me with complimentary rooms and was told I could have a 50% discount on the corporate rate at Doubletree Hotels and complimentary rooms at their Compri Hotel properties. Compri Hotels are similar to Holiday Corporation's Hampton Inns, in that theyíre a brand new chain with all new properties. Anyway, I find out Luke isn't in and spend a few minutes in the lobby area talking with Luke's secretary.
Best Western and Doubletree have their offices in one of the more affluent parts of Phoenix and almost next door is the Westin's Arizona Biltmore resort. I had heard about the Arizona Biltmore because the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed it. It's quite a place, with well-landscaped grounds AND the buildings having an Egyptian-look to them.
On a 100-foot knoll of solid rock overlooking the Arizona Biltmore, stands the Wrigley Mansion (William Wrigley, chewing gum magnate). Built in 1929, it has 24 rooms, with over 16,850 square feet of floor space and 1,584 square feet of terraces and believe it or not, it was the SMALLEST of the family's five manors. In 1979, Western Savings purchased the mansion and three adjacent lots for $1.7 million. After two years and more than $5 million later, the restoration and renovation was complete and the historical landmark is now a conference and training center as well as an elegant club for depositor's of Western Savings. Being the nosy guy I am, I ride my bike up the winding private road, past a security guard in a guard shack busy talking on the phone. Iím admiring the view from the top when confronted by the security guard and told tours are given by reservation and appointments only.
A few blocks from downtown in an old-looking, whiteish, 11-story building are the corporate offices of Amerco, the holding company for the privately held U-Haul. Though the company only has approximately $800 million in revenues, ($1 billion had been the minimum to be on my list of privately held companies) I added them on because I had visited Ryder System in Miami, Florida, their main competition. About 800 employees work in the company-owned building, which was built in 1958 and LOOKS it. The offices are shabbily furnished and it looks like the furniture hadn't been replaced since 1958. Outside the entrance to the building are a couple of out of place ornamental Chinese lions. There's a cafeteria and no corporate art collection. Iím sent up to the 11th floor and after waiting about 20 minutes, I meet with Alvin Ladensack, Public Information Director, U-Haul International. The 11th floor receptionist is very friendly and helpful. After Ladensack answers my questions, we talk for a few minutes and I tell him about getting to see billionaire Sam Walton's office when visiting Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas and how it reminded me of a janitor's office. Well, right after I telling Landensack about seeing Sam Walton's office, I ask if I could see the CEO's office and boardroom. I felt like I had put my foot in my mouth because Joe Shoen's office (Chairman of the Board) looks worse than Sam Walton's office! Papers are piled up everywhere and the furniture looks second-hand. The boardroom looked more like a conference room, with pictures on the walls of the men who run the different districts (U-Haul has the country divided into districts). Ladensack scores 8 points on my 1-10 scale.