GETTING READY FOR NEW YORK
The end of April was the start of the most crucial segment of my whole trek because I was flying to Montreal and riding my bike down to New York City; THE biggest stop for me with over 140 companies. Boy, Iím having problems; Iíve visited about three fourths of the companies on my list and was living on cash advances from my credit cards, I still didn't have a literary agent, a publisher OR a place to stay during my estimated 6 weeks stay in the Big Apple.
In January of 1988, I type essentially the same letter to the following people:
H. T. Miller-CEO Frank Bennack, Jr-CEO.
Houghton Mifflin Company The Hearst Corporation
Richard Snyder-CEO Richard Diamond-Publisher
Simon & Shuster Advance Publications
Mr. Edward Evan-CEO Steven Ross-CEO
MacMillan, Inc. Warner Communications
Mr. Theodor Geisel-author Lew Wasserman-CEO
alias Dr. Seuss MCA, Inc.
In a half page letter to the above people, I briefly explained my project, mentioned I had been traveling/researching for a year and a half and, figured it was about time I starting looking for a publisher. I asked if they could recommend a literary agent, and, if it made any difference if a literary agent was located on the East Coast or the West Coast. Seeing as how I was living in an outpost called, San Diego, I was leery of dealing with someone 3,000 miles away. I also asked if anyone in their organizations would be interested in seeing a book proposal I was putting together. What kind of response did I get?
Joseph Kanon, Director, Trade and Reference Division, Houghton Mifflin Company sends me a nice letter explaining it's against company policy to recommend agents and says heís interested in seeing my proposal.
Gordon Jones, Vice President, Hearst Corporation, Group Head, Books/Business Publishing, sends a letter saying the letter I sent to Frank Bennack, the CEO, was being passed along to the appropriate people at William Morrow, Inc. (one of their book publishers). As to my having an East Coast agent, Jones didn't think it made any difference as long as the agent was getting around to see the publishers.
Nansey Neiman, Publisher, Warner Books, Inc., sends a letter saying my letter to Ross had been referred to her. She went on to say, "your bicycle trek sounds interesting, I'm afraid I see very little market for a corporate trivia book". She never addresses my question about an agent.
I wrote to Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) because I live in La Jolla and he lives in La Jolla. I wasn't sure I would get an answer because he's in his late 70's and probably gets hundreds of letters a week from various people. So, I was surprised when I received a personally typed letter on Dr. Seuss stationary. He says to do some shopping around and not to be afraid of using a New York agent and enclosed a list of agents recommended by the Author's League.
I never receive any kind of acknowledgement from Lew Wasserman, Richard Diamond, Edward Evan or Richard Snyder.
With over 140 companies in the New York City area to visit, I figure itíll take me about 6 weeks to visit them all. I wrote to over 60 hotels in New York City and only five responded with offers of rooms.
I then decide the best way to go would be to rent an apartment in New York City for a month. I write to several CEO's of companies in New York City and several media people, telling them of my trek and asking them if they could suggest a place for me to stay.
John Kluge-CEO Edward Kosner-Editor
Metromedia Company. New York Magazine
RESULT: No reply. RESULT: A phone call from a secretary telling me to get a copy of the Village Voice newspaper.
News America Publishing Inc. Leonard Stern-CEO
RESULT: No reply The Hartz Mountain Corporation
RESULT: No reply
Garnac Grain Co.
RESULT: No reply
Continental Grain Company
RESULT: No reply.
Samuel LeFrak-Chairman Marshall Cogan-CEO
LeFrank Organization Inc. Knoll International Holdings
RESULT: No reply RESULT: No reply
RESULT: Personal note wishing me well and an attached note from a secretary listing several NYC hotels with corporate rates.
New York Woman
RESULT: Letter from her recommending I get in touch with the Chamber of Commerce.
Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
RESULT: A letter from Abbey O'Neill, Vice President, Corporate Communications in which she recommends I stay at the Murray Hill Shelbourne.
S.I. Newhouse, Jr.-CEO
RESULT: No reply
RESULT: No reply
MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc.
RESULT: No reply
RESULT: A letter from Charles Frowenfeld, Executive Vice President, St. Moritz on-the-Park. My letter had been directed to Frowenfeld (Trump owns the St. Moritz) who said, "Regrettably, we shall be unable to offer you room accommodations during the busiest months of the year. We also have no storage facility for a bicycle which would hardly fit into our elevators." Frowenfeld's letter went on to say I should check with some of the major national hotel chains and if that wasn't successful, "there are some well located "Y's" in the city which offer minimum room rates for your planned extended stay."
Malcolm Forbes Jr.-Deputy Editor-in-Chief
RESULT: No reply
I was becoming very discouraged in my failure to find a place to stay. I typed a letter to Max Frankel, Executive Editor, The New York Times, asking if he could recommend a place to stay and if he could send me a local edition of the New York Times. I was a regular reader of the national edition of The New York Times but, needed a local edition for the apartment rentals. RESULT: A letter from Dennis Stern, Deputy Metropolitan Editor and, the Real Estate section from a Sunday edition. Stern recommended I check with the Mayflower Hotel for accommodations and also asked that I give him a call when I get into town. Possible story about my trek?
The following is a list of the hotels I wrote to in New York City area and if I received an acknowledgement:
Bedford: No reply
Beverly: No reply
Carlyle: No reply
Days Inn-New York: No reply
Doral Inn: No reply
Doral Tuscany: No reply
Dorset: No reply
Drake Swissotel: No reply
Dumont Plaza: Yes, I could have 2 nights free.
Elysee: No reply
Empire: Called me and said I could have two free nights if I stayed with them my first two nights in NYC.
Essex House: No reply
Golden Tulip Barbizon: No reply
Gramercy Park: No reply
Grand Bay Hotel at Equitable Center: Letter telling me they can't extend a rate lower than their daily tariff.
Grand Hyatt New York: No reply
Halloran House: Called me and said I could stay 3 days if I stayed with them my first nights in NYC.
Helmsley Park Lane: A letter from Leona Helmsley telling me she has "established a blanket policy on non-participation" because of so many requests.
Howard Hotel: No reply
Inter-Continental New York: No reply
Lexington: No reply
Lombardy: Letter telling me they do not offer complimentary rooms at any time.
Lowell: No reply
Madison Avenue: No reply
Madison Towers: No reply
Marriott Marquis: No reply
Maxims: No reply
Mayfair Regent: Letter telling me they are undergoing renovations
Morgans: Letter telling me it's the busy time of year
New York Hilton at Rockefeller Center: Letter telling me allotted number of rooms for donation have been reached.
New York Penta: No reply
Novotel New York: Letter telling me I can have 2 nights complimentary
Omni Berkshire Place: Letter telling me the time period I will be in town is a "sellout".
Omni Park Central: Letter telling me I have 2 nights complimentary.
Parker Meridien: No reply
Park Lane Hotel: Letter telling me they have a "policy of declining".
Pierre: No reply
Plaza Athenee: No reply
The Westin Plaza: No reply
Regency: Letter offering me 50% discount off the standard rate of $265.
Ritz-Carlton: Letter saying they are booked solid.
Roger Smith Winthrop: No reply
Roosevelt on Madison Avenue: No reply
San Carlos: No reply
Shelbourne Murray Hill: No reply
Sheraton Russell: No reply
Sherry-Netherland: No reply
Southgate Towers: No reply
St. Moritz On-the-Park: Before I sent my letter to Donald Trump asking if he knew of a place I could stay, I sent one to the St. Moritz and received a reply telling me it was a "very busy time period".
St. Regis Sheraton: No reply
Stanhope: No reply
United Nations Plaza: Letter saying they do not offer complimentary rooms to anyone.
Vista International: Letter giving me two nights complimentary accommodations
Waldorf-Astoria: Received letter declining my request for complimentary room.
Westbury: No reply
In early April, I meet a couple with a home in La Jolla AND an apartment located in New York's upper East side. They agree to sublet it for the month of May for $2,000.00. That's a heck of a lot of money but, it comes out to $67.00 a day, which is better than paying over $100 a day to stay at some of the low-end hotels. Seeing as how this was my first visit to NYC, I was told the apartment was in a nice area, was a secure building (doorman) and had a view. Hmmm.
One of the things I wanted to do during my visit to NYC was to see what the offices of some of the magazines I subscribe to look like. For instance: I wrote to Stephen Shepard, Editor, Business Week, telling him about my trek, how I was coming to New York City and, his parent, McGraw-Hill, was on my list of companies to visit. I asked him if it would be possible to drop by Business Week's offices for a look see. RESULT: No reply
Marshall Loeb-Managing Director
RESULT: No reply
RESULT: No reply
Editor & Publisher
RESULT: Letter from Brown saying it would best to telephone for an appointment before stopping by.
I also wrote a fan letter to John Reed, CEO of Citicorp, but it was for a different reason. Below is a copy of the letter sent to Reed.
Mr. John Reed
399 Park Avenue
New York, New York 10043
Dear Mr. Reed:
I enjoyed reading the profile of you in the January 4, 1988 issue of Fortune Magazine.
In the late 1970's I was trying to build up my credit rating. I applied for several credit cards from California. I was denied for reasons such as: no past credit rating, insufficient income etc.... I applied for a Citibank card and was accepted. I appreciated the fact you were willing to take a chance on me. I don't forget those who help me. See enclosed copy of letter sent to First Interstate Bank.
I'm also in the midst of an unusual bicycle odyssey through corporate America. I'm visiting via bicycle the corporate headquarters of the 600 largest companies in the United States. The end result being a book on Corporate America trivia. I plan to be in New York City in April of 1988. I have over 100 companies to visit in the "Big Apple". Been to over 50 banks. Look forward to seeing your headquarters.
The article in Fortune magazine talked about Reed moving up Citicorp's corporate ladder and mention was made of him being instrumental in dramatically expanding the company's credit card consumer base. The "see enclosed copy of letter sent to First Interstate Bank" referred to a less than friendly letter I sent to First Interstate Bank in response to my not being able to get an answer from them as to why I was being denied a credit card. The letter sent to First Interstate Bank reads as follows:
July 7, 1982
Mr. R. Clarke
First Interstate Bank
Dear Mr. Clarke:
I received your letter dated June 20th and it was very ambiguous. You STILL haven't told me what I need to do to qualify for your MasterCard.
I don't mind when you send me form reply letters or the fact that you use stamped signatures instead of honest-to-goodness personal signatures.
It doesn't bother me that out-of-state banks give me credit cards or banks in which I have no accounts give me credit cards. It DOES bother me that a bank I have established an account with for some time refuses to see me fit enough to have a credit card.
You are entitled to run your operation anyway you deem fit. Enclosed is a section from your 1981 Annual Report in which I have pointed out your HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in loans to Mexico and Brazil. Please note the millions of dollars in loans you have written off as uncollectable. Obviously I must be small potatoes to you and I would just like to point out that I WILL be a successful businessman and you can be sure I WILL remember the treatment I received.
The courtesy of a reply is requested.
In reply to my letter to Reed, I received a letter from John Maloney, Vice President, Director-Press Information. In his letter, Maloney said my bike tour sounded fascinating and to give him a call when I reach NYC and heíd be delighted to show me around. Maloney did mention in his letter that they have a bike rack and to bring a sturdy lock.
FLYING INTO MONTREAL
On April 23rd, I fly into Montreal and for the next three days, it rains and rains and rains. I don't let the rain stop me from riding around the city though, and pretty much saw the sights. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada (behind Toronto) and the second largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris). I thought I might run into a language problem but, lucky for me McDonald's has their menus in English and French.
I ride around the campus of McGill University, take in the view from Parc Mont Royal and check out Old Montreal. On Sunday morning a 10 kilometer run is being staged (in the rain) through the streets of downtown Montreal. Iím riding along an area of Sherbrooke Street, which is where all the ritzy boutiques are located, when it starts to really pour. My bike and I take refuge under the canopy of an office building and guess whatís located near the building entrance; another sculpture by Seward Johnson!
Leaving Montreal I make my way down into New York to Saratoga Springs. Though there are no companies to visit, Saratoga Springs is a "must see" because I had heard so much about this town of 24,000 and how in the month of August it's taken over by the wealthy. What happens in the summer? The horses run at Saratoga Raceway, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (which has an outside amphitheater seating 5,100) hosts the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York City Opera and the New York City Ballet. I spend the night at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel, which tells you something is going on when a major hotel chain puts one of its upper end properties in a town of 24,000. I ride my bike onto the grounds of the Saratoga Raceway racetrack and while taking pictures of the venerable wooden grandstands I get ordered off the property by a security guard. The city of Saratoga has a lot of history to it, with over 800 structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
About 30 miles south of Saratoga Springs lies Albany, the state Capitol of New York. Albany, a city of about 105,000, isn't home to any companies on my list but, is home of the Empire State Plaza, the complex of high-rise state office buildings built in the early 1960's. The massive Empire State Plaza complex overwhelms the area. It gives the small city a very impressive skyline.
New York City is about 160 miles south of Albany and I plan on taking two days to ride into the Big Apple. Several things change my mind. First, itís suppose to be raining the next couple of days. Second, people keep warning me of the dangers of riding into New York City if you don't know where you are going. Third, I recently read Tom Wolfe's excellent book, The Bonfire of the Vanities, (which doesn't speak too kindly of the Bronx, an area I would have to ride through). So, I caught Amtrak in Albany, with New York City my destination.
Grand Central Terminal, which is located near midtown Manhattan, is magnificent! Walking my bike through the terminal, I try not to gawk at the massiveness of the place and try to act like I was used to seeing thousands of people whizzing by. I make my way outside and end up near the Pan Am Building. Itís pouring rain, but the sight of all the people and buildings is incredible! Here I am, 35 years old and I'm finally visiting the largest city in the United States.
Gulf & Western
On Thursday, April 28, 1988, I go to the 43-story building known as, 1 Gulf & Western Plaza, and after checking in with the security guard\receptionist Iím sent up to the 34th floor. I meet with Carl Folta, Manager-News Services, Corporate Communications. Gulf & Western leases space in the building, which was built in 1968, and Gulf & Western has been headquartered in the structure for 18 years. The location is great, right across the street is Central Park and from the 34th floor, Folta has a terrific view. About 950 people work in the corporate offices. There's a cafeteria, formal dining room and fitness center. I can't see the CEO's office or boardroom because "theyíre being used". Folta scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York
The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, better known as Mony Financial Services, owns their 28-story corporate headquarters building. Built in 1950, about 400 employees work in the 525,000 square foot building, which has other tenants (Mony occupies floors 8-13). Many New Yorkers are familiar with the building because of the Weather Star, (a large metal star) on the top of the structure. The Weather Star not only gives the current time and temperature but, it provides a forecast of the weather for the next six hours. When there's a green star, it means fair weather, a steady orange light means cloudy conditions, a flashing orange light forecasts rain and a flashing white light indicates snow ahead. If the lights are rising on the mast, temperatures will rise. If the lights move downward, a drop in the temperature is predicted. Stationary lights mean the temperature will remain about the same.
I meet with Rexy Legaspi, Manager-Media Relations. The CEO and two Executive Vice Presidents get the only reserved parking spots. The boardroom has past Chairmen on the walls and Iím not able to see the CEO's office because "heís in there". The executive offices are located on the (lucky) 13th floor. Iím told the CEO has a terrace, but he's not up high enough to have a view of anything due to neighboring high-rises. There's a cafeteria and executive dining. The company has three Lear jets. Remodeling is going on and Legaspi says a fitness center is being added. Security guards man the main lobby area. Legaspi scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Penthouse International Ltd.
Privately held Penthouse International Ltd, publishes Penthouse, one of America's best-selling magazines. I added the company on to my list because Iím curious if their corporate headquarters would be a typical button-down type of a place or would guys be walking around with gold chains around their necks and shirts open to their belly buttons. During my visit to Chicago, it hadn't occurred to me to visit Playboy's headquarters to compare the two. Corporate offices are at 1965 Broadway, which is up on the West Side of Central Park. I walk into the plain-looking building and am greeted by a real jerk of a security guard. He says if I don't have an appointment, I couldn't go in. There're no lobby phones or pay phones in the lobby so, I walk across the street and call up from a pay phone (in the rain). Trying to track down where my postcard to CEO Bob Guccione ended up proves futile. Iím transferred to three different women, none of which seem to know whatís going on. After three minutes, my time has expired and the pay phone goes dead. Iím soaking wet and decide to move on.
ITT is located on Park Avenue and leases space in a 34-story building which was built in 1959 and is owned by Olympia & York. The name, ITT, is in big letters on top of the building. I meet with Joseph Santangelo, Director of Public Affairs, who when calling him up from a lobby phone, told me he wanted to answer the questions over the phone. Iím persuasive enough to get him to meet with me in person, though as it turns out itís practically for naught as Santangelo just goes through the motions. About 400 people work in the corporate offices, with vice presidents on up getting reserved parking. There's a cafeteria and formal dining, with the corporate art collection being a mish-mash of mostly modern art. ITT has at least one Gulfstream aircraft. I couldn't see the CEO's office or boardroom because it took security clearance and according to Santangelo even he sometimes has trouble getting up there. I never got past his office. What a disappointing reception from one of America's largest conglomerates. Santangelo scores 7 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE As promised, I did receive in the mail the book, "I*T*T" by Robert Sobel.
By 6 a.m. Friday morning, April 29th, Iím checked out of my hotel room and am riding my bike up Park Avenue. Why? Because Iím heading up to Westchester County to visit companies. It's really bizarre, I'm riding up Park Avenue past some of the most expensive places to live in America and a few minutes later, I'm riding through Harlem, one of the poorest sections of America.
White Plains, a city of 50,000 is the hub of government for Westchester County. Downtown has a lot of government buildings and there's even a Bloomingdale's. Affluent Westchester County backs up against Connecticut's Fairfield County (Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan).
Texaco lies about 5 miles from downtown White Plains in a 3-story, 740,000 square foot, white building. Built in 1977, the company-owned building sits on a well-landscaped 100-acre site. About 1,500 employees have 2,000 parking spots to choose from, with General Managers on up getting reserved parking spots. To get onto the property you have to pass a guard at the gate, except I came in the back way, which didn't have a posted security guard. Iím not sure what kind of reception Iíd receive seeing as how Texaco is having problems with the lawsuit by Pennzoil and at the same time fending off corporate raider, Carl Icahn. I meet with Anita Larsen, Assistant Manager, Media Relations, Public Relations Department, in the main lobby area after checking in with the not very nice receptionist.
The main lobby/reception area contains a huge tapestry presenting a history of the evolution of the company's corporate symbols over the years. Also in the lobby stands a model of the steam tanker, "Texaco Oregon" done on a 1/100 scale. Iím not able to see the CEO's office or boardroom because meetings are in progress. On a clear day the CEO can see the New York City skyline, which is about 30 miles away.
I do get to see the large cafeteria and several small formal dining areas. There's a swimming pool, two outdoor tennis courts, Nautilus equipment and, leaving the grounds I spot a basketball hoop near the parking lot. I also spot closed-circuit security cameras. Westchester Airport is about 3 miles away and Larsen doesn't know the number of corporate aircraft. Larsen scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Melville, a specialty retailer which operates such well-known stores as Marshalls, Thom McAn Shoes, Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby Shops, Chess King as well as CVS drug stores, is headquartered in a 2-story building located in a business park in Harrison (population 24,000). A small sign outside the building reads, "Melville Corporation". The small lobby\reception area with one sofa, reeks of cigarettes. Business Week, Constructor and Insight magazines are scattered on a coffee table. The receptionist, whoís very nice and helpful, calls up the CEO's secretary and was told no one is around today who could talk to me. The reception area is done in an ugly green color and behind the receptionist's desk thereís a sculpture and it looks just like Stalin. I ask the receptionist if itís the founder and the receptionist just shrugs her shoulders. Was there a Mr. Melville? It looks like Melville leases space and doesn't seem worth coming back.
Almost across the street from Melville, stands the unbelievable headquarters of General Foods. The place is HUGE and MASSIVE. The futuristic white building looks to be about 10-stories tall and about 20 blocks long. Getting to the front of the building requires taking a ride up a road that crosses over a big lake, which is complete with water shooting in the air and geese wandering around the property. The front entrance of General Food's headquarters reminds of curbside check-in at a fancy hotel because valet-like people greet you and park your car. Unfortunately, General Foods isn't on my list because this $9 billion in sales company is a SUBSIDIARY of Phillip Morris.
International Paper Company
International Paper Company, with over $7 billion in revenues, has its head office in suburban Purchase, in a circular, four-story, blue-glassed building, which seems to be part of a business park because there are other similar blue-glassed buildings nearby. I go up to the 4th floor reception around noontime and am told to come back because every one is out to lunch. In the courtyard area stands a big pond and in the pond are four big plastic swans, I guess they were suppose to keep the geese out. I come back later in the day and learn no one is in today who could talk to me. Why didn't they tell me that on my first visit? I leave my questionnaire. It seems a likely bet that International Paper leases space. *NOTE I never do hear from them.
As I ride up to the guard shack near the corporate headquarters complex of PepsiCo in Purchase, I think about the many articles read about their corporate headquarters and the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens. I also think about the guarded, bordering on unfriendly welcome I had received at Coca-Cola in Atlanta. Would PepsiCo be different? Every company visited in Atlanta served Coca-Cola. Would I find Pepsi being the soft drink of choice of companies located around PepsiCo? Texaco, located in White Plains, a few miles down the road served Coke in the cafeteria. Hmm.
Itís a cold overcast day as Elaine Franklin, Manager, Corporate Information, meets me outside near the guard shack and walks around part of the sculpture gardens. The headquarters building, which was built in 1970 on land formerly a polo field, is comprised of seven square, 3-story blocks, linked at their corners, forming three courtyard gardens around a central fountain. The company-owned, 144-acre site definitely will make my top ten list of most beautiful grounds. Sculptures by many well-known artists dot the grounds. Thereíre three Henry Moore sculptures, George Segal's "Three People on Four Benches", Augueste Rodin's "Eve", George Rickey's "Double L Excentric Gyratory 11" and David Wynne's "Grizzly Bear" to name a few.
About 700 employees work at PepsiCo's headquarters, located about 5 minutes from Westchester Airport and 10 miles from downtown White Plains. The company has one corporate aircraft, Senior vice presidents on up get reserved parking in the underground lot. There's a cafeteria and a real nice fitness center-which includes a swimming pool and Par course. Across the street from PepsiCo's headquarters stands the campus of SUNY-Purchase, which is part of New York State university system. On each floor at PepsiCo's headquarters are soda pop machines which dispense free Pepsi and other company brands to employees. I see the boardroom and am walked by the outside corridor of CEO D. Wayne Calloway, who occupies a corner office with a view of the grounds. The main reception/lobby area is very small. Franklin scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
Itís late Friday afternoon when I leave PepsiCo and I still have IBM and Reader's Digest to visit so, I spend the weekend in White Plains, staying at the White Plains Hotel. I'm really impressed with the number of large buildings in downtown White Plains and guess what? outside a new building by the Metro-North Commuter Railroad station stands another Seward Johnson Jr. sculpture, this one of a man hugging his wife (?) as he catches the train. Speaking of transportation, I pedal over to Westchester County Airport and boy, do I find corporate America represented. Though Westchester County Airport is a dumpy little terminal, quite a few scheduled airlines fly in and out. What's impressive though are the number of large corporations which have airplane hangers there; Olin, Reader's Digest, Champion International (which has several closed-circuit security cameras atop the outside of its hanger), Seagram's, Amax and, the only one to post a sign telling you no trespassing AND no cameras or pictures allowed, IBM.
Where there's money, there're golf courses, so I spend Sunday riding around Westchester County and Fairfield County checking out golf courses. Westchester Country Club has gorgeous homes lining its beautiful course. Somebody had told me to check out Century County Club, which is THE club to belong to for old-line Jews (Lehmans, Loebs). The Round Hill Club in Greenwich, another golf course, is hidden away amongst rolling, heavily wooded hills. I rode around the serene campus of Manhattanville College, who's Administrative building looks like an old Gothic castle.
Calling home over the weekend, I ask if I had any messages and my girlfriend, Petra, says thereís a message from a Mike Stone at IBM telling me "not to show up". I ask her if she hadn't misread it or if there wasn't more to the message, "no", she said. Hmmm. Monday morning I was heading to Pleasantville to visit Reader's Digest and IBM's headquarters in Armonk, was right on the way so, I'll stop by and see what happens.
Monday morning's bike ride from White Plains to picturesque Armonk (population 6,000) tallies eight miles. Before you get to downtown Armonk (who's downtown is about a block long and very small-townish), there's a traffic signal and next to the road on the right is a sign which reads, "IBM Corporate Headquarters". I hang a right at the light and follow the winding hilly driveway until I come to a security booth in the road manned by two security guards. Riding up I say, "hi" and the heavyset female security guard gives me a stern, unfriendly look and says "yes?" I say Iíd like to talk to Mike Stone. The guard says, "You have an appointment?" "No", I answer. She calls him up and then hands me the phone. "Mr. Stone? I'm the fellow riding my bike around the country visiting corporate headquarters". Stone says, "Didn't you get my message about not dropping by?" I answer "yes" but, seeing as how Iím on my way to Reader's Digest a few miles down the road and was in the area AND, not being quite sure about the accuracy of the message he left, I ask Stone if he has a few minutes to meet with me. Stone says, "We haven't got time for doing that kind of stuff, sorry". "Oh," I said, "you're only the second company out of 450 companies to tell me you don't want to participate". Stone replies, "that's the way it goes" and with that, our conversation is over and the security guard seems to have a smug look on her face. What a major disappointment. Before my visit, I had read articles about IBM becoming aloof and arrogant but I just assumed it was the competition crying sour grapes because IBM is numero uno in its fields. After what happened to me, my whole perception of the company has changed. Can I fairly judge the company on my encounter with only TWO people? Yep. Methinks IBM will one day have a hard fall and they will surely get a lot of gloating, not sympathy from it competitors AND customers. It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall and been able to follow the arrival of my postcard to IBM and listened-in as it trickled down to Stone. From the security booth, I still couldn't see the corporate headquarters of IBM because the road kept winding up a hill.
After checking out a not very good pastry shop in downtown Armonk, I continue on to Pleasantville (population 7,000), which is about half a dozen miles northwest of Armonk through heavily-wooded hilly terrain. Not all is pleasant at the corporate headquarters of Readers Digest in Pleasantville because the company recently installed a guard booth at the entrance to its 120-acre site. The security guard says it was done because of problems with joggers and visitors on the weekends (vandalism). Riding my bike up main entrance driveway on a cold drizzly morning, I pass rows and rows of blooming yellow, orange, and white flowers. I park my bike outside the entrance of the five-story red brick building with the Colonial-Williamsburg look, which reminds me of a church building or city hall building of a small town because of the white steeple atop the structure.
I do notice a lot of security people inside and outside the building as I enter. It's probably due to the incredible art collection inside. After checking in with the receptionist, Iím asked to wait in a small waiting room filled with antique furniture, various Reader's Digest publications AND a Henri Matisse oil painting on the wall titled, "Anemones & Mirror". After waiting about 10 minutes, the receptionist comes into the waiting room and takes me on a tour of the company's art collection. Itís scattered throughout the building, which was built in 1939. The boardroom has works of some well-known painters lining its walls; a Renoir, not one or two but three Monet's, a Manet and a Bonnard. Very impressive art collection. The Reader's Digest art collection comprises more than 3,000 works and runs the gamut from French Impressionists (Monet, Renoir) to Picasso and Warhol.
Approximately 1900 employees work at corporate headquarters, with only couriers getting reserved parking spots. I meet with Craig Lowder, Public Relations Director in his office and am disappointed he never asks me if I mind the smoke from his smoking cigarette after cigarette. Not that I would have said anything if he had asked me if I minded. Iím not able to see the CEO's office because heĎs having a meeting but, I do get to see Kenneth Gilmore's office, the Editor-In-Chief of Reader's Digest, who's got a magnificent huge old desk in what used to be the office of DeWitt Wallace(1889-1981), who founded Readerís Digest.
Several rooms in the 750,000 square foot building are filled with company memorabilia, much of it on founder DeWitt Wallace and his wife, Lila. The company-owned headquarters complex has 1,317 parking spaces, with over 30 company vans being used in carpooling. There's a cafeteria, three dining areas and a guesthouse on the grounds. The company has one corporate aircraft, with NYC being 35 miles away, Westchester County Airport 15 minutes away, LaGuardia, Newark and JFK Airports about one hour away. Smoking is allowed but, only in closed areas. Besides several security guards, I notice closed-circuit security cameras.
Lowder scores 7 points on my 1-10 scale.
Leaving Reader's Digest, a privately held company with about $1.5 billion in revenues, I think about the nice reception received here and how it compared with the reception at publicly held IBM. I ride my bike to downtown Pleasantville and guess what? I take my bike on the Metro-North Commuter Railroad and played commuter. The train is clean, fast and took me right into Grand Central Station.
Chemical New York
I'm back in New York City and on Tuesday morning, May 3, 1988 walk into the Park Avenue corporate offices of Chemical New York, parent of Chemical Bank. I had up to the Corporate Communications department where a receptionist/secretary, who is a "temporary", makes several phone calls trying to track down someone who could talk to me. After making several calls, another woman (who I find out is a supervisor), pulls the temporary aside and then proceeds to tell me in a cold, matter-of-fact tone that, "management had received your card and weren't sure if they wanted to participate." When I ask, "when would I know if they would want to participate?" the supervisor shrugs her shoulders. Tacky, is the first word which comes to mind when I describe the way the supervisor handled me.
In the same building on the 40th floor, are the corporate offices of Borden, the world's largest dairy, world's largest manufacturer of pasta and the world's largest producer of wall coverings. The company has leased space in the building since 1970 and its 25 employees take up one floor. The lobby/reception area is small, with six chairs and, magazines lying around include; Institutional Investor, Business Week, Fortune, CIO, Best of Business. The receptionist is very nice. I meet with Nicholas Iammartino, Director of Financial Communications. There's no cafeteria but, a formal dining room, no corporate art collection and, employees are on their own as far as parking. Iammartino talks fast and s brusque but, I figure this is New York City and I had better get use to it. I do get to see the boardroom and in a room to the side of the boardroom are pictures of past Chairmen. Iammartino scores 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
Westvaco, a paper, packaging and chemical company, has its name on a 43-story building on Park Avenue but, only leases space. The Fisher Brothers own the building, with Westvaco occupying six floors, including the 43rd. About 800 employees work in the building, with everyone on their own as far as parking. There's a cafeteria, a formal dining area and closed-circuit security cameras. Coming off the elevator, I have to be buzzed in through glass doors to talk to the main receptionist. I meet with David Swearingen, Manager, Corporate Communications. Some of the magazines in the lobby include Fortune, Business Week, Motor News, Hemmings, Avenue, Natural History and Smithsonian. The company has a Cessna aircraft which, is based in Teeterboro, New Jersey and, Coke and Pepsi are served in the cafeteria. I do get to see the boardroom. Swearingen, a nice guy, scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Arthur Young, one of the Big 8 accounting firms, is located in the Chemical Bank building which, also housed Borden's offices. I had gone there earlier and was told to come back. I meet with Mort Myerson, Director of Communications. The company has leased space in the building for 15 years and besides being its national office, it's also the New York office. Smoking is allowed (Meyerson smokes a cigar/cigarette? during my visit with him). On my first visit earlier in the day, I arrive at 11 am and the grandfather clock in the main reception area reads 8 am. On my return in the afternoon the grandfather clock has been corrected to show the right time. Magazines in the reception area include Forbes, Fortune, Business Week and Business Monthly. We go to the 23rd floor to see Mr. Gladstone's office (Chairman) and the boardroom. Gladstone has a plainly furnished corner office with quite a bit of baseball paraphernalia scattered around. About 1,200 employees (national and New York office) work in the building. There's a cafeteria, a formal dining room, and no corporate aircraft. Myerson scores 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
New York Times Company
Wednesday morning May 4, 1988, finds me at the corporate offices of The New York Times Company, which happens to be near Times Square and in the same building which houses the offices of the New York Times newspaper. I meet with William Adler, Manager, Corporate Relations. There're no parking spots, everyone commutes and Iím told there're bike racks. About 5,000 employees work in the company-owned, 14-story complex, which was built in 1903. As I walk down a hallway, I notice a wall was lined with the over 50 Pulitzers the New York Times have won. Walking down another hallway, I count 36 authentic newspaper mailboxes on one wall. Each mailbox represents a newspaper The New York Times Company owns. The company has two Falcon jets, there's a cafeteria, a formal dining room, with Pepsi and Coke both being available. There's a corporate art collection consisting of mostly American prints and lithographs. I can't see the CEO's office and boardroom without an appointment, which Adler says he would be willing to set up for me. Adler scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Dun & Bradstreet
Dun & Bradstreet leases space in the Westvaco Building on Park Avenue. The company occupies six floors, with the executives ensconced on the 34th floor of the 43-story building. In the lobby waiting areas for visitors to use are Scansets; computers which allow you to access the "Official Airline Guide Electronic" edition, which is published by---you get three guesses. I meet with William Doescher, Vice President, Public Relations and Advertising, in his offices on the 24th floor. Doescher isn't very friendly and makes me feel like Iím taking up his time. I can't believe this man was in public relations. Approximately 470 employees work in the building. There's a cafeteria, a formal dining room, no corporate art collection and Doescher wouldn't answer my question about having any corporate aircraft. I do get a peek in CEO Charles Moritz's office. On Moritz's desk is a plaque that reads, "Will it help the customer?" It's a corner office with a view of Park Avenue. The boardroom has portraits of three past Chairman on the wall but, there were no names under their pictures, which evidently means if you work for the company you should ALREADY know who they are. I ask Doescher if thereís a visitor's badge I could have and he says, "no, but if we did the badge would say, customer--NOT visitor, because we think everyone is a customer not just a visitor." In the course of my visit with Doescher he receives a phone call and tells me to leave the room. Doescher scores 6 points on my 1-10 scale.
Union Pacific leases space in a Park Avenue building. The receptionist is smoking cigarettes as I walk up to the reception desk on the 31st floor. On the wall in the lobby/reception area hangs a large portrait called, "Big Boy", which is a picture of the world's largest steam locomotive built by American Locomotive Company in 1944. I also note two good-sized LIVE trees in the reception area, which has no magazines to read except for several company annual reports. Union Pacific has 130 employees on two floors. I meet with Harvey Turner, Director, Public Relations. I do get to see the boardroom but, seeing the CEO's office "is out of the question". There's no cafeteria or formal dining but, Coke is it in the vending machines. The company has three corporate aircraft (I remember counting FIVE company aircraft at the Super Bowl game in San Diego). Turner scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Time Inc., has leased space since 1960, in a 48-story building in Rockefeller Center known as the Time-Life Building. On the first floor of the building is a reception area manned by four receptionists. I didn't find a single Newsweek or U.S. New Report magazine in the room, although there were plenty of Time Inc's magazines lying around; Fortune, Southern Accents, Life, People, Money and Time. I meet with Louis Slovinsky, Director, Corporate Public Affairs, who has a great sense of humor. From his window he can see the Newsweek building which flashes the current time and he says, "Newsweek gives us the time and Time gives Newsweek the news". About 4,000 employees work on 44 floors in a building that has other tenants. The structure has 1.7 million square feet of space, with 1.3 million being usable. There's a cafeteria called the 1271 Room (the street address of the building is 1271 Avenue of the Americas) which has original issues and memos of magazines lining the walls and several formal dining room, with one of the formal dining rooms being called the Fora Room. I see the boardroom on the top floor but, the CEO's office is off limits. Mr. Slovinsky scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale. I decide not to drop by the offices of Fortune magazine, since my letter was never acknowledged.
Allegheny Power System
I receive a real professional welcome (read; sarcasm) from Joe Bannon, Director of Public Relations at Allegheny Power System. I take an elevator up to the Park Avenue offices and explain to the receptionist in the plainly furnished reception area what Iím doing. She calls Bannon, who comes out to the lobby, asks to see my questions and after looking them over said, "I haven't got time to do this, I'm not interested" and walks away. This guy is DIRECTOR of public relations???
Leaving Allegheny Power, I remember I was suppose to give the Metropolitan Desk of the New York Times a call when I arrive in NYC. I call up and reporter Rick Cendo says the Times wants to do a story on me. Heís to meet me tomorrow at 10 am at the Paine Webber Building.
The Paine Webber Group
The Paine Webber Group has their corporate office in the 42-story Paine Webber Building on Avenue of the Americas. Paine Webber leases space on 13 floors (538,000 square feet) of the structure, which has a total of 1.7 million square feet. Built in 1960 and recently renovated in 1985, the ground floor features a 4,000 square foot Pain Webber Gallery. The Paine Webber art collection focuses on American and European art since the mid-1950's and is comprised of some 300 works. The fact that the CEO Donald Marron, is President of the Board of Trustees, for the New York Museum of Modern Art might have something to do with the company's interest in art.
Iím given a warm reception by Eillen Ruvane, Assistant Vice President, Public Relations and Beverly Trabert, Public Relations Representative. About 2,200 employees work in the building, which features a fitness center and a public cafeteria located on the second floor (for tenants of the building only). There're four cafeterias on various floors for the brokers and I get to see the boardroom and executive dining rooms on the 38th floor. Paine Webberís name is on the building and Iím not able to see the CEO's office. I do, however, receive a Paine Webber umbrella to help me get around in the rain. Ruvane and Trabert both score 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
J.P. Stevens, a textile manufacturer, is in the process of being bought out or broken up. After checking in with the security guard/receptionist and waiting in the reception area for a few minutes, Aixa Lima, an assistant in Public Relations comes to the lobby and in a rude, abrupt manner says they knew nothing about my postcard and aren't interested in participating. I don't know what her problem is but, I think she's in the wrong profession. Some of the magazines seen lying around the reception/waiting area include Industry Week, Time, Textile World, LA Style, Investment Age, U.S. News, Across the Board and WWD.
The Hearst Corporation
The Hearst Corporation, a privately held company with about $1.7 billion in revenues, calls home a six-story company-owned building that looks like it was built in the 1930's. The buildingís exterior comes complete with itís own security system: gargoyles that give visitors the evil eye. Itís pouring rain as I walk into the front entrance of the building and am greeted by a very unfriendly security guard who answers my "hello" with a stern look and says, "yes!?". I try to hand him one of my postcards and he wouldn't even read it. He says, "if you don't have an appointment, then get outa here!" Iím told thereís no lobby phone or pay phone to use so, I go outside in the rain and walk down the street about a block before finding a pay phone. I call up and get connected to a man in Public Relations, who says to come on back to the building because theyíve been expecting me. The guard, who had been a real jerk to me the first time, is much nicer on my return visit.
I meet with a nice woman (who's name I didn't catch and who didn't have a business card) in a small conference room, which has a copy of every magazine and newspaper the company owns. Cosmopolitan, Town & Country, Popular Mechanics and Esquire are several of the magazines and the Albany Times-Union, the San Antonio Light, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Francisco Examiner are several of the newspapers it owns. She doesn't know the answers to most of my questions but, she does show me a little bit of the Art Deco headquarters building. Though I can't see the CEO's office or boardroom, Iím taken up to the 6th floor to see The Good Housekeeping Institute, where consumer products are tested. There's no cafeteria and no formal dining. The unknown woman scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE The unknown woman does send me a brochure on the history of the company but, never enclosed her name or the answers to unanswered questions.
The LeFrak Organization
Coming off the elevator in the office building housing The LeFrak Organization Inc., a privately-held real estate builder and development company, I come upon two huge doors with a sign on one reading, "LeFrak Organization Inc. Entertainment Center". I open the door and walk in to an empty desk with a sign telling you to ring the buzzer. I ring the buzzer and a woman appears. She says this is the address for the corporate headquarters but, Samuel LaFrak's office is in the "Queens". I had read several articles about LeFrak, who's worth, according to Forbes magazine is about $1.5 billion. The office I visited at 40 W. 57th Street looks pretty shabby and was surprised, seeing as how I had read where LeFrak is the U.S.'s largest apartment owner with over 90,000 units (50,000 in NYC) and who's wealth has been estimated to be $1.5 BILLION. I had written to LeFrak before my arrival to New York City asking him if he could recommend a place for me to stay. My letter was never acknowledged.
Avnet is the world's largest distributor of electronic components and computer products for industrial and military customers. The company leases space (the 43rd floor) in the 50-story General Motors Building. I meet M. M. Vogel, Vice President of Risk Management, who says the company has leased space in the building for 20 years but may be moving in the near future. About 50 employees work on the floor, which has a small reception area but, quite a few magazines in the reception/waiting area including; Smithsonian, Fortune, Avenue, Insight, Corporate Finance, Electronic Buyers News and a Johnson Wax magazine called, "100 Years of Leadership". I ask to see the boardroom and CEO Anthony Hamilton's office and am told "no way" by Vogel, "We just don't do that kind of stuff". Why are they located in New York City? According to Vogel, it's because they were started in New York City. Vogel scores 6 points on my 1-10 scale.
Allen & Company Inc.
Allen & Company Inc., an investment banking firm, is headquartered on the 9th floor of the Coca-Cola Building on Fifth Avenue. Coming off the elevator, Iím greeted by two very nice (and by the way, gorgeous) female receptionists. I wait in the small reception/lobby area for about 30 minutes before Herbert Allen's secretary comes out and says the company doesnít want to participate. It doesnít bother me because of the classy way itís done. Allen's secretary, who is blonde, beautiful and has a very firm handshake, is direct in her telling me Allen & Company doesn't want to participate yet, is apologetic at the same time. Iím very impressed. I note several books lying around the reception area: "Circle of Seasons (Central Park)", "The Legendary Artists of Taos"," "Mr. Anonymous", Robert Woodruff of Coca-Cola" and "Adventure in Art". I also see copies of Forbes and Fortune magazines lying around.
Fishbach, an electrical and mechanical contracting company, leases one floor in a 31-story office building in mid-town. I meet with Elizabeth Acker Huthwaite, Office Manager and Administrative Assistant. The company has been headquartered in the building since 1977. CEO Alfred Manville occupies a corner office and on one of the walls hangs a renewal certificate for his Masters Electrician license. Also on Manville's desk thereís a plaque that reads, ""don't" bring me no surprises". There's a self-service kitchen, no corporate aircraft and Victor Posner, the Miami financier, owns 51% of the company. Huthwaite scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
American Home Products
American Home Products, which manufactures and markets a vast array of well-known healthcare products, is headquartered in a high-rise office building which looks to be 20-30 years old. Walking into the ground floor lobby area, I notice a small window display for Fort Dodge Laboratories, one of the company's subsidiaries, which manufactures products for animal health. I explain to the security guard/receptionist what Iím doing and he puts me on the phone with a woman who says, "my boss is busy". I tell the woman Iím going to be in town for a whole month and I could come back. The woman replies, "my boss is going to be busy the whole month". Now, I may not be too quick but, I could figure out Iím getting the runaround and respond with, "Is your boss busy the whole month or is it you just don't want to see me?" She doesn't answer. As Iím leaving the security guard says he knew I wouldn't get in because "they don't see people". Hmm. Walking away I remember having read an article about the company being secretive. How can a publicly held company, with over $5 billion in revenues get away with being reclusive? Especially a company that makes so many well-known consumer products.
D'arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Inc.
D'arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Inc., an advertising agency with over $2 billion in billings, leases 13 floors in a 33-story building. I meet with Herbert Katz, Senior Vice President, Director of Corporate Communications, who says the company will be moving in about a year to a new building being built on Broadway. The company will have its name on the building but, won't own it. The receptionist isn't very friendly and some of the magazines found lying around the reception area included; Time, Hispanic Business, and Traveler. The company occupies about 275,000-300,000 square feet in the building and about 1,000 employees work on the 13 floors, which includes employees in the New York office. There's no corporate art collection, several canteens, no corporate aircraft and Pepsi & Coke are served in vending machines. I donít get to see the CEO's office or boardroom. Katz scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE Katz never follows through on sending me material on the company.
Pace Industries, a privately held holding company with over $2 billion in revenues, has its corporate offices on Park Avenue. Pace Industries owns several printing companies as well as UARCO, the company that makes business forms. The receptionist says the company doesnít want to participate. Hmmm. Was there a Mr. Pace?
Garnac Grain Co., Inc.
Garnac Grain Co., Inc., a privately held, commodities broker with revenues over a $1 billion, has its corporate offices in an office building on Park Avenue, or so I thought. Talking to a receptionist, who's located behind glass, she says corporate offices were moved to Kansas City two years ago. She also says the CEO I had sent the postcard to, Gilbert Vigier, passed away and the new CEO is David Thompson. I tell the receptionist I had been through Kansas City two years earlier and asked if the corporate offices were nice. "Yes", she replies. Leaving, I notice the reception/lobby area is very small, with four chairs and no magazines.
Amstar Holdings Inc.
Amstar Holdings Inc., a privately held company with over $1 billion in revenues, is suppose to have its corporate offices in an office building on Avenues of the Americas. Upon arriving at the address I have, I learn the corporate offices had been moved to Stamford, Connecticut. Amstar manufactures and distributes nutritive sweeteners and electric power tools.
The Rockefeller Group
The Rockefeller Group, a privately-held company with about $900 million in revenues, owns one of the premier pieces of real estate in the world; Rockefeller Center, which sits on 22-acres and is the world's largest privately-owned business and entertainment complex. Corporate offices for The Rockefeller Group are on the 5th, 6th and 7th floors of a 20-story building. Square footage for Rockefeller Center totals 15 MILLION square feet. The receptionist at the main reception area on the 5th floor is super nice and very helpful. After a wait of several minutes, Iím given a warm welcome by Bonnie Arnold, Manager, Media Relations. According to Arnold, Rockefeller Center, with its beautiful Art Deco decor, is soon to be designated a National Historical Landmark. Iím not able to see CEO Richard Voell's office but, do see the conference room that is used as the boardroom. There's a cafeteria, no corporate aircraft and the color purple seems to be prevalent throughout in Rockefeller Center.
Arnold takes me up to the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza and gives me a tour of the recently renovated, world famous restaurant, the Rainbow Room. The restaurant, which has been brought back to its original Art Deco splendor, has a spectacular view! Arnold also takes me up to see the "Gardens". Many high-rise office buildings in New York usually get to look down atop smaller buildings which many times have unsightly water towers atop them. Not at Rockefeller Center, there are four garden areas (with green grass and lots of flowers) on the 7th floor of adjacent buildings overlooking 5th Avenue. Nobody (including tenants) are allowed to eat, sit or walk around the gardens. The idea is for the tenants on the upper floors to have, if you will, a soothing view. Iím very impressed by the warm reception received. Iím even given a complimentary Rockefeller umbrella, which is great because it was raining again. Arnold scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Cooper & Lybrand
Cooper & Lybrand, one of the Big 8 accounting firms, occupies 11 floors in a high-rise office building on Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue). The reception area is very plainly furnished and the word, "functional" comes to mind when describing the offices. Iím impressed to find REAL plants in the lobby and REAL flowers on the receptionist's desk because I've been noticing a lot of the headquarter's in New York City have plastic or silk plants/flowers. I meet with Amy Goldberger, National Public Relations Manager, who says about 2,200 employees work in the building, which includes their New York office. CEO Peter Scanlon smokes cigarettes and Iím not able to see his office or the boardroom. The company originally started in Philadelphia in 1898 and moved to New York City 30 years ago because it's the financial center. There's no corporate art collection, and there's a cafeteria. Goldberger scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Until Friday May 13, all the companies visited in New York City had so far been located in mid-town Manhattan. My apartment Iím staying in is near 80th Street and 2nd Avenue. Mid-town is roughly the area from 40th Street to 60th Street so, Iím about 30 blocks (2 miles) from the area where about half the companies on my list are located. On lucky Friday the 13th I ride down to Wall Street, which is in lower Manhattan (about 4 miles south of mid-town).
Dow Jones & Company
Dow Jones & Company, is headquartered in one of the four granite and glass towers designed by architect Cesar Pelli, which make up the World Financial Center. I go to Dow Jones's information/reception area, which is furnished with several months worth of back issues of the Wall Street Journal, and check in with the two security guard/receptionists. They do have a copy of the postcard I sent to the CEO Warren Phllips at the reception counter. Evidently, they had been told to tell me no one was available to talk. I persist and get a guard to get someone from Corporate Communications to come down. After waiting a few minutes, a woman appears with a company press kit. The woman hands it to me and says no one can talk to me. I tell the lady I can come back another time because Iím going to be in the area for three more weeks. She again reiterates no one will be available to talk to me. Hmmm, sounds like Iím being given the runaround. I ask her if I could leave my questionnaire and if she could mail the press kit. She agrees and walks away. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT! This is the same company which owns the Wall Street Journal, that had a year earlier, run a FRONT PAGE STORY (complete with my picture) about my project/trek!! What's also ironic is the Wall Street Journal article quoted me as saying "Part of the book will discuss how Iím treated at different companies". This is the same company who's newspapers (Wall Street Journal and Barron's) thrive on writing investigative exposes about other corporations? Yet, won't take the time to answer harmless questions about their own company?? I apologize for sounding upset but, can you blame me? *NOTE Upon arriving back in San Diego, I do find my questionnaire had been filled out and sent along with a short letter from Mary Gregory, Corporate Relations Associate. The letter says some questions on my questionnaire had been left blank "in the interest of privacy" and she wished me luck with the book. She also said if I had any questions to give her a call. I do. I tell her Iím very disappointed in not getting to talk with anyone and ask her if she had been aware, at the time of my visit, of my having had a front page write-up in the Wall Street Journal. "Yes", she says and goes on to tell me they have a small corporate relations staff and people need to have appointments. It still doesn't explain, why, when I told the lady during my visit I was going to be in the area for three more weeks I was told no one would be available. I also tell her part of my book deals with the "flexibility" of companies.
From the questionnaire I was sent: Dow Jones has 713 employees working at their corporate headquarters, which are on floors 9-17 (there's no 13th floor). The company leases space from Olympia & York, which built the building in 1985-86 and owns it. Thereíre six reserved parking spots but, Gregory says she couldn't divulge who gets to park there. The company has two corporate aircraft, an informal cafeteria, formal dining area and Coke & Pepsi are served. There is art scattered throughout the offices (of what, I don't know).
Leaving Dow Jones & Company, I walked over to another building at World Financial Center housing the corporate offices of Merrill Lynch. Actually, Merrill Lynch is in two buildings; the North Tower and the South Tower. Getting up to meet with James Wiggins, Vice President, Corporate Staff, Corporate Communications, I have to go through an extensive security system. Getting to the elevators requires visitors and employees first going through an elaborate turnstile system, with employees having their identification cards being read by the turnstile machines. Upon entering an elevator, I notice a security camera pointing down on me IN the elevator. Wiggins says those were installed to cut down on vandalism, most of which, according to Wiggins is done by bike messengers.
About 2,000 employees work in the two towers, with Merrill Lynch having 50% ownership. The North tower, which houses the executives, is 34-stories tall, with the top floor featuring a fitness facility for executives and senior management. A full-time cardiologist is located in the building. There's a cafeteria, formal dining, and senior executives get reserved parking. I do see the CEO's office and the boardroom. Merrill Lynchís headquarters is very impressive. What impresses me most though is being taken to see their trading floor, which is massive and longer than a football field. It's bigger than most of the stock exchanges I've visited (Toronto, Cincinnati, Chicago to name a few). The headquarters sits next to the Hudson River, which allows for great views of New Jersey. Wiggins scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
Also located in the World Financial Center is the headquarters of American Express. The reception area is large and reminds me of a combination airport check-in area and hotel registration desk as I walk up to the airport-like counters manned by four mechanical-sounding receptionists (who by the way aren't very friendly). I explain the reason for my visit to one of them and am eventually (after several calls which went nowhere) connected to CEO James Robinson 3rd's secretary, who informs me they hadn't received my postcard and I couldn't be let in the building until they had seen my postcard. Fair enough, so I tell her I could give her one now. Wrong! she tells me to leave one with the "message center" and check back.
Locking my bike up to a tree near the World Financial Center, I walk over to the 60-story Woolworth Building (about a seven block walk). The corporate offices of F.W. Woolworth Co., are housed in the Woolworth Building which, between 1913 and 1930 laid claim to being the tallest building in the world. Built in 1913 at a cost of $13,500,000 (all paid in cash!) the inside and outside of the Gothic style building is truly impressive. Gargoyles and spires abound on the outside of the structure. The three-story lobby arcade entrance is highlighted by a vaulted ceiling with colored patterns in glass mosaics.
I go up to the Executive floor (24th), check-in with the receptionist and wait in the reception area for about 15 minutes. Some of the magazines lying around include; Showcase, Marketing & Media Decisions, Insight, Shopping Center World, Forbes, Business Month, Business Atlanta and Global Finance. I meet with J.F. Carroll, Vice President, who shows no interest what-so-ever in my project. Matter of fact, he makes me feel like Iím annoying him with my questions. The company owns the building, with about 2,000 employees occupying 720,000 square feet, which is about half the total space in the building. There's a cafeteria (with Coke being served), no formal dining, no corporate art, no recreational facilities and no corporate aircraft. I canít see the boardroom due to "itís being used" and I imagine it would be something to see because it used to be Mr. Woolworth's office (which I understand was very opulent). My request to see the CEO's office is met by a curt, "no way". My "tour" consists of seeing Carroll's office. Iím very disappointed in my treatment and, in not being able to see a little more of one of America's classic buildings. Carroll scores 5 points on my 1-10 scale.
Chase Manhattan looks like it's due to build new corporate offices because it's 60-story One Chase Manhattan Plaza Building is looking pretty dumpy. After getting clearance from the security guard/receptionists on the ground floor, I meet with Kenneth Mills, Vice President and Amy Sudol, Assistant Treasurer. You know how some chain-smokers just LOOK like they chain-smoke? that's what Mills looks like as he puffs away. Chase Manhattan owns their headquarters building and along with other tenants in the building, Mills guesstimates about 5,000 employees work in the building. There's a fitness center, a cafeteria, no formal dining (which is very odd for a bank) and the company has two corporate aircraft, a Gulfstream 3 and a Hawker. Iím told I can see the CEO's office, the boardroom and the view from the 60th floor if I check back with Sudol and make an appointment. Mills scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE I later call Sudol to set up an appointment and she coldly and abruptly says sheís too busy. Sudol sure changed from the charming lady I met on my initial visit. Then again, everybody has bad days.
One of the most spectacular spectacles I've seen on my trek occurs after leaving One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Itís Friday, itís after 4:30 PM as I stand in a small plot of park benches at Liberty Street and Broadway, literally tens of thousands of people in suits started pouring out of buildings heading to the subways, buses, cars, boats, and helicopters. Iíve never seen such a massive exodus of people! As I sit down to watch the masses escape, I look over a few benches from where Iím sitting and I'll be darned if I don't see another Seward Johnson, Jr. sculpture. This one is titled, "Double Check" and is of a man in a business suit, in a sitting position with his brief case open, looking at a document.
I have a fantastic time over the weekend exploring New York City on my bike. Central Park is closed on the weekend to cars so it's great for biking. I also check out the old railroad yards on the West Side where Donald Trump plans to build his super skyscraper. I get a kick out of watching dozens of smooth Nigerians (that's where at least four of them told me they were from) stand right outside the entrance doors of ritzy stores on 5th Avenue (Gucci, Cartier) on Sunday with their cardboard portable displays, hawking (obviously) imitation Gucci, Cartier and other well-known brands of watches and jewelry. You could turn your head for ten seconds, look back and they will have picked up their portable cardboard display and left.
Sunday morning I ride my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge (which is in lower Manhattan) and as I cross over I think about the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people over the years who have trudged across the structure. When I was about halfway over the bridge, reality set in again as I pass a woman police officer. I ask her what sheís doing walking along the middle of the pedestrian/bike path. She says this area of the bridge is her beat because there have been quite a few tourists robbed and mugged. Hmmm.
It's Monday morning and I'm outside the 8-story Forbes Building on Fifth Avenue. Iím surprised to find the corporate offices located not in Mid-town or the financial district of lower Manhattan but, almost next to Greenwich Village. The building, which was built in the 1930's, has in big letters, the name, "Forbes Magazine" above the entrance doors. Iím not too keen about locking my bike up on the busy sidewalk so, I walk around the corner to the rear of the Forbes building and take my bike into the covered loading dock area guarded by several closed-circuit security cameras. Locking my bike up near the back door, I notice several parking spots for cars and theyíre all occupied by Lincoln-Mercury Towne cars and surmise it must be the car of choice for Mr. Forbes. I wave into the security cameras as I walk back to the front entrance. Parked ON the sidewalk, on the side of the Forbes Building is a big Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the kind you see pictures of Mr. Forbes riding around on. On the rear of the motorcycle thereís a bumper sticker which reads, "How's My Driving? Call 1-800-EAT SHIT". Hmm.
I enter the building and am greeted by a security guard sitting at a small table. I explain what I'm doing and say I'd like to find out who ended up with my postcard. The guard says I can't use his phone and motions to a pay phone outside on the sidewalk. I go outside, call up, I get transferred several times by several people including Mr. Forbes' secretary. Finally, someone starts to give me the name and number of the person to contact, I'm writing down Don Garson's name and was just about to receive his phone number when the phone goes dead. Evidently, my two or three minutes allotted on a pay phone had expired so, I go back inside, tell the guard what happened and get sent to a room off to the side manned by several more security guards. As Iím asking the security guards for the phone number of Don Garson, one of the guards points and says, "here he comes now", I turn and introduce myself to Garson and then explain to him the purpose of my visit. We go up to his office and Garson says he doesn't understand why I'm visiting Forbes Magazine. I explain how I've been visiting the 500 largest publicly-held companies in the United States, using Forbes magazine's annual listing of the 500 largest publicly held companies as my guide and not the Fortune 500 because Fortune Magazine's annual 500 list is restricted to industrial companies only, while Forbes' list includes banks and insurance companies. I also mention my being a big fan of Malcolm Forbes. Well, William Donald Garson, Director of Corporate Communications, couldnít-care-less about what Iím doing and just goes through the motions. Never once asking a question about my project.
About 450 employees work in the company-owned building, with the Forbes Gallery being on the ground floor. There's a canteen, which serves Pepsi and Coke, two helicopters and a 727 based in Newark Airport. CEO Malcom Forbes smokes cigars and, behind the Forbes Building is a townhouse, which has a wine cellar and dining facilities. On top the Forbes Building thereís a fitness center, which includes a jogging track and Nautilus equipment. My request to see the Chairman's\CEO's office is denied and I never get past Garson's office. Iím REALLY disappointed in the cold, couldnít-care-less reception received. Garson scores 5 points on my 1-10 scale.
Iíve always been a big fan of Malcolm Forbes and his magazine and here's one reason why: Back in 1985 I was reading one of his commentaries in Forbes magazine and he commented on how he disliked people sending letters addressed; personal or confidential, and when opened up-they enclosed nothing more than a job resume. Well, in the next edition of the magazine someone wrote in and chastised Forbes for what he said. The letter writer went on to say that using those kinds of tactics were a necessity because some executives have too many layers of people screening their mail. What did I do? I sent a very large envelope addressed to Mr. Forbes. When the envelope was opened, enclosed was a smaller sealed envelope addressed to Mr. Forbes but, containing the word" personal" written across it. When opened, enclosed was even a smaller sealed envelope addressed to Mr. Forbes and on the outside in big letters were the words, "personal AND confidential" After opening THAT envelope, a still smaller sealed envelope was enclosed and was addressed to Mr. Forbes, along with the words, "very personal and confidential, NOT to be opened, even by Mr. Forbes' secretary". When the final envelope was opened, a small note was found in which in which I wrote something to the effect: "Mr. Forbes, I was just checking to see how accessible you are. Would I ever run into you at the grocery store buying your own groceries? Would you be fun to have at one of my backyard barbecue?" Several weeks went by until one day I received a package in the mail. Enclosed was a copy of Mr. Forbes latest book, "Around The World On Hot Air and Two Wheels". It was a nice surprise although I must say, I was disappointed Mr. Forbes didn't sign the book.
After my short visit with Garson was over, I walk downstairs and tour the Forbes Magazine Galleries. It's definitely one of the neatest galleries/museums I've ever seen! One section contains a collection of 12,000 toy soldiers, another contains 12 ORIGINAL Faberge Eggs, and another contains toy boats. Another small gallery contains Presidential papers and trophies, with the largest gallery containing a diverse collection of paintings, photographs and other works of art. It is definitely a MUST SEE. Some of the paintings on display included works by Thomas Hart Benson, Gilbert Stuart, Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth and Frederic Remington.
The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America
The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America is headquartered on Park Avenue South in an area known as Union Square. South of Grand Central Terminal lies Park Avenue South and north of Grand Central Terminal station runs Park Avenue. The Guardian's corporate headquarters is a company-owned, 20-story neoclassical structure built in 1910. The architect was Albert F. D'Oench and the building has been designated a landmark building of New York City for lifetime preservation. The receptionist is a security guard. I meet with Steven Semolik, Manager of Building Operations, who says about 1,000 people work in the 250,000 square foot building and adjoining annex building.
Where the company cafeteria is now located, use to be a main entrance to the building, which would explain the grandiose ceilings with the gold leaf trim. The company has no corporate aircraft, no formal dining rooms, and the company's art collection consists mainly of pictures of past presidents of the company. I check out the corner office of the CEO John Angle, who has a view of the World Trade Towers. One of the maintenance men escorts me to the roof of the building and standing under the large neon company sign atop the roof I take in a great view of the surrounding area. Semolik scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
Marine Midland Banks
I'm back in lower Manhattan. Marine Midland Banks is the first company on my list. The company leases 22 floors in a 51-story building, which was built in the 1960's. I meet with Patricia Coate, Vice President, who says the company actually has dual headquarters; here and in Buffalo. Going down my list of questions, Coate tries to give me answers for both headquarters. The bank leases 24 floors in a 38-story building in their downtown Buffalo office. The company has no corporate aircraft (Iím told the airlines have quite a few regularly scheduled flights between Buffalo and New York City) and the company has a corporate art collection of over 7,000 pieces (oil paintings, graphics, tapestries, photographs) scattered around various offices and branches, with the collection being primarily modern. The CEO's office in New York City is on the 3rd floor and Coate had no idea as to why the 3rd floor location. Coate says Marine Midland Banks in 1987 became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which means the company isn't eligible to be on my list because it's foreign-owned. Coate scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Home Group, an insurance company, leases 20 floors in a 40- story building that has its name on the front of the building. Built in 1969, about 3,000 employees work in the structure, which use to be the headquarters for City Investing Company, a conglomerate spun off from Home Group in 1984. I meet with Joan Lovett, Communications Coordinator. There's a cafeteria and three formal dining rooms named: Manhattan Room, Crystal Room and Elm Room. The company used to have a firefighter memorabilia collection but recently donated it to a museum. I didn't notice any security guards or closed-circuit security cameras but, Lovett says they have "undercover" plain-clothes guards walking around. I tell Lovett to get the building directory updated because it says Corporate Communications is on the 3rd floor when, itís actually on the 18th. The company has one corporate aircraft and I canít see the CEO's office on the 28th floor or the boardroom because "theyíre being used".
The address I had for the corporate headquarters of Salomon Inc., was 1221 Avenue of the Americas (mid-town), and when I went there last week, I find out Iím at the offices of Philipp Brothers, their commodities trading subsidiary. Now, Iím in the 50-story, One New York Plaza Building in lower Manhattan and am waiting to meet with someone. After checking-in with the security guard/receptionist and waiting a few minutes in the traditionally furnished reception/lobby area, I meet with Adrienne Simmons, who's business card lists only her name and the address of Salomon Brothers Inc., but, does not tout her title or position. Salomon leases nine floors in this building, which was built in 1974 and is owned by Chase Manhattan and, leases 12 floors in Two New York Plaza and leases three floors in a building at 55 Water Street. Total number of employees: 6,800. Managing Directors and vice-presidents get reserved parking spots (in New York where parking is scarce, it's a very big perk). In One New York Plaza, there're two cafeterias and a formal dining room. Iím taken to a room overlooking the company's trading floor where the office of CEO John Gutfreund is pointed out to me. Gutfreund's "office" consists of a desk located on the trading floor. The trading floor isn't anywhere near the size of Paine Webber's or Merrill Lynch's.
Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., a privately held company, has their corporate headquarters in a 39-story building on the same block as the New York Stock Exchange. The building was built in the 1960's (and looks it) with Olympia & York being the owners. The less-than-elegant entrance is manned by a security guard/receptionist who directs me to the small cubicle-like office of Evan Cooper, Vice President, Corporate Communications. According to Cooper, a total of about 8,000 employees work in five buildings scattered around the New York City area. There's no corporate art collection, three cafeterias, with a formal dining room being on the 39th floor. Iím not able to see the CEO's office because "heís in" and I canít see the boardroom because they have no boardroom. Cooper doesn't know the answer to why the CEO's office is on the 11th floor. Coke is served in the cafeterias, there're no corporate aircraft and no recreational facilities.
Cooper asks if Iím planning to visit the New York and American Stock Exchanges and when I answer that Iím not sure, tells me I should add those two on my list of COMPANIES to visit. Cooper, who used to work at the New York Stock Exchange, Inc. makes a phone call to a woman in Public Relations and tells her about my project and how Iím planning to visit the Exchange. After talking to the woman, Cooper says they aren't interested. Cooper does write down the names and addresses of the two exchanges so I can mail my postcards to them. Cooper scores 10 points.
At the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, across the street from the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Hall Memorial, sits the imposing-looking 6-story headquarters building of JP Morgan. You're probably wondering how a 6-story building situated amongst massive skyscrapers can be imposing-looking, well, it just LOOKS formidable and imposing. I checked my messages back in San Diego and I was told to contact John Morris, Vice President. When entering the building, youíre greeted by a security guard/receptionist. Morris is busy, so I meet with Kathleen Lynch Baum, Assistant Vice President. Connected to the 6-story company-owned building, which was built in 1913, is a 33-story building, with about 5,000 employees working between the two buildings. On the same street (Wall Street), but down the block, workmen are busy constructing a new 47-story, 1.6 million square foot headquarters building, due to be completed near the end of 1989.
There're seven cafeterias and several formal dining rooms, with a tradition going back to Mr. Morgan's time that all employees get a free meal. Baum says the cookies are excellent. There're no recreational facilities, a mish-mash of art, no corporate aircraft and no parking spots. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is met by a "no". I ask Baum, "why not?"
and am told "nobody gets to see it". CEO Preston smokes cigars. Before entering the building, if you look up, the windows above the entrance are those of the CEO's office, which gives him a view of the New York Stock Exchange. Baum, who seems guarded, scores nine points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE I received material in the mail along with a letter from a Mr. Morris, who answers some of my questions on the questionnaire. He mentions as I had noticed, thereís no name on the outside of the six-story headquarters building, only the numerals 23 on the door. Morris sent me a sheet with notes on the huge chandelier that adorns the main banking room. It has more than 1,900 crystal pieces, is 16 feet high, 12 feet in diameter and weighs two tons. It is the largest of its type known to have been made in this country.
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's corporate headquarters is a massive complex of three buildings covering two city blocks about halfway between Greenwich Village and the Empire State Building on Madison Avenue. The fortress-like complex contains approximately 4 million square feet of space (gross). Highlighting the complex is the 50-story Tower, who's height of 700-feet gave it the distinction of being the tallest building in the world when it was built in 1909. After about 20 minutes of figuring what building and entrance to enter, Iím finally directed to James Mann, Archivist, Corporate Information Ctr. & Library 1M-R. I meet with Mann in a library bigger than most medium-size city libraries. I didn't even have to ask if they owned their headquarters complex because it seems like theyíve owned about 10% of the corporate headquarters Iíve visited so far on my trek. The first building was built in 1893, followed by the Tower in 1909 and the last was built in 1950.
One of the perks for the 7,000 employees is a free lunch in the cafeterias. The surrounding area isn't the greatest, which explains the necessity of closed-circuit cameras, security guards and my reluctance to lock my bike outside the building. I speak to three or four different security guards and "no way" would I be allowed to bring my bike inside a building or a loading dock. There's a gymnasium, which has a basketball court, volleyball, and Nautilus equipment. The company has a Challenger 600 jet, and corporate art is stationary with paintings of contemporary American landscapes being favored. Iím taken into a fascinating in-house museum filled with lots of company memorabilia and, Iím whisked up to the observation room of the Tower building, which has a great view of lower Manhattan and Mid-town.
Metropolitan Life's boardroom will definitely make my list of the most impressive boardrooms seen. Created in 1893, the room measures 45 feet long, 25 feet wide, with the ceiling being a majestic 27 feet high. Besides the tall ceiling, what makes the boardroom so impressive? Maybe it's the doors, woodwork, window frames, tables, most of the chairs and the fireplace being carved from dark Santo Domingo mahogany. Maybe it's the gold ceiling, or the hand-tooled leather walls or maybe it's the eight and a half foot tall Board Room clock with the 40-pound lead pendulum. The walls are hung with oil portraits of past CEO's. The floor is of natural oak parquet inlaid with mahogany. The boardroom table itself is 25 feet long and 9 feet, 6 inches wide at the point of maximum width. The room definitely has the aura of history, money and power. Though not able to see the CEO's office, Iím impressed by the extent of my tour and the helpfulness of Mann. Mann scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Tuesday morning I'm back in Mid-town Manhattan in front of the 23-story corporate headquarters building of American Standard on West 40th street. The night before, I receive a call from Rick Cendo, the New York Times reporter who had interviewed me about 10 days ago, they want to get a picture for the story so I agree to meet the photographer outside American Standard's headquarters. Entering the building there's a small reception area and to the right is a big showroom floor displaying some of the company's plumbing and bathroom fixtures. Well, the photographer isn't happy just getting a picture of me standing outside the building, which was built in 1924 and from what I understand is a historical landmark building. No, he makes a big deal about getting permission to shoot pictures of me with my bike IN the showroom. Actually, he wants to take a picture of my bike and I IN the CEO's office but as you could imagine, that idea was quickly shot down. So where does he take pictures of me? Believe it or not, me standing next to my bike in front of toilet fixtures on display and if you want to be more specific-in front of toilet bowls. Fortunately, he also takes pictures of me out front of the main entrance door, with has the company's name across the top of the doors.
My reception is little strange because of the commotion the photographer caused and, the fact the company is in the midst of fending off a takeover attempt. Visiting a company during a takeover attempt is strange because I always feel like they think I'm a spy. I met with Cyndy Cesena, Administrator, Corporate Communications, who doesn't know the answers to many of my questions. She says 150 employees work in the corporate offices and there's a cafeteria. I never get past her office. Cesena scores 9 points on my 1-10 scale.
Nynex's headquarters is on Madison Avenue in the Bank of America Building. I go into the building, get a pass from a security guard/receptionist on the ground floor, walk past two security guards to get to the elevators, take the elevator to the 20th floor, walk past two more security guards exiting the elevator, then, have to sign my name in a sign-in book manned by a receptionist, who definitely ranks as one of the bitchiest receptionists I've had to deal with. I ask her if I can see Steve Bady (I had called home earlier and was told Steve Bady from Nynex had called and left his number) and give her the phone number I had been given. She says the number I gave her was for another location. I then attempt to hand her one of my postcards explaining what Iím doing and she wouldn't take it, saying, "I haven't got time". The only work she was doing when I walked up to her was working on her nails! I ask if she could help me contact someone and she answered in a couldnít-care-less-voice, "I can't help, I haven't got any numbers like that". Her lazy, unprofessional attitude so angered me that, as I was walking away, I stopped, turned around and looked at her and said, "you are not a very good receptionist". I know saying what I did to her had absolutely no affect on her what so ever but, I felt it had to be said. I find a pay phone, call up the number I had for the company and learn the executive offices moved out to Westchester County (White Plains). Jeez, I had been out in the White Plains area two weeks earlier, and I remember going by several Nynex office building complexes.
Knoll International Holdings Inc.
Knoll International Holdings Inc. is a privately-held company with revenues of about $1.5 billion. Among its holdings are: Color Tile, General Felt (carpet underlay, industrial carpet, synthetic grass), Sheller-Globe (manufacturer of automobile parts) and, The "21" Club restaurant. Though the restaurant is one of the company's smallest subsidiaries (it was acquired in 1984), it's the one that gives CEO Marshall Cogan, all the notoriety. Corporate headquarters for Knoll Holdings is the top floor (59th) of Citicorp Center. Built in 1977, the Citicorp Center Tower is 915 feet tall (59 office stories plus the equivalent of 13 more stories in the distinctive sloping roof). So, it's just my luck the day I pick to visit Knoll International Holdings, it's drizzling outside, with a heavy layer of fog in the air.
I step off the elevator to the reception area and give the receptionist my postcard. She says I need to go to CEO Marshall Cogan's office and directs me to go back out towards the elevators and turn left into an unmarked office. I hand the receptionist in the unmarked office my postcard and she says, "oh yes, I remember receiving this" as she tells me to have a seat. I ask her if I could use the men's room to change into my long pants and, she hands me a key, which is attached to a piece of carpet (I assume it's one of their own brands). I meet with Judith Woodfin, Managing Director, a very brusque woman who says, "well, there's really nothing here to talk about, it's really pretty plain". Jeez, who does she think sheís kidding? Theyíre located on the TOP floor of one of the spiffiest buildings in New York City, have a spectacular view (or so I'm told because it was so foggy out the visibility is two feet) and are probably paying big bucks in rent and she's trying to tell me the offices are plain? Woodfin goes on (in her brusque manner) to tell me they lease space on the one floor, have eight employees, plus a support staff of five and have been located in the building since 1979. The office furnishing are Knoll products, along with the carpeting and woodworking. Going through the questionnaire, Woodfin shows no interest and acts as if sheís above answering my questions. The company does have a few pieces of Japanese art along with some contemporary. There's no cafeteria, the company leases planes and the company was founded in 1973. Iím not able to walk into CEO Cogan's office because "heís in" but, I do get to see his adjoining conference room and his office through the glass separating the two. Cogan has a corner office and on a clear day the view must be fantastic. Woodfin scores 4 points on my 1-10 scale.
After leaving Knoll Holdings in the morning, I visit seven more companies and at all seven Iím told I need an appointment. This is becoming a real problem. I knew that once I started making appointments I would never get around to visiting all the companies on my list because appointments eliminated my flexibility. My plan was to keep dropping by companies until someone was available to see me. I find myself dropping by a company's headquarters three, four, five even six times. Late in the afternoon, I visit Pan Am for the third time and am finally successful in talking with someone.
Pan Am, is headquartered in another of New York City's better known buildings; the 58-story Pan Am Building. Built in 1963 and now owned by Metropolitan Life, Pan Am leases 4 floors. Having been there three times, Iíve become familiar to the receptionist; Tete Foley, a super neat lady. The small reception area on the 46th floor is filled with quite a few magazine; Forbes, New Yorker, Traveler, Time, Industry Week, Airline Executive, Corporate & Incentive Travel and of course, their own-Pan Am Magazine. I meet with Jeffrey Kriendler, Vice President, Corporate Communications, who says thereíre about 100 employees on the four floors, with a cafeteria and no executive dining room. On the 56th floor thereís a private dining club called the, Sky Club. When asked how many corporate aircraft they have, Iím told 126. As I go through my spiel of questions, Kriendler isn't really listening and could tell heís just going through the motions. I do get to see the corner office of CEO Plaskett, which I imagine on a clear day (remember I told you itís a foggy, drizzly day) has a super view. Plaskett's office does have a lot of model Pan Am planes scattered about. I couldn't see the boardroom because itís was being used. Kriendler walks me down hallways to take a peek in other offices and the furnishings are very plain with the hallways being on the dumpy side, with worn carpet and nicks and scratches on the walls. Kriendler scores 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
The Ogilvy Group, Inc.
Wednesday morning, May 18, 1988, I visit The Ogilvy Group, Inc., an advertising agency headquartered in a 17-story building on 48th street. After being cleared by the security guard/receptionist, I meet with Gail Wasserman, Public Relations Assistant. While waiting for Wasserman in a small reception-like area near her cubicle, I overhear her tell associates sheís "going to see a biker", then after an associate says something I couldn't hear, she says, "not THAT kind of a biker, this one's bicycling around the country".
The company leases space in the 17-story building along with space in a nearby building. Iím told theyíre going to be moving into a new headquarters building in about a year. There's a cafeteria, formal dining and no corporate art collection. Maxwell House coffee, which is one of the company's accounts, is served in the cafeteria. Iím not allowed to see the CEO's office located on the 10th floor, there's no corporate aircraft and I never get past her cubicle area. Wasserman scores 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
My next stop is the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to see the Trump Organization, the privately held company headed by Donald Trump, the East Coast version of Armand Hammer (the modest CEO of Occidental Petroleum).
After being given the once over by beefy football player-types, which I guess were combination doormen/security guards, I make my way up the elevator and after exiting, I approach a receptionist. After giving her my postcard and explaining what Iím doing, she says I need an appointment. I told her I'd like to find out where the postcard sent to CEO Donald Trump had ended up. I go on to tell the receptionist my postcard usually ends up in public relations, corporate relations, corporate communications or public affairs. I guess the receptionist calls up Trump's secretary or assistant because Iím put on a phone and told by an unknown woman, "contrary to whatever you hear, Donald Trump does not have a publicity department or public relations department and he doesn't really want to participate in this project". Hmmm.
Avon Products' main reception area is on the 28th floor of the Solo Building on West 57th Street. As you come off the elevator on the 28th floor youíre greeted by giant picture windows which allow for great unobstructed views of Central Park. In the reception areas are displays of the company's various products. I meet with Donna Blackwell, Directors/Communications, who says she hasn't been with the company very long. Avon leases space in the building, which was built in the 1970's, and about 1,500 employees work in the corporate offices. The "top couple" executives get reserved parking, there's a cafeteria, formal dining and one corporate aircraft. Iím taken up to the executive floor but, I can't see CEO Waldron's office because "heís in". Blackwell scores 10 points on my 1-10 scale. *NOTE Blackwell never follows through on sending me material.
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which specializes in leverage buyouts, seems to be buying or taking private many of the companies I've visited. Malone & Hyde, Fred Meyer, Jim Walter, Safeway, Pace, Union Texas and Owens-Illinois to name a few. Offices for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is on the 42nd floor of the Solo Building, the same building housing Avon Products. Coming off the elevator Iím greeted by a security guard/receptionist in a cubicle who, after conferring with several other employees, says the person I need to confer with is George Roberts, the senior partner. That sounds good to me until the guard/receptionist says Robertsí office was in San Francisco! I explain Iím on a BICYCLE and had already passed through San Francisco. The guard doesn't care and neither do the two other people he confers with. So much for my seeing the offices furnished with antiques I had read so much about.
I again try, unsuccessfully, to meet with someone at J.C. Penny's headquarters building on Avenue of the Americas. Though theyíve announced their move to Dallas, Texas and sold their 45-story, 1.7 million square foot headquarters building for $350 million, Iím hoping to get a look at some of their offices. The receptionists located on the ground floor lobby, had on three separate visits, sent me up to see someone and on every visit that person would be out of the office.