More bad weather was forecast (read: "rain, lightning, thunder and tornado" warnings), so I flew from Lincoln, Nebraska to Wichita, Kansas. I was in Wichita (population 300,000) to visit Koch Industries; the second largest privately held company on my list. The petroleum and natural gas company has over $16 BILLION in revenues.
Koch's headquarters are about 10 miles from downtown Wichita in a complex of 3 grayish-black, 3-story buildings. I was surprised to find a good-sized sign visible from the street saying, "Koch Industries, Inc." A woman met me in the lobby and we talked for about 20 minutes. The complex of buildings was built in 1968 and Koch owns 'em. About 1,300 are employed at headquarters. Wasn't allowed to see the CEO's office or boardroom. The woman I talked to never did give me her business card. I always ask companies for an annual report and any information on the history of the company. Private companies, as a rule, are pretty private. I was given a copy of an article that had appeared in the October 14, 1979 issue of the "Wichita Eagle-Beacon", the local newspaper.
After leaving Koch Industries, I went back to town and visited the local paper. Told them at the newspaper what I was doing and asked if Koch Industries was a "good neighbor", what kind of reputation did Koch Industries have, and if they could give me some articles. Nope, couldn't or wouldn't help me. Hmmm. Spent the night in a restored hotel in downtown Wichita called, "Ramada Hotel at Broadview Place". Very nice hotel.
Rolled into Topeka, Kansas (population 115,000) on a Sunday afternoon. Was there to visit Kansas Power & Light. Found their headquarters building in downtown Topeka. Looked to be about a 10-story building built about 20 years ago. Had in big letters, "KPL" on the sides of the building. Looked like such a blah building that I decided to leave early the next morning without paying them a visit.
I was in a Dairy Queen near downtown Topeka about 6:00 Sunday evening ordering a milkshake when, a woman runs in and says to me, "Are you from La Jolla, California?" and, when I nodded, she says, "I don't believe it!" What happened was this: She had been a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego (La Jolla), and had received a fellowship to the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas (very prestigious facility). She had moved to Topeka about 3 weeks before I showed up there and knew no one. She was driving down the street and couldn't believe her eyes when she saw me. Anyway, she took me back to her apartment and called up her boyfriend, who was still in La Jolla. He wasn't home but, she left the following message on his answering machine; "Guess what?" she said, "Remember that guy we used to see always riding his bike around La Jolla with the saddlebags? He's here in my apartment in Topeka!" I spent the night in the outskirts of town in a nice place called, "Clubhouse Inn", a new lodging chain somewhat similar to Residence Inns.
On the way to Kansas City, I went through Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas. Downtown is right next to the college. Has a small-town atmosphere but all of the cultural benefits of a major university.
On the road in Kansas City, Missouri
It was late afternoon and I was on a four-lane highway about 10 miles east of Kansas City when an 18-wheeler ran me off the road. The trucker forced my bike to skid on heavy gravel on the shoulder and, before I knew it, I landed on top of my crashed bike. A couple in a pick-up who had seen the trucker run me off the road, stopped and offered assistance. Luckily, my bike and I suffered only minor scratches. Boy, was I steaming! It all happened so fast, I never saw the name on the truck.
There's a Kansas City, Kansas (population about 170,000) and a Kansas City, Missouri (population about 500,000). The five companies on my list were in Kansas City, Missouri. I spent my first night in Kansas City, Missouri at my friend's apartment near downtown. I hadn't seen my friend in several years but, we had kept in touch via the telephone and now I was going to see first hand the "unusual" neighborhood she had talked so much about. She had told me it was in a very bad part of town but, the medical school she was going to was close by. She told me her apartment was in a little Italian neighborhood with mostly old people but, it was completely safe. "Why," I had asked, "was it completely safe?" She said, "Because the Mafia protects it." She went on to tell me about how there's a street which serves as an invisible boundary line between the Italians and the blacks, and blacks will not cross the street. Well, I found her apartment and sure enough it was just as she had described it. Here was this small Italian neighborhood with decently kept homes and apartments surrounded by a seedy ghetto-type area. I went to see the "invisible boundary line" and, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it: blacks would only walk on the one side of the street.
Of course, it was raining again as I made my way to Hallmark Card's headquarters in the Crown Center, a $500 million complex totally financed by Hallmark Cards. The privately-held company, with over $1.5 billion in revenues, occupies over 2 million square feet and employs over 6,000 people in its Kansas City headquarters. The receptionist at the main lobby, Maudell Wendt, was a super lady; I wish I could say that about the lady I ended up talking with. The lady came down to the lobby and gave me her name but, I didn't quite catch it. We went through my questionnaire and then, she took me over to Hallmark's impressive Visitor's Center. The lady turned me over to the gal at the reception desk in the Visitor's Center and then started to leave. I asked her if I could have her name again because I didn't catch it the first time and also asked her if I could have one of her business cards, (I ask that of whomever I end up dealing with). She declined to give me her name or her card and instead, reached over the counter and handed me the business card of Rosemary Dimar, the lady at the Visitor's Center desk. Considering the lackadaisical and bored way she treated me, I could see why she didn't want her name known. Hallmark Cards had been listed as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For in America", by Robert Levering, Milton Moskowitz and Michael Katz (1984). Wonder if those guys ran into her when they researched the book. (It was obvious they didn't deal with Nasby at General Mills because General Mills was also listed as one of the 100 best companies to work for.) Anyway, the Hallmark Visitors Center has a film presentation and 12 exhibit areas where you learn about the history of the company, their advertising through the years, product displays, etc. They give you a free Hallmark card when you leave. According to a fact sheet I was given, their slogan, "When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best", has been acknowledged by independent research studies time and again to be the most believed advertising slogan in the United States. Hallmark also has the world's largest creative staff numbering about 700 persons.
Yellow Freight System
My next company was Yellow Freight System, a trucking firm located in Overland Park, a suburb about 15 miles from downtown Kansas City. Headquarters is a 10-story building built in 1972. A sign out front identifies the building as, "General Offices, Yellow Freight System." Jim Felkner in Corporate Communications, came down to the main lobby area and talked to me for about 5 minutes. Acted like I was taking up his time. Wouldn't give me a business card and said I couldn't have an annual report. I told him I had been collecting annual reports from all of the companies I visited and couldn't understand why I couldn't have one. "You're not a shareholder," he replied. The receptionist wasn't very nice or helpful either. Hmmm. If everybody at Yellow Freight was like those two, could it have been a Yellow Freight trucker who earlier ran me off the road?
United Telecommunication's headquarters is in a building that was originally built in 1964 by Hallmark Cards. United Telecommunications has added on three times since they bought it. The main receptionist, Alene Edmondson, is a super person; friendly, professional and helpful. She makes you feel welcome and puts you at ease. So was Mr. Forsythe, Vice President, the man who answered my questions and showed me around. The 3-story building is about three miles from downtown Kansas City. I was taken into their boardroom and was given a demonstration on how Tele-conferencing works. A call was placed to one of their offices in Atlanta and before long, I was having a chat with the man in the Atlanta office and at the same time, seeing him on the screen in the boardroom. Pretty impressive stuff. Headquarters is right across the street from Mission Hills, another one of those affluent suburbs on my list. Lots of Tudor-style homes and elegant mansions, along with the prestigious Kansas City Country Club and Mission Hills Country Club, make Mission Hills THE place to live. I wondered if any of the executives at United Telecommunications walked to work.
A mile or two from strictly residential Mission Hills is a ritzy shopping area called Country Club Plaza (the first suburban shopping center in the country). The Plaza area is THE place to go, be seen, shop and eat. Lots of statues and fountains in the area.
Payless Cashways leases space in an 8-story building about a mile from downtown. I was told by Barbara Remkus, Manager, External Communications that they were moving the next month. People didn't look, act or dress like professionals. No-frills approach. Over 700 employees in 200,000 square feet of space. Receptionist scored very low on my scoring scale. Couldn't believe it was a headquarters for a billion-dollar company.
About 5 miles north of downtown Kansas City is Farmland Industries, a regional farm supply co-operative. Headquarters is a 250,000-square foot building sitting on a 17.23-acre site. The 5-story structure was built in two phases; 1956, and then added onto in 1977. As I had found in the other farm co-ops, the boardroom table was big; seating 21 in a circular table. Farmland operates the nation's largest single complex of farmer-owned manufacturing facilities, refineries, fertilizer plants, feedmills and plants for the production of farm supplies, chemicals, grease, paint, batteries and steel structures. Rosetta Hudson, Information Coordinator, was the one who took care of me during my visit. Very helpful. Made sure to show me their research and reference library because she used to be the company librarian. 850 people work at the headquarters center. They have 718 parking spaces for employees, plus 45 for visitors and 5 for handicapped.
My next destination spot was St. Louis, about 200 miles east of Kansas City and the forecast for the next few days was, you guessed it, rain. I rode out to Kansas City International Airport and caught a flight getting into St. Louis around 10:00 p.m. You can imagine the fun I had putting my bike back together, then heading off at 11:00 p.m. to find a hotel room in a strange city.
Staying near the airport wasn't such a bad idea because the next morning I visited McDonnell-Douglas, located right across from an airport runway. Headquarters wasn't hard to find because there was a sign saying, "McDonnell-Douglas, World Headquarters." The 7-story, greenish-black glassed building sits on a 7-acre site. Built in 1973, there is a cafeteria which seats 400 employees and a 200-seat auditorium. Lawrence Merritt, Section Manager, Special Events, was the man who talked with me for about 10 minutes in the main lobby. My request for a tour of the building was denied. Kind of reminded me of my visit to Boeing in Seattle. I was given a small brochure on the headquarters building. There's a concrete heliport on top of the building. 1,300 people work in the 322,000-square foot structure and figure this one out; there are only 400 parking spaces. According to the brochure, corporate headquarters was built in its current location for two very good reasons; (1) They already owned the land; and (2) It commanded a "sweeping view of the airport and MDC plant facilities."
About 2 miles from the airport in the suburb of Hazelwood, is Wetterau, a food wholesaler. Headquarters is a plain, reddish-brown brick building they've owned and occupied since 1980. All the people I met or had contact with at Wetterau were nice. The receptionist rated 5 stars, the highest rating possible in my grading of receptionists, and Dick Dalton, Senior Vice President, Communications and Strategic Planning, scored 10 points on my 1-10 grading scale. It was early on in my trip (Minneapolis), when I started to keep tabs on who I spoke to at each company and to grade these individuals. How did I grade and what was I looking for?: Was I made to feel like I was intruding or taking up their time? What kind of eye contact? Was I treated as an equal? Was conversation formal or informal? Did they answer my questions and, if they didn't know something did they make an effort to find out for me? Was any interest shown in my project? Was interest real or feigned? Those were the types of questions used in my point system. 10 points was highest and 1 point being the lowest.
I noticed when I was given a tour of Wetterau's offices, the CEO's office is in the middle of the building with no outside view. Dalton, the guy who showed me around-had a corner office with a window. Figure that one out. The main lobby area has a replica of a turn-of-the-century grocery store. There is another building next door which houses their fitness center. This includes an indoor tennis court, an indoor jogging track, weight room, and basketball court. I met Roger Toben, Director Corporate Fitness, who told me about the company's own rehabilitation program.
Monsanto is located about 8 miles from the airport and a good-sized sign greets you saying, "Monsanto, World Headquarters." The receptionist in the main lobby area is a security guard. It took me a while to find the right building because the place is like a college campus; lots of different buildings and grounds. Marilyn Hartnett, Executive Secretary to John Hussey, Vice President, Public Affairs, talked to me in the main lobby area. She told me Mr. Hussey was unavailable and hoped she could answer my questions. Nice lady. I felt underdressed because the security guard wouldn't let me use the restroom to change into long pants. It was like a Catch-22 situation; I couldn't use the men's room until someone okayed my visit and no one could okay my visit until someone came to the lobby to meet me. Over 4,000 employees work at the big headquarters complex in a wide assortment of buildings. The first building was built in 1952.
Apex Oil was the next company I visited. I had heard stories about them being very secretive and I wasn't expecting much. Apex Oil is a big privately held company with revenues estimated to be anywhere from $7 billion to $11 billion dollars. They have offices on the top two floors of a new 15-story building. Receptionist was very cold and indifferent. I was told no one could talk to me and to make an appointment. Well, it was the kind of treatment I had been anticipating. *NOTE: In 1988 Apex filed for bankruptcy.
A couple of blocks from Apex Oil in a 3-story building are the headquarters of Brown Group, a footwear and specialty retailing company. Their Wohl Shoe Company is the country's largest operator of leased departments in department stores. I was told no one was available to talk to me. I called up later in the day and the lady told me she only had time to talk to me over the phone.
Graybar Electric Company
Not too far from Brown Group is Graybar Electric Company, a privately held firm with estimated revenues of about $2 billion dollars. The white 9-story building was built in 1983. They own the building, have 100 people at their headquarters, with 75,000 square feet of office space. The first 5 floors of the building is a parking structure for employees. I spoke to John Danowski, Jr., Manager, Properties and Services. A security guard is the main receptionist. My visit was short and wasn't allowed past lobby area.
General Dynamics leases space in a 23-story building. I went up to the 15th floor main reception area and as I stepped off the elevator, a receptionist buzzed me through doors into the reception area. Spoke to G. Alexander Smith, Corporate Manager-Advertising. The company has been in the building since 1971 and have over 350 people working in headquarters. Didn't seem like a very friendly place to work. They don't have their own cafeteria or snack area. My visit was short. My request to see CEO's office, boardroom and art collection was met with a quick, "No." Very impersonal place. Just from what I saw in my short visit was enough to make up my mind about ever working for General Dynamics.
Interco had, just three weeks before my arrival, moved into their new headquarters. They lease the 18th and 19th floors of a brand new 19-story building. Betty Mathes, Administrative Assistant, was the person who answered my questions and showed me around. Eighty people are at corporate headquarters and the offices are really nice. Got to see the CEO's office even though the workmen hadn't finished it. Interco is a major manufacturer and retailer of consumer products such as: Broyhill Furniture, Ethan Allen, Florsheim Shoes, and London Fog. Interco, as well as General Dynamics, Brown Group, Graybar Electric and Apex Oil have their offices in Clayton, a suburb about 5 miles from downtown St. Louis. Why? Probably because Clayton is right next to Ladue, Frontenac and close to Town & Country, three of the most affluent suburbs in the United States. You could bet your bottom dollar on many of the executives of the companies I visited live in those suburbs.
Union Electric, a utility company, is located a couple of miles from downtown in a dumpy part of town. Pinkerton security guard is the main receptionist and this guy must have been about 80 years old. He was real cranky and hard to communicate with. I couldn't believe a billion-dollar corporation would have such an unprofessional situation. I talked to Thomas Dehner, Supervisor, Public Information, and he wasn't very helpful. They own the 5-story building.
Ralston Purina's headquarters was easy to find because the 15-story main building has big red and white checkerboards all around the top of the building. From a distance, it looks like a hotel building. The street in front of Ralston Purina is called, what else, "Checkerboard Square." I had a great time visiting with Ronald Penoyer, Manager, Financial Communications, Public Relations. Ralston Purina lies about a mile from downtown St. Louis and almost right across the street from a huge housing project. It's not the best of areas and one doesn't have to have brains to figure out Ralston Purina is either making a commitment to revitalize a dumpy area or else got a deal on the land that was too good to pass up. Another reason the place reminds me of a hotel: there's a piano in the main lobby area. During lunchtime, a pianist plays for employees. There's an enclosed 4-acre park in front of the complex with three ponds filled with fish that are fed by employees during lunchtime. I spotted four barbecues outside the cafeteria area that are available for employees to barbecue their lunch. I also noticed a lot of security guards standing outside the headquarters complex. As I mentioned, it isn't in the best of areas. Ralston Purina owns Continental Baking Company, the largest wholesale baker of fresh bakery products in the United States.
I could tell I was getting close to Anheuser-Busch because you can smell the brewery about a mile away. Carl Bolz, Director, Corporate Communications, came down to the lobby and talked for a couple of minutes. Bolz made me feel like I was wasting his time so, I hurried through the questionnaire. Anheuser-Busch's corporate headquarters complex encompasses 100 acres. This includes a brewery that is a popular stop for tourists. A 9-story, red brick building built in 1980 is headquarters. There's a heliport on top of the building. Men's restroom had electric shoe buffer. There are security guards standing outside the building and inside the lobby area. Inside the large lobby there's a giant waterfall going into an indoor pool/pond filled with carp. I never got past the lobby area. I was really disappointed in my reception, especially since Budweiser is my favorite beer.
Peabody Coal is downtown on the waterfront in a dumpy-looking building built in 1958. The main reception area is small, with worn carpet, paint chipping off the walls and in definite need of a paint job. Talked to Gayla Hoffman, Manager, Public Relations, for about 5 minutes. Smoking is allowed anywhere in the building and it smelled like it. It's a 3-story structure with 200 employees. The main receptionist is a security guard and the guard has to buzz open the elevators for anyone going up. Good location: across the street from the Mississippi River and the famous arch. Was given a brochure called, "The First Hundred Years." It's a privately held company.
May Department Stores
Also located downtown is May Department Stores atop their flagship Famous-Barr store. I was told by the receptionist there was no one available to talk to me. The receptionist wasn't very helpful. Why? She made no effort to find out where my postcard sent to the CEO ended up. I told her it probably, but not always, ends up in Public Relations. She made one phone call and told me no one was in. That's the extent of her help. Why couldn't, or wouldn't, she call around and find out if someone in another department or office is familiar with my postcard? Why couldn't she see if someone else would be available to talk to me? Why couldn't she have shown a little resourcefulness? Oh well, that's one of my ways of telling the good receptionists from the bad.
What's brand new, 608-feet high, includes 1.5 million-square feet of floor space and covers an entire city block? Southwestern Bell's new 44-story headquarters in downtown St. Louis. It's a spiffy-looking building, the tallest in Missouri. First thing I noticed when I walked into the lobby area was the large number of security people. Security guards are the main receptionists. I counted six security guards in the lobby. Michael Reilly, Staff Specialist, Corporate Identity, came down to the lobby and spoke with me for a few minutes. My request for a tour was denied. He did tell me the new building housed the largest fiber-optic cable installation in any office building in the United States. Never left the lobby area. Would have liked to have seen the view from the top floor.
I made it to Emerson Electric around 5:30 p.m. and had a heck of a time getting there. It's located about 15 miles from downtown and had to go through some rough areas. There is a guard shack at the entrance and the guard waved me through after I told him what I was doing. I found the building he had directed me to and the receptionist in the lobby area is another security guard. Nice guy and very helpful. Most of the people had gone home for the day but, because of the guard's help, Carbrey, Director, Central Services and Traffic, said he would see me. I waited in the lobby area for about half an hour but, I didn't mind because they have some real interesting exhibits on their products. Emerson manufactures and sells a wide range of electrical-electronic products and systems. Most of their products are for industrial or government defense use. You might be familiar with some of their consumer lines: Skil power tools, Louisville ladders and they manufacture for Sears, some of Sears' Craftsman power tools. The wide diversity of products manufactured by Emerson Electric was very surprising. I was in Carbrey's office and started going down my questionnaire when, he decided it wasn't appropriate for him to answer my questions. I told him this was a one-shot deal for me and Emerson Electric was the last company in St. Louis for me to visit and was planning on leaving town tomorrow. My pleas were to no avail. He made me feel like I was some kind of a spy. I did find out the building I had visited was four stories and had 120,000-square feet and there were two tennis courts on the property. Don't know if they own the headquarters complex. I don't know how many acres the place encompassed but, it reminded me of a college campus. Lots of trees and green grass. Then again, with all the stupid rain, how could the grass not be green?
I had been in St. Louis for five days and it rained all five days. I still liked the city. I had seen the Gateway Arch hundreds of times on television and in newspaper and magazine pictures but, unless you actually stand underneath it, you don't get the feel of how absolutely marvelous and unique a structure it is. I had fun riding around the Forest Park (large city park) and Washington University areas. I tried all week during my stay in St. Louis to get a room in the Omni Hotel located in the reborn Union Station. A heck of a job was done at Union Station, renovating the structure and bringing it back to its previous grandeur. Lots of new construction going on in downtown but, there are plenty of neat old buildings. There was much concern of the rising Mississippi River. McDonalds and Burger King, one not wanting to be outdone by the other, each had a fast-food operation on adjacent paddlewheelers docked on the riverfront area.