I left St. Louis, crossing the Mississippi River and headed toward Decatur, Illinois. I passed through Alton, Illinois and visited the bronzed, life-size sculpture in memory of Alton-born Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in history at 8'11". What kind of life did he have? Was he a happy man? The plaque said he was known as the "Gentle Giant", did he have a choice? I averaged about 75 to 100 miles of riding a day and many a time I would wonder about such things as what would it have been like to be in Mr. Wadlow's shoes?
Passed through Springfield, Illinois, the state capital and hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Took a tour of the Dana-Thomas House, which was built in 1902 and designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. It had been 28 days since Minneapolis and it had rained 25 of the 28 days. Unbelievable!
Arrived Saturday around noontime in Decatur. About 3 miles from downtown I found the headquarters of Archer-Midland-Daniels, the commodities and food processor with revenues of over $6 billion. I wasn't able to go to the 5-story, sandy-colored building because it shares the grounds with one of their corn sweetener processing plants and the guards at the gate wouldn't let me on the grounds. The headquarters looked like a typical office building and I decided not to wait around until Monday morning. I left a questionnaire with the guards at the gate and asked them if they could relay it to the public relations department. (NOTE: I never did hear from them.) I was headed to Bloomington, Illinois but, I made a detour to check out Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois. Wasn't too impressed with the campus itself but, there's a seven-or eight-block commercial area near the campus filled with lots of interesting shops and food places.
State Farm Mutual Insurance
Bloomington, Illinois is homebase to State Farm Mutual Insurance. Why is one of the largest insurance companies in the world located in Bloomington? Because it started out in 1922 meeting the auto insurance needs of farmers in Illinois and take it from someone who has seen it first-hand; this area is farm country! Did I have trouble finding State Farm's headquarters considering their address is 1 State Farm Plaza? Well, Bloomington, with a population of 40,000, isn't exactly overflowing with tall buildings and the main building of State Farm's complex is 12-stories tall so it kind of sticks out. Built in 1972 on 39 acres, over 3,000 employees work in the complex which has over 1,250,000-square feet of office space. For such a huge place, I saw no close-circuit security monitors or security guards. Jeanette Deems, Public Relations Assistant, was the one I ended up talking with. One of the first things I mentioned to her was the seemingly lack of security. With thousands of people going in and out of the building each day with only one receptionist, (who never seems to look up) how do you justify it? According to what she told me, one of the advantages of working in a small town is that you know everybody. That was the company's reasoning. Makes sense to me. Has two cafeterias and a formal dining room. Has two escalators and an impressive 4-story atrium in the lobby area. They own the complex. Three miles away is a private park for company employees with baseball field, tennis court and pool.
Growmark, Inc. is a farm co-op (sales in 1985-$1.8 billion) with its headquarters in Bloomington. They lease 77,000-square feet of space in a five-story building built in 1961 and owned by the Illinois Farm Bureau. Parking is on a first come, first serve basis for the 450 employees. Received a nice reception from Robert Howland, Director of Public Relations. I saw my first Rug Runner while visiting. Say what? The Rug Runner is a robot built by Bell & Howell that delivers mail around the offices. It is guided by a "track" under the carpet that moves it along a programmed route.
Spent a couple of days in Bloomington and its twin city, Normal. Stayed at a Hampton Inn, a new lodging chain with rooms in the $35 to $45 range. Very impressed. I also was impressed with the town of Normal and the campus of Illinois State University, which has over 18,000 students.
A few miles out of Normal, Illinois, is where I was attacked by two vicious dogs. Having dogs chase after you in the Midwest had gotten to be pretty normal and actually, I found most of the dogs to be all bark and no action. Matter of fact, I usually would stop and let the dogs catch up to me and pet 'em until, I met THOSE two killer farm dogs. One of the dogs actually ripped a hole in one of my saddlebags and came awfully close to catching my foot. The two dogs seemed to have a "tag team" system worked out where one runs in the lead for a while then tags the other to take over the chase.
As I was riding to Peoria, I passed through Morton (population 15,000) and did a little sleuthing. As I went down the main drag of Morton, I noticed behind a fence a big dump truck on a ramp-like structure and in the back of the truck was a load of pumpkins. Peeking through the fence, I saw a big yard filled with 15-foot high mounds of pumpkins and a conveyor belt. Then I caught a whiff of the smell. You know, the kind you smell around Thanksgiving. I saw a Del Monte logo on a small sign and bingo, it came to me, this is a Del Monte pumpkin processing plant!
Caterpillar is located in Peoria, Illinois (population 125,000). You've heard of Caterpillar; they're the ones who sell all the caps the farmers wear and as a sideline, manufacture machinery. Headquarters is right smack downtown in a 9-story building built in 1967. I was well received by Gilbert Nolde, Public Information Manager. Over 2,000 employees work in the 500,000-square foot headquarters building, with a 1600-space parking structure located behind it. In a company that makes big, massive earth moving, construction and materials handling machinery, one would expect a big, massive lobby area and that's what you get. Outside on flagpoles are eight flags. One is the United States flag and the 7 others are of countries they do business with and are rotated periodically. Matter of fact, Nolde told me that they were putting up the flag of China the next day to welcome a visiting Chinese delegation. I walked across the street from headquarters and joined Caterpillar employees standing in lines buying their lunch from street vendors. Must have been a brewery in Peoria somewhere because the air was filled with the smell of yeast.
Deere & Company
After Peoria, I made my way to Moline, Illinois, which is one of the cities, which comprise the Quad Cities area. Moline and Rock Island, Illinois are on one side of the Mississippi River and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa are on the other side of the river. The road from Peoria to Moline was littered with hundreds and hundreds of dead snakes. Evidently, the high floodwaters have caused them to seek higher ground and they sure weren't making it. It reminded me of when I came down from Minnesota to Iowa and came across thousands of dead frogs. About five miles from downtown Moline is where I found the spectacular headquarters of Deere & Company. It sits on an 1,000-acre site overlooking the Rock River Valley. The complex is made up of a main office building, a 400-seat auditorium, a product display building (all built in 1964) and an additional building built in 1978. It's about a quarter-mile ride up the driveway to the main reception entrance. The grounds are beautifully landscaped with lots of trees. Two lakes, one larger than the other, sit in front of the main building. Besides adding to the landscape, the larger lake also serves the purpose of cooling the water that circulates in the air-conditioning system. Water, heated by the system, is sprayed into the air from several hundred fountains in the lake to cool it before it is recirculated. The smaller lake has an island in the middle and on it is a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore entitled, "Hill Arches." There is also a Japanese Rock Garden. I saw gardeners cutting the grass and stopped and checked to make sure they were using John Deere lawnmowers. They were. Paul Knedler, Manager, Visitors Services, was the fellow who took care of me. They have quite an impressive Visitor's center. I took one of the tours. They actually take you through some of the office work areas and you really get a feel of the place. In the display hall is an unique three-dimensional mural created by Alexander Girard, which is a composition of rural Americana using actual objects preserved from the years 1837 to 1918. Samples of the various products John Deere manufactures are on display including; farm equipment, large earthmovers, lawnmowers and snowmobiles. The tallest building in the complex is 7 stories and there are 800,000 square feet of office space and 1,200 employees. The CEO's office is, believe it or not, on the second floor overlooking the lakes. Walking through the place I felt like there were no secrets. This place is as impressive as Weyerhauser's in Seattle. Matter of fact, there are some similarities in their appearances and Knedler told me quite a few other people have commented on the likeness of the two headquarters.
Rockford, Illinois, I was surprised to find out, is the second largest city in Illinois with a population of over 140,000. Rockford is also home to Sunstrand, an aerospace and defense contractor and manufacturer of heavy industrial equipment. I made it into Rockford from Moline by nightfall (110 miles) thanks to Robert Hribal giving me a ride in his truck the last few miles. It wasn't just any truck, it was a Mrs. Fisher's Potato Chips truck. Robert is a deliveryman for Mrs. Fisher's Potato Chips and was on his way home to Rockford (homebase to Mrs. Fisher's Potato Chips). When he picked me up he still had several stops to make and it was very informative and interesting to watch and hear him charm, shoot the breeze and cajole with his customers as we stopped at two bars and two supermarkets. He had his territory and it was his to build it up or lose. Did he offer me a bag of chips? Of course, but, I declined because once I start, I can't stop eating potato chips!
Received a warm welcome to Sunstrand by Robert Carlson, Corporate Director, Communications. The 3-story building I visited was going to shortly lose its status as the head honcho's office because a new headquarters building was being built next door. The 95,000-square foot building built in 1968 has about a half dozen or so small water fountains outside the main lobby entrance. About 350 employees work in the structure. Square footage of the total complex was 740,000 square feet, with 4,500 employees and 4,500 parking spaces. Sunstrand was the first corporation to interview and take pictures of me for their company newsletter and it sure felt funny being the one answering questions instead of asking them. I was impressed with Sunstrand's openness in allowing access to see anything and everything in their headquarters, especially since they are a big defense contractor and my past experiences with defense contractors hadn't been the best. When one visits Sunstrand, you don't go away without a memento: at the main receptionist's desk is a bowl of miniature Beech Nut gum packages called, "Beechies", and on the back of each Beechies packages is the Sunstrand logo.
I left Rockford and made my way up to Wausau, Wisconsin. Passed through Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin and the state capital. As I was going through Stevens Point, I went by the headquarters of Sentry Insurance. It's a huge building and from what locals told me, Sentry has its own golf course surrounding the property. For some reason, they weren't on my list of companies to visit and, since I didn't send them one of my postcards, I felt it was inappropriate for me to just show up. I was to later find out Sentry has revenues of over $1 billion and should have been included.
Arrived in Wausau (population 33,000) on a cold, drizzly Saturday night. I was looking through one of the local visitor's directories and saw an ad for Wausau Insurance. Evidently, they have a conference center on the property that they rent out. Got up on Sunday morning and it was snowing. Not good. The forecast for the next couple of days was more of the same. I got on my bike and rode over to check out Wausau Insurance's headquarters. It's a 3-story, large white building about a half-mile from downtown Wausau surrounded by trees and lots of grass. There's a lake out front with a sign reading, "No fishing or swimming." Leaving Wausau Insurance, I rode my bike around town, specifically looking for the famous Wausau train station, the one used in the Wausau Insurance advertisements. Found it near downtown and it looks the same as in the commercials. Wausau is a nice, clean, friendly small town. Did my laundry and had to go into a convenience store to get change. One thing I had noticed in the Midwest and, especially in Wisconsin, is that everyone smokes! Smokers in Wisconsin have no sense of common courtesy. They smoke in supermarkets, bakeries, anywhere. Anyway, I go into this convenience store and the cashier, an older woman, is smoking away and so is the guy paying for gas. I told her I was from California and had been traveling around the country and it seemed to me that EVERYONE in Wisconsin smoked. The old lady looked me over and, without missing a beat said matter of factly, "Everyone in California is on drugs." So much for my generalizing. I had to make a decision. Do I spend Sunday night in Wausau in order to visit Wausau Insurance on Monday morning or do I catch a bus Sunday afternoon to Green Bay in order to get out of the snow?
I arrived by bus in Green Bay, Wisconsin on a cold Sunday afternoon. I checked into a hotel and from what I understand, I was lucky to get a room because the Packers were playing a game. It was cold and, of course, the heater in my room wasn't working. Many of the people in Green Bay are on the heavy side and the blame for that could probably be traced to the weather because I had been eating like a pig ever since encountering the cold in Wisconsin. City of Green Bay has a population of 90,000. Did you know Green Bay is the largest meat-packing center east of the Mississippi? A brochure in my room also mentioned Green Bay being the tissue paper capital of America. I bet the company I'm visiting has something to do with the last statement.
Fort Howard Paper
Fort Howard Paper is located in an industrial part of town in a huge complex which, at first glance, looks like a prison. The main entrance is guarded by a 3-story structure that looks like a miniature fort. Get it, Fort Howard, miniature fort? There's a big, long, 3-story red brick building with smokestacks behind it which leads me to the conclusion this is also a manufacturing plant. In the background is a big water tower with the Fort Howard logo imprinted on it. A giant sign on the front of the red brick building says in big letters, "Fort Howard Paper Company." Make no mistake about it, I've found the place. I go inside and I end up talking to Janet Carl, Governmental Affairs Representative, who informs me she really isn't the right person for me to be talking to. I told her this was a one-shot deal for me and my questions weren't that difficult. Very small, plain lobby area. Never got past the lobby. She scored six points on my 1-10 scale. She made it seem Fort Howard was a privately-held company. First corporate headquarters I've visited to have their own fire department. Actually, the fire department is for the big manufacturing plant. I was told the CEO's office was a corner office on the third floor. When I left, I went out the gate and looked up to where the CEO's office was supposed to be. Guess what? The CEO has a view of an adjacent junkyard. Guy probably makes a half million dollars a year and gets to look at a junkyard.
I made my way down to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the 18th largest city in the USA. I liked the city. Riding around (in the rain, of course), you could tell it was an industrial town, with belching smokestacks and distinct ethnic neighborhoods. The Grand Avenue Mall is an impressive, enclosed downtown shopping mall. The city fronts Lake Michigan and not too far from downtown along the waterfront, are big elegant mansions from the turn-of-the-century. I was more impressed with the stately homes near the downtown waterfront than with the homes in the village of Fox Point, a suburb of Milwaukee and one of the 74 most affluent suburbs in the country. Fox Point also overlooks Lake Michigan but, the homes aren't as grand. I did get a kick out of riding through Fox Point and seeing deer in the front yards of several homes. I talked to a mailman in the neighborhood and was told wildlife is common around Fox Point because of all the wooded forest areas. It was the middle of October and leaves were turning, which made the wooded areas even more beautiful. I headed over to Elm Grove, another one of the 74 most affluent suburbs in the USA but, wasn't all that impressed with the area.
Wisconsin Electric Power
Wisconsin Electric Power's headquarters is located downtown in a building which used to be the transportation terminal for the city of Milwaukee. The 5-story structure was built in 1905 and has 391,000-square feet of space. Next door to it workmen were finishing up the new annex building which will have 415,000 square feet when finished. I ended up talking to a super nice man, Charles Ziegler, Senior Public Information Representative. Had 2 security guards in the lobby area.
Northwestern Mutual Life
Northwestern Mutual Life's headquarters complex is a combination of old and new. An 8-story old building that looks like a courthouse, was built in 1912 and connected to it is a new 16-story office building. The man I spoke to was Dave Hingtgen, Specialist, Public Relations. Unfortunately, Hingtgen didn't come across as a specialist to me. Very cold, not outgoing. On my 1-10 scale, I gave him a 3. Over 2,400 employees work at headquarters complex and I would like to tell you the square footage but, Hingtgen didn't know and made no effort to find out. When asked if they had a corporate logo, I was told they're known as the "Quiet Company." Headquarters is located a block from Lake Michigan and there is a security guard/ receptionist. There are public tours of the place and Hingtgen told me to make a reservation at the front desk. Northwestern Mutual Life was listed in the book, "100 Best Companies to Work For in America." Hope my experience with Hingtgen wasn't the norm.
Found Johnson Controls a few miles from downtown. What do they do? Johnson Controls is the largest supplier of automotive replacement batteries in the United States, the largest independent supplier of seating for the U.S. automotive industry, the largest supplier of plastic soft drink bottles and a leading worldwide supplier of systems and services to manage energy use, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, fire safety and security for commercial buildings and industrial facilities. Whew! Talked to Mary Brevard, Public Relations Coordinator. Headquarters building is completely surrounded by over 2 million gallons of water, which is used in the air conditioning system. The 2-story structure was built in 1965 and has 207,080 square feet. About 500 employees get their pick of 680 parking spaces. Got a kick out of seeing their auditorium because the chairs are vinyl seats that swivel, like the ones found in mini-vans (which are one of the products Johnson Controls manufactures for the auto-makers).
My second morning in Milwaukee started out miserably. The heater in my hotel room wasn't working and I had a lousy night's sleep because it went down to 32 degrees and I just about froze my "you know what" off. I left the hotel around 8:00 a.m. to catch the 8:30 a.m. tour of Northwestern Life I had signed up for. Hopped on my bike and the back tire was flat. It's never the front one that goes flat, nope, it's always the back one which is more difficult to change. Of course, I missed my tour.
S.C. Johnson & Son
Left Milwaukee on October 14, 1986 and made my way down to Racine, Wisconsin. S.C. Johnson & Son, makers of Johnson Wax, Raid insecticides, Glad air fresheners, Shout laundry stain remover and many other consumer products, is headquartered about a half-mile from downtown Racine in a magnificent complex designed by the noted architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Administrative Center was built in 1939 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. What a fascinating building! When I arrived, Serge Logan, Director of Corporate Social Responsibilities, met me. We had no sooner shaken hands, when I was whisked off to catch a scheduled tour of the place that was just starting. I could probably write pages and pages describing the building but, it's one of those buildings you have to see to believe. Almost 50 years after it opened, the place is still something unique to see. To give you an idea; the 3-story brick and stone structure was built entirely without windows and utilizes 43 miles of glass tubing for both natural and artificial lighting. Gives shadowless lighting day or night. The 60,000-square foot building has a main office work space called, the "Great Workroom", which measures 128' x 208'. Overlooking the Great Workroom is a mezzanine gallery that provides additional office space.
The research and development tower built in 1950 and connected to the Administrative Center is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I wasn't able to see the boardroom because it is at their conference center complex a few miles away. There's a heliport on the grounds. Mr. Logan was very accommodating and a nice guy. Even the Pinkerton security guards at the entrance gates were friendly and helpful. Why do I sound so impressed? S.C. Johnson & Son is a privately-held company (over $2 billion in revenues), and the company is more open than about 90% of the publicly-held companies I've visited so far. From what I saw, and who I talked to, I can easily understand why this company made the list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For in America." Right outside the main entrance is the Johnson Wax Rondelle. It's the center for the company's Guest Relations and Public Tour Program and is available for use by community groups. The somewhat oval-shaped building with a 500-seat theatre was originally designed as the Johnson Wax Pavilion in the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. After the fair, it was brought to Racine and the structure was redesigned to complement the existing Administration Building and Research Tower. About six miles from corporate headquarters is a 147-acre company recreational center, complete with basketball courts, tennis courts, fitness center, softball fields and many other athletic facilities. Even though their recreational center is impressive, it doesn't qualify because it isn't located at, or on the grounds of corporate headquarters. When I ask the question, "Any recreational facilities on the premises?", many companies tell me about having a fitness center, jogging track, etc., at one of their plants or subsidiaries several blocks or miles away but, that isn't good enough. It HAS to be at corporate headquarters.
From Racine, I headed down toward Chicago. I spent a night in Kenosha, Wisconsin (population 77,000) and rode by the monstrous-sized Chrysler plant on Lake Michigan. The complex of buildings went on for about a mile! Kenosha sticks out in my mind because of all the taverns. Seems like the Midwest has tons of neighborhood taverns and maybe I noticed it more around the Milwaukee area because of its past/present reputation as a beer brewery center.