On the road in Chicago
I finally made it to Chicago. What to do. I have 53 companies to visit in the area and are they ever spread out! I bought several maps of Chicago and started plotting my plan of attack. Twenty-nine of the companies on my list were located downtown and twenty-four were in the suburbs. I elect to take care of the suburbs first.
NICOR, a utility company, is located in Naperville, a booming suburban area about 35 miles west of downtown Chicago. Headquarters is in a 3-story, 120,000-square foot structure built in 1963 and sitting on a 55-acre site next to the East-West Tollway. Why do I mention the East-West Tollway? Because looking either way up the Tollway you see new, modern office buildings hugging both sides of the road for miles. Carolyn Lenz, Assistant Secretary and Director Investor Relations, says NICOR was pretty much the first company to move out to the area. Which explains why their headquarters looks so old compared to their neighbors. Before you can get in the lobby area of NICOR, you have to be buzzed in by a security guard sitting in a glass booth near the main entrance. It's the old Catch-22 again: I can't use the restroom to change from my shorts into long pants until I give him the name of the person I want to see and I can't give him the name of the person I want to see until he gives me the name of someone in Public Relations. The security guard and I went around in circles until he finally got a hold of Lenz, who came down to the plain lobby area. On my scale of 1-10, she gets a 7. There is a baseball field and two lakes on the grounds and as of 2/1/87, smoking is banned completely. Approximately 700 people work at headquarters.
Sign out near the road says, "McDonald's Plaza" but, I knew I had found the place because a McDonald's shuttle bus was leaving the parking lot. McDonald's is located in Oak Brook, a suburb with a population of 7,000, about 15 miles from downtown Chicago. The building is an 8-story, white building with closed-circuit security cameras and fake owls on the roof. On the first floor is a McDonald's restaurant and guess what? --the menu had McPizza, along with beer and wine. A local bank is located on the first floor. The receptionist was reading a book and seemed irritated that I interrupted her. Stella Muniz-Puterbaugh, Consumer Relations Representative, came down to the lobby and told me there was no way they could answer any of my questions. I told her McDonald's was the first company to tell me that. She then went back upstairs and returns 5 minutes later, telling me every question has to be in writing AND sent in advance. It seemed like she was straining to be nice and she made me feel like I was a pain. She did however, tell me to get in the elevator and proceeded to take me to the top floor. The top floor is the executive floor and is very unique because there are no offices or partitions separating the desks. The desk of Mr. Turner, the CEO, looked no different than the others except for it being in a corner. In the middle of the floor is their "think tank." You go down this padded hallway and at the end of the hallway is a padded room. You take your shoes off, go inside and close the door. I was told anyone from a secretary on up to the CEO, can take off their shoes, go in this room, and do whatever they want. Hmmm. I wonder what the fellas at NWA would say. (Remember when I visited NWA, parent of Northwest Airlines, in Minneapolis and told you about there not being any doors on the bathroom stalls). The lobby area had some unusual pop art on display and I did hear Muzak. Muniz-Puterbaugh, on my 1-10 scale, received 3 points. The receptionist received 1 star on my 1-5 scale. I was very disappointed in my reception. I assumed a consumer-oriented company would have been more receptive and also because the postcard I sent to the CEO said I was from La Jolla, (that's where Joan Kroc, the largest shareholder of McDonald's stock lives). I was also told that I couldn't write anything about McDonald's unless it had been cleared through them.
Just about across the street from McDonald's is CBI Industries, a holding company with interests in contracting services and industrial gases. I talked to G. Graham Harper, Director-Public Relations and Advertising. The 3-story structure was built in 1962 and has a leased-back arrangement. Which means they owned the building, sold it and now lease space in it. Noticed Muzak playing in the plain-looking lobby area. Nice receptionist. 800 parking spaces for the 400 employees on a 20.5-acre site. One of the first companies to locate in the Oak Brook area and it looks it. CBI Industries used to be known as the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company.
Also located in Oak Brook about a mile down the road from McDonald's, is Waste Management. You get three guesses as to what business they're in. I showed up around noontime and was told no one was available to see me. Left one of my postcards and said I'd try and get back. Small sign out front says, "Waste Management" and it looked like they just rent space in the building because there was a similar-looking office building next door.
I had the hardest time finding MidCon Corporation's headquarters. The address was in Lombard, Illinois, which is right next to Oak Brook but, the streets zigzagged and changed from one name to another. I feel like a fool for admitting this but, it took me over an hour to find the place and it was only about 2 miles from Waste Management. So guess what? I finally find the place and at the entrance is a big sign saying, "MidCon" in big letters and below it in smaller letters, "a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation." MidCon, a billion-dollar corporation had been taken over by Occidental and I didn't remember reading about it in the papers! I felt like an idiot because I prided myself on religiously reading the Wall Street Journal newspaper and Fortune, Forbes, Business Week magazines. I obviously slipped up. In case you are wondering, MidCon's headquarters looks to be a 4-story building and from the construction going on, it looks like they're building an additional structure that will be connected to the main building.
UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, is headquartered in Elk Grove, Illinois. For some reason, I thought UAL would be closer to O'Hare Airport but, it's about 10 miles away. Big sign out front near the street reads; "United Airlines." The receptionist, who was very helpful, connected me to a lady who told me she didn't have time to see me but, could answer my questionnaire over the phone. Can you imagine what was going through my mind when she told me that? It went something like this: "Jeez lady, I've been riding my bike around the country putting up with lousy weather, horrendous traffic, poor roads to get here and you're tell me you're too busy to see me, yet, you have time to talk over the phone! Don't you know anything about public relations??" Plus, when we went through my questionnaire over the phone, she didn't know answers to most of the questions and made no effort to find them or at least tell me she would attempt to find the answers and mail them to me. What a sour experience. Even the receptionist was amazed at the lady's lack of helpfulness. Headquarters is a huge complex with over 3,000 employees. It was built in 1960 and she had no idea if UAL owned the complex, the square footage of the building, etc. There is a tennis court and swimming pool on the premises. The tallest building is seven stories. So, I guess it's okay to fly the friendly skies of United but, don't visit their headquarters.
After leaving UAL, my back tire had a blow out. It wasn't just a flat, but my tire actually blew out. I had to walk my bike almost three miles to a bike shop. As I was walking my bike, I passed the headquarters of the Audit Bureau of Circulations in Schaumburg (population 52,000). The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) is a not-for-profit association funded by the three groups it serves: advertisers, advertising agencies and publishers. ABC are the folks who verify publisher's circulation claims. Being the nosy person I am, I went inside and got a couple of brochures from the receptionist.
Tuesday morning, October 21, 1986, found me visiting Staley Continental in Rolling Meadows, a suburb about 30 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. Staley Continental is a food wholesaler-distributor and food processor. The 12th floor of a 12-story building, part of a complex of office buildings called, "Continental Towers", is where the main reception area is located. I gave the receptionist my postcard. While she was on the phone, I asked her where the restroom was because I wanted to change from my shorts into long pants. After changing, I went back to the receptionist who told me the man I was to talk to is busy and for me to make an appointment and come back. I then told her I was going to use the men's room again to change back into my shorts. She said, "No, use the restrooms downstairs" in a tone that was meant to let me know I wasn't good enough to use theirs. On my scale of 1-5 stars, she scored zero.
Also located in Rolling Meadows is Gould, Inc., a manufacturer of electronic products and systems. Headquarters is on the 9th and 10th floors of a building complex called, "Gould Center." Receptionist was very cold and indifferent and told me I had to have an appointment. Receptionist scored 1 star on my 1-5 scale. Out on the front lawn was a 2-story sculpture. I wasn't able to decipher who, or what it was. Why don't companies stick a plaque somewhere or, at least, tell the security guards or receptionist who did the sculpture, if it's got a name or the story behind it?
Next on my list was Motorola, located in Schaumburg on a 325-acre site. The security guard-receptionist was very friendly and connected me to Charles Sengstock, Director of Corporate Relations. Sengstock pulled the same number on me as the lady at UAL had done a day earlier; he was too busy to see me in person but, we could do the questionnaire over the phone. On my scale of 1-10, Sengstock received 2 points. There are quite a few buildings on the site and the headquarters building was built in 1976. Over 7,000 employees work in the various buildings. Saw a baseball diamond and a volleyball court. When I first walked in the lobby, there was a plaque at the reception area that stated, "All briefcases and purses are subject to inspection." I asked the receptionist/guard what they looked for and she said, "Cameras and bombs." and I said, "Have you ever found anything and, if I did have a camera, do you think I would put it in my briefcase?" She just shrugged her head.
Square D is a manufacturer of electrical distribution and control equipment and a supplier of electronic material components, products and systems. Corporate headquarters is a beautiful facility in Palantine, about 35 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. The main lobby reception area reminds me of a hotel lobby with lots of real plants, bright reddish-orange carpet and glass ceiling to let in the light. Robert Fiorani, Director, Corporate Communications and Investor Relations, met with me and gave me a warm reception and a full tour of the facility. The 3-story building sits on a 48-acre, grassy site and was built in 1979. Sign out near the road says, "Square D Company." There's a small lake out front and I saw bike racks. I've been finding out companies have lakes for purposes other than for show; the water is used for the heating and air conditioning systems in the buildings. Fiorani received 10 points on my 1-10 scale and Luann Bausch, the receptionist, received 5 stars on my 1-5 scale. Impressed with the people I met.
After leaving Square D in Palantine, I headed a couple of miles north to the rustic suburb of Long Grove to find CF Industries and Kemper. Going down a two-lane, country-like road, I found the entrance to CF Industries' headquarters. I hung a left turn and followed the driveway for about a half-mile past tall cornfields and forests until I came to a guardhouse. The guard called ahead and I was given clearance. I was met in the lobby by Mr. Daniel Van Tassel, Director, Corporate Communications. The first thing you notice when you enter the lobby (you can't miss it), is a pierced steel and copper mural, measuring 8' x 50' entitled, "The Bountiful Harvest" by Allen Ditson and Lee Porzio-a husband and wife team of artists. The mural was commissioned by CF Industries to be the dominant work of art in its international headquarters and, according to a brochure I read, "depicting the involvement of CF Industries, Inc. in man's historic quest for food." It's a real eye-catcher. For that matter, so is their headquarters. It's got a very tranquil setting with a lake, lots of trees and well-kept grounds. The headquarters building, built in 1976, is a long, 3-story structure with 150,000 square feet overlooking the lake. The company owns the 45-acre site. What does CF Industries do? They manufacture and distribute fertilizers to their owners-19 North American farm cooperatives. I showed up at a very bad time. Why? As Mr. Van Tassel was walking me around the corridors, we passed quite a few people in the hallways and no one ever said, "Hi" to us or to each other. Most people seemed to be avoiding eye contact and the place reminded me of a library. I told Mr. Van Tassel that when visiting corporate headquarters and given a tour, I make mental notes of such things as (1) type of working atmosphere such as formal, informal and is the place hectic, easy going; (2) do people acknowledge me or each other in hallways and corridors; and (3) do I sense everyone is part of a "team" or is the place impersonal? You'd be amazed at what you can pick up just by walking through a work area. Anyway, Van Tassel told me the company had just laid off 200 people and was going to have to let more go and I guess everyone was trying not to be noticed, which would explain why everyone looked down and avoided eye contact. I was also told they were going to rent out part of the building as a cost-saving measure. The 280 employees have some excellent facilities to relieve stress. There are jogging trails around the grounds, a fitness center-with a fitness director, and they can sail, fish or go rowing on the company's lake. Being out in the country has its advantages but, a disadvantage is it takes 45 minutes to get to O'Hare Airport. Van Tassel scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale. I looked through some of the material I was given and found I had already visited Land O'Lakes and Growmark, 2 of the 19 farm co-ops that own CF Industries. Three more of the co-ops were still on my list to visit, Agway, Gold Kist and Indiana Farm Bureau.
As I left CF Industries, I found myself thinking about what it would be like to be fired, canned, given the pink slip or let go from a big corporation because business is way down or business is in a slump. Do some people in management actually enjoy the job of getting rid of people?
A couple of miles down the road I found the sprawling headquarters of Kemper Corporation, an insurance, financial services holding company. Why do I use the word sprawling? The site is 620 acres. Corporate headquarters is comprised of three buildings called, "Building #1", with 430,000 square feet, "Building #2", with 164,000 square feet and, "Building #3", with 190,000 square feet. I bet if I had asked around, some of the employees would have their own pet names for the buildings. I showed up at Kemper around 4:00 in the afternoon and I received a warm reception by Charles Meinhardt, Corporate Relations Service Supervisor, Community Relations Coordinator, even though the workday was over at 3:45 p.m. Kemper had a booklet on their headquarters complex and it was filled with all kinds of information such as; Building #1 being built in 1971, the grounds contain more than 200 different varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers and, to preserve the natural environment, none of the buildings were constructed more than 3-stories high. (It was also, I found out, because of pressure from the homeowners nearby.) The buildings are bordered on three sides by five interconnecting man-made lakes extending over a mile in length. The largest of the lakes is 68 acres. Small, non-motor boats are allowed on the larger lakes, which are stocked with bluegill, northern pike and bass. Hundreds of ducks and geese and a flock of swans make their home around the lakes. I can vouch for that because there were lots of bird droppings. The grounds also have a physical fitness course and the Kemper Lakes Golf Course, which is home to the Illinois PGA and is operated as an independent profit center. Public use is by appointment only and employees are given a discount rate. Employees are also given a discount to use the 11 tennis courts at the Kemper Lakes Tennis Club.
Kemper has a corporate art collection of over 500 works. Kemper has its own art curator and the estimated value of the collection is about a million dollars. Many of the corporations I've been visiting have a corporate art collection but, very few go to the trouble as Kemper has in placing a card next to each piece. Also, besides just identifying the artist and title, Kemper adds a description of technique and some historical perspective on the art. Kemper encourages employees to commute to work. One of the ways is this; there are approximately 2,000 parking spaces for over 2,700 employees. Kemper also has its own chapel. Several employees have been married in the chapel. Why is there a chapel? As I mentioned earlier, Kemper is kind of located in the boonies and with such a large number of employees, unfortunate situations arise and managers will sometimes use the chapel as a place to communicate bad news such as a death in the family. It's also a place for private meditation and for managers to discuss personal problems with employees. Meinhardt scored 9 points on my scale of 1-10. I've been finding insurance companies to have pretty good-sized libraries and Kemper's has over 40,000 volumes. Also have a fully equipped audio and video studio and a "company" store, which sells magazines, candy, stamps, etc., and is operated by visually handicapped people employed by the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation. Kemper is an impressive, self-contained headquarters complex. Kemper has a security staff of 25 people patrolling the grounds and buildings. I had a good laugh after leaving Kemper because when I had earlier approached the entrance to CF Industries and Kemper on the two-lane country road, a yellow county sign announced, "Plant Entrance", as if the two headquarters had manufacturing plants on the property.
Wednesday morning, October 22, found me riding up the driveway of Zenith Electronics in Glenview, a suburb about 20 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. Zenith Center (that's what they call the headquarters building), is situated on a 183-acre triangular tract of land, and occupies 32 landscaped acres along the base of the tract. According to the brochure I was given, it is designed so that a building could be added on the north and would be served by the present freestanding lobby. The receptionist was a gruff, unfriendly security guard. There were about a dozen businessmen in the lobby/reception area and every one of them was smoking. There was an interesting display of old Zenith televisions and radios. John Taylor, Manager, Public Relations, came down to the lobby and talked to me for about 5 minutes. Taylor received 6 points on my 1-10 scale. Zenith owns their headquarters and the 8-story building with 502,000-square feet, looks older than it is (1976). There is a parking lot with 1,050 parking spaces and I was told there are about 1,500 employees at Zenith Center. There's a 55-car parking lot for visitors and three baseball fields.
As I was making my way down Sanders Road to Household International in Prospect Heights, I came across the headquarters of Allstate Insurance. The complex was huge and, for some reason I couldn't remember why I didn't have Allstate on my list of companies to visit so; I stopped and got off my bike to take pictures of the place in case I found out later I should have visited them. I'm taking pictures of the entrance area because that's where several signs are located which read, "Allstate." Also at the entrance, is a guard station. A security guard drives up in a truck and tells me not to take any more pictures or I'll "get my ass in trouble." I told the security man I was on a public street and he couldn't tell me what to do. I said to him, "Matter of fact, I'm going across to the other side of the street and take more pictures", and with that, my bike and I crossed the street and starting taking more pictures. Well, the security guard whipped out his walkie-talkie and evidently called for reinforcements because another guard comes roaring out of the complex in a truck and confronts me as to what I'm doing. I'm normally not very confrontational but, I told the security guard I was on public property and it was none of his business what I was doing. This went on for a few minutes until I finally pulled out one of my postcards I send to the CEO and gave it to the guard to read. I told him Allstate wasn't on my list of companies to visit but, I wanted to take pictures of the place just in case I should have visited. Then I told the security guard that the other guard had used profanity and over-reacted and the whole incident will make interesting material for my book. As I rode off, it suddenly clicked as to why Allstate wasn't on my list; they're a subsidiary of Sears.
Right next door to Allstate is the headquarters for A.C. Nielsen, the market research firm, which is a subsidiary of Dunn & Bradstreet.
Household International's headquarters building was built in 1978 and sits almost across the street from Allstate on a 31-acre site in Prospect Heights, a suburb about 25 miles from downtown Chicago. When I entered the property, I saw some workers trying to catch two large swans in the pond. I was told they were catching the swans in order to ship them back to Florida. Say what? Household International leases the swans every year to keep the geese off the company's grounds. Evidently, it works because across the street on the grounds of Allstate were hundreds of Canadian geese and there were none at Household. It's not enough to have swans though, they have to be male and female swans because they mate for life. Do you realize how much money I could have made by selling the information to the dozens of companies I had already visited, who had problems with too many geese and didn't know how to get rid of them?
Household International owns their headquarters and the good-looking, red brick, 4-story structure has 370,000-square feet of space. Past the reception area is a 4-story atrium filled with exotic plants and trees. I ended up talking to Norman Ridley, Director of Philanthropic Services. Scored 6 points on my scale of 1-10. Ridley wasn't very personable and wasn't much for small talk. There is a fitness center, a softball diamond and running track on the premises. There are 1,100 employees at headquarters vying for 750 outside parking spaces. Vice-Presidents on up get the 50 parking spaces inside the building. There are two ponds. On the main wall of the 4-story atrium hangs a major fiber sculpture by Dorothy Hughes. Personally, I wasn't impressed by the 33' x 22' high, constructed, low relief fiber sculpture.
The most interesting item I picked up from visiting Household International was an item out of their annual report. The report quoted something Donald Clark, CEO, of Household International said at the 1985 Annual Shareholder's Meeting, "Household's dedication to the concept of operational excellence--in people, in planning and in performance--is the primary reason for our success." Mr. Clark's quote was followed by several pages of discussion on operational excellence. Under the heading, "Operational Excellence: People", was another quote, "A corporation is only as good as its people. Customers judge a corporation on the basis of their contacts with employees." How very true. For example, whenever someone mentions 3M Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, I automatically think of the indifferent receptionist and the abrupt reception I received by Ben Marsh, Creative and Information Services Manager, Public Relations Department. 3M may have over 80,000 employees but, because of the negative experiences I had with two of the employees, my perception of the company is that of a cold, unfriendly organization. Unfortunately, or is it fortunately, first impressions leave the biggest impressions! Don't know if you caught it or not but, Ridley of Household International received 6 points on my 1-10 point scale. Don't know if the annual report was required reading for employees of Household International.
International Minerals & Chemical Corporation
Down the road from Household International is International Minerals & Chemical Corporation. Even though both companies are on the same road (Sanders Road), IMC is in the suburb of Northbrook. One of the first things I noticed when riding onto the grounds of IMC, was the pond and Canadian geese out front of the 2-story headquarters building. Sandra Tippet, Manager, Northbrook Facilities, was the one who met with me and I right away told her the secret of shooing away the geese. IMC owns the 67,500-square foot building which was built in 1979 and sits on a nine-acre site. The place was filled with a lot of contemporary art. There are over 700 works in IMC's overall collection. In case you are wondering, IMC is the world's largest private producer of fertilizer materials. Parking is no problem for the 92 employees because there are 135 parking spots. I did see a limo waiting out front for Kennedy, the CEO, so I don't know if he drives his own car to work or is driven. Tippet received 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
Dart & Kraft
Dart & Kraft is located in Northbrook, a couple blocks down the road (Sanders Road) from IMC. The 10-story white building looks to be part of an office building complex. I didn't know what kind of reception I would receive because Kraft was in the process of "spinning off" Dart. The main lobby receptionist connected me to the Chairman's secretary who informed me they didn't want to talk because they were in the process of spinning off Dart, and weren't sure which company would stay located in the building. The Chairman's secretary scored 2 points on my 1-10 scale. She was very brusque and matter-of-fact in her conversation with me. I did check the candy dish on the main receptionist's desk to make sure the candy they were giving away was one of their own brands. It was.
After leaving Dart & Kraft, I headed to Baxter-Travenol, a health care company located in Deerfield. Got a great reception at Baxter-Travenol. An 8-building complex built in 1975 and sitting on a beautifully landscaped 188-acre site is headquarters for the company that had recently merged with American Hospital Supply Corporation. Cheryl Johns, Manager, Community Relations, was the lady who showed me around and answered my questions. Johns asked about my trip, had a good sense of humor and made sure I received answers to all my questions. I was given an extensive tour around the 5-story, 362,000-square foot headquarters building and all the while making me feel like a VIP Johns scored a 10 on my 1-10 scale. The cafeteria had an unusual suspended roof and the 1,500 employees park in a 1,600-car parking garage. Baxter-Travenol has a nice fitness center, with jogging and nature trails around the grounds. According to Johns, at one time visitors to Baxter-Travenol could get complimentary matchbooks at the main reception desk with the company's name and logo but, several years ago Baxter-Travenol's people said, "Hey, we're in the health care business" and discontinued the practice. The reception/lobby area has a plaque on a wall signifying its being listed in the book, "The 100 Best Companies to Work for In America."
Across the freeway from Baxter-Travenol lies Walgreen Company. The drugstore and restaurant company wasn't very receptive. Headquarters is a long, 2-story, white building purchased from Baxter-Travenol in 1975. The receptionist was a real snotty lady who made me stand in front of her for about five minutes before she acknowledged my presence. Ms. Karl received five points on my 1-10 scale. Lobby area did have some early Walgreen paraphernalia on display. Receptionist received 1 star on my 5 star scale.
Thursday night, October 23, I checked in a Holiday Inn in Skokie and had my worst stay so far in a hotel. The place must have been 20-30 years old and the room looked like it. There had been no "non-smoking" rooms left so mine stunk, the television wasn't working and it was on the first floor facing the courtyard area which, in this case, was one of Holiday Inn's Holidomes and people were constantly walking by the room. I kept calling the front desk to see if a non-smoking room opened up and finally one did. My "new" room was just as dumpy as the first one, walls were a dreary brown color, the lighting was extremely poor, the television was supposedly cable but I couldn't even get one of the major networks and the room "smelled old." The WORST was when I pulled back the sheets to get into bed and found what looked to be pubic hairs all over the sheets. No problem, I had two double beds in the room and I pulled the sheets back on the other bed and guess what, yep, more hair all over the sheets! I called the front desk and made sure someone was sent immediately to change the sheets. I couldn't believe Holiday Inn had the nerve to ask me for $65.00 a night for such subpar accommodations. Having been travelling for several months, I was finding out fast the inconsistency of the major chains. These include Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, Hilton, Sheraton, Howard Johnson, Best Western and Quality Inn. Until you got to the hotel, you never knew if it was a new, decent or dumpy property.
Friday morning found me riding in the drizzle to Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park. The address I had for Abbott was Route 137 & Waukegan Road, Abbott Park, Illinois 60064. None of the maps I looked at had a city, town or village named Abbott Park on it. So, I got on Route 137 and headed north toward the town of Waukegan. Abbott Laboratories is located about 45 miles north of downtown Chicago on a 488-acre site. The company had bought the property in 1960 but, the first building wasn't built until 1964. Abbott Park, which is what the site is known as, has 2.5 million-square feet of floor space. The place is like a little town in and of itself, with two warehouses, an utilities plant, five buildings for diagnostic product development and manufacturing, a pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging plant, a data processing center, a pharmaceutical research complex, a hospital products research and development building, and corporate headquarters offices. To get in the complex you first have to stop at the guard gate and, if you don't have a pass, you park your car and check-in at the reception area located in a small building next to the guard booth. It took me over 25 minutes of talking and being transferred half a dozen times before I was finally connected to someone who was familiar with my postcard sent to the CEO. I was given clearance to enter the premises and made my way to the headquarters office where Miriam Welty, Director, Public Affairs met me. Was given a very warm and enthusiastic reception. A lady from Abbott Laboratories' in-house newsletter took several pictures of me on my bicycle. I was treated to lunch in the company cafeteria. Was given an extensive tour of the massive complex by a very charming and I might add, very cute tour guide. The place is so big, we drove around in a company van. Highlight of my tour was walking through the manufacturing and packaging plant and seeing from the beginning stage to the finished packaged product; the process of how aspirin is made. The equipment and machinery in the plant were amazing. So were the sanitary conditions. You could eat off of any of the floors.
Over 4000 employees at Abbott Park. The tallest building is six stories, with the headquarters building being three stories. Was taken into the boardroom and shown a painting by Greenwood, which I was told is worth a couple of million dollars. I felt like an idiot because I had never heard of Greenwood. When I was leaving, I was given an Abbott T-shirt and a grab bag of some of their products, including something for hemorrhoids-which I told them I hope I never have to use. Was very impressed with the people I met and had contact with at Abbott Laboratories; including management, production-line help, and administrative personnel. Miriam Welty received 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Made my way back to Skokie and visited the Brunswick Corporation, maker of outboard motors, chemical warfare detectors/alarms, fishing reels and owner of the largest chain of retail bowling centers in the world. Marilyn Ellefsen, Corporate Personnel Manager, was the person I talked to at Brunswick. Very unfriendly. Told me the owner of the building was next door and for me to get my answers from them. I went next door to talk to someone at LaSalle Partners but, was told no one was available to talk to me. Building looks to be 20-25 years old. Ellefsen scored 2 points on my 1-10 scale. My visit to Brunswick left a bad taste in my mouth.
Topco Associates, Inc.
Also located in Skokie is Topco Associates, Inc., an organization owned on a cooperative basis by a group of supermarket chains and grocery wholesalers located in the Continental United States, Alaska and in the Caribbean. It's kind of like the farm co-ops where there's clout in numbers. The non-profit cooperative corporation had sales of over a billion dollars. Headquarters is a plain-looking, one-story building in a light industrial-type area. Receptionist was very nice and helpful. I was told to wait and she would try and find someone to help me. While I was waiting, I was given a blue brochure entitled, "This is Topco." I waited in the lobby area about half an hour until the receptionist informed me nobody was in who could talk to me. Receptionist scored 5 points on my 1-5 scale.
Bally Manufacturing Corporation
Bally Manufacturing Corporation leases the second and third floors of a 10-story office tower several miles from O'Hare Airport. As I stepped off the elevator, my eyes caught sight of the beautiful blonde behind the receptionist desk. As I approached her, I reached in my clipboard and pulled out a postcard, like the ones I send ahead to the CEO's. I had found the best way to explain to a receptionist the purpose of my visit, was to give them one of my postcards and have them read it. The blonde looked at me and coldly said,"Yes?" I told her the postcard would explain what I was doing and asked her if she could take a moment to read it. She shooed the postcard away with her hands and curtly said, "I haven't got time to read your card, what do you want?" After explaining to her who I was and why I was there, I was eventually referred to and met by Lois Balodis, Director, Personnel & Administration. We went through my questionnaire quickly because Ms. Balodis was meeting someone for lunch. About 150 employees work on the two floors (100,000 square feet), there's no corporate art collection, no recreational facilities, no cafeteria and, management gets covered parking. At the end of our conversation, I mentioned to Balodis that the blonde receptionist was the coldest, unfriendliest receptionist I had met on my trek. Balodis apologized and told me she hoped I wouldn't put it in my book because the blonde was only a "temporary" and the regular receptionist was gone for a few days. As I left Bally, I thought to myself, here I am a first-time visitor to Bally, and I get treated like dirt from the receptionist and I'm not supposed to let it bother me because she's only a "temporary???" This is the type of person a billion-dollar company has working the front lines? Balodis scored 6 points on my 1-10 scale and the receptionist scored -1 star on my 1-5 scale.
Centel, a company that owns cable television systems, electric utilities and telephone utilities, leases space on the ninth floor of an office building near O'Hare Airport. I was told I had to have an appointment to talk to someone.
After leaving Centel, it started pouring rain and it continued to constantly rain the whole weekend. I spent Friday night at the Marriott and Saturday and Sunday nights at the Westin Hotel, both located near O'Hare Airport. My room at the Marriott was a little disappointing because it wasn't up to their usual standards. I was told they were renovating rooms and, of course, I got stuck in a room not yet renovated. The Marriott had almost 700 rooms and I felt like a piece of cattle the way I was herded through check-in and checkout. I seem to be finding once a hotel gets above 300 rooms, it becomes impersonal. An exception is the Westin Hotel at O'Hare. Almost 600 rooms and the employees are super. My only gripe with the Westin and the Marriott is their heating systems. I hate rooms where I have no control over the room temperature! I get to my room after spending the day riding in the cold rain and set the thermostat to eighty degrees. Nothing happens because in the basement of the building is a master control which is set at seventy degrees and so there is no way the heater in my room or any other room will go above seventy degrees.
Monday morning found me in downtown Chicago and the first company on my list was IC Industries, a conglomerate which owns, among other things, Whitman's Chocolates, Midas Mufflers, and Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. IC has leased space in the 30-story building since 1974 and occupies the 19th and 27th floors. The receptionist was nice but, she had a major flaw-she was smoking and the whole lobby/reception area reeked of cigarettes. Met with Harry Grove, Director, Advertising and Civic Affairs. I found out the CEO smokes, which may explain the smoke-filled lobby. Company has five corporate aircraft and 180 employees work in corporate headquarters. Wasn't too impressed with the place, looked kind of dumpy. Grove scored 9 points on my 1-10 scale and the receptionist 4 stars on my 1-5 scale.
Peoples Energy Corporation
Peoples Energy Corporation, a holding company whose primary subsidiaries are the Peoples Gas Light & Coke Company and the North Shore Gas Company, lease the first ten floors of a 22-story building. The building, built in 1911, has been designated a historical landmark and was undergoing renovations when I stopped in. I talked to Margaret Mohr, Public Relations Representative. Found it unusual for the CEO to have his office on the second floor. Mohr didn't know the answer as to why the CEO's office is on the second floor. Mohr scored 5 points on my 1-10 scale.
Navistar, formerly International Harvester, lease 6-1/2 floors in a 33-story building on North Michigan Avenue. Met with William Greenhill, Director, External Communications, who wasn't very helpful and made me feel like I was taking up his time. Over 500 people at corporate headquarters. Greenhill scored 5 points on my 1-10 scale.
Santa Fe Southern Corporation
Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation's headquarters was easy to find because there's a big sign atop the building which says, "Santa Fe." The Railway Exchange Building is the formal name of the structure and is quite a place. The building was built in 1904 and the designer was Daniel Burnham, one of Chicago's best known architects. Mr. Burnham was also the architect of the building housing Peoples Energy, which I had mentioned previously (both buildings are "designated landmark" buildings). Santa Fe Southern Pacific has been the owner of the 17-story, 458,000-square foot building since it was built. In the center of the building is an atrium. There is 371,000 square feet of floor space. I met with Robert Gehrt, Director, Public Relations, and he had a great view of Lake Michigan from his office. Santa Fe Southern Pacific has a very extensive collection of Southwestern art. Several of the inside walls of the building contained giant murals, a couple of which, according to Gehrt, were worth half a million dollars EACH. Gehrt received 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
A couple doors down from Santa Fe Southern Pacific on Michigan Avenue is Borg-Warner, who, like Santa Fe Southern Pacific, has their name atop the building. Borg-Warner however, leases space in the 22-story building built in the 1960's. Borg-Warner seems to have its hands in a lot of businesses including; manufacturing of air conditioning equipment, protective services, chemical & plastics, energy and industrial equipment. The reception/lobby area was small and the receptionist was smoking a cigarette. Dumpy-looking, would be a good way of describing the furnishings. I talked to Andrea Shepard, Human Resource Specialist. Was given a brochure on the company's art collection. The collection is comprised of more than 600 pieces by some 270 artists, all of whom at one time lived, studied or worked within a 250-mile radius of Chicago. Borg-Warner occupies floors 16-22 of the building. Shepard received 8 points on my 1-10 scale.
Next stop was the huge, impressive-looking, 80-story Amoco Building. I talked to Judith Kaminsky, Public and Government Affairs, Program Development Analyst, who didn't give me a very good reception. Amoco sold the building and now leases space in a leaseback arrangement. Amoco occupies approximately 50 floors of the building and has approximately 4,000-5,000 employees working in the massive, marble-clad structure, which is equipped with double-deck elevators. Kaminsky told me, Amoco has an extensive art collection but, she declined to show me any as well as showing anything else in the building. When I asked her if Amoco had any corporate aircraft, she said, "A few." Was disappointed in my treatment. Kaminsky scored 5 points on my 1-10 scale.
Still in the Amoco Building, I went to the 67th floor to visit FMC, manufacturer of machinery & chemicals and a big defense contractor. Was told no one was in who could talk to me and, an appointment was needed.
Quaker Oats is headquartered in a monster-sized building called, The Merchandise Mart Plaza. The building looks to be about 30-stories tall, about 50-years old and about 2 city blocks long. I went up to the third floor reception area and was told by the receptionist in a cut-and-dry manner that an appointment was necessary to see anyone.
My next stop was USG, a building materials holding company. Headquarters is in what looks to be a 15-story building on Wacker Drive. When I entered the building a security guard asked me the purpose of my visit and then directed me to a receptionist near the elevators. The receptionist was extremely rude and unhelpful. She told me I needed an appointment and made no effort to give me a name of a person to call or a phone number. It didn't make sense. I thought part of the job of a receptionist is to receive people, announce their arrival and direct the visitor to his destination.
Morton Thiokol, a defense contractor which also deals in chemicals and salt, is headquartered in a building on Wacker Drive which looks like it was built in the 1950's and is about 8 or 9 stories tall. There is a security guard/receptionist and after making a few phone calls, the guard told me no one was in. For some reason, I thought the lobby area of Morton Thiokol would be more "friendly" looking. I associate Morton Thiokol with the cute little girl under the umbrella on their packages of salt and had envisioned something more than a plain-looking lobby/reception area.
Down the street from Morton Thiokol, in a new building is the headquarters of Combined International, an insurance holding company. I was sent up to the 15th floor where I found the reception area located past the cafeteria which was an unusual location for a reception area. The receptionist sent me to Personnel, who had no idea what was going on and asked three more people who didn't know who I should see or talk with. After twenty-five minutes of being sent from one floor to another, I left. Very disorganized company. Seemed to me the company was paying minimum wage to the employees and you get what you pay for. Very unprofessional people. After my experience, I would definitely think twice before purchasing insurance from them.
Ameritech, one of the "Baby Bells" spun off, is in a new building on Wacker Drive. There, I was given the same song and dance about how you have to have an appointment. I've been having a real tough time visiting companies in downtown Chicago. Don't these companies have any flexibility? These are billion dollar corporations and if a certain person isn't in or available, no one is available to talk? Hmmm. I'm finding there's a heck of a difference between corporations located in the suburbs of Chicago and those in the downtown area. People are friendlier, more easy-going and flexible in the suburban corporate headquarters.
Farley Industries is a privately held company that I had been looking forward to visiting because of CEO William Farley. I had read many articles about him and got the feeling he was a man on the move. Headquarters for Farley Industries which manufactures, among other things, Fruit of the Loom underwear, animal feed, railroad parts, and footwear, is on the 63rd floor of the Sears Tower. Walked into the reception/lobby area and it looked like it was getting set-up for a news conference. The receptionist was swamped with phone calls and after waiting five minutes, she asked what I needed. I told her why I was there and she informed me everyone was extremely busy and were getting ready to hold a news conference in the lobby.
Leaving Farley Industries, I went back down to the lobby area of the Sears Tower and tried again to find the main reception area for Sears. The building is equipped with those stupid directory displays, where you press the name of the company and it tells you what floor a department is located on. I had typed in the word "Sears" and it listed all the departments except a listing for Public Relations, which I had found from visiting quite a few corporations, to be the most likely place my postcard to the CEO ended up. Unbelievable! One would think one of the largest companies in the world, headquartered in one of the tallest buildings in the world, would have an information desk or receptionist in the main lobby! The Sears Tower does have 103 elevators. When I went up to Farley Industries, I had to take an elevator (which is non-stop) to the 33rd floor, get out and walk to another set of elevators and up to the 63rd floor. So, here I am in the lobby area and I decide to go back up to the 33rd floor and ask the security guard for help. The security guard I found out, didn't know what he was talking about so, I started asking people passing by. I eventually ran into a secretary who worked in Public Affairs and she made a phone call to someone in the Archives Department. I was met in one of the hallways by a fellow who told me it was company policy not to respond to requests for information on the building. I had heard about companies being too big, too impersonal, and Sears gave me a first-hand look. I also never got to ask if the CEO of Sears wears a Sears suit.
I had stopped by the Tribune Company on Michigan Avenue several times, and had been told no one was available and that I needed to make an appointment. I did make an appointment and showed up at the agreed upon time. Outside the 24-story building built in the 1920's, were people picketing, who, according to what I was told, were employees of the Chicago Tribune. You are greeted by a group of security guards when entering the building and they seem to treat everyone who enters with the same, "Yeah, whaddo you want?" routine. I met with Joseph Hays, Vice President, Corporate Relations. Was given a tour of the executive offices and saw a lot of nice wood paneling but, the highlight of my visit was being taken up to the top of the building, (where it comes to a point) and getting to see political cartoonist, Stayskal's office/roost, which was a tiny cubicle in a belltower-like setting. Hays scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale. I was disappointed the Tribune Company made me make an appointment. I would have thought a media company would be more accommodating.
Carson Pirie Scott & Company
Carson Pirie Scott & Company is probably best known for its department stores but, the company is also the second largest wholesale distributor of floor coverings in the country. Corporate headquarters is above its flagship department store on State Street in downtown Chicago. I met with Laura Higdon, Publicity Director, Department Stores Division, during the noontime lunch hour. The building has a lot of history to it and was designated a Chicago landmark on November 5, 1970. What's so special about the building? For one, it was built in 1899 and the architect was Louis Sullivan and two, they ain't and can't make 'em like that anymore. I wasn't able to see the CEO's office and boardroom because a security guard told Higdon I didn't have security clearance. Carson Pirie Scott owns the 15-story building and has 150 people working in the corporate offices.
Commonwealth Edison's corporate headquarters is in the One First National Plaza building but, I was sent to another building to talk to Carter Brydon, Management Assistant, Communication Services Department. Brydon scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale. It was disappointing being in a building, asking questions about another building blocks away. Never got to see anything.
First Chicago, located in One First National Plaza, gave me the cold shoulder. I was told no one was in to speak to me.
Continental Illinois, located on LaSalle Street, sent me to another building around the block. The lady I talked to was blah. Gave her 5 points on my 1-10 scale. I did find out the headquarters building is owned, and they've been in the facility since 1923.
The main receptionist area for Sara Lee is on the 46th floor of the 57-story, Three First National Plaza building. I dropped by three separate times and was told each time no one would see me without an appointment.
I had the same problem at Beatrice. Went up to the 25th floor of a building on LaSalle Street and each time I was told to make an appointment. Why was I against making appointments? Several reasons, (1) I was trying to be consistent. It was becoming fascinating to see how prepared or unprepared a corporation was in dealing with someone like me (who had sent a postcard ahead to the CEO announcing the purpose of the visit and listed a two-week time period in which I anticipated arriving at the corporate headquarters). (2) I had 53 companies to visit in the Chicago area and staying in a hotel in downtown Chicago was costing me big bucks and if I started making appointments, it really cut down on the number of companies I could get to in a day.
Inland Steel owns their headquarters building on Monroe Street. The 21-story building was built in 1958 and was designed by the famous architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merill. The building has the 1960's look inside and out and, as a matter of fact, the television show, "Crime Story" (which takes place in the 1960's), has shot several segments in the building. Was given a nice reception and a great tour by Charles Nekvasil, Assistant Director, Corporate Communications. I was given a fact sheet on the building and, of course, it makes mention of the various types of steel used in the construction. Back in 1958, it was the first major building in Chicago to have a basement-parking garage. Which, by the way, contains space for 60 cars. Nekvasil scored 10 points on my 1-10 scale.
Arthur Andersen & Co.
Arthur Andersen & Co., one of the Big 8 accounting firms, occupies the 34th and 35th floors of a 35-story building called the, Brunswick Building. I was met with suspicion and told to check back again. They made me feel like I was a spy. I had unfinished business in Chicago and knew I would be back.