Ten miles west of Amsterdam lies Haarlem, a canal-lined city of 150,000. Harlem in New York City is named after this place. That's definitely where the comparisons end though as this thriving Dutch city features a beautiful and extensive Old Town center. Riding several miles from the city center brings me to the 12-story head office of VNU, a big-time publisher of newspapers and magazines with 1998 revenues of $2.8 billion.Since there aren't many tall structures in the area the building (built in the 1970's) stands out. It also helps having the name "VNU" in big letters atop the building.

The reception area is filled with all kinds of goodies which lets one know right away that you're visiting a media company. The most obvious being the shelve display filled with over 50 publications published by VNU. The company owns and publishes Adweek, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter as well as Yellow Pages directories and the Dutch version of several prominent American magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Playboy. What's funny is I guess I'm a typical male visitor. Why? Well, after checking in with the receptionist I think most visitors walk over to the magazine display and pick out a magazine to peruse. Being the Neanderthal I am, I immediately go for the Playboy and plop down on one of the four blue sofas. It's then I realize this is the only magazine on the shelf with a piece of white paper taped on the cover featuring hand written words in Dutch. I walk over to the receptionist and ask what it says. It turns out the words say "No Looking" as in "put the magazine back on the rack". Jeez, all I wanted to do was to see if it had a crossword puzzle.

On each sides of the lobby entrance doors are two sculptures. One is of a man sitting on high stool chair reading a book and the other is the same except it's a woman. A third sculpture, placed on a two-foot tall marble pedestal, is of two men reading a newspaper. Several eight-foot tall potted palm trees dress up the lobby My wait isn't very long because earlier when identifying myself to the receptionist, she immediately pulled out a copy of my letter of introduction sent a month earlier to CEO Joep Brentjens. In a few minutes I meeting with Hanneke van Leeuwen, Deputy Director-Corporate Communications.

The building is in the process of being renovated with several floors being done at once which means only 120 employees are presently working here. When completed, 400 will return. My visit is short and seeing Leeuwen's office is the extent of my tour. It "isn't possible" to see the CEO's office or boardroom and I ask Leeuwen if she knows what the CEO's view is from his 8th floor corner office. She answers, "I don't know" because she's never been in it. Hmm, second-in-command of corporate communications and never been in the office of the boss?

Why is VNU in Haarlam? Leeuwen says Haarlem has been a center of Dutch publishing going back to the 15th century. It's also a good location since it's a three-minute drive to the nearest freeway and 15 minutes to Amsterdam's airport.

Though it's noontime I don't receive an invitation to try the food in the cafeteria. If employees get tired of cafeteria food they're lucky in having the entrance to an enclosed shopping mall within 50 paces of VNU's front doors. I venture inside the mall and pick up a grilled whole chicken from a vendor. Returning outside I join locals sitting on benches near VNU's entrance catching some rays and eating lunch. The tasty chicken rates two thumbs up.