Origins and planning
What prompted me to
spend over 20 years of my life (and counting) riding a bicycle
around the world visiting corporations? I could give you a short
and compact answer but instead you'll have to read on and endure
the long version.
In 1985 I was reading
an issue of Forbes magazine. It's the one where they annually
list the 500 largest publicly held companies. Going down the
list I found myself asking questions: Why is Coca-Cola located
in Atlanta? Why not Detroit or New York City? Does it have something
to do with the company's roots or because the CEO lives nearby?
Does the CEO of Sears wear Sears suits? Think about it. The guy
makes a million dollars a year and you wonder if he buys his
suits off the rack at Sears. Would I find a copy of Newsweek
magazine in the lobby area of Time Warner Inc.? Is there grass
at the corporate headquarters of John Deere in Moline, Illinois
and if so, do they use John Deere lawnmowers when cutting the
grass? Does Marriott's headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland look
like one of their hotels? Would I find Ford cars in the parking
lot of General Motors? How close to an airport are the offices
of Delta, United and American Airlines? If I worked at Eastman
Kodak would I get free film? Free beer at Anheuser-Busch? The
seed was planted.
1985 was also the
year I read "Places Rated Almanac" published by Rand
McNally. According to the book, Pittsburgh, PA was rated the
best place to live in the country. Buffalo, NY was ranked 13th
and my hometown of San Diego, CA came in 28th. Buffalo
and Pittsburgh rated higher than San Diego???? I had always heard
of Buffalo being the pits. Had I physically been there? No, but
I had heard stories from friends, read newspaper articles and
had many a time seen pictures on television of Buffalo's famous
winter snowstorms. I got to thinking. How did I know San Diego
was the best place for me to live? I had never been to Seattle,
Miami, Omaha, San Antonio or Cincinnati. Matter of fact, I hadn't
done much traveling. I'm not afraid to walk around downtown San
Diego after dark. Would I be afraid to do so in Indianapolis,
Detroit or Topeka, KS? How does the skyline of Portland, Oregon
compare with Minneapolis, Minnesota? Do people in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin live downtown or in the suburbs as they do in San Diego?
The "Places Rated
Almanac" also listed the 34 metropolitan areas with the
most affluent suburbs. Looking over the list I was curious as
to whether the people in the affluent suburb of Nichols Hills
(Oklahoma City, OK) had the same style homes or drove the same
kind of cars as the people in the affluent suburbs of Harding
(Newark, NJ) and Highland Park (Dallas, TX)? Is there any commercial
activity allowed in the suburb of Fox Chapel (Pittsburgh, PA)?
How do these affluent suburbs compare to the one near my home:
Rancho Santa Fe (San Diego, CA)?
The University of
Southern California (USC) is located in a not particularly good
part of Los Angeles. How does USC's campus compare to Syracuse
University in Syracuse, New York? Compare as far as architecture
of buildings, closeness to downtown, off-campus shops and restaurants.
Who has the better looking women on their campus: University
of Nebraska, in Lincoln, NE or Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem,
I hear Cleveland,
OH is supposed to be a "dying" city and Austin, TX
a "booming" city. Why or why not are businesses and
people living there? Hmm.
At this time I owned
(and currently still own) a small news clipping business; Preppie
Gadfly Services. What's a news clipping service? I subscribe
to over 100 newspapers and periodicals. Your company would hire
my service and every time I'd come across an article with your
company's name in it I'd clip it and send it to them.
Sometimes after reading
a particular magazine such as Business Week or Fortune, I'd think
about what it would be like working for a billion dollar corporation
with tens of thousands employees and factories and offices spread
all over the place. I got a kick reading about big businesses,
the mergers and acquisitions and the wheeling and dealing in
hundreds of millions of dollars at a time. I had never worked
for a big company, let alone a big corporation so that's when
I picked up the book, "The 100 Best Companies to Work for
in America by Robert Levering, Milton Moskowitz and Michael Katz.
I enjoyed reading the profiles of the various companies and how
the book talked about company perks, different management styles
and corporate philosophies but there was something missing. The
authors consider their book to be an "insiders" look
at the companies but, I didn't get the feel of what it was actually
like at the corporate headquarters. Hmm.
The last part of the
explanation as to how I came up the idea for this unusual odyssey
is relatively easy to explain. I was reading ANOTHER issue of
Forbes magazine when I came across an interview in the magazine.
Malcolm S. Forbes, the now deceased publisher of Forbes, was
being interviewed and an excerpt from his answer to one of the
questions put to him was instrumental in setting the wheels in
motion. The excerpt:
The publisher was
asked, "What are your thoughts on the business of life?"
Malcolm Forbes answered,
"Do things you like to do. Try to find a line of work, even
if itís initially not as remunerative or as financially
well off as some other line of work where you look forward to
going to work each day rather than looking forward to the weekend.
The hardest thing for young people to do is to figure out what
they like; the only way they're going to figure it out is by
trying a lot of things so at least they know what they don't
like. So don't be passive, be active."
That's when I came
up with the idea to combine two things I enjoy bicycle touring
and business research.
and Planning the Trek
From 1987 to 1990
I visited via bicycle the headquarters of the 650 largest privately
and publicly held companies in the USA (companies with revenues
over $1.5 billion). From 1991 to 1994 I again rode around the
country and visited the 750 largest mid-sized firms (revenues
between $300 million and $1.5 billion). From 1994 to 1997 I visited
via bicycle the 1,000 largest corporations OUTSIDE the USA.
One of the first things
I had to do was determine which companies to visit and I decided
to base it on annual revenues. Getting information on the largest
public companies was easy but getting sales figures on private
companies was another matter. Privately held means they don't
have to disclose sales figures to government agencies as are
required by publicly held companies. In my research to compile
a list of largest private companies I found the estimated sales
of these companies to vary widely among the different reference
books used. Getting reliable revenue information and current
addresses on international companies wasn't easy either. I ended
up writing to a number of countries asking for names of monthly
business periodicals that published annual listings of the largest
companies (such as Forbes, Business Week and Fortune in the USA).
One of the toughest
jobs was planning the bike route. Weather, time and money were
the big factors. I wanted the information collected to be relevant,
which meant I couldn't take 20 years to complete the research.
At the same time, I wanted to be able to stop and smell the roses
along the way. The longer I stayed in one place, the more money
it would cost. Time was money. Of course, my route had to be
planned so as to not be in places like Minneapolis, MN or Stockholm,
Sweden in the dead of winter (which to my dismay happened anyway).
I divided the USA into roughly six parts and ended up doing segments.
Example: I would fly to the South and spend three months visiting
companies in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina
and North Carolina.
Reading my stories
you'll see they're listed chronologically. After the USA I rode
across Canada then down to New Zealand and Australia. I spent
two years riding around Europe and finally Japan.
Show Me The Money
The first three years
going around the USA was financed by my savings. On the second
three-year trek around the USA I was fortunate to hook up with
Bloomberg LP, a New York City-based financial news conglomerate.
Special thanks to Mike Bloomberg for taking a chance on me. Using
one of their spiffy portable computers, I filed stories for Bloomberg
Business News over the next six years. Reading my stories you'll
note I periodically make references to Bloomberg.