Origins and planning the trek 

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)?

    Are different parts of the United States really that much different than San Diego?

    Do people in Iowa have an accent? Why is pizza so big in Chicago?

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, NC?

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.

 Researching 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.