Want a tiny sampling of corporate trivia gathered? Best Products (Richmond, VA), Davey Tree Expert Company (Kent, Ohio) and Hardees (Rocky Mount, NC) have crystal balls in their boardrooms. Legal & General Insurance, Prudential Insurance and, Cookson Group (all headquartered in London) have ghosts in their head offices. Safety- Kleen (Elgin, IL) has a stuffed kangaroo in its lobby and Ebsco (Birmingham, AL) two stuffed rattlesnakes in theirs. British Steel (London, England) and Tetra Laval (Lund, Sweden) have real cannons guarding their headquarters while Christian Salvesen PLC (Edinburgh, Scotland) has a mounted harpoon gun protecting its grounds (Salvesen was at one time the world's largest whaling company). Clothier Esprit De Corps (San Francisco, CA), Greenpeace (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) and clothier Patagonia (Ventura, CA) serve only vegetarian food in the company cafeteria. Though Toshiba Corporation (Tokyo, Japan) has a spiffy fitness facility for the 10,000 employees working in their 40-story headquarters, it contains no shower facilities. Draegerwerk (Luebeck, Germany) has a deceased CEO buried on its grounds. Jyske Bank A/S (Jutland, Denmark) is one of only half-dozen companies visited, where everyone from the CEO on down wears nametags. The business cards of the Vice-Chairman of Toronto-Dominion Bank (Toronto, Canada) are in Braille. La-Z Boy Inc. (Monroe, Michigan) raises pheasants behind their headquarters. Elevators at Domino's Pizza (Ann Arbor, MI) are slow on purpose to encourage exercise (in other words, using the stairs).  

This section deals with how I approached companies, the type of questions asked and, why certain information was gathered. To learn how and why I came up with this unusual odyssey click over to the "background" heading.

The Advance Warning

So, I've ridden my bicycle around for more than 20 years visiting over 4,000 of the world's biggest companies and organizations. Is advance warning given of my arrival or do I just show up unannounced? Jeez, I may be unorthodox but give me a little credit for playing by the rules. Initially, I sent the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) a postcard about 10 days before my anticipated arrival at the company. This was my letter of introduction so to speak. As the trek progressed I started enclosing newspaper write-ups with the postcards. I had write-ups in a large number of newspapers including the "big boys" such as USA Today, Wall Street Journal and, New York Times. The front-page story in the Wall Street Journal back in 1987 went a long way in establishing credibility to my quirky project.

Giving companies only 10 days notice of my pending arrival quickly proved to be flawed (see section on "contact person") and later began giving companies four weeks notice of my arrival. Imagine if you will the obstacles that this presented to me. I had to anticipate a month in advance where I was going and when I was going to show up on a company's doorstep. Try doing this in Europe for two years. I had never set foot on the continent and was totally unfamiliar with roads, languages (I barely speak English), and weather conditions.

Below you'll see the contents of the postcard:



I recently spent six years visiting via bicycle the headquarters of the 1,400 largest companies in the United States. The end result being a book on corporate America trivia.

I'm currently on a four-year sequel: visiting via bicycle the 1,000 largest companies OUTSIDE the United States.

Who has the biggest parking lot? The nicest grounds? Most unusual corporate logo? Friendliest receptionists? What's the view from the CEO's office? This is the type of information being garnered.

I hope to meet with someone on your staff who could answer my questions about your corporate headquarters. My book is geared toward presenting the corporate world in a positive light. This letter is to inform you of my pending arrival and to thank you beforehand for any courtesies extended to me. Enclosed are several news clippings concerning my unusual trek.

I'll be in your area:


Sincerely, Paul Wolsfeld 5580 La Jolla Blvd. #23 La Jolla, CA 92037

Phone & Fax number: (619) 555-5555



One of the biggest eye-openers on this trek is the incredible lack of professionalism amongst receptionists, especially in the United States. One would think big companies would have personable, competent, professional people running the reception areas. Not true. Many companies seem to be clueless and evidently aren't aware of the impressions their receptionists are projecting. The first person a visitor comes in contact with is the receptionist. I can't begin to count the number of times I approached a reception area only to be ignored, made to feel unimportant or given one of those "whatdoyawant?" looks by a receptionist. Then you have the ones eating, smoking, gossiping on the phone or else reading a book and then acting perturbed that you've interrupted them. When reading my stories you'll notice I frequently mention receptionists and name names (the very good as well as the bad).

Receptionists are an important part of my project because they have the power to get me in to see someone in the organization or else tell me to get lost. Unfortunately this means having to kiss up to them. What am I looking for in a receptionist? Appearance, manner, friendliness, helpfulness and eye contact. By far, the friendliest receptionists are found in Japan. I vividly recall my visit to Bally Corporation in downtown Chicago. The receptionist was especially nasty and I told my contact person about this. What was my contact person's response? "Oh, I hope you don't mention it in your book. The regular receptionist is out for a few days and she's only a temporary". After I left I wondered how visitors are suppose to know she's only a "temporary" and if management knew the negative image she was projecting.

Contact People

Contact people are so named because they're the ones who ultimately end up with my advance material (consisting of postcard and news clippings) sent to the CEO. When starting this trek I assumed, by sending the advance material to the CEO, it would eventually trickle down to the public relations department. Not true. Lots of companies don't have public relations departments. Many a time the advance material never leaves the CEO's desk because he wanted to meet that "crazy American going around the world on a bicycle". Since what I do is so out of the ordinary many companies don't know where or to whom I should be referred. This is where the Trickle-Down theory comes into play: The CEO's office would pass my advance material to someone else in the company hierarchy, who then hands it off either vertically or horizontally along the company's flow chart, who in turn, sends it trickling down. I learned quickly this trickle-down process many times took weeks.

Here's a sampling of some of the departments in various corporations that ended up with my advance material: corporate communications, corporate affairs, community affairs, security, building services, public affairs, personnel, archives, international relations, media relations, external affairs, legal affairs, marketing, and investor relations.

What am I looking for in my contact person? Is he friendly? Guarded? Does he answer my questions? Does he show interest in my project? Is his interest real or feigned? Am I shown around? If he doesn't know answers to questions does he offer to find them? Does he smoke in front of me without asking if I objected? Does he make me feel welcome or more like I was a pain in the rear?

Dress Code

Most companies, I think, understand the limitations on traveling around on a bicycle. With only four panniers (saddlebags), lugging a suit and tie around isn't an option. I usually walk into a company's headquarters wearing a polo-type shirt, cotton shorts (ironed) and Sperry Topsider deck shoes (boating shoes). After explaining who I am and finding out the name of my contact person, I ask to use a restroom and then change into long pants. I always try to have long pants on when meeting the "contact person". Walking into headquarters wearing shorts let me test the reactions of the receptionist and security people. Since I use a metal clipboard for my questionnaire, in big cities I'm constantly be mistaken for a bicycle messenger and whether they deserve it or not, bike messengers are treated like second class people.

Security and Security Guards

You can imagine the stories I have to tell about my encounters with security personnel. You can also imagine the security precautions in place at many corporate headquarters. In England, companies have to worry about the IRA, in Germany the Red Army Brigade, in Spain it's the ETA, in Italy the Mafia plus, untold dozens of other wacko organizations wanting to create havoc and disruptions. Corporate headquarters in Spain and Italy have machine gun toting security guards manning the entrances. Interestingly enough, I found some of the tightest security precautions at company headquarters in The Netherlands. Why? Back in the 1980's, The Netherlands had serious problems with its colonies in Indonesia resulting in terrorist activities inside The Netherlands. Just about every company visited in France required visitors to produce and then hand over your passport for safe keeping while on the premises.

I see nothing wrong with companies wanting to ensure their employees and guests have a safe and secure working environment. Most companies try to be low-key and discreet so as to not offend or make visitors ill at ease. Then again, I've had my share of visits where the word "overkill" would be appropriate.

Of course, I have horrific stories to tell of encounters with security personnel in the United States. High on the list is the particular nasty encounter at Walt Disney Corporation (Burbank, CA) in which I was physically threatened. While being given a tour of the boardroom at Great Western Savings (Los Angeles, CA) guards burst into the room after being told a suspicious-looking, backpack-toting man (me!) entered with two employees. The head of security at Union Carbide's (Danbury, CT) beautiful headquarters walked me back into the conference room where we had been meeting, only to find two security guards rifling through my backpack. The head of security started laughing. Why? Every month his department runs a drill where they have to locate a bomb in the huge building and they thought the unattended backpack was it.

What kinds of questions did I ask and what did I look for on my visits to companies?

One of the first items noticed when arriving at a company's headquarters is whether they advertise the fact they're there. Surprisingly, the headquarters of Federal Express (Memphis, TN) was an unmarked building near the airport. No outside signs let you know you've found the headquarters of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. Mars, Inc. (McClean, VA), the super secretive, global purveyor of candy bars, ice cream and other consumer goods, work out of a plain, unmarked building located next to a gas station. On the other hand, Black & Decker (Towson, MD), Firestone (Akron, OH) and NCR (Dayton, OH) want the whole world to know because they have big signs outside the front entrances with their names and below their names, "World Headquarters".

Many corporations are located in downtown of cities and many are not. One of my questions is/was, How many acres does your headquarters encompass? Domino's Pizza (Ann Arbor, MI) sits on 1,300 acres. Amway (Ada, MI) occupies 390 acres, John Deere (Moline, IL) is located on 1,000 acres with more than half of that leased out cornfields. Weyerhauser (Tacoma, WA) is situated on the outskirts of town amidst 500 beautiful wooded acres. BASF ( Ludwigshafen, Germany) and Bayer (Leverkusen, Germany) each reside on massive, company-owned sites encompassing several square miles.

Another question asked, Do you own or lease your headquarters? Believe it or not, many of the world's biggest banks and insurance companies don't own their headquarter complexes. I found that to be odd, especially since they try to project an image of rock solid, long-term stability.

Any recreational facilities at your headquarters? You name it, companies have it. Investment bank Hambros (London, England) has a grass croquet court atop their head office in London's financial district. General Accident (Perth, Scotland) has tennis & squash courts, putting green, indoor pool, hockey field and a full-size basketball gym.

Rifle ranges seem to be popular with Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Sydney, Australia), Royal Dutch Shell (London, England) and Pohjola Group (Helsinki, Finland) amongst those partaking in target practice. Many companies have their own golf courses DuPont (Wilmington, DE) and IBM (Armonk, NY). In Finland just about every company visited had saunas, though they're used just as much for business purposes. Nike (Portland, OR) has bragging rights to one of the finest facilities seen in the USA. Toshiba (Tokyo, Japan) has a fitness facility but no showers. I asked what smelly employees are supposed to do after working out. The answer: "go home". Employees at Coldwater Seafood Corporation (Rowayton, CT) are entitled to an hour of tennis EACH day at a tennis club down the street.

Is smoking allowed and does the CEO smoke? There's a definite correlation as to whether a company allows smoking and if its CEO smokes. As a general rule of thumb, if the CEO smokes; it's permitted in the building. In Spain I walked out of several companies after being stuck in waiting rooms filled with the stench of tobacco.

How many parking spaces do you have and who gets reserved parking? At Honeywell (Minneapolis, MN) there're over 2,500 parking spots. The newest employees park farthest away and, the longer you work there the closer you get to park. Many companies have open parking, which means if the CEO arrives late he has to hunt for a spot like everyone else. Of course at most companies, senior executives get driven to work.

Do you have any corporate aircraft? This is probably the most sensitive question asked. General Electric (Fairfield, CT) wouldn't answer the question because "it's classified". Wal-Mart (Bentonville, AR) had seven, Sony (Tokyo, Japan) several, AlliedSignal (Morristown, NJ) 45.

Does your conference or meeting rooms have names? At Apple Computer (Cupertino, CA) rooms are named after television soap operas, at SAS Airlines (Stockholm, Sweden) meeting rooms are named after birds. National Car Rental (Minneapolis, MN) names rooms after dead philosophers. Silicon Graphics (Mt. View, CA) occupies a campus-like setting with a quite a few buildings. The people working in each building get to name the meeting rooms. In the executive building, rooms are named after movies. How would you like to give a talk in the room named, "The Abyss?" Asda (Leeds, England), a supermarket chain, names all its conference rooms after fruits & vegetables except for one. The sole exception being the "Big Table" room. In this room stands a five-foot tall table sans chairs. The idea being meetings don't last long here since there's no place to sit.

How far are you from downtown? TRW's beautiful headquarters used to be an old estate and there're almost three miles of jogging trails on the 135-acre site. So? The company uses a Cleveland address but it's 15 miles to downtown. Occidental Petroleum has a Los Angeles address but, it's 10 miles from downtown.

Do you have a cafeteria, how ís the food, can you sit outdoors and eat, what ís the view? How would you like working at 3M (Minneapolis, MN) and having your choice of eating lunch at one of 17 cafeterias on the premises? Free lunch seems to be a big employee perk in London, England with British Petroleum, Christie's, Royal Dutch Shell, P&O and Whitbread being on that list. Lots of companies stick the cafeteria in the windowless basement, in Germany most are located on the top floors above the senior executives. Do company executives eat with the masses? The majority of the time it's a resounding "no". Who's got the best cafeteria food? Nestle (Vevey, Switzerland), one of the world's biggest food companies, easily makes the Top 5 list.

Do you have a corporate art collection? Wow! The art I saw was simply amazing. Japanese insurer Yasuda Fire & Marine paid $50 million for Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" (the most ever for a single painting) and it holds center stage on the 42nd floor of their Tokyo office. Daimler-Benz (Stuttgart, Germany) has a massive Andy Warhol piece overlooking their huge boardroom table. One thing I've found to be true when visiting headquarters: the higher you go in a building, the nicer the art. In other words, the good stuff is kept on the executive level.

Why are you located where you are? Many times it's because that's where the company was founded. AMR (American Airlines) used to be in New York City. It's now in Dallas, TX due to Dallas being their biggest hub. MCI is in Washington, DC because the offices of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) lie three blocks away. Atlantic Richfield moved from New York City to Los Angeles (instead of San Francisco) because it would have been second banana to Chevron. Lots of times a company is located in a particular place for no other reason than the CEO lives nearby.

What ís your commute time? In big cities that question is sometimes answered in hours. One of my favorite responses took place in Altdorf, Switzerland while visiting Datwyler Holding. This picturesque town in the Alps was home to William Tell, the guy who shot apples off of the heads of people. Anyway, I ask my contact person about his commute time and he answers, "15 minutes, it's a five-minute walk to the gondola and a 10-minute ride to the top".

Can I see the CEO's office? What did I look for when checking out the CEO's office? Is it a corner office or middle office? Is the desk organized or cluttered? What books or magazines are on the coffee table? Real or fake plants? At Radex Heraklith (Vienna, Austria) the CEO's wife brings him fresh flowers every Monday. What's the view? The CEO at Fort Howard Paper (Green Bay, WI) looks out from his third floor window onto an adjacent junkyard. The CEOs at Wetterau (St. Louis, MO) and Lowes (N. Wilkesboro, NC) didn't have views because their offices had no windows. Think about it, these guys make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and yet, can't tell if it's snowing or sunny outside! Is there a computer? Seven out of ten CEO's DO NOT have computers. Any paintings or pictures hanging on the walls? Any family pictures or personal effects on display? At Industrivarden AB (Stockholm, Sweden), CEO Clas Reuterskiold has a three-foot long stuffed alligator in his office. The CEO at Novo-Nordisk, the world's largest producer of insulin (Copenhagen, Denmark), keeps a skateboard in his office as well as a sign which reads "no whining". The Chairman of BET (London, England) has glass display cases in his office displaying part of his collection of over 1,000 eggcup holders. CEO Wendelin Wiedeking of Porsche (Stuttgart, Germany) proudly displays six crayon drawings from his kids.

Do you have a boardroom? Can I see it? Executives at Penn Mutual Life Insurance (Philadelphia, PA) meet in a massive boardroom featuring a 50-foot ceiling. Metropolitan Life Insurance (New York City) easily makes my list of 10 most impressive boardrooms. Wal-Mart (Bentonville, AR) doesn't have a boardroom. Steyr-Daimler-Puch (Vienna, Austria) had 17 hunting rifles lying on their boardroom table.