It’s rare to have a front-row seat to a fight that potentially could end with a long-time headquarters leaving Nashville.
Usually, a headquarters disappears when an out-of-town group buys the company — an occurrence Nashville has seen fairly often with banks and health care companies. Or, another city succeeds in luring away a company, which has rarely happened here.
However, the Gaylord situation presents a rarity in Nashville — a proxy fight for greater control that could take away a headquarters that’s been here since the early 1990s when the company went public.
There is some talk, mostly in the form of questions, about what it could mean for Nashville to lose Gaylord’s headquarters.
Would Colin Reed, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, be missed if Texas billionaire oilman Robert Rowling succeeded in his bid to convince shareholders to revolt?
Who else other than the city will help finance the Music City Bowl?
And if a nearby Gaylord hotel is part of the criteria for where the headquarters is located, well, there is the Gaylord Texan in the Dallas suburb of Grapevine.
Landing a headquarters usually is considered the grand prize for economic development business. Economic developers here have been quite successful over the past several years attracting a few — Nissan Americas being the most notable.
They don't like to lose an existing headquarters, either. They will react quickly if they get a whiff of a company being recruited out of here and do their own cajoling to make sure they stay put. But there’s not much they can do if the company has been bought and the buyer is partial to its own hometown.
Caremark Rx is one example of that.
Nashville lured the company here in 2003, haling it as a major coup for the city. Three years later, Caremark was bought by drugstore chain CVS and now Nashville is left with a subsidiary.
So the headquarters of the merged company stayed in Woonsocket, R.I. Who wouldn't want to stay in Woonsocket?
Headquarters are important, economic developers will say, because the decision makers are located there. The salaries tend to be higher as well, and those executives tend to be more involved with the community than management of a subsidiary does.
And subsidiaries can come and go at the whim of decision makers at a headquarters far away.
With Gaylord, there may be some who will suggest that the Gaylord that exists today is a shell of what it once was in terms of involvement with the community. Certainly, Reed is no E. W. ‘Bud’ Wendell, a long-time Gaylord CEO, who was heavily involved with the community. Jack Vaughn, a top executive at Gaylord, had quite a bit of sway in Nashville, too.
Gaylord entered Nashville in the early 1980s when it bought the Opryland Hotel, Opryland USA theme park, the Grand Ole Opry, WSM-AM and FM radio stations from American General, which had acquired the properties in taking over National Life & Accident Insurance Co.
Once here, Gaylord launched The Nashville Network and later bought into Country Music Television.
The company went public in 1991 and Edward L. Gaylord, the Oklahoma businessman who engineered the acquisitions, sought to have the headquarters close to where the money was being made. Gaylord had substantial sway here, wielding when the company sought to expand and won tax breaks for the hotel’s Delta expansion.
After Wendell retired, the company's Nashville business began to evaporate. Terry London took the helm and the company started shifting focus. London oversaw the sale of CMT and TNN. The theme park was closed and a mall built. Plans were put in place for building hotels elsewhere.
London took the company into Christian-oriented business, particularly Internet-related. But the entry into the Internet world turned out to be ill-timed because the bubble burst in that sector and out the door he went.
Later, Reed focused the company on hotels and conventions, paring more Nashville assets, including a stake in the Nashville Predators, an investment that helped get the team here. But the Gaylord name is no longer on the arena in which the hockey team plays.
Reed has influenced how the city markets itself and stepped up when former Mayor Bill Purcell asked the company to sponsor the Music City Bowl.
But folks can’t point to much more.
If Rowling succeeds in the shareholder battle and eventually gains control of the company, it's a good bet that he will find cost efficiency with operating Gaylord Hotels in conjunction with his Omni Hotels.
And that could mean the Bud Wendell Building will be emptied and sold.
The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to email@example.com