If I told you that I recently spent a night in Louisville,
Kentucky, dragging a one-ton cargo container across the floor, sort of like dancing with an SUV, you'd probably say I was dreaming. Or just nuts. But that's what happened when I visited UPS's Worldport facility at the Louisville airport as part of my research for "Surprise Package," beginning on page 62.
Worldport, completed in 2002, is the largest air hub at UPS. On a typical day, 900,000 packages flow through the facility, two-thirds of them at night. As one employee told me, "It's like putting on the Super Bowl every night."
The network has 17,000 conveyor belts stretching 122 miles. The scene is fast and furious, reminiscent of the facility in Monsters, Inc. with the endless closet doors. Boxes move along a freeway of belts, merging at precisely the right moment. On average, it takes less than 60 minutes for a package to arrive at Worldport, circulate through the system, and get loaded on an outbound container. About 100 planes fly in and out of Worldport daily.
The hub's floors are made of metal and dotted with wheels about a foot apart so employees can move the weighty cargo containers to the conveyor belts. And that's how I found myself pulling at one such container by a strap. It was reluctant at first, but then it budged. It felt like walking an elephant. Who says reporting can't be a ton of fun? -Chuck Salter
Dr. Dope's Connection
In the annals of pot history, it was a significant moment: June of 1998, when the British government granted GW Pharmaceuticals a license to cultivate and supply marijuana for research and pharmaceutical development ("The Cannabis Conundrum," page 82). There was just one problem. Where in the world would Dr. Geoffrey Guy, GW's founder and chairman, find a legal source of pharmaceutical-grade marijuana seeds—enough to grow tons of material? Someone in England's Home Office gave Guy a tip: a reclusive Dutch company called HortaPharm, founded by two hipster expatriates from California.
In the world of ganja connoisseurs, HortaPharm CEO David Watson and his partner, Robert Clarke, are near-gods. When I met Watson at his office in a residential neighborhood in Am-sterdam, he presented me with a gift: two marijuana seeds. One seed, from Kashmir, was the size of a pinhead—"wild ditch weed, wanna-be marijuana," Watson called it. The other was a hemp seed, as fat as a lentil. The seeds could easily have symbolized the breadth of Watson's study of Cannabis sativa.
Guy purchased all of the rights to HortaPharm's entire seed library. But that wasn't enough. Guy also needed Watson and Clarke's marijuana know-how, and he signed them on as consultants. The pair was there at GW's greenhouse for the historic first planting, when 2,000 of HortaPharm's seeds were potted. It was a long way from Watson's days in India, collecting heirloom varieties of Himalayan ditch weed. Says Watson, matter-of-factly: "We gave GW at least a five-year head start." -Bill Breen
If there's one thing I've come to believe in reporting "Where Are the Women?" (page 52), it's that the hours worked by top executives should be regulated, just as they are for long-haul truckers.
Nearly every person contacted for this story recounted the bone-numbing exhaustion that came with the upper reaches of management. "When I hit the bed, I'd look at my analog clock, and if I had half a pie—at least six hours sleep—I was happy," says Marta Cabrera of her years as a vice president at JP Morgan Chase. "If the slice of the pie was less than half, which was normally the case, I'd go to bed miserable."
Brenda Barnes, former CEO of PepsiCo North America, concurred. When asked what she didn't miss from her jet-setting corporate life, she was quick to respond: "Four hours of sleep a night." Researchers say lack of sleep can lead to colds, cancer, and weight gain. It may even shrink parts of the brain. That could explain the muddled accounting, boneheaded market predictions, and flaky mergers we've seen coming out of corporate America's corner offices recently. Shouldn't Eliot Spitzer be on this? -Linda Tischler
A version of this article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.