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From Corner to COMMUNITY.

Once the most prestigious location for a CEO, the corner office is giving way to less formal space, allowing easier access to and for employees.

One hundred years ago, the boss considered his office the greatest symbol of success and wanted everyone to know he had arrived. He chose space in a corner because corners had at least two windows, offering multidirectional views. The corner also had the best light, crucial before the broad use of electricity. When commercial skyscrapers replaced simple office buildings, executives continued to covet the corner as well as the top floor.

But now the corner office is slowly being dismantled. CEOs are moving away from formal hierarchy into a more team-based approach, and many have downsized their former corners or have integrated the space into part of an open office system.

In the 1920s, all the great barons of industry worked in offices with fireplaces, chandeliers, ornate furniture, and other features connoting wealth and power. But after World War II, although status was still important, many chief executives abandoned such grand spaces. By the 1950s, giant corporations began to emerge and entire executive floors began to appear. These brought everyone together in an office "landscape," a flexible interior space that could be adapted for many uses. Nevertheless the allocation of space was still based on title, and the CEO's office remained the largest.

As business has changed, so has the CEO's office and the way work gets done. At $21 billion Loews Corp. in Manhattan, for example, a former corner office is now the conference room. Andrew H. Tisch, chairman of the executive committee of the diversified holding company and chairman of watch and clock distributor Bulova, sits in a relatively small 200-square-foot office down the hall from the conference room. "My brother Jimmy [president and CEO of Loews] and my cousin Jon [chairman and CEO, Loews Hotels] have the same size office as me, and so do the senior VPs," says Tisch. "It's easy enough to have a meeting of four people in here, and if we need anything more spacious, we have a very comfortable conference room.

By contrast, one of the most remarkable corner offices in New York City was not a top-floor suite; it was a ground-floor room in the southwest corner of Grand Central Terminal with an entrance on Vanderbilt Avenue. From 1923 to 1957, this space served as the office of John W. Campbell, president and chairman of Credit Clearing House, a privately held financial services corporation associated with financing the garment industry. It was the Gilded Age, a period of wealth unsurpassed even by today's standards. Like other successful tycoons of the day, Campbell demanded a grand office, one convenient to his clients and close to the railroad so he could commute to and from Westchester to the north. To satisfy these needs, he leased 3,500 square feet of raw space from Cornelius Vanderbilt, owner of Grand Central. It was a single room 60 feet long by 30 feet wide with a 25-foot ceiling and an enormous fireplace.

Campbell transformed the space into a 13th-century Florentine palace with a hand-painted timbered ceiling and leaded windows. He installed 19th-century Italian chairs and tables, an art collection worth more than $1 million, a Persian carpet that took up the entire floor and a massive Florentine desk from which he conducted business. He added a piano and pipe organ, and at night turned his office into a reception hail, entertaining 50 or 60 friends who came to hear famous musicians play private recitals. Afterwards, he and his wife would walk a short distance to catch a train home.

In 1941, Credit Clearing House merged with Dun and Bradstreet. Campbell became chairman of the board of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, keeping his office until he died in 1957. Today, after a million-dollar restoration, Campbell's office has been turned into a public bar and lounge called "The Campbell Apartment," and provides a haven for drinks, discreet meetings, and shelter from onrushing commuters. The walls and ceiling have been brought back to their former glory and the original steel safe, once hidden behind a wall, now sits in the massive fireplace, an appropriate reminder of this successful mogul.

Other notable CEOs have taken different approaches. Robert W. Woodruff, the leader of The Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta for more than six decades, was almost solely responsible for creating the most successful product in the history of commerce. He turned Coca-Cola from a small company with slumping profits into a $7-billion-a-year business, and achieved this without fanfare or notoriety, operating from a 546-square-foot office.

The office was almost spartan, but it reflected his lifestyle. Known in Atlanta as Mr. Anonymous, Woodruff hired a press agent to keep his name out of the papers. In 1950, when Tune magazine chose him as Man of the Year, he insisted the magazine put the product on the cover instead of his picture. He considered the people in his life important, and his office reflected that. The walls and desks were filled with pictures of family, friends, celebrities, and presidents. Against one wall was a rolltop desk that had belonged to his father, Ernest Woodruff, head of Trust Company Bank (now SunTrust).

Robert Woodruff worked at a desk opposite the rolltop. On one side of the room was memorabilia of his friendship with Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was formed at the outbreak of World War II when Woodruff promised every man in uniform a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents wherever he was and whatever it cost the company. Not only did this gesture cement his friendship with the future president, but it also gave CocaCola a firm place in the emerging global marketplace.

Today, Robert Woodruff's office is on display in the Coke building in Atlanta, preserved the way he left it. The only change is the desk calendar, which has been turned to March 7, 1985, the day he died. "Robert Woodruff was the patriarch of Coca-Cola for over 60 years," says Philip Mooney, director of the archives at Coca-Cola. "In many ways, the cornerstones of the business were established by him, and they thought it was important for our people to understand the roots of where we came from and where we're going, so they preserved his office."

At Loews, Andrew Tisch believes that the smaller the office, the less imposing. His furniture and furnishings In Grand Central Station, one of New York City's most remarkable corner offices was created in the 1920S for John W. Campbell, chairman of Credit Clearing House. It now serves as a bar.

are all crammed into his workspace: an L-shaped unit that holds his computer and a Bloomberg terminal, a 100-year-old desk, once his father's, two armchairs, and a couch with an end table that serves as a blanket chest. The only time Tisch ever closes his door is to take an occasional 10-minute nap. "Given the corporate culture," he says, "this is more than an appropriate-sized office. We've done well in this company because we've set a culture of trying to keep things as simple as possible. The office more and more will be a function of the message the CEO wants to get to his peers, his employees, and the world outside."

Tisch believes that in the future, CEOs will be less formal, and with demands put on them by boards and shareholders, they will spend less time creating imperial workspaces. Even now, he says, prospective corporate leaders are growing up with more casual workdays and with a more informal relationship between supervisor and subordinate.

If Andrew Tisch's office is considered small, then imagine the workspace of Michael A. Volkema, CEO of Herman Miller, the furniture design company in Zeeland, MI. It is minuscule, only 125 square feet. Volkema and the senior management team work in pods, hexagonal, glass-walled offices with sliding doors, linked like a molecular chain. Tents are divided by a pole-and-cloth system with rolling screens and canopies. The purpose is to liberate the work force from a series of boxes and create openness and movement of light. The advantage is that leadership is more visible and accessible.

"If you go into one of these CEO fortresses, you almost feel as though you're breaking and entering," says Volkema. "I think CEOs are going to want to send signals that it's okay to come and commune with them." Volkema compares his village concept with going into the center of town. There is an interior courtyard, a carved-out open-air wired space so anyone can go there and work with a laptop, a copy and business center, and a theater with full audio-visual capability. There is also a "front yard" space and "backyard" area. "All of a sudden," says Volkema, "this workspace has turned into a village community, and we all come here because it's where we hang out. I'm surrounded by glass, so people can see if I look busy and I have backyards I can escape to."

Like Herman Miller, Steelcase, whose corporate headquarters are also in Michigan, has radically changed its office philosophy. Thanks to technology, which allows people to work anywhere, anytime, CEOs can no longer be secluded and hand down orders. They need to know more, be flexible, and be able trust colleagues' expertise. This business evolution helped to transform offices at Steelcase. "We went from giving top-level management pretty palatial offices with terraces and little waterfalls and great views of the outside to utilizing more of the interior space for them and more of the exterior views for everyone else," says Pam Brenner, Steelcase's manager of workplace issues. James Hackett, the chief executive, has an office only 48 square feet in a "leadership community."

"Actually, Jim doesn't have an office," says Brenner. "It's a free-standing product we call a Personal Harbor." Hackett sits in a 6-foot by 8-foot workspace with a door, identical to the Personal Harbors of the others around him. Everyone has access to him, confirms Brenner.

Volkema and Hackett are typical of forward-thinking CEOs trying to create a more collaborative work environment. Others are found in high-tech industries, says Michael Bell, an analyst at technology research firm Gartner, Inc. in Stamford, CT. "We see CEOs like John Chambers of Cisco Systems and Meg Whitman at eBay working in open-planned work station environments that look very un-CEO-like. It's still important to know who's in charge," Bell adds, "but the notion of hierarchy is counter-productive. In the future, the CEO will be expected to have a place that is more symbolic of the office itself rather than the person. Even George W. Bush only uses the Oval Office as a place for ceremony and meeting and greeting dignitaries. He does his real work in a back room that is more like a study, where he can spread things out and adapt the work environment to his own personal work style."

Margo Grant Walsh, an interior architect at Gensler, an international architectural design and planning company, where she is known as the "guru of the corporate office," believes that in 10 years corner offices may be even simpler than now. "I don't think they can get much smaller," she says. "They'll have more advanced technology. There will always be a requirement for privacy, but an office is still a place of refuge for a CEO. They need space to contemplate, to have secure and private conversations, and to get their key people together." It is in such face-to-face meetings that CEOs inspire employees. "Leaders need to be seen," she adds.

There is a consensus that in the next 10 years, CEOs will still have offices, but will more often work in their home, their vacation retreat, their airplane, or their boat. These places will be equipped with the technology to make it possible for the chief to stay in touch with his or her enterprise and the market 24/7. Such access to information will allow CEOs to report earnings per share more frequently than on a quarterly basis. "That is going to change the CEO'S role gigantically, because he'll be able to monitor what's going on moment by moment," predicts Ken McGee, another Gartner analyst.

When this happens, the role of the CEO will again be redefined. But, as Andrew Tisch points out, "Having real-time earnings won't make for a better company--having real earnings will."
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:transformation of CEO office space
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2001
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