Why move your headquarters? Top CEOs speak out

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While corporate real estate strategies are definitely one-size-fits-one, headquarters relocations seem spurred by surprisingly similar reasons. We wouldn’t call this kind of groupthink a bad thing, rather a natural reaction to a global demographic shift. You can’t ignore more than one million people moving into cities every week.

We analyzed the corporate press releas es associated with Chicago’s 32 headquarters relocations since 2008, paying close attention to quotes from each CEO. These leaders have waxed philosophic, strategic, straight up practical and everything in between in their commentary, offering a glimpse into larger pushes for organizational change and innovation.

Our word cloud above sizes words based on how frequently they’ve been used by CEOs. Roll your mouse over each word to see a sample quote and we’ll dig into the top reasons for moving below.

#1 – Access to top talent

Lebron took his talents to South Beach in 2010, and today’s Millennials are taking their talents to the CBD in increasing numbers. A post-college, rental lifestyle with access to transit and live/work/play amenities is hard to beat, meaning companies who can’t beat ‘em (i.e. everyone) are joining ‘em downtown to boost employee recruitment and retention.

Companies from Kraft Heinz to SC Johnson are interested in a highly educated, tech-focused talent pool, which is the key to staying competitive in today’s innovation arms race. In addition to attracting fresh-faced, creative types with a finger on the pulse of market trends, new downtown headquarters can be the physical shakeup necessary to blow up the status quo. After all, old-line thinking won’t match the new loft-style furnishings.

#2 – Long-term business growth and innovation strategy

Companies making bold headquarters moves have been around for decades, even centuries, for a reason. Instead of making decisions for today, they forecast their needs down the road and nimbly set a foundation for future success. But if you think you know what business your company will be in tomorrow, you’re not thinking big enough.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” said Apple’s Steve Jobs. It also creates new industries and paradigms, often starting with a seemingly simple product. A well-timed and thoughtful headquarters relocation can put a company at the nexus of today’s knowledge economy, leveraging proximity to their end-users as a source of inspiration and motivation for the top talent that follows.

#3 – Re-branding of company and culture

As author Simon Sinek bluntly stated, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” And that takes work from the top down and the bottom up, as it’s informed by leadership priorities and the daily behavior of frontline employees. City centers, inclusive by their very nature, offer the best backdrop on which companies can shape their headquarters’ intangibles and create a culture that adds value outside its four walls.

The best company cultures work with societal trends and shifts, rather than in a walled garden of outdated corporate credos. By meeting employees where they are, you offer a workplace that fits seamlessly into the lives they have already created. Let the beating heart of the CBD amplify your focus on the future, and the dividends will speak for themselves.

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