In the end, it did not matter. Heinz is moving a few blocks away from its spot in the U.S. Steel Tower to gleaming, light-filled offices in One PPG Place -- well within the city limits. There is even a view of the football field the company paid to put its name on a few years ago.
"We've been in the city [almost] 150 years. This is where we belong," said Johnson yesterday as he strolled around the 95,000-square-foot space where the food company's 225 global headquarters staff will be moving over the weekend.
Which is not to say the company did not consider moving to the suburbs before deciding the city was home. However, leaving the area entirely was never an option, said Johnson.
For the region, it does not hurt to see a business so deeply rooted in the area committing to a 15-year lease. Not long ago, Heinz was in a proxy fight that rattled nerves over whether new investors would threaten the relationship between the ketchup company and Pittsburgh.
The announcement of the move to PPG Place, which came after two dissidents joined the board, seemed to signal an intent to stick around. Heinz will occupy floors 31 to 34 at One PPG Place. The company also has 700 employees in its Heinz 57 Center on Sixth Avenue and another 200-plus in a research center in Marshall, both of which opened in the past decade.
Now that the final piece of the Pittsburgh-area staff is settling into a new space, Heinz should be set for a while. "It leaves this company well positioned," said Johnson.
He sees employee morale as strong. "Morale's usually been a consequence of results," he said, and Heinz has had several strong quarters, including third-quarter results released yesterday.
Still, design changes at the new office should contribute to a better atmosphere than that on the 59th and 60th floors of the U.S. Steel Tower, which Heinz officials felt they could not reconfigure to suit changes in the company's business.
For one thing, the new seating arrangements should allow better communication between affiliated groups. Movable walls and furniture allow flexibility in case of acquisitions, divestitures or the various other trends that can be counted on to alter the food business. At the moment, Heinz is seen as a potential bidder for the Mead Johnson infant feeding business that Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. may sell. "We are in the baby food business. It is a core category," said Johnson, adding that he never comments on anything outside Heinz's own businesses.
The new space also has other amenities. Instead of a central eating area with no windows, the new space has small dining rooms with vending machines, sinks and tables tucked along outside walls with floor-to-ceiling views.
Continuing a tradition, employees can buy the company's frozen Smart Ones or Boston Market products for $1 each. Funds go to United Way.
Some people still get offices along outside walls, but the spaces have lots of glass that allows natural light to spread into central cubicles. Small gathering spaces, in addition to the lunch spots, are meant to encourage people to talk and bounce ideas around.
Employees who complained in the past that office air seemed stale may be interested in a system designed to bring in fresh air from outside.
That fit with an effort to make the space more green, including installing low-emission materials and a water system that will replace bottled water.
There will notbe a big Heinz sign on the exterior of PPG Place, yet the new headquarters may have a higher profile than the old one. A media area designed for satellite broadcasts will bring in-house interviews with news outlets such as CNBC, as well as sessions shown to the company's 33,000 employees around the globe.
Even the board should stop over more often, now that there are meeting facilities. In the past, the directors pondered big questions at the Duquesne Club.
Employees eager to see Johnson on the PPG Place ice rink trying out skates they gave him last year may be disappointed because the CEO said they have gone missing. He is pointing the finger at the company's insurance guys, while cheerfully conceding he has no proof.
Staff may have to settle, instead, for him, or at least one of the company's senior executives, to serve them next week during an employee lunch to celebrate the move.
From the March 3, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash