Global Economics

Executive Office: The Few with a View


What do today's big bosses see when they gaze out their office windows? Many have given up the skylines and the luxury, some have not

A spacious corner office in a gleaming skyscraper has long been the favored perch of corporate barons. Often the office comes with a spectacular view—whether it's an urban skyline, snow-capped mountains, or a waterside panorama. What better backdrop for high-level deal making or entertaining?

It seems irresistible—yet nowadays, surprisingly few corporate chief executives enjoy this perk. More and more companies are opting for offices in the suburbs and even beyond, drawn by lower construction costs, lighter tax burdens, and easier-to-manage security. Of the 100 largest U.S. companies, nearly 50% are headquartered in small cities or suburbs. They include such icons as Microsoft (MSFT), which has its campus-style headquarters in Redmond, Wash., McDonald's (MCD), based in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) in the Ozark mountain town of Bentonville, Ark.

"Often, those big, iconic buildings are not what people want anymore," says Bill Hudnut, a former mayor of Indianapolis who's now a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington. "They want the bucolic setting of a nice, green campus out on the periphery. And you can't really argue with that."

Overlooking the Tracks

European companies also are increasingly opting for the 'burbs. Finnish mobile-phone giant Nokia (NOK), for instance, built its gleaming glass and wood headquarters outside of Helsinki, in adjoining Espoo. But many are still based in historic central cities. In Paris, Louis Vuitton boss Yves Carcelle's office above the Pont Neuf has a spectacular view over the Seine and Notre Dame, while Vivendi chairman Jean-René Fourtou's office window frames the Arc de Triomphe. (Both companies politely declined to provide photos.)

Still, even urban-based companies are opting for more modest digs. The Seattle office of Starbucks (SBUX) Chief Executive Officer Jim Donald, for example, is in a restored Sears store overlooking railroad tracks. Some bosses have a bird's eye view of their businesses, such as Miller Brewing CEO Tom Long, whose office in Milwaukee overlooks a brewery. And of course there's Silicon Valley, where some CEOs, such as Meg Whitman of online auction giant eBay (EBAY), work in nondescript cubicles to underscore their companies' egalitarian culture.

But a lucky few corporate chieftains still enjoy some of the finest views in the world from their office windows. Several of them allowed BusinessWeek.com inside for a peek: Click here for a short tour.

Carlin is a reporter in BusinessWeek's Paris bureau.

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