CEO says Northwestern Mutual’s rebuilt North Office Building will bolster company’s culture

John Schlifske, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Northwestern Mutual.

Last updated on February 3rd, 2023 at 02:18 pm

Timing was everything in Northwestern Mutual’s decision to spend more than $500 million to rebuild its North Office Building, located at 818 E. Mason St. on its downtown Milwaukee headquarters campus.

Throughout the process of the renovation, nearly 2,000 Northwestern Mutual employees will move from the company’s Franklin campus to the downtown campus. The company will begin moving employees out of the North Office Building this July as a precursor to construction.

John Schlifske, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Northwestern Mutual, said Thursday a combination of already needed renovations at the North Office Building and a desire to foster a culture of collaboration were galvanizing factors in the decision to rebuild it.

“The timing was really precipitated by the fact that we had to start making some investments in the North Building anyway,” Schlifske said. “It’s old, it needed more modern HVAC equipment, et cetera. We were confronted by that but we didn’t like that building and we thought this was an opportunity to re-imagine it.”

During a Thursday news conference atop Northwestern Mutual’s Tower and Commons building, Schlifske explained the decision to relocate employees was not necessarily related to remote work but the desire to have all of the company’s employees in one location.

Schlifske said overall about 72% of Northwestern Mutual’s workforce is already in the office. Pre-pandemic levels hovered at about 84%.

“What we want to do from a return to campus perspective is rather than force people to come in, we want to create a place where they want to come to work,” he said. “It’s all about carrots. We’re still going to have flexibility but we want most of our people on campus most of the time.”

Also present at Thursday’s press conference was architect Jon Pickard, principal at New Haven, Connecticut-based Pickard Chilton. The company is one of two architectural firms involved in designing the new North Office Building.

Pickard explained what helped guide him during the design process, and at the heart of the renovation is a desire to allow employees to reconnect with nature, which will in turn boost their health and happiness.

“I think one of the things that guides us is the fact that people do best when they’re in touch with nature. One of the things we’re going to bring to the new North Office Building is access to that (nature),” said Pickard.

Included in the renovation plans are connecting structures and a pedestrian plaza on North Cass Street. Workspaces will also be redesigned for more collaborative work.

“My north star is how do we create a best-in-class experience not just for the people that are here on a day-to-day basis, but also the community,” said Pickard.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson spoke Thursday about how Northwestern Mutual relocating nearly 2,000 employees downtown could provide a boost toward his goal of having the city’s population grow to one million residents. He also noted the importance of Milwaukee’s skyline, which is often what visitors associate with the city through television and other media.

“Our skyline defines our city and today we’re celebrating our skyline being reimagined once again by Northwestern Mutual,” said Johnson.

Ashley covers startups, technology and manufacturing for BizTimes. She was previously the managing editor of the News Graphic and Washington County Daily News. In past reporting roles, covering education at The Waukesha Freeman, she received several WNA awards. She is a UWM graduate. In her free time, Ashley enjoys watching independent films, tackling a new recipe in the kitchen and reading a good book.

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