Corporation of the Year:
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc.

To John Schlifske, the new $450 million, 32-story, 1.1-million-square-foot office tower that Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc. plans to construct at its corporate headquarters campus in downtown Milwaukee is an architectural illustration of the company’s growth.

When the tower opens its doors in 2017, it will inherit most of the 1,100 employees from the buildingit is replacing and will stand to gain a potential 1,900 employees over the next decade and a half.

“From our perspective, the tower, itself, just is a proof point around the growth that we’re experiencing now and that we expect to experience in the future,” said Schlifske, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Northwestern Mutual, which has been named the inaugural BizTimes Corporation of the Year.

The criteria for the award included demonstrated corporate growth, demonstrated commitments to employees and customers, demonstrated commitments to the community and regional impact.

The financial services company, founded in Janesville, Wis., in 1857, has called Milwaukee home since 1859. Both that longevity and the company’s other area buildings fueled much of its decision to build the new tower in downtown Milwaukee.

“It’s important to stay here and keep all those buildings connected,” Schlifske said.

Northwestern Mutual plans to build a $450 million, 32-story office tower at its corporate headquarters campus in downtown Milwaukee.

The lakefront location also enticed Northwestern Mutual to erect its office tower in Milwaukee.

“It’s probably one of the best pieces of property from (an) architectural and aesthetic viewpoint in the whole country,” Schlifske said.

The structure’s design includes curved glass panels arcing southeast toward Lake Michigan as well as an adjoining three-story space, Northwestern Mutual Commons, containing a visitors’ center, café and outdoor dining. Nearly three acres of green space, comprised of gardens, trees, a water feature, tables, benches and walkways, will unfold adjacent to the tower.

New Haven, Conn.-based Pickard Chilton, the designated design architect for the project, approached the design with an ambition to add a “distinguished and elegant” touch to the city’s skyline.

Schlifske

“We are tremendously excited to be a part of this one-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine Milwaukee’s 21st century skyline,” said Jon Pickard, principal for Pickard Chilton. “We envision a distinguished and elegant design that is respectful of this prominent and visible site and one that will build on Northwestern Mutual’s proud tradition of contributing to the viability of Milwaukee.”

Schlifske anticipates the new addition to the Milwaukee skyline will be both “enduring” and “iconic” – a structure that will retain its dignity over the next 100 years.

“We wanted something that really stood out, that’s in keeping with Northwestern Mutual’s sort of style of quiet gracefulness and strength and things like that,” Schlifske said. “And I think it will have a marked impact on the skyline. I think it will help sort of upgrade the skyline.”

The upgrade will also help draw new talent to keep driving Northwestern Mutual’s growth forward, Schlifske said.

“We think that the tower is going to lead to our ability to attract and retain the best employees in the industry, and we think with that as our base, that’s what drives the company’s growth,” Schlifske said. “The tower is a physical structure in and of itself…(that) enhances our brand a little bit nationally, but at the end of the day, I really think the tower’s more about creating a work environment for our employees so that we get the best and the brightest and continue to grow.”

The jobs that the company will both retain and gain are the bottom line for Mayor Tom Barrett, who was concerned about the future of the company’s employee base before he learned that 1,100 jobs would remain downtown, with another 1,900 on the horizon.

“That got my attention in a major league way,” Barrett said.

Those jobs are filled by the industry’s top talent right here in Milwaukee, according to Schlifske.

“We don’t have to go elsewhere to get the caliber of people we want, and yet we feel we have the best people in the industry,” Schlifske said. “So it just makes all the sense in the world (to stay in Milwaukee).

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