Pfizer plots move to new-and-improved HQ in Manhattan

This building on 42nd Street in New York City has been Pfizer's headquarters since 1961, the WSJ reports.

Pfizer plans to unload its aging Manhattan headquarters, home base since 1961, and move to more up-to-date offices elsewhere in the city. The company hasn’t yet chosen a new base, but like its Big Pharma fellows, it’s clearly looking for an upgrade.

The drug giant, with 97,000 employees around the world, will seek a buyer for the building on 42nd Street in New York City, aiming to sell by the end of 2017. It would like to begin relocating HQ to another office in Manhattan in mid-2019, a Pfizer spokeswoman said.

A “substantial majority” of its headquarters staff will work in the new offices after the move. "Some colleagues--based on where their teams are ultimately located--may move to Pfizer's other facilities in the metropolitan area," spokeswoman Joan Campion said via email.

The company hasn’t yet chosen a new headquarters site, but it’s shopping for "a new, more modern" facility. The current building contains approximately 1 million square feet on 34 floors, including the basement. The Wall Street Journal first broke news of the move.

Other Big Pharmas have made headquarters moves in recent years, some with architectural statements, such as Roche’s new base in Basel. One common thread has been a move toward workspaces that are flexible, to accommodate employees that often work remotely or on the road, and encourage collaboration.

Bristol-Myers Squibb blueprinted a new campus in New Jersey featuring spaces designed to push employees into the open, where they can interact more--and perhaps spark Eureka moments in the process. When it consolidated four locations into one 95-acre campus, Bayer HealthCare wanted to "foster community" with meeting pavilions and huddle rooms, according to its architects at Gensler. 

GlaxoSmithKline unveiled a new U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, where employees are assigned to “neighborhoods” rather than particular desks and quiet rooms are available when necessary. The company's "workplace strategy" manager later said GSK had figured out that employees only worked 35% of the time in offices and cubicles--hence the big change in design. After the move, Glaxo said decisions were being made 45% faster.

Roche’s HQ centers on “open communication zones” and flexible office spaces. Biogen’s even has pop-up meeting rooms.

If Pfizer wants something along those lines, then it’s no surprise that the company figures that it would need to make a “significant investment” to bring its building up to speed, as a spokeswoman told the WSJ. “In terms of capital deployment that is not where we want to focus,” she said.

Meanwhile, other pharmas have sold or are weighing a sale of their U.S. headquarters. AstraZeneca may offload its Delaware base to raise cash, the company said in August, though it’s still addressing its options--which include redeveloping its current site. Novo Nordisk sold its New Jersey U.S. headquarters for $305 million to a Korean investment firm the same month, but the Danish drugmaker plans to stay put.

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