McDonald’s recently announced plans to relocate its corporate headquarters from the leafy suburb of Oak Brook, Illinois to the West Town neighborhood in the heart of Chicago. As the Chicago Tribune’s Samantha Bomkamp explains, the move is part of an effort by CEO Steve Easterbrook to revamp the fast-food giant’s business and modernize its image—in this case, by making it a more appealing place for young talent to work:
McDonald’s will move by spring 2018 to the former site of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios at 1045 W. Randolph St., which was home to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for 25 years. The move will bring McDonald’s corporate employees, which currently number about 2,000, from the suburban village to the hustle and bustle of a burgeoning part of the city that is home to some of Chicago’s most popular restaurants, like Girl and the Goat and Au Cheval.
In its bid to attract talent, McDonald’s will join a roster of heavy hitters that already have or plan to move from the suburbs to the city — marquee names like Motorola Solutions, Kraft Heinz, Gogo, Hillshire Brands, Beam Suntory and ConAgra. Rumors that McDonald’s was considering a move have been swirling for months.
“To me, this just shows the commitment level Steve (Easterbrook) has toward revitalizing and making a more streamlined business,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said. “This is obviously part of the company’s cost-cutting efforts: to create a more condensed and modern headquarters, but they will also attract a different, more tech-savvy kind of employee.”
Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal observes that the decision reflects how both the company and the world have changed since McDonald’s established its Oak Brook campus in 1971—itself an innovative and modernizing choice at the time. Indeed, back then, one advantage to setting up shop in the suburbs was that the HQ “was sealed off from the buttoned-down world of traditional business in the city proper.” That relocation was intended, among other things, to reduce turnover. Now, McDonald’s is once again responding to a changing business environment:
There have been advantages to standing tall among the trees for McDonald’s the last 45 years, employing about 2,000 people in a community of around 8,000 where it is the only Fortune 500 company. Suburbia will always have allure for certain people at certain times. But the company’s goals are more diverse than they were in the early 1970s and, so too, are the people it needs to guide it toward them.
Any bright young person willing to even consider taking on the negatives of living anywhere near Chicago these days is bound to figure he or she might as well actually be where the other bright young people are, not a half-hour or more from them. What’s more, business is mobile, round-the-clock and increasingly collaborative. You never know from where the next big idea will come. Or what. Or when. Or whom. Or how. … Isolation, in its many forms, isn’t as fashionable as it was when bell bottoms were trendy.