This weekend my parents were in town from Pittsburgh, PA. They visit every summer during my dad’s vacation. Because my dad is using his vacation time, I always try to plan something special and have him pick what he would like to do. This year he wanted to visit SC Johnson’s headquarters located in Racine, WI to see the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Administration Building (you can read some of the history here).
I was surprised that he didn’t want to see some of the architectural treats Chicago has to offer, but my dad and I are similar in that we are always trying to find things that are interesting and different. We love going to antique stores and flea markets looking for that neat little piece of history, those hidden treasures that sometimes get overlooked. So last Saturday the four of us (mom, dad, my husband, and myself) pile into the car and head to Wisconsin.
We start our tour promptly at 10 a.m. with a group of people from all over the world. I must admit that I didn’t realize the headquarters had that much draw. As we walked the grounds, I promptly realized what attracts people. As you walk into the Administration Building the space expands in front of you. Built to house 200 people, it consists of the Great Workroom, an encircling second-story mezzanine, an adjoining second-story theater, and third-story executive offices. The Great Workroom is open and airy. The day was sunny, so light came in from the skylights made from Pyrex tubing. The space is supported by large columns that resemble trees; Wright’s way of bringing the outside in (I feel that it is impossible for me to give it justice. You can look at some images here). As we walked around I couldn’t help but be inspired, especially when we entered the office space originally designed for the marketing department. The space was round allowing the ideas to flow to the middle. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of dusty blinds, fluorescent lights, beige walls, and cubicle farms.
The Administration Building isn’t the only impressive piece of architecture on the grounds. SC Johnson’s headquarters also features Fortaleza Hall, which opened in 2010. The Hall was designed by Norman Foster and several artists that worked to capture the company’s culture, environmental commitment, and “spirit of adventure.” In the middle of the large glass building is a replica twin-engine S-38 amphibian plane that Sam Johnson flew to Fortaleza, Brazil in 1998.
When I think about what SC Johnson makes, well-known products like Pledge, Windex, and Ziploc, I couldn’t help but be more amazed. These brands aren’t what most would call glamorous. These are everyday items that most of us have in our cabinets at home. This shows that the company you work for does not need to make the sexiest or coolest products to be inspirational. Work isn’t about what you produce, but who you work with and for. If you work with inspired people, you will be inspired and motivated. When I walked through the buildings, I felt like they were working towards something greater. It gave me the impression that they cared about their people, and that they take their values and company culture very seriously.
With companies getting into trouble and news of the C-suite behaving badly, it sometimes seems that business has lost its inspiration, its drive towards something greater. With economic news mixed, we are facing an atmosphere of fear and doubt. Who is willing to take a risk? In 50-100 years who will be our great business leaders? What companies will still be around? Will they be the ones that made the most money, or the ones that gave the most back and created the greatest legacy?
“Getting money is not all a man’s business: to cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.” Samuel Johnson