Office Space Talk
February 9, 2012 6:13 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about the offices of CEOs.

I'm (really) curious about the offices of CEOs. Well, offices of high-ranking executives, but particularly CEOs.

For instance: What design features are common? What lay-outs are common? Do some offices really have private bathrooms? What other cool features (private lift? Hidden bar?) might one find? Is the office walled off from the rest of the company, or is it well integrated?

Does the office design vary between industry? And between company size? Are there memorable stories of complete excess or ascetic forbearance? Is the corporate culture visible in the design? Has there been a change over the past xx years?

I'd appreciate any anecdotes, stories or especially photos you may be able to share in relation to this question? Pictures of CEOs in their office would be appreciated, too.
posted by oxford blue to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Does the office design vary between industry? And between company size?

Absolutely. My current company's CEO sits in the cubicle in front of mine.
posted by xingcat at 6:20 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Absolutely. My current company's CEO sits in the cubicle in front of mine.
posted by xingcat at 11:20 PM on February 9 [mark as best answer] [+] [!]

Fantastic! For those chipping in with personal examples, some info re company size, industry type, etc would be interesting.
posted by oxford blue at 6:29 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: I've been in probably the offices of a 100+ CEO's of large public companies - between 100 mil and 50 bil in market cap and I just couldn't generalize for you. I've seen guys one step above a cubicle and I've met with guys whose offices are in renovated Parisian townhouses decorated to look like Versailles. The ascetic forbearance ones don't really get noted on - unless its so minimalist its a look rather than a focus on the bottom line.

In terms of over the top decadence - my favorite story, but not one I personally saw, was an E&P whose CEO had a full fledged duck pond in his office. I've heard the same story from two people who don't know one another so I believe it.

My other favorite story that I personally saw was a large European holding company with the usual overnice accommodations, but the extra special angle of all of the woman who worked there being sort of washed out runway models whom the CEO was notorious for bedding.

Most single decadent thing I've ever seen - and this was not a public company - is a guy I know who has a 15 foot l-shaped desk made of solid billet aluminum that is mounted on a hydraulic lift so that he can work standing or seated.

Some of the Hedge Fund offices I've been in have been completely utterly and totally over the top in the way most public companies can't come close to.
posted by JPD at 6:30 AM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yea, I am more familiar with CEO of non-profits and public corporations and public libraries and ~I've~ had better offices then them. Windowless, drab, maybe 18m squared at most; a place for work. They have always been very accessible to their (over one hundred) staff though.

I seem to remember hearing that a famous investor (Warren Buffet?) liked looking at the CEO's office and judged that any CEO office that was filled with excess (a model of the corporate jet prominently displayed comes to mind) was looked as proof that the company was not planning long term and was not a good investment.
posted by saucysault at 6:32 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

BTW I've found that when a CEO wants to do some ego boosting via building he tends to build an entire castle to his ego, not just his office. Like if a company is based in a crappy suburban office park the CEO's office is usually not that different from anyone else's, but if they've built themselves some grand edifice - then watch out.

There was famously a company you all know the name of that spent literally several years worth of profits on its HQ - and it wasn't a business where the HQ is where anything productive is being done like R&D or anything like that.
posted by JPD at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: I'm an Executive Assistant who has worked for three CEOs. Their offices have all been very different. My first guy had a regular office like everyone else. The second guy had a stereotypical corner office in a downtown Los Angeles high rise. My current guy has a suite with his own conference room and a full bathroom that includes a shower. My office is an anteroom through which you have to walk to get to his. It's a pretty sweet setup, definitely the nicest I've seen, which is ironic because he is the least assuming of the bunch.
posted by something something at 6:55 AM on February 9, 2012

This probably isn't terribly representative, but I work at a small virtual company that's grown from 5 to 30+ people over half a decade. Because we're virtual, the CEO often ends up working from his couch with a laptop and a cell phone as much as the rest of us do.

In a strange turn of events, a picture of his seven-year-old son playing on the couch ended up being used in a Reddit meme. As a result, I can say quite literally that my CEO's office is Dogfort.
posted by verb at 6:57 AM on February 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I used to work for a financial information vendor, and we had specialized software they would send us Unix admins out to install for our customers' VIPs, because the company thought we were somehow more impressive than the perfectly polished pressed-suit sales support guys who did the installs for everyone else.

Mahogany Row is pretty much the same from one financial firm to another in Boston - top level execs, especially the CEO, get a big room with huge windows, lots of light, remodeled once every couple years with modern-yet-tasteful-yet-anonymous decor, and there are two desks.

The first desk is enormous, and has a bunch of chairs or a couch nearby, and a huge overstuffed swivel chair, or sometimes a sleek ultra-futuristic swivel chair, either with ludicrously tall backs. It was usually by the window with the best view. There's nothing on it except a phone and a blotter, and maybe a notepad or PDA/smartphone/tablet.

Crammed in the corner is a little typing table with a PC and a big-screen monitor (IT will always make sure the brass has the biggest monitor, even though I don't think they usually ask for it or appreciate it for what it is) and a wheeled stool or typist's chair without arms.

The big desk is for dealing with people, the little desk is for writing memos, going over reports, checking stock prices, and doing email. If there's no-one else in the room, the exec would be sitting at the little desk when I came in with the IT guy, usually curious about what I was doing, and sometimes they'd even insist on "driving" - installing the software themselves while I told them how to do it. If there was anyone else around, even just a cleaning guy, they'd be sitting at the big desk, and wave us on to do the install while they made a phone call.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:15 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I semi-regularly have to brief a Vice-President of Anonymous Large Research University (ALRU, go fightin' datasets!) who is actually just a floor down from me. Not exactly a CEO, but definitely high up in the food chain of a well-moneyed institution. The office itself isn't too remarkable spacewise: it's a corner office, and a large one, with an decently large desk and a small sitting area, but it's not significatly bigger than some of the other corner offices.

The difference is really in the quality of decor. Where a regular office may have a standard issue desk and a standard issue table with standard issue chairs, he instead has some curving blonde wood art deco piece, a marble top table (with coasters), and chairs that probably cost more than I make in a month. I'm pretty sure even one of his bookshelves would set me back at least a month's rent. So it's more how he occupies the space than the space itself. The fact that he's carved an actual reception area in front of his office out of the building's unremitting cubicle-land is also impressive.

Naturally, of course, he is NEVER in his office.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:19 AM on February 9, 2012

I work for a consulting firm, publicly traded, around 2,000 employees and a ten-figure market cap. The CEO's office is just like every other office in the building.
posted by downing street memo at 7:19 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: I've not been in my CEO's office, but I know that it's on the top floor of our building at the headquarters, along with some other executives. I was up there only once to dine in the executive dining room. There is a secured door that you have to be buzzed through and a special elevator to the dining room that is only accessible from inside that door. Lots of wood paneling everywhere.

This is a publicly traded company on the DJIA.
posted by cabingirl at 7:39 AM on February 9, 2012

I've worked for a number of small internet related companies and the CEO's office is generally no nicer than anybody else in the company, just larger with a table in the office for small meetings.
posted by COD at 7:45 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: I worked for an organisation where the office was open plan and the CEO simply had a large bay with a normal desk in (admittedly it was so arranged that you couldn't get there without passing several defensive lines of subordinates). The next CEO was very different: he had a glass wall with a lockable door put across the bay, and filled it with antique furniture. It made him look like something between a museum exhibit and a high-security prisoner.
posted by Segundus at 7:46 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Forbes had a story on what CEO's keep in their offices.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:12 AM on February 9, 2012

Most CEO's I've worked for have had regular offices, just a little bigger than everybody else's. One guy had a couch on which he liked to nap during his lunch hour. Most have had a somewhat nicer desk & chair than the rest of us. Nothing real fancy but definitely a step up from the regular staff.

I've only worked for smallish companies, less than 500 employees spread out among multiple branches.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:17 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: Former consultant, so I saw a lot of executive offices. I'll echo what most people are saying - in most cases, it's a standard office, maybe a little larger and with slightly nicer furniture.

One thing I've heard from others is that a number of CEOs are now having two offices - one nice room for meetings with outsiders (especially those from image-conscious industries or cultures), and then a standard office or cube where they do their actual work.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:26 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: Counterpoint to the "bigger = ego" logic. A former company of mine was bought, and the CEO left. The new CEO presided over expansion in the workforce, so we took over half a floor that we had previously rented out.

The new office space included the "luxury apartment"-style office of a long-gone CEO. Rather than spend the money knocking it down into (currently unneeded) offices, the new CEO moved into it. He caught some worker-level grumbling about that, but it actually made economic sense, was closer to the entrance, had a much nicer hallway for bringing in prospective customers, etc.

He was about as low-key as you can get, personality-wise.

Still, that palace was in fact built for a palatial ego; just not his.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:31 AM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: Top-tier academic medical center: It's not a particularly hierarchical organization, and for internal political reasons, there's probably an effort made to keep the offices from being TOO nice.

The decor in the 15 person suite is boring, though more expensive than your average office and the art on the walls is original. It gets redecorated when there's a CEO changeover. From a layout standpoint, the suite is set up around the fact that everyone there has an admin assistant or two. The amount of work that goes into keeping busy people properly busy is mind-boggling. It's very Mad Men. Office, cube. Office, cube. Big office, cube, cube. There's only one entry into the suite, and it's always manned by a receptionist.

The CEO's office itself is large, has its own bathroom, a couple nice couches, shelves with fancy books, private conference room and a hell of a view. Not outrageous, though.

I'd characterize it more by its lack of annoyances than by its opulence. Everything is just slightly nicer. Outside support staff are responsive to your needs. IT problems are cleared up immediately. Leaky ceilings get fixed. Everything is clean and quiet. The office chairs are nice. There's always awesome food left over from meetings. The coffee isn't swill. When you're hired, they buy whatever furniture you decide you need, rather than sticking you with what's already there.
posted by pjaust at 9:01 AM on February 9, 2012

The offices of the CEOs I've known have been pretty Spartan. The one constant is a separate table with chairs for meeting people. Generally speaking, the more "nesting" with various knick-knacks and carefully displayed ego-building crap, the less effective the CEO.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 AM on February 9, 2012

In the high tech/start-up world, it's fashionable for the CEO's office to be only a tiny step better than that of the regular employees.

If everyone's in a cubicle, the CEO will be in a slightly larger cubicle (maybe a double, with a window). If everyone's in a plain office, the CEO will be, too - although it will probably be the plain office at the corner, or the slightly larger one.

I call this a "fashion" because it is. The ostensible reason is to show the egalitarian nature of the company, how tight they are with a nickel, and how "I'm just like you!" But it's just part of the "We do things differently in this business! We're scrappy!" aesthetic which leads to everyone wearing t-shirts and board shorts to work.

This phenomena probably finds its peak in the (perhaps apocryphal?) "door desk" of Jeff Bezos.
posted by ErikaB at 12:26 PM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: My old boss had three offices.

A Minister divides her/his time in my State in my country between a working office in a building in the CBD, a much smaller office in Parliament House when Parliament sits, and an office in the electorate she or he represents. The main Ministerial office is large enough to hold meetings of up to about fifteen people, or standing presentations to thirty or forty, and has a moderately sized desk and a meeting table in it. There's no bar in it but there's usually a pretty well-set up office kitchen for small functions.

The Parliamentary office is much smaller, but has a similarly sized desk for meetings and only the Minister gets windows. The main difference between the offices is where the Minister's staff work; there are decent sized offices in the CBD office but in the Parliamentary office in a nineteenth century building the Ministerial staff work at an elbow's length from each other in a windowless room on a communal table. Whenever there's some piece of news everybody's phones sound one after the other, and it's a lot like being in a WWII submarine movie. Ping! Crash dive!

The office in the electorate is usually pretty unremarkable and indistinguishable from any other small business except for a smiling picture of the MP on the window and extensive security features in the waiting room. Yes, they're needed.

It isn't usually decorated very thoroughly and art on the walls generally comes from a Government pool, or is art given as gifts or official presentations (which can range from quite good to hilariously appalling). All of the Ministers know that they can be sacked by their colleagues or the electorate at very short notice so rampant displays of ego in decoration are looked down on. Some Ministers' senses of humour can be very arcane though---one of them (not my old boss) had a big picture of FDR, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in his meeting room, which was apparently a private joke that served to make people a little bit uneasy.

The more senior Ministers and those in charge of larger (read: bigger budgeted) portfolios get better views. The desk is covered in trays full of Departmental files, books, office bumpf and paper.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:24 PM on February 9, 2012

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