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Shining a light in a dark industry

In growth mode, Novo Nordisk invests in headquarters rebuild

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Ted Bielicky, left, senior director of facilities, and Michael Wade, senior manager of facilities, at the new Novo Nordisk site in Plainsboro.
Ted Bielicky, left, senior director of facilities, and Michael Wade, senior manager of facilities, at the new Novo Nordisk site in Plainsboro. - (AARON HOUSTON)

Novo Nordisk's new headquarters is flooded with natural light, a result of a deliberate design decision to maximize exposure to sunshine. It's a feature that becomes immediately apparent as you navigate the company's vast, three-story complex off Route 1, in Plainsboro.

But that's not the only noticeable detail of the project. The fact that the global pharmaceutical company invested $225 million in rebuilding its headquarters while the industry, and economy, has contracted in New Jersey is turning heads, too.

Novo Nordisk will use 500,000 square feet of the 731,000-square-foot building at first, leaving the rest available to accommodate future expansion. The company says it is in growth mode, having beefed up its sales force 25 percent in the past year, and while there are no immediate plans for new hires in Plainsboro, about 1,100 employees from other locations will start moving in before the end of April.

“As the business grows — and I hope it does — we can take on added space as we need it,” said Ted Bielicky, Novo Nordisk senior director of facilities.

The industry's contraction as a whole has been a well-documented story of layoffs, consolidations and repositioning. Merck last year announced it would move headquarters from Readington Township to a smaller campus in Summit by 2015, part of a restructuring projected to result in 13,000 job cuts as the company continues its integration of Schering-Plough. Similar size and employment decisions are coming from other big companies, following Pfizer Inc.'s 2009 takeover of Wyeth and, more recently, Roche's decision last year to move its headquarters out of the state.

Michael Carrier, a law professor at Rutgers-Camden who follows the pharmaceutical industry, says Novo Nordisk's growth plans appear to be an exception to the broader pattern.

“The pharmaceutical industry has seen tough times recently,” Carrier said. “New Jersey, in particular, has suffered. This does stand out. At a time when the pharmaceutical industry is not doing as well, you don't often see something like this.”

Novo Nordisk says its growth will be fueled by strong interest in diabetes treatments the company makes, especially Type 2.

Jeff Frazier, Novo Nordisk's vice president of human resources, said that's a key reason the U.S. division of the Danish conglomerate has seen employment and revenue rise about fivefold nationwide in the last eight years, from about $1 billion and 1,000 employees to about $5 billion and more than 5,000 employees across the country.

“The diabetes pandemic is driving a lot of the growth,” said Frazier, adding that the company has posted 43 straight quarters of double-digit sales growth.

The Scudders Mill Road site will be home to employees relocating from three smaller sites the company is leaving on College Road. Another plant, on Campus Road, in Princeton, will remain. About 400 are employed there.

The new building will house much of the company's U.S. operations, including sales, marketing, clinical development, regulatory, accounting, legal, finance, human resources and public relations.

The project had its formal ribbon cutting April 19, and is two years in the making. Novo Nordisk broke ground in summer 2011, thoroughly renovating a vacant space formerly occupied by investment firms Merrill Lynch and, later, BlackRock. The end result is not recognizable from its predecessor building, executives said; in its place is a LEED-certified building that draws its power from wind and solar technology.

“We're keeping our carbon footprint zero,” Bielicky said. “Trying very hard.”  

Novo Nordisk has strived to make this location as worker friendly as it is environmental friendly, a commitment executives say is woven in the culture of a company that has ranked among Fortune magazine's top 100 companies to work for five straight years.

The other environment is the one inside the building, and its design is engineered to foster interaction and creativity through media centers, food pantries and video conferencing capabilities. Employees are encouraged to leave their cubicles into spacious hallways dotted with tables and sectionals where staff can collaborate on projects.

With an eye on growth, Novo Nordisk wants its new home to be as hospitable as possible.

“This is designed for people to bump into each other in the hallway,” Bielicky said. “We don't want you to stay stagnant. We are not discouraging working from home. But this environment attracts you to be here.”

E-mail to: tomz@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @biztzanki

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