Canary Wharf Comes Alive

By Blackhurst, Chris | Management Today, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Canary Wharf Comes Alive


Blackhurst, Chris, Management Today


From rediculed white elephant to the arrival of a new Marco Pierre White brasserie, Canary Wharf is fast becoming the place to be.

Every so often in BZW's recently-vacated City of London offices, staff would disappear up onto the roof and turn on a garden sprinkler. The employees weren't watering a trendy roof garden, this was a vital exercise - the water sprinkler cooled the building down and made the working environment bearable for the employees inside.

Back in 1995, this regular charade was one of the factors that convinced David Adamson, BZW's director of global facilities management and corporate services, that the bank needed to move to more suitable premises.

Adamson calculated that BZW needed 700,000 square feet, enough to cover current and future needs. Upgrading existing premises was out of the question: it was too expensive and wouldn't solve any of the obvious problems. Once the decision had been made, one thing was clear - the bank didn't want to move to just any old building. A trawl of the City convinced him that there was nothing available on the scale required; nor was there ever likely to be. So the search began in earnest. After scouring an area of central London from the City west to Victoria and finding nothing, BZW made up its mind. It would move east, to London's Docklands. From 1997, the bank's UK operations would be based at Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs.

For an institution imbued with the history and traditions of the square Mile, this was a cataclysmic decision. In the City, among the planners at the City of London Corporation and BZW's august rivals, the reaction was one of shock and apprehension. Until now, only foreign banks had cocked a snook at the square Mile. Suddenly, BZW had broken ranks.

Rival City businesses weren't the only ones to be shocked. For BZW's 4,500 employees, Canary Wharf was a nowhere place, miles away from anywhere, impossible to get to, hellish. To try and placate them, the bank would pay them an extra [pounds]1,000 a year for the 'inconvenience' of travelling to and from Canary Wharf. Yet there was still much muttering and moaning.

Elsewhere, however, the response was quite the opposite. In the offices of the company that runs Canary Wharf on the 30th floor of Canary Wharf Tower, and at the Toronto base of Paul Reichmann, the secretive Canadian tycoon who masterminded the Canary Wharf project, the mood was one of jubilation. At last, Reichmann could say a resounding 'told you so' to all those sneerers and snipers who said Canary Wharf would never work.

Canary Wharf dominates the skyline east of London, between the City and the flatlands of Essex, and it is buzzing. In the restaurants and wine bars dotted around the complex, there are no empty tables. This summer, restaurant savant Marco Pierre White chose the wharf for the first of his chain of MPW brasseries. Canary Wharf Tower was even the venue of the recent 'Style Summit' between French president Jacques Chirac, French prime minister Lionel Jospin and Tony Blair. On the heels of BZW, another financial giant, Citibank, has announced that it will build a 560,000 sq.ft headquarters building on a vacant site in the complex. Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse First Boston are already based there, as are Mirror Group Newspapers, the Telegraph, Ogilvy & Mather and Texaco. When prestige New York law firm Skadden Arps wanted a London office it went to Canary Wharf. The Personal Investment Authority has elected to set up shop there. And, in perhaps the greatest snub thus far to the square Mile, the UK's recently assembled financial super-regulator, the Financial Services Authority has decided that, come next autumn, Canary Wharf will be its new home. So far, over 20,000 people work there.

And others will follow. The Citibank building will be next to the new Jubilee line underground station, providing a 15-minute journey time between Canary Wharf and the West End. …

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