FMC chief plans fall decision: Keep HQ in Phila, or move to NJ, Del.?

Chemical maker FMC Corp. plans to decide this month whether and where to move its headquarters, currently at 1735 Market Street, says chief executive Pierre Brondeau, who joined the company in 2010 after a career at the former Rohm and Haas and, briefly, ROH's buyer Dow Chemical.

"We will make a decision in September," Brondeau told me. "We have to make a decision by December."

Why move?  "I still think it's important for a company our size to have a headquarters that presents who we are and what we do. When you want to recruit people from the other end of the world, you want to show you are a company, for real. But it doesn't have to be a huge building."

What are the options? "New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania," but not necessarily in that order. Since Philadelphia builders, turned off by low rents, didn't build the extra speculative towers that lined New York, Washington, Miami and other East Coast cities in the mid-2000s, there aren't that many high-quality spaces available for 600 people. And he doesn't want to build from scratch.

Will FMC stay in Center City Philadelphia? "I have lots of discussions with Mayor Nutter. He's an exceptional guy. He'll do anything he can to help us stay in Philadelphia. The Office of the Governor has tried to do anything he could to make us interested in Pennsylvania. I'm very attached to Phialdelphia. Personally, I think it's a great city. And I'm a great fan of Michael Nutter.

"My wife is from Chicago, we spent eigh tyears in Boston, but Philadelphia is special, Philadelphia is cool. People are nicer. Oh, yeah. I worked many places in France, in Asia. I showed my family the world. And they all came back here. It's a great place. People make fun of me because I told your (colleague) Bob Fernandez (when he worked at Rohm and Haas), 'When I walk in Rittenhouse Square I could be in Paris.' Philadelphia has all the benefit of a very large city, but it's a town. In Terrazza Cafe I see people I know. Walking around Rittenhouse or Washington Square, it's home. Even the Main Line, we love. 

"So Philadelphia is the most likely (new FMC headquarters), today. Philadelphia is central. But we have not closed."

How about Wilmington?  "Delaware is a very friendly state for corporations. And our plant down there in Newark is operating very well. But then we have to look at our employees in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I don't want to make their lives miserable. Will Delaware create a problem for them?"

Or Jersey: "We have an R&D (corrected) center in Ewing, near Trenton. I go there very often. It's a 40 minute drive. They are all natural places for us to be."

All the states are friendly. Brondeau thinks the federal government could learn from their example: "The mayors, the governors, they all want to work with us. With industry."

What about building a new office tower? "The real estate people, they have told us, 'We have plans, if you sign here, we'll build a building.' But they need more tenants. Once they have one or two, they move forward. We're looking at some buildings, some plans.

"We do not need a building like Comcast or Glaxo, who occupy their entire buidings. We are not going to build a buliding. We are not going to own a building. We may move into a building built for multiple tenants, for multiple purposes. We may occupy half the building. or one-third. It's much more flexible to rent floors."

Will FMC stay independent? Even DuPont Co., after 200 years, is under pressure from investors to break up, sell assets, maybe sell out. "I don't know what Ellen Kullman (DuPont's CEO) is going to do with (activist investor) Nelson (Peltz). I always tell my employees, 'Focus on two things: employees, and customers.' If our employees are happy and our customers are groiwg, our shareholders are well rewarded. that's the way you avoid activist shareholders. that's the way you remain independent."