Ice Cold Warehouse to Tech Hot Spot: Google’s New Chicago Home

By Katie Murar

Jim Lecinski, head of Google in Chicago, predicted the company’s new West Loop location will help create a tech hub in the Windy City.

“If you were to draw a triangle from 1871 at Merchandise Mart out west to Fulton Market District, north to Goose Island, and then back down on the diagonal to 1871, that is now the physical zone to be the innovative tech hub of Chicago,” Lecinski said to a room of business men and women on Tuesday.

The event was sponsored by the Business Marketing Association and was held at the Standard Club in Chicago.

Lecinski, vice president of Americas Customer Solutions for Google, said the company moved from its previous River North location due to size constraints. He said he hopes young workers will contribute to the city’s technology industry at the new location.

“Let the students right out of school with their bachelor’s or master’s in software engineering go to London or Singapore, get that experience, have a world view that’s beyond the Midwest, and bring that experience, skill and energy back with you to Chicago and help make it great,” Lecinski said.

The new office, a 300,000 square-foot space at 1000 W. Fulton Market, was once the former Fulton Market Cold Storage Company, where Lecinski’s grandmother used to have her ice delivered “for her ice box, in the pre-Frigidaire days.”

“It was a big brick windowless building that had been in great disuse and disrepair for many years,” Lecinski said. “It was frozen, with stalagmites of ice covering floor to ceiling. There were no elevators, stairs, bathrooms, nothing in this building that was frozen over. But we thought, that’s the kind of challenge we wanted to take on, it felt like a ‘googleventure.’”

The office officially opened in November last year, and as of two weeks ago, now has 1,000 employees.

Lecinski devoted the rest of his speech to inform the business professional-filled audience of ways to use digital marketing to promote a product and engage consumers, and also to stay ahead of competition.

“In terms of digital engagement, people immediately jump to advertising, and that’s certainly important but I often start with thinking about what you have done to digitize your core offering,” Lecinski said. “For example, Monopoly digitized its board game to where it’s now a BYOT game—Bring Your Own Tablet.”

Lecinski emphasized mobile engagement, for which “the deadline was yesterday.”

“Our team did a study on Sunday, where we found that 82 percent of all searches that were done related to Superbowl ads were mobile. Only 7 percent were on tablet, and only 11 percent were on desktop,” Lecinski said. “If 82 percent of your business is going to come through mobile, are you ready for that?”

Lecinski said when thinking of ways to engage customers, it is crucial to understand how to connect with your audience. Thomas Joseph Willett, an audience member who founded his own marketing company, said this notion “was right on the money.”

“It is important to know your audience, and asking questions to get to know your customer will help guide the strategy for your company,” Willett said.

Audience member Deborah Sasak, of the Maine Community Youth Association Foundation, a Park Ridge non-profit, commented that while audience engagement is crucial, the manner in which you do it is heavily dependent on your company, and your company’s core audience.

“We work with high school students, and while we’re not doing enough digital engagement, we don’t want to be shoving it down their throats at the same time,” Sasak said. “The thing that has worked best for us is putting a poster on a store window, so in that sense it is also knowing your audience.”

Lecinski’s final advice to the audience was taken out of Google’s training strategy for new hires: be nice.

“You must be a life-long learner, and please be kind,” Lecinski said. “Kindergarden rules apply. Our jobs are hard enough, let’s just treat each other with respect and kindness.”

Google VP Jim Lecinski spoke to a room of business professionals at an event sponsored by the Business Marketing Association on Thursday. (Katie Murar/MEDILL)