Willis workers hit the heights

GLOBAL insurance broker Willis has relocated its London headquarters operation to its new landmark building in the heart of the City's financial district.

GLOBAL insurance broker Willis has relocated its London headquarters operation to its new landmark building in the heart of the City's financial district.

The Willis Building at 51 Lime Street, standing across the road from the Lloyd's insurance headquarters and, at 410 feet, now ranking as the fourth tallest skyscraper in London, was designed by world-renowned architects Foster & Partners.

It represents a continuation of the relationship between the company and Lord Foster who, as Norman Foster, designed the then futuristic black glass-clad Willis building in Ipswich which was completed in 1975.

The Ipswich building, now Grade I-listed, has received a host of awards and the new London structure has begun to follow suit, receiving the 2007 New City Architecture Award.

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More than 2,000 Willis employees from four separate sites around London have been brought together under one roof, with the building having been dubbed a “greenscraper” for its energy-efficient and sustainable architecture.

It has received an “excellent” BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) sustainability rating, the highest score possible, which is given to less than 20% of newly completed buildings.

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“The Willis Building is a monument to our past, current and future success,” said Joe Plumeri, chairman and chief executive of Willis Group Holdings.

“It represents our commitment to stand tall as the change agent in the global insurance industry, challenging the status quo and modernizing the way we all do business while finding new and innovative solutions for our clients.

“The Willis Building is a first class space for our associates and we are proud to welcome clients to our new home. It also demonstrates our long-term commitment to London as one of the world's leading financial centres.”

The new step-roofed building, owned by British Land and developed by it in conjunction with Stanhope, provides 320,000 sq ft of lettable space - enough to accommodate up to 2,700 people - with an additional 50,000 sq ft of space in basement levels.

It stands on the site previously occupied by Lloyd's from 1958 until 1986 when it moved to its current building at 1 Lime Street. The main tower is adjoined by a nine-storey building on Fenchurch Avenue, which has been let separately, providing a further 120,000 sq ft of space for up to 1,000 people.

The construction project involved 30,000 people working 1.5million man hours, 5,500 tonnes of steel and more than 15,000 cubic metres of concrete - enough to fill six Olympic swimming pools.

The origins of Willis date from 1828 when Henry Willis & Co was established in London as a broker dealing principally with marine insurance. In 1898 the company merged with Faber Bros to create Willis Faber & Co Ltd which in 1912 had what quickly proved to be the unwanted distinction of insuring the hull and machinery of the Titanic.

During 1928, its centenary year, the company merged again, with Dumas & Wylie to create Willis Faber & Dumas Ltd, under which name it was still operating when it opened its iconic Ipswich office in 1975.

In 1987, the company acquired Stewart Wrightson, becoming the then largest broker in the UK corporate sector, and in 1990 it went transatlantic, merging with New York-based Corroon & Black to form Willis Corroon plc.

In 1998 Willis Corroon was taken private after being acquired by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the following year the entire group was rebranded as Willis. In 2001 the company returned to the stock market, but with a listing in New York rather than London.

Its move into its new headquarters in London was preceded last year but the transfer of its main US operation into new offices at the One World Financial Centre in New York.

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