First Round: New kid on the (next) block

True to the name, the design of Blackstone's innovation office in New York is anything but conventional.

It’s not every day a private equity firm installs treadmill desks in its offices or stadium-style seating in the meeting areas. So when Blackstone announced its innovation group had been housed at 601 Lexington with these amenities – and many more – First Round had to get a tour.

Open since April, Blackstone’s Innovation office – for its software developers – is, well, about as far from the firm’s nearby Park Avenue wood-panelled headquarters as you can get. There’s a snack bar, pool tables in disguise and neatly stacked Jenga in a seating booth.

Blackstone chief technology officer Bill Murphy, sporting a pair of blue jeans and red running shoes, escorted First Round through the glass wall-lined, 36,000 square-feet space. Every room is named after an innovator. A white-board room containing three cushioned chaises and a wheeled coffee table is ‘Ada’, commemorating the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace.

Murphy explains the firm mulled ways to create an environment that reflects what the innovation team does, and purposely designed the office – in a process that took 10 months – to differ from the 345 Park ‘mothership’.

The result, incorporating refurbished metal and neon-blue stools, is certainly a departure from the traditional style of Blackstone co-founder Steve Schwarzman, but “Steve said, sure, if you need this kind of space for innovation, do it,” Murphy says.

(If only First Round’s boss had that kind of vision, and could be persuaded copy flows best from a Bahamian sun lounger.)

The innovation team is now laptop-only, allowing employees to be portable and, should they need some privacy, to drift into one of the ‘Focus’ rooms. The entire space, Murphy says, was meant to make people feel at ease while working. Judging by the trophies, teddy bears and family portraits adorning desks the firm has achieved exactly that.

At a time when Wall Street is competing against tech start-ups for young talent, perhaps this is a great way to keep those résumés flowing in.