When Matt Torgerson began planning Great Plains Software’s new headquarters, the current Microsoft Fargo campus, he got plenty of guidance from chief executive Doug Burgum.
But he also got a helping hand from what was perhaps a higher authority still: Burgum’s mother,
Katherine “K.” Burgum was north of 80 by then, but still dived in.
“I spent a lot of time with K.,” Torgerson said. “She ended up being a really primary part of the direction of that project.”
It was a level of involvement and attention to detail that might have felt stifling to some facilities managers. Instead, Torgerson found it empowering: He knew he had a commitment from management to create a unique campus, and he knew the commitment went beyond lip service.
“The opportunity got me excited,” he said.
In the years since the first building went up, Torgerson has continued that commitment in his stewardship of campus. He’s helped develop a number of practices that went on to gain wider adoption across Microsoft. The Fargo campus, for instance, was the first to organize its vast tracks of cubicles into streets and avenues to make the office easier to navigate.
It was also among the first to establish an art program that focused on meaningful local connections rather than scooping up art with the hope it would appreciate in value.
“Steve (Ballmer) isn’t super-keen on art,” he said. “I, on the other hand, am.” Torgerson brought in warm touches like paintings from local artists, woodwork recovered from an old Wisconsin grain elevator, and a sculpture of dear silhouettes meant to evoke the adaptation of the natural environment in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
“It’s really fun for people to have access to art and appreciate it,” he said. “I continue to pursue that agenda.”
The beautification efforts extend to the exterior of campus, where the company brought in thousands of trees and nearly 10,000 spring bulbs to spruce up the site of nearly 80 acres.
Much of that was part of a massive planning process to lay out the entire square mile on which campus sits. The former farm site was three miles from town when ground broke. The city “really didn’t know how to even process our application,” Torgerson said, also crediting the city and state permitting process here as a boon for agile expansion.
He knew his work wasn’t going unnoticed when, after a rotation of several pieces of art, a popular painting moved.
“I had people sending me e-mails asking me where the painting had gone,” he said.