WHEN YOU FIRST MEET JOHN TENANES, AE ’79, you get the sense that he’s got a lot on his plate. Yes, most of that is due to the fact that he’s Facebook’s director of global real estate and in the process of helping oversee the design and construction of their brand new 57-acre campus housing more than 2,000 employees in Menlo Park, Calif. But also because, when he and I meet, it is the lunch hour, and he literally has a bunch of food on his plate.
“You don’t mind if I eat while we do this?” he asks, casting a longing glance at his grub. “Don’t worry, I’m good at multitasking.”
Judging from his job requirements, that seems like a ridiculous understatement. Aside from finding and purchasingworkspace for Facebook internationally,Tenanes is overseeing each detail of the process involved in building the Menlo Park campus: hiring the architects and design firms; meeting with community and business leaders to hear their concerns; overseeing the company’s complex employee transportation program; even managing the building’s food program, which includes six restaurants and more than 100 employees.
While his path to Facebook and this project now seem like some sort of predestined life mission, that wasn’t always the case. After graduating from Wentworth, he attended culinary school, then, still unsure of exactly what he was going to do, cast his job net wide. “I had a couple of interviews at different kinds of places, and one was with an insurance company,” Tenanes says, laughing. “I remember, because I bought a suit specifically for it. Thank god I didn’t get that job.”
He opted instead to return to his Wentworth degree in architecture, taking a gig at the Boston firm Rothman & Rothman and moving to Cambridge. Soon, however, the West and its lack of random April snow showers beckoned. He shipped out to San Francisco and eventually landed at global architecture giant Gensler, where he worked as a senior associate and made questionable fashion choices.“I spent my time doing work for basically all Silicon Valley clients, like IBM, HP, and Sun Microsystems,” he says, smirking, “and I wore a bowtie.”
In 1989, after several years of wearing that tie, he was recruited away from Gensler by Sun to help design and buildhigh-end work stations. This, he says, was a real departure from what he’d previously been doing. “I was trained as an architect, worked as an architect, but now I’m doing everything—I’m hiring the contractors as well as the architects, I’m moving people in and out and figuring out where they’ll sit—and I just really liked it.”
Tenanes worked at Sun for about 10 years and then at Silicon Valley giants Siebel and Oracle for the following decade. When he started at Facebook in 2010, tasked with finding them a new home base, he helped them settle on a million-square foot piece of property in Menlo Park surrounded on three sides by water. Tenanes knew the property well: He had purchased the very same plot of land for Sun in 1995 when they were looking for a headquarters.
So, a decade-and-a-half later— eons in Silicon Valley years— Tenanes acquired the property for Facebook. Though this time around, everything about it—from the space, to the Valley, to his frame of mind coming in—is very, very different. “Across the board, everything’s moving at a much quicker speed now,” says Tenanes, “and it’s our job to make sure we keep up the pace.”
IF YOU WANT TO SEE John Tenanes in his element, ask him to show you something on a map, or a blueprint, or really anything that appears on a scroll of paper that he gets to unroll. The 54-year-old looks like the type of dad that your own personal insecurities make you want to hate—fit, with a solid shock of grey-brown hair—and acts like one of those hands-on professors who really, really wants you to understand what he’s teaching. Several times during our conversation, he’s more than happy to get up and point something out—whether it’s a map of the structure they’re working on across the street, or a white wall sketch of how Facebook fits into Menlo Park, or a map of the flow of the courtyard on campus. His stories jump and skitter across paths, double-crossing, and taking turns, but he always ends up righting himself quickly, something you might expect from a man who needs to keep track of a lot of things at once but remain centrally focused.
When I visit Facebook’s campus, it is the day before the company files papers to potentially sell its IPO, and there is a nervous energy in the air. The nine-building complex, sitting on the edge of a salt marsh at the cleverly named 1 Hacker Way, is easily identifiable as you get off the highway—just look for the huge image of the iconic Facebook “like” thumbs-up—but is not quite complete. As I walk into the building, construction workers in hard hats and trucks pass by, while on the way out, I run into a serious man in a dark suit and sunglasseswith an earpiece, looking like the stereotype of a Secret Service agent. “You really just never know who’s going to be here,” says their media relations guy as we both try not to make any sudden moves.
Once inside, you begin to get an idea of the eclectic, playful start-up-esque sensibility. The walls are covered in chalk boards filled with doodles, stainless steel girders and ducts jut overhead, conference rooms have weird names like “Obi Wan Peroni” or “Cool Story Bro,” and even the doors left over from Sun Microsystems purposefully still have their logos, as either a clever nod to the old Silicon Valley giant or a subtle reminder that companies that don’t stay nimble end up being called “old Silicon Valley giants.”
Aside from the random “breakaway spaces” or “cozies” featuring comfy chairs, pillows, and couches, almost all of the workspace is open, with hardly any personal offices or cubes. This is entirely intentional. “At Facebook, we work in a unique, actually old-fashioned way, which is basically Mark’s vision,” says Tenanes, referring to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. “And that’s to maximize the amount of social and collaborative space, which means minimizing private space. It’s really a kitchen-table approach, where you and I are working at the table, with the entire family around you. And we’ve tried to translate that idea—everyone in one room— to a million square feet.” Even the doors left over from Sun Microsystems purposefully still have their logos, either as a clever nod to the old Silicon Valley giant, or a subtle reminder companies that don’t stay nimble end up being called “old Silicon Valley giants.”
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One of the biggest, most important components of the new campus—and one of the most dramatic differences from the space under Sun—is the idea of creating a “Main Street” through the nine buildings. “The campus had massive potential that was lost on us twenty years ago,” says Tenanes. “At Sun, there was this kind of English garden outside, in that it was nice to see but not touch. So we really invested in turning that into this ‘Main Street’ idea.” The vision, as Tenanes puts it, is to create an urban streetscape where no one architect or designer dominates. “We’re trying to create a variety of randomness, as if you’re walking down the street and [he gestures to an imaginary building] this place is owned by Bob, and the next one has a different landlord named Jim.”
To accomplish that they flew out “people flow” experts from Disney, who know a thing or two about constructing Main Streets, to help devise a street that complements the way Facebook works—on-thefly, ad-hoc, scrappy while efficiently providing services. (Aside from the six restaurants on campus, they’ll have a bike shop, free dry cleaners, and potentially even an artist-in-residence.) They’ve also brought in a variety of architects, each with their own unique sense of style, from San Francisco– based Envelope A+D, which creating a “Southern California-esque glass burger shack,” to Roman and Williams in NYC, who helped design the uber-hip Ace Hotel—a space Tenanes respects because, like Facebook, “it projects a sense of not quite being finished.”
For Tenanes, “not quite being finished” is business as usual. Even as they’re wrapping up the main campus, he’s already at work on plans to build out the twenty two-acre plot Facebook purchased across the road to potentially up the company’s capacity to 6,600. And he’s also working on a 120,000-square-foot space in Hyderabad, India, and picking out a building in Dublin, and heading to the London and Paris offices to see what changes need to be made there.
This, of course, means long, odd hours while constantly dealing with new, different teams, and a whole lot of jet lag, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love the global piece. Every country is so unique—when you do a real estate, or construction, or design deal in Paris, the process is entirely different than one in Singapore or India. And to me that’s just fascinating.” —KEVIN ALEXANDER