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Corporation Service Company gets a brand reboot

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By Pam George
Special to Delaware Business Times

In 1899, Josiah P. Marvel and Christopher Ward were forward-thinking attorneys who were quick to spot an opportunity. Soon after Delaware passed the General Corporation Law – which Marvel helped write – they each founded a business to provide entity formation and statutory representation services. In 1920, they merged to form Corporation Service Co.

For generations, the company has been linked to the legal and business world and all the stereotypes that go with it: stiff shirts, charcoal-gray suits and formal offices with chair rails and oil paintings. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

That was apparent on June 27, when employees, board members, guests and dignitaries gathered in the lobby of the company’s new global headquarters.

The audience watched as cartoon characters of Marvel and Ward danced across a giant screen in a fast-paced video detailing the company’s history. Those who toured the building saw plants soaking up the sun on a green roof and employees – dressed in business casual-chatting in conversation areas with Keurig coffeemakers and Brita water dispensers.

Guests watched as employees lowered and raised their desk with the touch of a button. They toured the gym, where a fitness buff lifted weights next to state-of-the-art cardio machines. Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, the kitchen crew slipped pizzas into a wood-burning oven for the lunch crowd, who could sit inside or out.

The grand opening of the 148,437-square-foot contemporary building on Little Falls Drive comes on the heels of a major rebranding. Although the legal name remains Corporation Service Co., the commercial brand is CSC. A new logo features a stylized version of the initials that resembles an infinity symbol. There is also a new tagline: “We are the business behind business.”

The changes are emblematic of a leadership with a modern mindset, a comprehensive business that goes far beyond incorporation, and a talent pool with a large number of millennials.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve doubled in size with lots of acquisitions,” said Jackie Smetana, vice president of global operations and human resources. “We’re evolving into a different, better and more global organization.”

The rebranding and new offices also place CSC more prominently in the public eye, particularly in Delaware, where the DuPont Co. and financial institutions have dominated the business landscape. It’s a switch for CSC, a privately held company that for most of its history has maintained quiet presence.

A global expansion

The new office was overdue. CSC had grown substantially since 2010, when Rod Ward III, whose great-grandfather was Christopher Ward, became CEO.

In its early years, CSC was a solid side business for Josiah Marvel, who continued his law practice and was active in politics, and Christopher Ward, who ran CSC while writing acclaimed history books and delving into the arts. Up until 1975, when Daniel Butler was hired, the small company delivered respectable results for shareholders, who were the founders’ descendants. (CSC now counts the Butler family among its owners.)

In 1989, Butler hired Bruce R. Winn, who’d run Gov. Castle’s 1988 re-election campaign, and marketing professional William Freeborn. CSC embarked on an ambitious acquisition strategy, including the purchase of CSC’s competitor, Prentice Hall Legal & Financial Services, which brought CSC up to 1,000 people and 32 offices in 22 states.

CSC also bought companies with Internet service offerings, such as LexisNexis Document Solutions, Diligenz (which offered web-based due-diligence service for lending, leasing and the legal markets) and firms that registered and protected domains. The acquisition of MLM, which owned software solutions Corptax Inc. and Tax Compliance, was a game-changer. The services were a complement to existing businesses.

Today, CSC has offices throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. “If a company is selling a product in New Castle County, that’s good,” said County Executive Matthew Meyer at the ribbon-cutting event. “If a company here in New Castle County is selling a product in Delaware and the region, that’s great. But if a company here in New Castle County is selling their product all around the world, that’s extraordinary.”

Services cover compliance and governance, lending support, tax solutions, digital brand registration and protection, trust and escrow, and, of course, incorporation and representation. Indeed, CSC’s heritage business remains vital to the state, said Gov. Carney. ”

“When CSC is successful, Delaware is successful,” he said. “When Delaware is successful, CSC is successful.”

New HQ reflects company culture

When Ward – who succeeded Bruce Winn as president and CEO – joined the company, he launched Mission 2×2015 to double CSC’s value by 2015. More than money, value also encompassed doubling service to its customers or growth opportunities to employees. Ward, formerly president and CEO of Speakman Co., was no stranger to setting and achieving goals.

“It was a very aggressive vision,” Smetana said. At the reception, Ward called it “audacious.”

“By 2013, we realized we were making headway on that goal and that we were quickly running out of space,” he told the audience.

CSC previously rented several floors in one building, also on Little Falls Drive, and several floors in another.

A 40-acre parcel of land just up the street was an ideal spot for a new headquarters.

Partners on the project include Aegis Property Group; NORR, an architecture, interior design, engineering and planning firm; Trefoil Properties, a commercial real estate developer and property manager; and Wohlsen Construction. Jonathan Alderson, who did the meadow at Longwood Gardens, designed the property’s four-acre meadow, which has walking trails.

The new building, Ward said, aligns with CSC’s culture. “Our culture is about teamwork. Our culture is about collaboration. Our culture is about running into each other-and there are plenty of places [here] to run into each other and have good conversations. And our culture ultimately is about customer service.”

There is Wi-Fi throughout the campus, both inside and out. Informal seating areas range from work pods – a seated version of luxury sleeping pods on airlines – to lounge-like areas to cafe-like spaces with self-serve coffee, grab-and-go foods and a no-fee ATM. These offerings are in addition to the full-service cafeteria.

The entire building has a midcentury modern or Scandinavian sensibility. Credit the use of sleek wood and furniture with clean lines. Touches of nature – a tribute to the Brandywine and Delaware valleys – include a stacked-stone gas fireplace in the reception area and stone coasters. The cafeteria carpet has green accents that look like patches of grass. At every opportunity, the new logo is prominently displayed.

The timing of the rebranding and the opening of the new building is a fortunate coincidence, Smetana said. “The stars and the moon aligned.” (Certain products, such as Corptax, retain their own well-known identity. However, the long-term vision, she added, is to bring everything under one brand.)

The approachable, contemporary look of the logo and the building in part reflect Ward’s approach.

“He’s a very personable and a fun guy; he brings a lot of energy to the workplace,” Smetana said. “He challenges us to come up with skits and engage in friendly competitions.”

The cartoons of the founders and other snappy, lighthearted videos on YouTube help CSC deliver its rich history to multiple age groups, particularly millennials.

CSC, which intends to remain privately owned, is not slowing down. The new headquarters has 600 employees and room for 750. An additional 350 are in the Marvel Building across the street, which CSC purchased and renovated for its digital brand services and sale force.

Part of CSC’s mission is to create an environment in which the employees, customers and community are “better off tomorrow than they are today,” Ward said before cutting the ribbon in the new building’s lobby. “We’re clearly better off today than we were yesterday.”

Pam George is the author of “Incorporating a Legacy: The CSC Story.”

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