The Making of a Corporate Real Estate Executive

In this blog entry I would like to introduce the topic of CRE leadership and management. I hope to explore the topic over the next several weeks with the hope that these personal observations will be useful to those readers who aspire to make corporate real estate management a long term career. As background I spent nearly thirty years in various CRE jobs both at Xerox and later at Dun & Bradstreet. I also worked as a broker at Jones Lang LaSalle and as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. In the last ten years of my career, I shifted to the IT industry as a technology analyst at Gartner Inc., and focused on real estate software solutions, most notably Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS).  Also at Gartner I led a major research study in conjunction with MIT on the changes in the workplace enabled by information technology. The study report, “The Agile Workplace,” identified trends that are now playing out and have become mainstream today.

It’s with these thirty years of experience that I presume to have some insights in the success criteria for effective CRE leadership and management. Notice that I distinguish between leadership and management. It’s an important distinction and one that must combine to ensure success as a CRE executive over the long term.

In terms of management skills, the CRE executive must develop impeccable planning and operational capabilities. The superior CRE executive must approach planning from both a strategic and tactical perspective. On one hand the planning should address long term objectives, and integrate portfolio plans with business strategy.  On the other hand, the plans must have a short term focus and address priorities important to the business units and corporate management. Obviously the plans must address financial goals, but also address employee productivity and satisfaction. The CRE executive is not only a portfolio manager, but the executive must also be a workplace manager and provide the environment to support workplace flexibility and employee collaboration.

The CRE executive must have a strong grounding in financial management and have astute analytical and budgeting skills. In addition, the management skill set should include strong negotiating skills, as well as strong communication skills. In this regard, I encourage CRE managers, to submit papers to professional publications such as those for Corenet and IFMA. I would also encourage CRE managers to submit proposals for presentations at both national and regional meetings of these organizations. These communication efforts strengthen the manager’s personal brand and enhance visibility within the industry.

On the leadership side, I would begin with the topic of innovation. The successful CRE executive develops the ability to seek out opportunities for positive change by creating a vision for future success. When MIT and I explored the topic of the agile workplace we discovered amazing examples of workplace innovation, both in terms of strategy and implementation. Along with innovation, the successful CRE executive is an effective team builder and collaborator not only within the CRE organization but within the over-all corporate organization. Listening skills are crucial to effective leadership, and those CRE executives who rise to the top are distinguished by their ability to gauge expectations and “sense” the underlying mood of the enterprise, what I call “reading the tea leaves.”

This leads me to the final topic under CRE leadership, and that’s a highly developed set of political skills. The CRE executive must create and sustain a viable network of advocates within the corporation, and within the broader real estate industry.  Invariably the CRE executive will encounter “push back” even hostility among individuals or groups primarily around change initiatives. I recall the battles I fought in the early stages of workplace innovation, particularly by those middle managers who resented the loss of private offices, or the advent of telecommuting which was perceived as a loss of control.  With these political battles, it’s imperative that the CRE executive has built coalitions and relationships that can be brought to bear when needed.

In the weeks ahead I’ll drill down into these topics, and hopefully provide a roadmap for those readers who are aspire for a career in corporate real estate management. In many respects I believe we‘ve entered a new phase of CRE management which will be highlighted by greater senior management emphasis on portfolio and workplace excellence.