Roundtable Participants Find Opportunity in Difficult Times

There is a silver lining for corporate real estate departments in the current economic crisis, according to participants in the second CoreNet Global-CPN Corporate Real Estate Roundtable, which took place yesterday during the CoreNet Global Fall Summit. “I think real estate’s coming into its own,” observed Ed Noha, managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. He noted that corporate C-suites are looking to their real estate departments for change.Some of those changes are new, while others are not. Workplace alternatives remain an important way to attract talent, especially among the younger generations of workers, widespread layoffs notwithstanding, noted Bruce Ficke, executive vice president of client solutions for Cushman & Wakefield Inc. In fact, if anything, now is a good time to pursue a better merging of physical and digital workplace strategies, as that can result in some big productivity opportunities, according to Barry Varcoe, director of group property for The Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc and the chair-elect of CoreNet Global.Varcoe has also found benefits in having a global portfolio, even though so many countries are experiencing financial difficulties, because there are economies of scale to be gained in both talent and technologies. Four to five years ago, his company created a dedicated team to do strategic portfolio planning, he recalled. “It’s been priceless in the past 12 months.” He can also accomplish more because of the improved uniformity of strategy many corporations have achieved across global portfolios in recent years.This climate is also a good time to pursue cutbacks in areas that might not have been so palatable before, like reducing individual executives’ offices in multiple locations–what Noha refers to as “sacred cow tipping.”And then there is the time spent preparing for opportunities that might not be available now but may be more viable in six months or so, pointed out Mark Gorman, leader of global real estate for Nortel. The participants, which included two corporate real estate executives and two service providers, were divided on how significantly the corporate real estate market will change as a result of the economic downturn. Varcoe and Noha anticipate a potential seismic shift in how business is conducted, while Ficke thinks it will be more of a continued evolution, although its pace may accelerate as a result of current market performance.The roundtable was co-moderated by CoreNet Global CEO Prentice Knight and CPN editor-in-chief Suzann Silverman. For pre-discussion interviews with Knight and with Varcoe and Ficke on CPN Radio, click here. Further coverage of the roundtable will include an upcoming audiocast, soon to be available on cpnonline.com.