A week into the job, we talked to Steve about his background, his plans, and why he chose Unispace for his next role.
Welcome to Unispace, Steve. Firstly we’d love to know, why Unispace?
Well, a couple of things, really – first of all, Unispace’s design is top-tier, and the company has a great client base. Plus the fact that you’ve been able to build a global company, completely organically, in a relatively short period of time – that’s impressive. I got to know the company a couple of years ago when I was at Cushman & Wakefield, and I was really impressed.
What has your career path been until this point?
I’m joining Unispace from Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield, where I was Chief Executive of Global Occupier Services. That’s a US$9billion business with 53,000 employees in 60 countries, it has grown into large company. Before that I was Executive Managing Director for Global Corporate Services at CBRE, and before that I was VP and General Manager for EMEA at Johnson Controls. I started out in finance, and qualified as a CPA. I’ve also served as a board director of CoreNet Global, the global corporate real estate association and opinion leader.
The fact that you’re based in the US, do you think that’s a sign of how Unispace has matured?
Yes, but I also think it’s very representative of the way the world works. Where I just came from, our chairman was in LA, our global president was in London, I was in Chicago, and it didn’t really matter. It’s consistent with a founder-owned business bringing in a CEO as part of the natural progression of any successful business. I also think it’s about being in the major markets, where the bulk of your business is, and about attracting the best talent, regardless of where they are.
And if you look at Unispace’s clients, we’re dealing with large, similarly global corporates with vast footprints. We need to be able to work with the way they work – they might have a project in Kuala Lumpur, but be based in Palo Alto. That’s just the way this industry functions.
Your broad experience in the industry must give you a unique perspective into the challenges faced by people with difficult portfolios to manage and leases to consider.
Coming from a full-service real estate company, working with the world’s largest occupiers, gives me some insights and a broad aperture on how people think about the evolution of their workspaces and how they need to be set up in future. Having said that, Unispace has a unique offering and a unique methodology that’s not the ‘norm’ in the market – so I’m coming into a different model and a different approach. Clients are looking for new thinking and new design around their real estate assets, and I think Unispace is very well positioned to take advantage of that.
Additionally, for me personally, I’ve realised that what I enjoy most is the challenge of leading an global organisation in a time of growth and change. So these will be exciting times for me.
What do you think the role of the office will be, from now on?
Workspace has been on a long journey of evolution, from closed offices to open plan to more collaborative space. Some industries have been early adopters, some less so, but there is certainly a trajectory of change. This year we’ve seen that evolution compressed by a decade, so there’s been a shock to the system in real estate. The question that has arisen from such a large percentage of remote working is, 'do we need an office at all'? Does the whole world go virtual? But I personally believe that people are tribal. Places like Silicon Valley exist for a reason: getting people together, in the same place, to collaborate and innovate, has real value. So I do think that people will come back and see each other. From a pragmatic business perspective, I believe the vast majority of will be looking at reducing the real estate footprint they have and re-configuring what remains to accommodate the post pandemic workplace. That is a workplace that will accommodate more collaboration, innovation, learning and development. Unispace is uniquely positioned to help the real estate industry with that shift.
I’ve been talking to a lot of occupiers, and they’ve been through all the various stages of coping with the pandemic. But now it’s time to move on from having every second workstation taped off. That just isn’t sustainable. They’re all going to have to rethink the workplace – how and where people work, how people commute. Unispace is actively working to help clients transition to what their new normal looks like.
Do you envisage a change in the way Unispace engages with its clients?
We want to keep being part of the strategic thinking around their real estate portfolio. Real estate is one of the largest expense categories in most corporations. Historically occupancy cost has been considered as a fixed cost. In the past few years, some companies have started to shift their thinking looking at the workplace, both the physical environment and the amenities, as a way to attract and retain talent, and establish a culture of collaboration and innovation. Now a pandemic occurs and real estate decision makers will try to balance reduced footprint with the need to transform workspace to support a new paradigm of safe and functional; supporting the need to collaborate and socialise. We have work with our clients to help them make business case for change. That means we will need to develop a more intimate understanding of our client’s business challenges and their long term strategy. To maximise the value we bring to our clients we will need to listen, understand and innovate at a whole new level. From what I have observed of Unispace we have a history of doing just that, so I am certain this next chapter we are starting will be one of growth.
Steve, welcome to Unispace and thanks for your time today.
It’s been my pleasure. I’m really looking forward to meeting the global Unispace team – even if a lot of that might have to be by video call for now.
I’m also hoping to virtually meet a lot of clients over the coming months at some webinars I’ll be hosting about the state of play in each market, so keep a look out for information soon.