Corporate real estate (CRE) – let’s get tactical

 So after I cleaned up the coffee I unceremoniously sprayed on my desk during a conversation with a long-time colleague of mine, I decided finally to put pen to paper (so to speak). He had been telling me of an interview he had for a lease administration position where he was informed that they were looking for someone more ‘strategic.’ Strategic? For a lease admin position? Are you kidding me? I had long suspected (and am now quite positive) we’ve beaten this term to death in the corporate real estate services business…with little understanding of what it meant or what was actually needed. The term is so pervasive, to me it’s roughly analogous to the tipping point reached when taxi drivers are providing stock tips… it’s time to get out of the market.

My CRE services sisters and brethren (both in-house and outsource providers) have so voraciously embraced this term that its near impossible to discuss corporate real estate needs without it surfacing as a central topic, and perceived issue. Now there are a myriad of reasons I can (and likely will at some point) opine on as to why this is so, but for now suffice it to say that it has morphed into an effective sales pitch to the CRE departments, executives and their corporate constituents, internal customers/respective lines of business. Today we see Strategy departments, Regional Strategy experts, VPs and EVPs of Strategy, Directors of Strategy and now, apparently, strategic lease administrators! The rub comes when they are pressed to define what they mean by ‘strategic.’ All too often what comes back would fall under the heading of what I would define as ‘basic blocking and tackling.’

Towards this end, one of the leading global service providers recently published a one-pager of evolving trends in corporate real estate, and to paraphrase one bullet, it suggested that going forward corporate real estate executives will find in increasingly important to collaborate closely with their Finance, IT and HR departments. Duh! I love that fact that this is considered strategic thinking (btw, they incorrectly omitted business lines and contracts/procurement counterparts as well, amongst others). I hate to date myself, but ‘in my day’ we called this ‘doing a good job’ or ‘being thorough.’ This level of communication, which gets set forth as so profound (as the above referenced publication suggests), has been around and been executed for a long, long time, ladies and gentlemen.

What I think this suggests, however, is this basic execution, basic ‘blocking and tackling’, is not achieved as routinely as one would expect. So I say, again, let’s get tactical and execute well on the very nuts and bolts of service provision. Communicating, listening, experience, execution, industry knowledge, closing …It’s not glamorous and it’s not rocket science…but it is a noble profession with its own particular set of intricacies, cadence and vernacular. Given the significant financial commitments tied to CRE decisions, this, in and of itself, should be enough. No matter how badly a Corporate Real Estate Executive (and/or his service provider) yearns to be included at the pointy end of the spear of a company’s strategic decision making process, this quite simply will not be the case in many instances. Nor should it be (unless that seat is earned). He or she can add the most value by competently executing on the deals, the moves, the builds, the changes and the last minute requirements and opining/advising when asked. By the way, such execution, when deftly, consistently and competently handled, often builds the internal trust that leads to solicitation of input and a ‘seat at the [strategic] table’ for CRE. Ironic? Not really.

David D. Grove is the COO of NAI Mertz and has 28 years of commercial real estate leadership experience; he has extensive experience both as in-house CRE executive and as third-party service provider for international Fortune 500 companies.

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