Disruption in real estate

Disruption is driven by thinking outside the box, questioning the status quo, having a thorough understanding of customer needs and wishes, and a strong will to make things happen. So clearly the ability to stay ahead in a disruptive market environment is about having the right people on board and building the right teams. In an interview with Simon Woolf, responsible for HR at PATRIZIA, we discussed having the right people and teams to drive a digital transformation.

Leadership and teams in a time of disruption

estatements magazine: Simon, you joined PATRIZIA a few months ago from the entertainment industry. How do you rate the real estate industry in terms of innovation?
Simon Woolf: Real estate and real estate investment management haven’t exactly been at the forefront of digitalisation. It’s important to keep in mind that we’re talking about a classic B2B industry with a strong focus on trusted relationships and customised investments and services. The industry was therefore never likely to be part of the first waves of digitalisation. But things are changing and that shift has already begun.

estatements: What is HR’s role in empowering companies to innovate?
Simon: As real estate investment management is a people business, people will remain key to PATRIZIA’s success. The focus on talent management and training and development will be critical. Our task will no longer only be to replicate and update the current skillset and develop the skills that are required in house. It will be about the ability to work in an agile, collaborative environment based on communities instead of fixed structures. In HR we partner with the business units to identify and then develop the skills which are important to our business – both now and in the future. As a leading company, it is our ambition to build these future skills in house and in a challenging market this will be critical if we want to maintain a competitive advantage.

"As real estate investment management is a people business, people will remain key to PATRIZIA’s success."

estatements: What will the next step be in the digitalisation of the real estate sector?
Simon: At this point, the industry is focusing on user experience, whether that’s our clients, investors or employees. We need to be able to understand how digitalisation is changing the way tenants and investors look at properties, and how digitalisation impacts the value of real estate. Digitalisation in our sector is increasingly about the use of digital tools and data analytics to improve processes, services, the quality of forecasts and risk management. 

Talent, technology and an entrepreneurial mindset

estatements: How will this phase differ from previous ones?
Simon: The fintech market is currently exploding and start-ups are popping up all over the place. The future, however, will be to apply digitalisation horizontally across the whole investment and service process of real estate investment management. Talent, technology and an entrepreneurial mindset will make the difference in the future investment world.

estatements: How can a well-established company like PATRIZIA keep pace with the dynamics and agility of start-ups?
Simon: Unlike the start-ups in this sector, established industry leaders like ourselves have a much broader scope and a key part of our strength is the ability to serve the needs of different stakeholders. To stay ahead, we need to be able to harness great ideas and turn them into commercial reality. It’s important that we remain curious, stay willing to do things in a new and different way and offer a platform where innovative companies, teams or minds can collaborate, grow and test their ideas and make them a reality. In other words: we need to keep our eyes open and be ready to seize the opportunities offered by new technologies and ideas. 

"Talent, technology and an entrepreneurial mindset will make the difference in the future investment world."

estatements: How can a company develop and retain these skills? 
Simon: Insight into current technical developments and innovations and how they might influence the market, the industry and customer needs is the key. To stay up to date or one step ahead requires people, resources and structures. The whole company has a role to play; it’s about creating the right culture.  We have to engage and excite our people to embrace technology, digitalisation and innovation. Great ideas can be generated from all levels and departments within the entire organisation.  

"To stay ahead, we need to be able to harness great ideas and turn them into commercial reality."

estatements: So it’s a question of leadership?
Simon: To a large extent, yes. You need leadership that looks beyond the current business – in both senses: to keep an eye on developments in other industries and to identify possible future trends at an early stage. It also requires leadership to encourage our people to question the status quo. You need leaders who allow room to experiment with new technologies, processes and ideas and are willing to invest. 

Blurring boundaries

estatements: How are the demands on talent changing? 
Simon: PATRIZIA is a well-established brand and a true market leader in the real estate industry. As the boundaries between industries blur under continuing digitalisation, we find ourselves competing for new talent in a much wider pool of sectors and companies – and this is particularly true when it comes to digital expertise. A key focus therefore lies in enhancing the PATRIZIA employer brand. Career development, international opportunities, an employer’s position regarding its corporate social responsibility – these are all becoming increasingly important in the labour market. Talented employees are now much more prepared to switch companies to find the right career opportunity, so we must strive to not just live up to their expectations, but exceed them. Therefore organisational culture is critical.

estatements: What makes you optimistic that PATRIZIA will continue its growth path in the years ahead, especially as the real estate industry becomes more and more digital?
Simon: I am hugely optimistic about PATRIZIA’s future. We have the right mindset of curiosity and desire to get things done. PATRIZIA has a very close eye on technological developments and is already making great strides in this area. We’re working hard to build on our strong corporate culture which combines a start-up and industry challenger mindset with the experience and expertise of a company that has evolved over the course of 35 years. We’re ready for the changes ahead and ready to be at the forefront of re-inventing the real estate industry. 

The interview was conducted by Simone Wipplinger.