Once a year, the end user community in the Bay Area is summoned to an evening of fun, celebration and networking. CoreNet Global’s Northern California Chapter Corporate Real Estate Awards are generally known as the best party of the year in town, and having attended them several times, I can attest to that.
As a commercial real estate industry organization, CoreNet, in my personal opinion, is one of the most important ones. It represents the customers of the industry, the ultimate buyers and in most cases the holders of the purses. If you want to get a good perspective of the industry in this region, the members of CoreNet are probably your best bet to really understand the drivers, challenges and opportunities in the market.
The annual awards event, while giving its members a great reason to kick off the Holiday party season, also celebrates two members in their own categories of Corporate Real Estate Executive of the Year and Corporate Real Estate Service Provider of the Year. This year, the honor goes to two well-known gentlemen in the industry who have had their fingers in shaping the commercial real estate landscape across the entire region for years. They are of course Jay Bechtel, a real estate project executive at Google, and Bob McIntire, founder of Nova Partners.
Through our partnership with CoreNet of Northern California, we are proud to feature this exclusive Q&A with Jay and Bob and learn a little about their work, how they are navigating through this market, and where will the industry be in the future. We hope you’ll enjoy their feedback.
THE REGISTRY: Google has gone through an unprecedented amount of growth in the last decade not just as a company, but also as a tenant and a property owner. What have been some of the biggest things that have changed for Google in that timeframe?
JAY BECHTEL: As we expand our campuses in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and San Jose, we recognize the opportunity and responsibility to do it in a thoughtful way that engages the community and partners with the cities.
TR: In the last decade, the Bay Area as a region has in some ways become smaller. Silicon Valley is not a concept that covers just the South Bay anymore, and Google has been one of the fastest adopters of the region as one entity and one neighborhood. How will this manifest itself in the future, and will Google’s Bay Area campus continue to grow throughout the region?
JB: We are committed to this region. It is really our home, and our growth and scale here gives us the opportunity to engage at the larger regional level in helping to address ongoing challenges such as transportation, housing, resilience and ecology.
TR: Google has been on the forefront of promoting healthy products and materials throughout its offices globally. How has the industry responded to that request for transparency, and have you seen a change in the ways products are sourced, made and sold to account for that?
JB: Our drive to achieve healthy work environments comes directly from our founders. When we began this work over 10 years ago, there was virtually no transparency in what went into building products. We are happy to say, today there is much greater knowledge, transparency and many more healthy materials available. That being said, we still have a long way to go.
TR: As you look at workplace design and strategy in the future not just at Google but throughout the industry as a whole, what would you say tech companies will be focusing on the most in the coming years?
JB: Increasingly, our ability to create adaptable floor plates continues to be important. Our industry changes rapidly, and the need to be adaptable and flexible as we address shifts in the business is a big issue. We also must continue to provide all the basics of a high quality user experience – flow and circulation, daylight, access to views, acoustic performance, etc.
TR: Culture is one of those squishy, really difficult things that companies like Google work on implementing in their workplace design today, and this has been an important trend for the industry in the last decade. What other trends are you foreseeing emerging over the years to come?
JB: Culture is hard to articulate. When our spaces really work and reflect the culture, it is usually a combination of something unexpected and fun but also thoughtful and intentional. We focus on making sure it is a building that really works for people. Increasingly, more research is available on what makes humans happy and effective in the workplace, which includes many of the things I have noted above. They sound simple but when you put it all together, it makes work easier rather than creating barriers. Kind of like the Google homepage…looks simple but does a lot.
TR: As resources, both human and physical, become more challenging to attain the region, how will Google look to grow throughout the globe? How does the company place value on certain geographies and which ones are those?
JB: It’s a global search for talent, there are no geographic boundaries.
TR: Tell us about your involvement with CoreNet, and how has the organization helped you in your work with Google and throughout the industry, in general?
JB: I have been involved with CoreNet BEFORE it was CoreNet :) (known as IDRC), for 20+ years. I have made some great friendships both on a personal level as well as professional. I have achieved my MCR and SLCR designations.
TR: For younger professionals entering the industry today, what can CoreNet do to assist in their professional growth? What can it do better?
JB: One of CoreNet’s biggest attributes is networking, so continue to create networking opportunities for younger professionals. It might be time for the educational classes to get a refresh, and I think their mentoring is a great program that should be expanded.
THE REGISTRY: You have been involved in construction and development in the Bay Area for decades now. In that time what has changed and what has remained the same?
BOB MCINTIRE: Overall, the past has foreshadowed the present. Meaning, most of what we are today is like the past, only more so. We were competitive, now we’re more competitive. The pace was fast, now it’s faster. Housing was pricey, now it’s crazy. We manufacture less locally, but we do more R&D here. Traffic was never good, but it’s unbearable today.
TR: When you were helping build Apple’s campus in Cupertino in the early 90s, the region was just starting to come into its own as a global technology center, and today it’s an undisputed leader and champion of that. What does that mean for the AEC community today?
BM: As Silicon Valley’s prominence grows on the world’s stage, the AEC community’s challenge grows, as well. Over time, the Valley has responded by significantly elevating the quality of our built environment. This is most visible in the large corporate campuses that are designed by world-class designers, some local, some national and international. Firms such as WRNS, Form4, Gehry, BIG and Foster. And, importantly, the sustainability goals have similarly been elevated. LEED Platinum is common and Silver and Gold are the norm. Corporate users are driving designers to increase workplace productivity. Together, teams are delivering a higher class of projects than ever before.
TR: How are the demands on the industry different today than they were a couple of decades ago?
BM: Thirty years ago, a typical R&D building was single-story and 1/3 office, 1/3 lab-R&D, and 1/3 manufacturing with 4 cars/1,000 square feet. Now, manufacturing has moved to lower cost areas, and Silicon Valley is the R&D hub for much of the world, along with the other tech centers. With land so tight and costly, buildings are taller and FARs, meaning density, are much, much higher. FARs (floor area ratio: building area divided by land area) were 33 percent and now are often triple that. Parking is reduced. Buildings are more technical and more highly engineered, so energy performance is enhanced. Also, time to market is more important than ever. AEC teams are under more pressure to deliver to deadlines than we’ve ever seen. Field labor is very tight, and the work force is stretched like never before.
TR: Culture is one of those squishy, really difficult things that companies work on implementing in their workplace design today, and this has been an important trend for the industry in the last decade. What other trends are you foreseeing emerging over the years to come?
BM: Companies recognize now more than ever that their most valuable asset, their people, goes home every night and creating the most compelling built environment is one of the best ways to ensure those assets come back to work the next day. Building a corporate culture that makes workers able to focus on work and having a strong internal support system helps people be more productive. Corporate cafeterias, fitness centers and child care are now better than ever. Culture includes more than just the great workplaces being created today. It means fostering a nurturing, supportive and respectful workplace. We still have a long way to go here, especially to make workers feel respected and safe.
TR: No two project are the same, and picking favorites is probably very difficult, but if you could highlight some projects that you were proud to help develop, which ones would those be?
BM: I have a few favorites, for sure. Recently, we completed a ground-up Mt. View building for Intuit that is one of the best projects and best teams that I’ve encountered in my career. We had a solid design team with WRNS and CWA, and the Intuit team was smart and decisive. Hathaway Dinwiddie built a high-quality, high-performing building in spite of the labor shortages. The building is [LEED] Platinum, has sophisticated MEP systems, and had many challenges that we had to overcome including a full EIR, a saturated contaminated site, and more.
Also, the Apple R&D Campus was a career highlight project. It was a very complicated transaction. The site had older buildings under long term leases but the ’89 quake made the buildings un-occupiable and the site became available. Sobrato wouldn’t sell, so we did a joint venture. A project of 856,000 square feet was considered huge in that era, so we subdivided the site so each building could have its own ownership and financing. We built the first building in 14-months including below grade parking. This was Apple’s first major owned project and after Jobs returned, Apple has since grown and succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams.
But, the most satisfying project, without doubt, has been to serve as the pro bono project manager to help the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford build their new house on Sand Hill Road. They provide a critical service and I’m pleased to now serve on their board.
TR: Talent for the AEC community is as difficult to source today as it is in other industries that define this region. How can the industry be more proactive to make that less of an issue? Can the industry be more innovative in that regard?
BM: Right now, professionals in each AEC discipline are in short supply. The biggest challenge for talent these days is affording to live in the Bay Area with our high housing costs and long commutes. Young people struggle to buy a home, and often people move further away from employment centers, then lose productivity to long commutes. Some then leave the area to find a more affordable life style.
The industry needs to add more housing and the major employers are just now starting to take ownership of this challenge by building housing themselves or through others. The industry needs to continue to increase supply to eventually help reduce housing costs. We need more H-1B visas, and we need to recruit people from all over the globe.
TR: Tell us about your involvement with CoreNet Global, and how has the organization helped you in your work with the industry, in general?
BM: CoreNet Global is how the industry gets together to network, improve professionalism and socialize. It’s the most efficient way to meet with your peers and compare notes about mutual challenges. I’ve been active in CoreNet Global for almost 30 years. It helps me to stay in touch, hear from other industry professionals and learn of new trends. I strongly urge others in the industry to join CoreNet Global.
TR: For a young professional entering the industry today, what advice would you give?
BM: While you are doing your day-to-day job, be sure you are 1) getting broad experience; don’t just do the same one thing over and over; 2) getting all the training you can get, so your skill set is broad and deep; 3) getting mentored so you can track your career trajectory and you have a solid idea of where you want to be in 5 and 10 years from now.
TR: We understand that you retired in July. What is coming next for you?
BM: After founding and serving as CEO of Nova Partners for the last 25 years, now it’s time to travel, play tennis, hike, take motorcycle trips and have some fun!