Global Talent Search Jump-Starts Age of Distributed Real Estate

Bell Partners, Northern California, Bay Area, Bell Institutional Fund VI, Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System

By Sharon Simonson

Thomas Friedman told us in 2005 that the world is flat, earning accolades and book awards for his prescient insight.

Barbara Donaldson, vice president of real estate and facilities for Mountain View-based Synopsys Inc., not only understands conceptually that the world is flat, her job depends on successfully dealing with the reality. Her peers are recognizing her, too.

Synopsys does business in more than 20 countries via 80 offices with more than 7,000 employees worldwide. The electronic data automation company operates in the semiconductor manufacturing space.

“The balance of where the work is being done and the value of our global sites has equalized,” she said. “The shift began 10 years ago and accelerated in the last five years. A lot of my energy used to be on U.S. corporate real estate locations, and now our capacity for real estate is distributed around the world.”

Donaldson, who manages an approximately $100 million operating budget, and Sven Pole, executive vice president for corporate services for CBRE Inc., are being recognized by their Northern California peers for professionalism above and beyond the standard.

The Northern California chapter of Corenet Global, a professional organization for corporate facilities directors and the service providers who support them, is the second-largest in the nation with approximately 680 members (after New York City), said Nancy Morse, a senior vice president for global corporate services with Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank in Santa Clara. Morse is co-chairperson of the Corporate Real Estate Executive of the Year Awards on Nov. 15 at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel.

Donaldson is being recognized in the end-user category, and Pole in the service-provider category.

“This is a pretty prestigious award,” Morse said. In a market like the Bay Area with international promience, lots of skilled professionals work at some of the largest and most sophisticated companies in the world. “You have some amazing talent and such stiff competition.”

Synopsys has 800,000 square feet in eight existing buildings in Mountain View that house 2,000 employees, its largest concentration anywhere, and is building a new 340,000-square-foot headquarters in Mountain View, which will both augment and replace some if its existing space.

The company also maintains “big centers of population” with strong engineering talent in India, China, Armenia and Europe, Donaldson said.

Looking forward, her challenge will be to stay a step ahead of her competitors in identifying pockets of engineering strength worldwide and setting up offices for customer support. “We won’t go where the real estate is favorable, but the other factors aren’t there,” she said. “It is really being global and understanding how you leverage local expertise that knows how to get business done there.”

The selection process is not patty-cake, Morse said. Corenet members suggest would-be recipients to a 10-member nominating and selection committee. That committee conducts formal interviews with the candidates. The criteria weight contributions to the Bay Area, to the industry and to innovation far more than nominees’ contributions to the organization.

Both Donaldson and Pole have served as president of the Northern California chapter of Corenet in addition to other positions and work. Pole is currently leading an effort to help the Northern California chapter launch a high-tech occupier-sponsored research program to be undertaken in conjunction with a major research or academic institution.

Among the many associations and organizations that serve the commercial real estate industry, Corenet faces the end user in a unique way, Pole said. “It is the one spot you can come to interact with your clients or prospective clients, your competitors and other service providers.” At the same time, the velocity of change within the corporate facilities world and the business world at large is greater than ever. In the early 1980s, for instance, it was still relatively rare for companies to outsource their real estate services. Today, it is commonplace.

“You see the RFPs [requests for proposals] every single day of the year,” Pole said.

On top of that is the inherent dynamism of the Bay Area economy with rapid new business creation and destruction, the occasional breakout corporate wonder, plus the global business platforms. “It is mind-boggling, and it all trickles down to real estate,” Pole said. “The community that is Corenet is the glue that binds.”

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