In its 18th year of celebrating the corporate real estate leadership in the Bay Area, the CoreNet Global Northern California Chapter is recognizing two industry veterans who have been part of the industry’s fabric for some years now. John Bruno, who is Yahoo’s vise president of global risk operations, and Richard Pollack, the found and chief executive of Pollack Consulting have inspired, transformed and driven progress within their organizations, as well as more broadly, throughout the industry.
While their accomplishments may be many, John and Richard are perhaps best known for mentoring younger colleagues and helping them become leaders in their own right, which is just one of the reasons both are being recognized by CoreNet.
We sat down with Richard and John to get a perspective on their industry upbringing, a reflection on their experience and how it has helped them become the people they are today. We also ask them how we can create this world a better one and where we should focus our energy to make that a reality.
What did you want to be when you graduated college, and how did you end up in real estate?
BRUNO: My first job after college was working as a sales representative for Xerox in Silicon Valley. I had a quota of selling three machines per month and in so doing you made President’s Club. Many of my peers would work for Xerox for several years secure the training and then move on to working as commercial real estate brokers. Some of the most successful brokers in the Bay Area got their start at Xerox. However, I was fascinated by the entire entitlement process that developers must follow to get a project built. While at Xerox, I [earned my] MBA at night at Santa Clara University and upon graduation I went to work for a small local real estate development company. It was during my six years at McKay and Associates that I had the opportunity to learn the entire real estate life cycle. Everything from managing a CEQA approval process to construction management, marketing and leasing.
If you can think back a bit to your early days, what made you choose architecture as a profession, and what early challenges did you need to overcome to persevere until you tasted success? How finally did that first success come?
POLLACK: I remember drawing a site plan of my house in Brooklyn on colored construction paper when I was in grammar school. I knew nothing about scales for drawings, and made one up using a ruler, and working with protractors and triangles in school was very satisfying. I also spent a lot of time with Lincoln Logs building things. Then when it came time for college I decided I needed to become an engineer like my older cousin and started at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), only to go from a high school National Merit Scholar to a 1.92 cum my first semester – ouch.
Finally getting it, I transferred to Pratt Institute in architecture and loved it. When I graduated from Pratt in 1973 I got my first job as a drafter at an architectural firm in Manhattan. Following two recessions over a couple of years, I ended up in a firm that specialized in interior architecture and realized that I was meant to practice that discipline.
What has changed the most about the corporate real estate director’s role during your career? For those entering the corporate real estate field today, what should they expect to need to know or do that you did not need to know when you entered the field?
BRUNO: What has changed the most about the profession is that to be an effective commercial real estate executive one must have a fluency in corporate accounting and finance. Within the corporation the operating expenses attributed to the real estate portfolio (rent, depreciation, utilities, taxes, etc…) and the sundry of services that are managed by the facilities function account for a significant amount of the company’s operating expenses as well as a significant portion of the annual capital spend that is required for building projects. One must be able to manage to a budget and forecast accurately so that there is predictability of the occupancy expense at the end of the quarter coming from the real estate department. Someone looking to enter the CRE field should have a basic understanding of real estate or project management and a fundamental understanding of accounting. However, anyone who has a professional propensity of making order out of chaos would do well in this field.
The character of a city, if not its soul, is both nurtured and expressed by its architecture. What, to your mind, is uniquely valuable about San Francisco’s architectural endowment?
POLLACK: San Francisco’s soul and character are not so much defined by our architecture as by the wonderful diversity of people. San Francisco’s older, iconic structures, like the Palace of Fine Arts, support our history and diversity. But my prejudice is that San Francisco’s architecture, specifically high-rise office and residential, is sub-par for a metropolitan city–all one has to do is visit Chicago and New York to see more of what should be happening here. With that said, we are making progress with institutional buildings, including the De Young, Academy of Sciences, and (hopefully) the new SF MOMA.
If there were one element of your design philosophy that you could say has been a constant theme in your work throughout your career, what would it be?
POLLACK: I firmly believe that architecture has to relate to people and to support the activities taking place within and around the structure–function married with form. While starchitect-designed buildings can become wonderful icons, my attitude has always been that a client telling me the project does everything that it was designed to do is a tremendous reward.
The technology boom of the last 15 years has radically changed the fortunes and the landscape of San Francisco, your home. At the same time, it threatens to push out and pave over much of what has made the City a unique haven for creative, the original, the experimental and the entrepreneurial. What responsibility do tech companies who make their home in San Francisco have to preserve the uniqueness of the City while piloting its development into a global center of technology and innovation?
BRUNO: The only constant in life is change. San Francisco is fortunate to have this economic resurgence that has been fueled by the technology company’s employment in the city. Back in the ’60s my father had an industrial supply company at 7th and Howard. His company provided tools and equipment to all of the meat packing plants located at what is now Mission Bay, to all of the naval bases at Treasure Island and Hunter’s Point and to the steel fabricating plants located in South San Francisco. These entities no longer exist and neither do industrial supply companies; all those jobs are gone. However this economic evolution demands that to survive, the area needs to change the composition of the work force and the type of work that is done. I have the opportunity to travel the globe and observe economic development on all of the other continents and San Francisco and the Bay Area are unique that we have so many quality employment opportunities. The issues that we deal with here are primarily due to economic growth and job creation. I have seen the alternative, and it is not pretty, so we should embrace and celebrate our good fortune. In my opinion it is the responsibility of the elected officials and their appointees through the planning process to ensure that the character of the City is respected through a thoughtful set of land use policies.
Technology seems to be reshaping the urban environment at an ever-accelerating pace. What to you see as the most important trends or innovations that will shape the shape of our cities in the next generation?
POLLACK: I have noted for many years that nothing has really changed in the construction industry except the introduction of lasers. While somewhat disingenuous, technology will not be changing the shape of our cities, other than the fact that technology is causing all of our Bay Area [build out]. For the future shape of our cities I hope that greater focus is put on mass transit, on reducing commuting by working near where we live, by architects recognizing that where the building meets the street is the most important aspect for people, and that a vibrant culture of people is the best result of all design and construction.
BRUNO: I have observed that this generation of knowledge workers want to live, work and recreate all within the confines of an urban setting. They do not want to own a car and rely upon other modes of transportation. The millennials (of which I have two of my own-which makes me an expert on their life style) enjoy and appreciate the conveniences of living close to work and in being in high density (low maintenance) housing. Two things that we should continue to do is to build more dense urban infill housing and commence an ambitious plan to expand our underground subway system, so that it connects more parts of San Francisco to downtown.