Dara Friedman | Managing Director | BentallGreenOak | The tenant engagement imperative in CRE


DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Dara Friedman, Managing Director at BentallGreenOak. In this episode, we learned about Dara’s career journey, which, following her graduation with a liberal arts degree, started in investment banking, where she was given a choice between focusing on technology or real estate. Since choosing real estate, she has never looked back and now specializes in investment management. Dara points out that many of the phenomena that we face today have actually been around for many years. Shorter term leases, more flexible spaces, making live/work/play a priority, and the issue of affordability. Building operators and occupiers must focus on tenant engagement, creating alignment through their approach. Amenities, health and wellness, energy usage, and reducing operational costs are all key drivers of supporting human capital and contributing to the delivery of great customer experiences. Dara shared a bit about completing a merger in the midst of the pandemic, and how the company created opportunities to socialize and integrate people across the globe. I appreciated Dara’s personal reflection on how difficult living through the pandemic really was. We’re excited to share this podcast with you, so be sure to subscribe to TEN, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome Dara to the show. I’m really glad you could be with us today. How are you doing?

DF: I’m good, thank you. Thank you for having me.

DA: My pleasure. I’m looking forward to our conversation. So to kick things off, maybe you could just tell us about your journey to your current position role. How did you get started?

DF: So, I had a little bit of a winding road. I was a liberal arts major in college, and I just wanted to not need my parents that much. So I ended up interviewing with investment banks, and at the time, this was 2001, you were sort of sleeved into different groups, and my options were either technology or real estate, and being a philosophy major, I didn’t know anything about real estate, and it seemed tangible to me. It didn’t seem as quantitative as technology, a lot less intimidating for someone like me, who’s not, you know, super tech-savvy. So I chose real estate and then was on the advisory side for a couple years, went into lending, business school, and then the buy side, and investment management after that. So I sort of chose it randomly, but I’ve been very happy with the choice.

DA: Right. You know, I love asking that question. Hearing all the different ways in which people found their way to real estate. And there are so many different ways in which people enter the field, but for you, it sounded like it was an option. It was presented as a sort of an industry option as you were considering, you know, what next?

DF: Exactly. Yeah, I was like, I know what buildings are. I think I can do that for a job.

DA: Right, right. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What has helped you to become successful? You know, skills, mentors, colleagues, books, philosophy major? You know, what do you attribute your success to?

DF: I think two things. One, being a generalist. I know there’s new books out on that I haven’t- I have one actually on my desk from a colleague and I appreciated it, but I never, you know, sort of specified in a product type. So I think that allowed me to use my background in philosophy to translate to risk pricing and understanding different asset classes. And I just think for me specifically, and everyone’s different, for me specifically, maintaining a generalist kind of view within the field helped me kind of grow into my career. And I think the other component is really mentorship. I was so lucky to work with every single person who I’ve worked with along the way, and they- each and every single one were really great mentors, really great people, so supportive. And I see some of myself in some of the people I work with now, and-

DA: Right.

DF: Just really, really fortunate with mentorship and support from other people in the industry as I’ve stayed in it and sort of come up.

DA: Yeah. You know, I think mentorship cannot be overstated how important it is. And it’s something that not everyone has access to, and not everyone has the same opportunity, and sometimes you have to really look for it and seek it out. But the more I hear from other successful people in business, you know, I think mentorship is probably the number one trigger that people will attribute some of their success to. And that has really helped them to expand their- perhaps the opportunities that they have in front of them, seek out new opportunities. I’m just curious, is it something you do deliberately from your perspective, or does it just have to happen organically?

DF: I think that’s a really good question, and I think it depends on the person. For me specifically, when I think of who has made the biggest impact in my professional life, and usually that trends over to personal as well-

DA: Right.

DF: It’s all organic. So it was no assigned mentors through a program. However, I think it’s opportunity and timing. So if you are connected inorganically and that works, that’s great.

DA: Right.

DF: So I think it’s both ways, and it really depends on you as a person.

DA: Right.

DF: Understanding who you’re working with well and who can bring out the best in you, and give you that support to help you grow your confidence and conviction. That’s what it’s about. So it really kind of starts with you figuring out, “Okay, what’s working for me, what’s not working for me?” And I think that mindset is helpful, especially when you’re younger, because you do feel like it’s not in your control. So if you kind of switch it to like, “Oh, what’s working for me? And if I need to seek it out, I can go do that.” If this is not traditional, but working for me, that also works, right?

DA: Yep.

DF: So I think that’s-

DA: Yeah.

DF: That was helpful.

DA:  Makes sense. I definitely have found mentors, but much later in life and I think I- if I look back, I wish I had, I guess, been more aware of the importance, the value that that would play long term. And I think that’s the message I just want to leave with our listeners: that it’s something you need to start and think about early, and it’s just so beneficial for all parties.

DF: Yeah, I agree with that.

DA: So, Dara, there’s a lot of commentary around the return to the workplace, you know, each and every day. It never ends. Some extreme opinions being expressed, often confrontational and polarizing. You know, my team, we really believe that everyone needs to live and work in the world as it is right now, and that the industry and employers can’t continue projecting to a date in the future when the world will return to normal, being the old normal. Perhaps this is the new normal. And the new normal is not a world without COVID, but a world with COVID. And I’m just curious about your thinking, your thoughts on what this means for the commercial real estate industry, what it means for you and your role and your teams, just sort of your perspective on that.

DF: I have lots of thoughts and feelings about this, and I commend you for speaking about it in the context of not a new normal but a normal. And I think what we’ve all collectively experienced has been a wholesale change. And really, even before COVID, every day was a new normal. So like you can get in the whole metaphysical concept of, you know, what is new and what is normal, but we’ll save that for another podcast.

DA: Yes.

DF: But I think contextually thinking of this as the present is the appropriate way to move forward. I think that for the commercial real estate industry, there’s been lots of changes for the present, but a lot of it, I think, has primarily been accelerations of things that were bubbling up prior to the pandemic. Like with office, you were seeing tenants wanting more flexible leasing schedules, which means that workers probably were going to be more responsive to-

DA: Right.

DF: Shorter term leases and things like that. And so I think that that’s just accelerated. We were also seeing the rise of the kind of 18-hour live/work/play environment in major cities, but also affordability becoming an issue. So specifically in the US, there’s been a massive kind of diaspora, which was fueled by the pandemic and people being able to work wherever they want. And really kind of, what’s behind that is this work-life balance sort of resiliency aspect of corporate culture, which I think is going to be beneficial for everyone going forward.

DA: Yes.

DF: And I think that’s really gotten more codified within the work culture of the US, within work spaces, within companies. And I think those are all really positive changes, because they just support- like, people who are supported will show up to work better, both professionally and personally. So I think there is a little bit of a shift in a movement to kind of consider a more holistic view of working and corporate culture and the use of space, and all that has to do with resiliency and sustainability both environmentally, but for your people.

DA: Yep. You know, I think what one thing we learned for sure, and you mentioned this, is that people didn’t necessarily want to work less. It was about the balance, right? And when we first went home, you know, when COVID hit, you know, full on, and we all left our buildings and went 100% remote, we weren’t working less. I mean, not even close. In fact, most people, I think, were working more, as the days just sort of started earlier and ended later. But it did teach us over time that we could have more balance and actually still be incredibly productive, incredibly effective, and not miss a beat. And I think to your point, that is, I think, one of the positive outcomes of this, and, perhaps will be part of our present and our normal, regardless of where we work, that we do want balance. And it doesn’t mean we don’t want to work as hard.

DF: Yeah. And I think it looks different for each person. And we all saw that on our screens through the pandemic.

DA: Right.

DF: Balance can look one way for one person. It can look very different for another person.

DA: Yeah.

DF: And I think having that flexibility in work culture will hopefully benefit everyone to the positive. I mean, I know for us it was like, “I have two kids.” People were like playing fart machines on conference calls, and you’re sort of tested in a new way.

DA: Everyone got used to that. And I think everyone-

DF: Right

DA: Who got through it, it makes you a little stronger, right?

DF: Yeah. I’m like, I pick my battles. You don’t want to know what happens when they’re not using the fart machines. So I think it was a- I think the presence of visual diversity for everyone to see what balance means for different people was also really helpful, and making this kind of more adaptable for the future.

DA: Agreed. You know, the workplace ecosystem is now just much larger. And I think that buildings still play a vital role in that, you know, in the options that are available to you. And I think that buildings and employers, you know, are thinking about and will continue to think about what they need to do to attract and retain the best talent, bring people back to buildings where they can create, collaborate, inspire, build culture, and ultimately build great companies. Any thoughts on sort of, where the obligations of the building operator and the employer intersect to support one another to contribute to creating- making sure buildings are still top of mind?

DF: Yeah, I think tenant engagement is the primary place where both the landlords and the tenants should be very much aligned. I mean, I know we work as a company- we have a really strong view on sustainability and resiliency and that it’s organic and authentic through our investment process, through asset management, through our own operations in corporate culture. And one of the things that we do in all of our commercial buildings is focus on our tenant engagement. And I think we’re really very much aligned with our clients and our tenants in providing those amenities to make our buildings engaging for the people who occupy them and the people who are running those corporations. If it’s office or if you’re just, a resident of a multifamily asset, you feel that engagement and that support and those amenities in the places that you’re living and working in.

DA: That’s a perfect segue to our next question where, from our perspective, the pandemic certainly has recalibrated the market, and to your point earlier, accelerated many things that had already begun pre-pandemic. But one thing for sure is that we now recognize that buildings are really places for people. People are the real asset. The building itself is not. And we certainly saw that when buildings were empty. So it really helped us to remember how important people are, and that we need to be more focused on their needs and their wants. As a result, to your point, tenant engagement, tenant experience, we really believe that that is becoming the new differentiator. That’s the commodity we’re ultimately trading and competing on. And that’s helping to drive a lot of real estate decisions. So, you know, you mentioned some, but what else do you think building operators need to be thinking about in terms of delivering great customer experience for their tenants? Now, and maybe even thinking about what the future might look like?

DF: I think amenities help–health and wellness. Those are probably two of the most important things that come to mind, especially in commercial assets, I think for logistics assets, supporting energy use. And if you can, you know, effectively help margins in your occupants by the way you’re operating your buildings, I think that’s really important. So it is, depending on the type of asset, it’s going to look a little different. Like an industrial asset doesn’t need a gym, per se, but maybe if it’s a logistics on the way through a long driving area, and you can provide that to people coming in and out, maybe that is the differentiator. But I think that it all centers again on- and you made the point–human capital is our asset, and I think people really realize, “How do we take care of that asset in every capacity?” Engaging and amenities and supporting tenants all do that. So to me it’s in line with sustainability. So energy, waste, water, making sure you’re operating efficiently to help your occupants also benefit from that. Also, if your occupants care about that, supporting them in waste management and diversion and things like that is really important. I think those are, I mean, it’s pretty simple. I don’t think that’s changed. I just think we’re trying to find more ways to-

DA: Deliver

DF: Deliver, do it better, and put systems around it to showcase it.

DA: I agreed. I mean, interestingly, when I first developed HILO, which is all about tenant experience and tenant engagement, one of the main drivers was actually sustainability. And you might say, “Well, why?” But, you know, when we first conceived of it, it was at a time where our major form of communication with tenants–between operators and tenants–was print. And so as a way to recognize that we needed to be more green-conscious, buildings were going for their LEED certification, we thought, “We ought to be connecting and communicating with people through their smartphones and create a more digital channel of communication.” And so, you know, fast forward so many years where sustainability has just become such a hot topic, and I do believe that tenants are going to be looking at their buildings, and they’re going to be asking those questions and not just taking it for granted and not just hoping you’re doing it, but actually engaging in buildings that are aligned to some of their corporate ways of thinking as well.

DF: Yeah, I think that that is, that was happening- I think it’s really been the last kind of- you’re right, 10 years.

DA: Yep. Yep. Sure.

DF: And so, I think it’s to the benefit of everyone. So it’s good.

DA: Agreed. Agreed. All right, let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back.


DA: We are back with Dara Friedman, managing director at BentallGreenOak. Again, I’m really glad you could be with us today.

DF: Thank you.

DA: So living through a pandemic has been very challenging for so many people, and I never like to forget that fact. As we continue to talk about the future, we have to remember what we have been through. But we also believe it’s provided an opportunity now to be better, do better, and build something better. COVID can no longer be an excuse. So I’m wondering if you can share any details about your business or some part of your business that is being reimagined to reflect the reality of where we are today.

DF: I’ll share two things. I think one thing that we as a company- Well, we were sort of unique, because we actually announced a merger in mid-2019. And so we were sort of merging two companies through the pandemic.

DA: Right.

DF: And I think what we learned with that, and it was a really great experience, was that it was a sort of- The world is actually quite flat now, and we were able to put in place all these, kind of like, social support, or just sort of fun activities, that sometimes if you’re physically together in the office, you’re so drained at the end of the day, you’re like, “I don’t want to go to happy hour.” This is me and my, you know, after 35. Like between 20 and 30 it was different. But like when either you’re itching to go out or you don’t want to go out, right? And it’s really, there’s like one option: it’s drinks or coffee or maybe a walk. But we were doing things like we had a workout person come, and people would, from all over the globe, join the workout class. I participated in the read-aloud. So I have two kids, and I had my daughter read aloud one day.

DA: Wow.

DF: And then someone else with older kids had their daughter read, and my kids would join. And so it was really great to see people’s kids in the capacity of like, “Oh, we’re just going to-

DA: Right.

DF: Pick a story and-

DA: Hang out.

DF: Of course my daughter did like, “How to Train Your Mom” or something like that. But each of them read, and that was so fun to-

DA: Right.

DF: To have both your, your family kind of participate in that capacity and interact like that. We did a recipe book where people had a cooking session. One of my New York colleagues is Italian, and we still use his recipe for chicken. It was really good. So we did that and we did some wine tasting. Because we have a couple people that are really into wine, and they would host that. But it was just really a diverse set of activities,

DA: Yep.

DF: Beyond like, “Oh, we’re going to go to drinks or-“

DA: Right.

DF: You know, “We’re going to go to lunch.” So I think-

DA: Offered more flexibility, more creativity in what you did do.

DF: Yeah. And I think it was a great job by our corporate team, and I think it was really effective in helping to integrate different people across the globe and set a corporate culture, during a really hard time.

DA: Right.

DF: You know, because it was not an easy time. And so I think that was unique, right? Not everyone was consummating a merger through the pandemic. But I think for us, it was a really great experience and something I’m really thankful to have been part of.

DA: Okay. Very cool. You said there was one other thing, I think.

DF: I now forget because I went really into the-

DA: All Right. We’ll stay with that. That’s awesome. That’s very interesting. And the fact that it happened not only during the pandemic, but as part of a global merger. So-

DF: I do think the other thing was how hard it was at home, but like, we can-

DA: Right.

DF:  I have, you know, I’ll talk to my friends about that, but it was really hard. I think we should all acknowledge, like, it was really hard. There was for everyone in every place. It was just hard, and it was a lot. And you know, I mean I remember watching Outbreak as a child and it was just kind of like, “Oh my God, it’s happening.” But then also, you know, whatever you had going on at home, it was just, it was just hard. So-

DA: Absolutely. An opportunity to get to know Dara a little bit better as a person. Can you share one way which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life?

DF: Oh, so I would say pre-pandemic, I had a little bit of a difficult time being present. And I think like anything, when you go through big life changes and shifts that require a change of perspective, you get better at being present. So I think for me, I’m most grateful for understanding what that means and not just hearing it: “Okay. Be present. Okay, I’ll take a breath.” It’s not quite that. There’s a little more to it.

DA: You had an opportunity to practice it as well.

DF: Yeah. Exactly. And really was pushed to the limits to understand what it is, why it’s valuable. And I had some personal things happen that affected that, but I’m really grateful for that perspective.

DA: Great, great. What travel destination do you miss most?

DF: Hmm. I would say, I mean, I’m not a big traveler, but I really, really love Charleston, South Carolina. My parents moved there about 10 years ago, and we didn’t get to go during the pandemic, but we did go this summer for a month.

DA: Great.

DF: And I just, I mean, shout out to Charleston. It’s just-

DA: Right.

DF: The best. So-

DA: Awesome.

DF: I didn’t realize how much I missed it until we were there.

DA: You got back.

DF:  And it’s just great with beautiful beaches, gorgeous nature. Nice. You know, really nice place. So-

DA: Great. Great. Anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

DF:  I’m just catching up on- that would require not being present.

DA:  Right, then, all right. What is your-

DF:  I don’t know.

DA:  Okay. All right. What is your favorite technology that is new to your life?

DF:  Well, I did get a new iPad, which I enjoy. We’re debating Apple TV. I think that would probably be beneficial to us. Make things a little more seamless.

DA: Absolutely.

DF: And I still don’t, I don’t have like, the watch, I’m like on the fence about that one.

DA:  I draw the line, you know, I’ve got everything else.

DF: Yeah.

DA:  I’ve got everything else, but I don’t know that I want it strapped to me.

DF: Yeah. I mean I’m a very late adopter. It took me a while to get rid of my StarTAC, like the flip phone, which I loved.

DA: Right.

DF:  And then the iPhone was a big deal for me. And I haven’t recovered from that transformation yet. I don’t think I need anything else.

DA:  You’ve got time. You’ve got time. What’s your personal choice for days spent in person with your colleagues versus working from anywhere?

DF: So what would I like to do if-?

DA: Yeah, if you had a personal preference for choosing days spent working with people, your colleagues in office, versus working from anywhere, remotely.

DF: Which would I choose?

DA: Yeah, what would your personal preference be?

DF: I mean, I like both.

DA: Okay.

DF:  So I’m probably kind of 70/30–70 in person, 30 at home. That’s a good balance for me.

DA: Right.

DF: Because I feel like I just have that 30% gives me the space to feel organized outside of the office.

DA Right.

DF:  And then the 70% gives me the interaction and activity that has engaged me at work since I started.

 DA: Right.

DF: So I think that’s how I would probably assign that time.

DA:  Makes sense. Makes sense. Listen, Dara, thank you so much for joining us today, for being a part of the conversation and engaging in this discussion. I hope this is the first of many for us. I look forward to staying connected and wishing you continued success.

DF: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s been fun.

DA: Awesome. Take care now.

DF: Bye.

DA:  I want to thank Dara Friedman for joining me on this episode of “TEN,” and for contributing to the global conversation around buildings being a part of a robust ecosystem, helping to build great companies, and that they are vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people in teams. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms, and we will continue to explore what that looks like together. Subscribe to “TEN” for more conversations with leading CRE, industry professionals, and experts who all have something to say about tenant experience and the future of the workplace. We love hearing from you. So if you enjoyed this episode of “TEN,” please share, add your rating, and review us through your preferred podcast provider. 

If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live, thank you.

Celebrating 60 Conversations on TEN

Hard to believe that it’s been over 3 years since we launched the Tenant Experience Network (TEN) podcast as a way to connect with people at a time when we all felt isolated. Host and HILO Co-founder and CEO, David Abrams, has had the opportunity to interview some amazing people from leading CRE and Proptech companies, and in real-time, share what’s really happening in buildings and communities across North America. David wanted the program to provide a true pulse on what was actually going on in the industry, across all asset classes, without being sensational or polarizing, as is often found in the media.

Peter Riguardi | Chairman & President, New York Region | JLL | Lessons in selling CRE in NYC

Season 4 / Episode 15 / 28:35
In this episode, Peter says he seeing an increase in people coming back to the workplace and occupiers using the office to competitively attract talent. He has also noticed a significant push to the best office buildings, regardless of their location. With 460 million square feet of office space in NYC, only time will tell how much space use will have to change.

Celebrating 60 Conversations on TEN

Hard to believe that it’s been over 3 years since we launched the Tenant Experience Network (TEN) podcast as a way to connect with people at a time when we all felt isolated. Host and HILO Co-founder and CEO, David Abrams, has had the opportunity to interview some amazing people from leading CRE and Proptech companies, and in real-time, share what’s really happening in buildings and communities across North America. David wanted the program to provide a true pulse on what was actually going on in the industry, across all asset classes, without being sensational or polarizing, as is often found in the media.

Peter Riguardi | Chairman & President, New York Region | JLL | Lessons in selling CRE in NYC

Season 4 / Episode 15 / 28:35
In this episode, Peter says he seeing an increase in people coming back to the workplace and occupiers using the office to competitively attract talent. He has also noticed a significant push to the best office buildings, regardless of their location. With 460 million square feet of office space in NYC, only time will tell how much space use will have to change.