David Popler, Managing Director, Solutions Development, JLL | Using data to elevate client service | 35:11

Transcript

DA: Hi, I’m David Abrams. And I want to welcome you to this edition of the Tenant Experience Network podcast. I want to welcome today’s guest David Popler, Managing Partner, Solutions Development at JLL with 4.6 billion square feet in managed properties and facilities under contract. In this episode, we’ll learn about David’s journey to his current position at JLL, where he combines his learning from such roles as Chief Revenue Officer to Vice President of Business Development. We will tap into his thinking around using data to serve clients better as one of his keys to success and get a glimpse into what is top of mind for David as he continues to navigate through new challenges and emerging opportunities. We’re excited to be sharing this podcast with you, so make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome David to the show. Hey David, really glad that you could be with us today.

DP: Hey David, thanks, thanks for having me.

DA: We both share a mutual passion for workplace, so I’m looking forward to our conversation and I thought just to kick us off, maybe you could share a little bit more about your current role, as Managing Director in Solutions Development at JLL, and how you got there. Sort of walk me through that journey.

DP: Sure, yeah, I’d be happy to. So, I currently lead the Solutions Development Organization for JLL for the West side of the US. So that’s really helping our customers understand when it comes to portfolio optimization for projects and capital management and integrated facility management and everything that goes within them. I lead the group that puts together the solution to help them operate their real estate. And the way that I got here is a really roundabout route. Most people that I’ve met in the real estate world have been in it for a long time. Most people in the group that I work in have been at JLL for more than 20 years. But mine is a more roundabout route. I started in technology, computer science and engineering, started out as an IT and automation guy. And what I found was what I really enjoyed was the curiosity in every industry that I was exposed to. So I started off in the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve worked in strategy consulting, I’ve worked in social media, and I’ve worked in the retail world before getting into the facility management world at Corrigo. So, I’ve been in Silicon Valley for more than a couple of decades. I’ve been CEO of a couple of those companies, Chief Revenue Officer in most places. My passion is helping customers, so that’s what kind of what drives me into these types of roles, but what drove me here, the last dot was that I was one of the first people at Corrigo, if you’ve heard of them, the work order management, asset management company. And Corrigo was bought by JLL, and then I had already left Corrigo. I got a call from JLL saying “We’re thinking about different ways “of filling out leadership roles “within our business development group. “Would you like to have a conversation about that?” And I’ve just, I’ve really enjoyed getting into the industry and working with the team here.

DA: Well, it is a journey. I started out in financial services, financial accounting. Ended up in marketing and communications and all of a sudden at this stage in my career, I find myself the founder of a tech startup. 

DP: Good for you. I love startups that’s why we’ve been in contact actually.

DA: And that’s how we connected, absolutely.

DP: Yeah, because I still love startups even though I went from big companies and then did startups for 20 years back at a big company. I still love startups, and just wish you and the other tech founders as well ’cause it’s a lot of fun.

DA: It certainly is. So why do you think you’re so uniquely suited to this opportunity? Are there any unique skills that have helped you to be successful along the way?

DP: Yeah. So while my background might seem disparate, the dots really do connect when it comes to utilizing technology where an industry is prime for change. And an industry is prime to advance forward and leap forward. You know it’s all about data. Performance is all about data, It’s a lot about data at the core and gathering, collecting data analyzing data, getting to business intelligence and then being able to use that data now going forward for being predictive and being prescriptive. So for me, those are the dots that connect together with everything that I’ve done, has had to do with automation and better use of data and analytics. And it comes back to serving your people, but it ends up coming back to performing better financially, serving your people better. Everything throughout the organization is getting the right technologies in place. And what I saw with real estate is that real estate was actually quite a bit behind other industries that have leveraged. And you think about like banking would be one of the first, right? If they can take a thousands of a second off of something, they’d spend any amount of money because make transactions a little faster. Real estate has really been by and large, a relationship based industry for so long that a lot of business was based on that. And so those are the dots that connected. And when I started talking to my company here about joining them, that’s the story that I told, it really matched up to their vision of some huge investments that they’re making and some other outside people they’re bringing in to augment and compliment what this kind of long time real estate company was doing.

DA: And really, I think you’ll agree. It’s still early days for real estate. I think that the industry has still sort of fastening their seat belt and getting ready really to take off. I think there’s still a lot of opportunity for innovation adoption. Prop tech is a term in terms of the conversions of technology and property, is still relatively new. It is amazing how much progress there has been over the last couple of years. But these are still early days, so it’s pretty exciting.

DP: Absolutely. I mean we met through an incubator that you had a relationship with and the focus in PropTech is just exploding. I mean it’s exciting. They have whole cohorts quarter after quarter. They have whole cohorts of very exciting companies that are coming through. And I totally agree with you. It’s early days. There’s a lot of great stuff that’s going to happen in this industry with technology.

DA: So that path that you followed, which is not necessarily the typical starting out in real estate right out of college and continuing along that path. But you’ve added some technology along the way, you’ve added some very senior roles and in terms of being responsible for generating revenue, any advice for someone wanting to follow a similar path or a path to real estate, but your advice on maybe how they should get there.

DP: Yeah, yeah I mean it’s funny to ask me, right? Because I’ve heard some people say that nobody ever sets out to end up in real estate because it’s just so, it’s so interesting and unique. I would say that if someone has a passion for it, especially if they are younger, people that are early in their career are listening. Real estate has amazing career opportunities that are really broad and really deep. And also say that a challenge that we have in my very large company that has tens of thousands of people, is the path to hire our next leaders because we tend to get more mature. People end up in the company for a long time but they don’t necessarily jump into the professional side of it right out of college, like many, many other careers. So I would say that if someone is young and ambitious and really wants to get into real estate, go ahead and get in. But maybe start in parts of the company functionally that you don’t necessarily want to end up in, because the most powerful people in these real estate companies are ones that have been all over the company and all over the world. And then you end up in a job that you really want and you get the job because of all that other stuff that you did.

DA: Right.

DP: So I love the path that I took in the background with technology and consulting and all those things. And I use all those things all the time. But if I was interested in getting into real estate and it was 20 years ago, I would probably go to a company that I considered a leader and find people that I liked and respected that were in you know, culture wise. And then I would just dive in and do anything and everything I could and kind of suck it all up.

DA: That’s great advice. So listen, we have no shortage of challenges that we’re all facing. What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently experiencing? And how do you think you’ll overcome it?

DP: Yeah, it’s a really tough one, right? It’s how and when do we get people back to work in a steady state mode, right? I said to a friend recently who is a total optimist but was having a kind of tough day just with lots of things that were difficult about this, and he said, “When are we going to get back “to the way things were? “When are we going to get back to normal?” And I said, “You know, I think you’re thinking about it wrong. “I think you have to realize “that we’re not going back there, that’s the past. “However things were in January of this year, “it’s not going to be like that ever again.” But it doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse. It means that we’re going to find a vaccine, we’re going to find treatment, we’re going to get this under control. And a lot of these things, lot of these decisions that are being made now, they needed to be made anyway. But this is just accelerating them, right? So I think that the biggest challenge I’m facing now is that it’s paradoxical that the decisions that we’re making for workplace are as important as they’ve ever been. Literally I mean, if you’re going to be a little extreme, it’s almost life and death in some cases, right? In extreme cases, it’s very important. At the same time, us logical people who like to use data, and like to take the facts we don’t have a picture of the future. We don’t know. We don’t know, and you can… Normally you could do scenario analysis to help make decisions with your customers. Well, before maybe you had to run five or six scenarios, and now you got to run 30 or 50 because you don’t know what the facts are, right. That’s hard, that’s hard stuff. And there’s ways that we’re addressing that and trying to be the best advisors that we can. But everybody has to realize that you’re making decisions in some dark alleys here.

DA: Right.

DP: So you’ve got to go with good judgment rather than the facts, which is very difficult for fact-based people, right?

DA: Very difficult for planners. very difficult for people who normally have a vision as to where they want to be in two years, three years or five years. And I guess you’re right. Based on historical information, can make certain determinations and run those difficult scenarios.

DP: And we can. And you’re going to have to say we’re going to make this decision, and something I say sometimes is we’re going to make decision and we’re going to put a stake in the ground, and the stake is going to stay there until we move it. Right?

DA: Right.

DP: Every day you don’t get up and move it, but you keep it there and you head for target. And then when you realize that you’re heading 30 degrees in the wrong direction, because of good news or bad news, then you make adjustments.

DA: Right. You know there are those that are trying to plan for post-COVID. Just like we had pre-COVID and let’s have a post-COVID. But I think those that have said it’s not about post-COVID, it’s really in a COVID era, how will things be? And I think that is our reality. I think that’s taken us four, five, six months to get there. But to realize that, we have to think about how will it be, what will it be like for us to live in an era with COVID as opposed to without, because that may not be realistic at some time.

DP: Yeah. And we’re going to be fine, right. We’re going to be fine. It’s not easy right now. It’s not going to be easy for some time, but we will overcome this and we will define our path forward. But it’s a hard problem when you’re trying to make decisions that impact people’s lives profoundly like workplace, and you don’t have the information to work with. So, we just have to be thoughtful in how we make the choices. but you have to make choices you know, yeah.

DA: I know you’re a very customer focused. A big part of your day to day is helping your customers. If I gave you an extra $100,000 of budget right now how would you spend it and why.

DP: You know with money like that, I think I would invest in training and education. We’re in a tough spot, separate from our pandemic situation. We’re in a tough spot socially as a country right now. And so I think the more education that we have, the more communication that we have about diversity and inclusion is just better. More is better. JLL is doing a ton of it. We’re doing it all the time and it’s just positive reinforcement. And it makes you know, we’re all from different places and have different values. That’s the way we are, right. We’re all unique, but we have to get on the same page around the goodness of diversity. Be selfish, it’s good for business, right? It makes you perform better. It allows you to solve problems that you might not be able to solve without it. So, yeah I think with like that, I would maybe embrace more education, more training. It can be on customer sites on our site, but really focus on inclusion, diversity and other things that are still a challenge for our culture.

DA: Right. And obviously that kind of investment would have a huge return on investment. So, they’re very positive outcomes as a result.

DP: I think so, yep.

DA: Along your journey, along your career path, are there any resources, mentors, colleagues, or books that have helped you/sort of shaped you and really helped make who you are?

DP: These are fun questions David, thank you. I reflect on them and I’m like, Oh boy, I should think about those questions more often. Well first, a comment about mentors. I don’t have a specific story, but I’ll just say that mentors make all the difference. Your network makes all the difference. Your mentors make all the difference. It’s all about people and connections. When younger people ask me, what’s the key, what’s my version of the key to success. And like just working really well with people is the secret to every job right? Every, well at least most jobs that are around me you need knowledge and education and you need skills. But if you’re not going to be really effective working with people it’s going to be tough. So, mentor wise I would say be aggressive. A mistake that I made early on was that I don’t know, I must’ve thought it was like cheating or something to really lean on mentors. And you’re not just like buckle down and figure it out for yourself and whatever. But as I’m trained a little bit, I found people that already knew the answers were fantastic and I really enjoyed doing that for other people now a lot. In fact, that’s why I get involved with the incubators because some people that I advise they know a lot more than I do about most things. But in terms of like getting going with a small business, I’ve got the tire tracks on my back. So just ask me and I can tell you an answer that might save you 90 days of real hustle , right? 90 days of real level. In terms of books, you can read 100 different business books and I think they’re all fine and usually read chapter two and three, have a lot of them, And you get the idea and they’re useful. I think my favorite business books are the ones that have lasted forever. You know, that you can always go back to and they’re a little bit different every time you read them. So, one is that sounds cliche but “How to Make Friends and Influence People”, because it’s all about saying, forget about you, it’s not about you. When you’re in business you have to think about what your customer wants. You have to think about what your partner wants. You have to think about what other people want. That’s how you’re going to get something done, right? So, and also when you’re a good listener other people think you’re super interesting.

DA: It’s true.

DP: So that’s one. Yeah, and I mean be a great listener and really that book, you can just listen in 15 minutes, you can listen to the summary. But what it says is put yourself in the other person’s shoes and really empathize with them and then try to help them, right? And that’s how things get done. Another one, if people are interested is “The Art of War” If you’ve ever, I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but “The Art of War”, most of it is about the best way to fight is to not fight, right? It’s about finding your way to kind of the jiu jitsu of business, right? Working your way around conflicts and getting to what you need to get. And it’s really cool ’cause that book’s been around forever and it’s a different book. Every time I pick it up, it’s a different book, right? And you just read a couple chapters. The other thing I would say is my favorite subject in business school was negotiating. And so, it doesn’t have to be a specific book but it was an awakening for me when the professor, his name was Max Bazerman. His book was “Negotiating Rationally” But the thing that he taught me was share a lot of information all the time, right? And we’re not… I’d be in that class thinking you hold your cards really tight, you know what you’ve got, you don’t know what they’ve got and you kind of, you negotiate based on looking at the cards. And then you’re just splitting up a fixed pie right? And it’s like, here’s the pie, and you’re going to fight over who gets 51 and who gets 49. You share lots of information about what’s important to you and what’s important to them. You can bring tons of value into the conversation where you can give them something that’s worth way more to them than it is to you. And that makes negotiating really easy.

DA: Right.

DP: And it creates value. So that was an awakening for me. My favorite story from business school.

DA: All great insights. Very cool. I know for me my previous career where I spent the majority of my time on the marketing communication side, I can say that I didn’t really learn the value or the importance of creating that network and finding those mentors. It wasn’t really history that really encouraged that. And since I’ve switched gears and gone down this route of tech founder and in this whole startup ecosystem, I’ll tell you the networking, the opportunity to meet people just as you and I have met,

DP: Yes.

DA: Has been extraordinary. And I’ve probably found more mentors at this stage in my career. Just in the last two to three years than I did in the entire 20 plus years leading up till now.

DP: Totally. Totally it’s a joy, it really is. And meeting you has been a joy. We’re turning into colleagues and friends, and I look forward to those conversations and we share experiences. And it’s all because there was an outreach to say could you provide your insights on something, right. So just like that influencing people, it’s like when you ask somebody to share something they know it makes them feel that, right?

DA: Yeah, exactly. So speaking of sharing, good segue. Can you share any details about something new you’re working on that you think our listeners might find interesting?

DP: Yeah. It’s really the centerpiece of what we’re doing with workplace at JLL and it has to do with re-entry and re-imagining. And by the way, there’s lots of things that are publicly available in that we’ve done. And there’s lots of organizations that are doing it but we’re trying to help companies understand what to do, right? What to do now. There’s fatigue, right? Everyone started up with really good productivity, but there’s zoom fatigue, there’s work from home fatigue, There’s having kids at home while you’re trying to work fatigue and all that stuff. And it’s really hard. People are having experiences that are life altering right now. But you still have to work, right? You still have to work. You still have to have a workplace. You still have to build the community, right? I think what you’re doing by the way, if I can mention it like what you’re doing is more important now than it’s ever been. So your timing was pretty impeccable. Although when I first heard what you’re doing I thought it was great already because there’s only a couple of things out there that you’re trying to do it. You’re taking it to the next level, but your timing was impeccable because they’re even more dimensions of things that are critical for people’s emotional wellbeing and emotional health. So this community, the build community is just super important. But what I would say is that the messages out of the research and consulting that we’re doing is that companies need to be assertive in using this difficult situation to change and advance forward. There are things that they needed to do already but they were just moving too slowly and they know what those things are. And then there’s things that have come up because the workplace is different now, right? It’s not exactly about how many square feet each person have. Do we want them to have 225 or 195 square feet. That’s not really what it’s about, right? I mean it’s so much deeper. It’s so much deeper than that. And so that’s one thing is that the old Yogi Berra quote, “When you get to the fork in the road, take it” right? And I say this to people quite often. I’m like when you get to the fork in the road, you know you got to keep moving. You don’t have enough data in front of you to make the decision. And you still got to make a decision because doing nothing is worse than those other two choices, right? The other thing that we’ve found is that the priorities for companies are actually pretty diverse. So, every company is not trying to do the same thing. Their number one is all the same, its wellness and health right? That’s number one, as long as they’re saying the health and wellness is important. But after that you’ve got stuff like, is it human experience or is it portfolio optimization? Like some companies have enormous opportunities to portfolio optimization. Aren’t looking at human experience yet. Is it sustainability? Is it your talent strategy? Is it working from home any time or working from home, you know. So even all of those things, I think I mentioned it before you have to run scenario planning without actually having good data on some of these things. So you get into dozens of scenarios that you have to kind of think through rather than just a few. And that’s what we’re working on is in helping to guide, we have like 15 key dimensions. I mentioned a couple of them, but we have 15 like key dimensions that are really important to cut to our customers. And how do you do that pivot table to figure out what’s important so you can decide are you going to go optimize your portfolio first? Or are you going to go have your talent strategy first? You got to figure those out. So we’ve got a process and a path for doing that.

DA: Right. You know Deloitte in their Annual Real Estate Outlook back in 2019 leading into 2020 declared that 2020 would be the year of the following mantra. Location, experience and data. Right? And I think you just spoke on almost all of those parts-

DP: Yeah.

DA: No longer just about the physicality, is it 100 square feet, is it 200 square feet. Certainly the location of your building has to be good, but that’s it.

DP: So much more.

DA: And then it is about experience and the data that comes out of that to help inform the decisions that need to be made.

DP: Yeah.

DA: So I think that as relevant now as it was when it was declared at the end of 2019. So, maybe they had a superpower of being able to see the future. So that’s my question for you actually. If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

DP: Yeah, another fun question. It’s like you have a box of cards of fun questions. I wish I could see the future. If I had the power to see the future my favorite thing and source of joy in business is helping people understand their situation, helping them make decisions. So, if I could see the future maybe I wouldn’t tell everybody but I’d be able to help them make better decisions for the head down. It’s a… Yeah, if we could see what the real critical, what’s the data for the real critical impacts for this thing particularly, when will we feel comfortable with a vaccine, when will we feel a lot better about a treatment? All those things are going to change our trajectory dramatically, right? But you know again from my days of consulting and project management I always told people, I’m like the magic of good project management is seeing the future, right? A great project manager is the project manager that connects dots out in front of them and creates the future, right? 

DA: Well as our thank you gift for joining the program today, I’ll be sure to ship out that crystal ball later on. All will be revealed. So you spoke about curiosity when we kicked off the program today. What are you curious about right now? Anything that has you thinking differently in light of current circumstances.

DP: Well, I hope it’s not boring, but you know this is all about just this workplace stuff is just really intriguing and I’m really curious what is the optimal combination of places and environment and tools and interactions et cetera, to optimize workplace as we know it. And not just now and for the next year in this situation. I mean let’s call it another year, it’s going to go on for a while. But really the curiosity is really now. A lot of these variables that we took as set in stone are now wet clay, right? And we’re allowed to start molding that clay. Again going back to what you’re doing, I think what you’re doing is going to be so key. It’s about community and about interactions with people. I’ve told friends one of my greatest concerns about this pandemic overall is mental health issues for our communities, into the future because there are so many people that are not great with change. And we just brought down change like a sledgehammer, right? Like your whole world is turned upside down, right? So, I think that prop tech is taking off things like you’re doing are going to be critical but the curiosity is with all these different variables that are all moving, returning all these knobs at the same time what’s that optimal combination going to be? If we could have, we have the opportunity to change now, consider that a positive side of what’s happening. We have to make changes. So maybe do some things on YouTube before. But then going into our new future, the new normal, right? What we had a year ago is not going to exist anymore. Now going forward, what is that optimal working circumstance. I think that’s exciting.

DA: Right. And I think to your point, it’s how will that impact wellbeing? Because I think we are only just beginning to see some of the impacts. And I know personally people in my sphere of family and friends and colleagues there are some that are having some tough times and challenges.

DP: Absolutely.

DA: And I’m not just the economic impact really just the impact of working in this way, socialization and isolation. And I don’t think we know yet.

DP: No, absolutely.

DA: How that will all manifest itself.

DP: Absolutely I mean.

DA: The attention.

DP: Yeah, no, keep in mind people. A lot of people have a tough time, during normal times, right? And this is really tough times. So we have to watch that and we have to use our abilities and our powers and workplace and technology and stuff to do the best we can to help them in the ways that we can, right. Make them feel more comfortable, more at home, more authentic, all those things.

DA: Right. Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out? So I guess that goes back to seeing the future, but anything you wish you had known at the beginning.

DP: Sure. A couple of things. One is realize that everybody started without knowing anything, right? We all came into this world not knowing anything. When you get to a new job, you look around and you think everybody knows everything and you don’t know anything and it’s hard. And just get over that first because everybody started where you are, right? And so like after you did years and years of being a leader in business and you became an entrepreneur, you’re probably thinking Oh my gosh, what did I get. Right?

DA: Yeah

DP: And today, you know. So that’s one is I encourage, especially like new startups; CEOs just remember, like you’re experiencing it just like every other startup CEO or every other, whatever new job that you’re taking. That’s how it all starts, right? Is that you… And then all you can do is dive in and be curious and suck it up and enjoy it. And the thing that goes along with that, the set, the corollary with it is connect and contact and network, and be really good about reaching out to people. And from as many people as you can. Because again, I didn’t realize this until later than it should’ve been. Is that if you just ask people, if you just ask people about something they know, they’re generally happy to tell you. Most of them are. And so, I wish I had done a lot more than that. I was more like the student that thought you had to study by yourself and kind of figure out that calculus problem by yourself, where I guess you could have gone to that office hours and talked to the professor and she or he would’ve explained it to you, right?

DA: Right. I feel like in many ways our lives have paralleled each other. ‘Cause I think I wish I had known that much earlier too.

DP: Yeah. And then the last one I’ll throw in there as a bonus is just try hard to balance especially for those of us who are programmed to work hard. You got to put yourself first you got to put your body… If your body’s not working, then nothing else is going to work and if your body’s not working the first thing that goes is your brain, right? So don’t think you’re going to get great performance out of your brain if you’re not taking care of yourself, right. And so you got to take breaks and you got to exercise and find a way to take good care of yourself because you only got one vessel so you got to treat it really well, so you can do all this other fun stuff, right?

DA: Absolutely. Listen, these have been really, a lot of insights shared today. A lot of great experience shared. We both share a passion for workplace. I know that our work is far from done and I appreciated all of your support and comments about what we’re building, but you as well I wish you continued success. And I know there’s still lots to be figured out, but it sounds like you’re the right guy to be in the shoes that you are and help your company move forward and helping your clients move forward. Let’s definitely keep the lines of communication open, the conversation going. And as we walk through this period of time I hope we can reconnect and see if there’s a part two to this conversation.

DP: Absolutely. Great, thanks David. Great questions. It was fun.

DA: I appreciate all the best and we’ll talk soon.

DP: Okay, bye bye.

DA: I want to thank David Popler for joining us on today’s podcast and for sharing his journey from early beginnings as a technology expert to now helping JLL’s clients run productive global portfolios. Great learning for all our listeners and an opportunity to gain insight into what it takes to become an innovative leader. Please be sure to tune in again for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts who all have something to say about experience in the built world and the impact that technology is having on the largest asset class in the world, commercial real estate. 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 or live. Thank you.

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