Jon Love | CEO | KingSett Capital | Seeing tenants as partners in delivering a great office experience


DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Jon Love, founder and chief executive officer of Kingsett Capital, a Canadian private equity, real estate investment business. In this episode, we will learn about Jon’s time spent going dark just before he founded Kingsett 20 years ago. Jon will share the impact that mentors have had on his career and how building relationships was and continues to be so important in his life. You’ll hear Jon share his belief that we need to learn to coexist with COVID. A belief that I share as well. I loved hearing about Jon’s desire to build a better product for his customer each and every person who comes into your building and his vision to see tenants as partners in delivering a great office experience. Actually being able to help tenants enjoy the best experience possible. We’re excited to be sharing this podcast with you. So be sure to follow TEN. So you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. Now I’d like to welcome Jon to the show. Really glad you could be with us today, John it’s especially exciting. You were our first guest on season one, you’re helping us kick off season three. A lot has changed and perhaps some hasn’t changed. So I’m really looking forward to the conversation. For those that might be listening for the first time, or don’t know you as well as I do. I’d love to just have you share with us your journey to your current position role. How did you get started?

JL: Well, David, thank you. And It’s a pleasure to join you again and have this conversation. I went to a business school. My first job out of business school was a retail stock broker, which was a fantastic start. What I like to think of as my MBA. I joined Oxford after five years of being a broker, started in leasing then development, then regional management, general management, leadership and when Oxford was sold in 2001, I left, took a sabbatical. Some people said I was unemployed and started Kingsett in 2002. So it’s now our 20th year.

DA: Wow, so quick question. From that time you left Oxford till the time you helped conceive Kingsett, what did that period of time look like? And did you always know as soon as you left, you’d be doing something new?

JL: When I left, I knew I’d be doing something. I was only 47 at the time. But I think what was most interesting is our youngest child had gone away to university. So my wife and I were empty nesters and we went dark for six months. And dark means like no appliances and no forwarding emails, phone numbers, stuff like that. So other than our direct family, nobody knew where we were. And we had an amazing, amazing six months. And it was a great time to reflect, reconnect, rethink about what’s important in life and so on and so forth. So it was a very special time.

DA: I love that. I would imagine I’d love to find the time to be able to do that as well. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? What’s helped you to become successful, skills, mentors, colleagues, books, timing?

JL: I think I have been blessed during my career of having some really important mentors who shared some very important snippet. And I think all of us are visited by these snippets and some of us hear them and some of us don’t. And so, I was blessed in being able to hear some of them, probably not all of them. And that really helped shape my career and how I look at things. Building relationships is the core tenant of what I’ve done my whole life. And it’s that that has allowed the business to grow. And people have been kind enough to support the business. And it’s been a great evolution, and I’m delighted to see how the business has scaled, how the leadership team has developed. And I look forward with great optimism.

DA: All right, let’s dive into the subject at hand. There’s been a lot of commentary around the return to the workplace. And some of the extreme opinions being expressed can be quite confrontational and often polarizing. HILO, my team and myself we believe that everyone needs to live and work in the world as it is right now. And we think the commercial real estate industry and employers can’t continue to project into the future, an imaginary date when the return to work will actually happen. We believe that this is the new normal and perhaps, the world that we live in will always have COVID. I’m just wondering what you think that means for the commercial real estate industry?

JL: So let me break that down into three things. First of all, the more unknown, the more divergent of opinions, because even the most extreme positions get the light of day when as facts are better known, they wouldn’t. So number one, you’re seeing that, and there are some extreme positions and whatever. Number two is I think that COVID will be forever. We’ve had the flu forever. They called it the Spanish flu 100 years ago. But as we learned how to coexist with it, it became the flu and we’ve had the flu every year and people die every year. Omicron is the flu. And I think, we will learn to coexist with it. And if you lived in other places, UK, U.S, et cetera, you’re back to life that was no different than pre-COVID. And I think we’ll be last at the party, but we’ll get there. And so I think within 30, 60, 90 days that we will be back to what we were pre-COVID. I think the role of the workplace is intersecting with labor issues. So the role of the workplace is largely, I think the people that are most negatively impacted from working from home are young people. They don’t have a tool kit. And I think it’s very difficult to build your toolkit watching a screen. Toolkits are built at the margin, watching others do their job, getting inspiration from others, collaborating, creating all those sorts of things. Watching senior leaders do things, going with senior leaders to various events, et cetera. So none of that is happening. The other thing that’s important is the whole issue of culture. And culture is something you can’t do remotely. So what we’re seeing, like you see in the U.S all this discussion about the great resignation. People aren’t resigning, they’re changing jobs because they have no allegiance to whatever’s on the other side of the screen. So someone wants to pay them 5% more or 10% more. They say, what the heck will go there? There’s no allegiance. Well, I’ve grown up in a structure where I’ve relied on coworkers. I’ve relied on business partners and I’ve relied on other people to build my career and build my of business. And I don’t think that’s going to change. I think that there’ll be hopefully more flexibility, which I think is good for working parents and good for all sorts of things. There’ll be more flexibility margins. There’ll be other modifications. But to think that we’re going to hire 25-year old and tell him to stay his parents’ basement and be on Zoom all day, it’s not a chance.

DA: Right, agreed. Agreed, so in terms of buildings, how can buildings continue to be important to businesses and people today? Is there anything that needs to shift in order to make sure they are as important as they once were?

JL: Well, first of all, there’s a ton of stuff going on. So there’s great focus on enhanced amenities, enhanced bio-safety, reducing carbon footprints. The industry’s been very active over the last two years on a whole variety of factors. And I think we have to continually work on building a better product that respects the lifestyle choice of the consumer. And the consumer isn’t the person signing the lease. It’s all the people that go to that office where the lease is being signed. So we are focused on all sorts of programs and strategies trying to make it the office infrastructure better. And then inside footprints, most employers are saying, how do we make this footprint work better for our people? How do we have better collaboration spaces? How do we have better amenity spaces? How do we respond to how to better meet our tenant needs? I think, one of the things that I’ve always been a little suspect of is hoteling and hot desking, which is a very popular theme in these days, but that means everybody’s just a number. And I just don’t, you know, people will disagree with me, but I don’t want to be a number. I want to have my place. And I want to know who’s next to me and I want to say, how is your weekend? And like I want to know when I need to ask someone for some help. I want to know where they are. I don’t want to have to look on a program and find out act in today.* So I think there’s all sorts of things that will take us back to traditional team building and culture building creativity, productivity and all of those elements. But at the same time, there’ll be evolution as well, which I think is always happen and is a good thing.

DA:  Right, I agree. I think hoteling and hot desking are not necessarily delivering the experience and ultimately people will be looking for, upon their return.

JL: Well, I would say, if you’re just going to tell me to hot desk, I got a hot desk at home. But most people that are working at home saying, well, I didn’t sign up to sleep in the office. So, and you can’t build a career unless you build a network and relationships. And you cannot build relationships on Zoom calls. You build relationships by going out for coffee, for lunch, seeing someone for breakfast, by sharing a baseball or football or a hockey game. Like you’ve got to have some bases where you talk about things that are other than the topic at hand. How is your life? Who are you? What can I do to make your life better? And that’s what’s missing with the two dimensional relationships.

DA: Right, so what role if any, do you think the building has in helping the employers that are your tenants to create those experiences to attract and retain the best talent and ultimately to your point, create opportunities for collaboration, for inspiration, for building culture, et cetera.

JL: Well, it’s the amenities. First of all, it’s bio-security. So, creating a safe environment, we’ve got a big push on carbon neutrality. So, being a responsible building, then it is amenity and having the right services in the building that can support the needs of all of the tenant customers. And it’s all arranged from expanding our daycare offerings to expanding our food offerings and so on and so forth. So those are all initiatives that we’re working on and we’ll continue to work on. We’re actively serving customers in different buildings saying, what are your specific needs? And it’s interesting. They’re different from building to building. What we’re trying to do, is to make the workplace an ever better place to go.

DA: And to your point, you mentioned that you’re seeing different themes emerge from building to building. In general, would you say you are engaging your key tenants in a much more meaningful way to truly understand how you can be a partner in their business?

JL: Well, I would say we’ve done this for some time, or at least tried to do this for some time. And perhaps it’s more relevant today, or at least people speak about it more today. But I can go back 20 years or longer and say, were longer, we were always interested. I mean, back in my Oxford days, three, 10 max, and the Oxford at banana.* We’re always interested in how can we be more sticky to the population at hand? Because the focus on the CEO or CFO is well, relevant. Shouldn’t be anyone sole focused. Because the position that as a landlord you’d like to be in is when a leader talks to their people and say, we’re considering moving. And everybody says, I don’t want to move, I love it here.

DA: Right.

JL: That’s been something we pursued know forever because the whole issue about how do you better manage and affect the day, help the day of the customers. Nothing’s changed. And it is just a bit more topical today and you see more written about it. But to me, like it’s no different, like we continue to work on it and they’re continually our advancements all the way from mini-elevators better, bio-security, better amenities. It goes on and on.

DA: Right. Well, it may not have changed, but I think you’ll agree that the market has certainly recognized even more so that buildings are really places for people. You spoke about people being the real customer, because let’s face it, buildings that are don’t have a lot of people in them. They’re not much of an asset at the end of the day without their people.

JL: Well, I think if I might just say, you know, one thing that employers are finding and I think that this is going to be a much bigger theme as we go forward is to attract the best and the brightest, Compensation’s important, interesting work’s important, but a great environment is probably more important today than it ever has been. And so we’d like to be part of that, creating a great environment to help that tenant recruit and retain the best people.

DA: Right, and that environment has to compete with remote and hybrid. So it’s got to be compelling, right? To your point, it can’t just be coming to a desk.

JL: Right.

DA: So I think you’ll agree then, obviously tenant experience is really elevated in terms of its importance. I think in many ways it’s becoming a new differentiator. It used to be, decisions were made around real estate specific to location and class. We’re seeing experience really truly being, what is most important. If that is the case, how do you think we’ll define great customer experience for our tenants now and in the future?

JL: I mean, that’s a broad question. I think that we’re seeking to understand, our tenants specific needs with regards to space, flexibility, HVAC demands, digital connectivity. We’re big on the WiredScore Program. Then, trying to identify, issues where there are pain points in a building, elevators, like what needs to be fixed? What needs to work? What needs to be enhanced? And we’re on those things. And that’s not a new issue, but we view our tenants as partners in their office experience. And we’d like to be able to help them enjoy the best they can.

DA: Right, makes sense. Let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back, Jon.

Commercial Break

DA: We’re back with Jon Love, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kingsett Capital, a Canadian private equity real estate investment business. So we’re living through the pandemic, it continues. I think you’ll agree, it’s been incredibly challenging for so many, but it’s also provided us an opportunity to be better, do better and build something better. So I’m just curious, is there anything you can share details about your business specifically, or some part of your business that you are reimagining to help reflect the new reality in the world we live in?

JL: Well, I mean, just one small thing is, we have quarterly investment calls and pre-COVID they were phone calls. The old Dell Conference calls, so and so forth. And, today we have a proper Zoom webinar and all of that technology. So that whole presentation is way better for our investor public. So that’s one small change. I think that clearly we will use much more, we’ll integrate Zoom into our everyday business lives, much more aggressively. And we all know there were times when you just phone somebody and now you’ll Zoom. And that’ll have an enhanced piece of communication. It’s not the same as being together, but it’s better than just a phone call. So I think we see lots of small changes at the margin that I think it will make a difference. And again, I’d like to think we’re always evolving. So I don’t look at 2019 as a static state, the same as 1999. I mean, Lord knows you’re totally different. So this has accelerated some technology adaptions and some of which are really basic, like the ones I imagine. And others that I think will make our businesses faster, more nimble and more able to respond.

DA: Are you seeing any tenants coming forward and already beginning to reimagine their space? Are you working on any projects specifically in collaboration with your tenants? Are there some of your tenants requiring different types of space than they might ordinarily have utilized in the past?

JL: It’s interesting. We’re seeing kind of three buckets. Bucket A is, we’re building what we designed in 2019 and that’s what we’re building. Bucket B is saying, we’re really re-energizing certain spaces to do different things. And bucket C is, we’re going to wait and see. And I don’t know what the percentages are between those three, but I think they’re all strategies that will unfold over time and people that are building today and it’s such big capital numbers building today. I’ve got a challenge in front of them because they’re trying to really understand what the world’s going to be like in three years. I mean, my view of what the world’s going to be like in three years, COVID will be here. We’ll be getting annual shots or biannual shots and life will carry on and we won’t be getting PCR tests when we land on a plane and stuff like that. And we’ll be living with it and there’ll be some businesses that are hybrid. I don’t know, but you have to remember if you’re a law firm and you’re telling me that you can be just as effective on the other end of the screen, then I’ll say, well, why am I choosing a Toronto law firm? I’ll choose your Calgary office, that’s half price. Well, now that we’re there, do you have an office in Mumbai? And ’cause they’ll do it overnight and they’re a 10th of the cost. So I think every business has to make sure they understand what their value proposition is because they’re going to hang on to their customers.

DA: Very interesting. Okay Jon, our closing speed round. So new questions for this season. Can you share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life?

JL: I guess, the disappointment with government leadership and the realization of how big an impact bad government leadership can have in our life.

DA: Right, what travel destination do you miss most?

JL: I think the world’s a smaller place today and it’s not because of COVID, but it’s because of the geopolitical tensions we find in Russia and China. And I would tell you that my wife and I traveled a lot, all over the place to places that are today, kind of off limits, which is really sad. And so, I think what I consider a safe travel world, is shrunk considerably.

DA: Right, anything new on your bucket list that you would like to experience?

JL: Well, I have to tell you, anytime something goes in my bucket list, I just go do it. So I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’ve sort of never had a bucket list because I sort of think, if it’s a list of something you want to do, go do it.

DA: Right, well, it’s a good attitude to have. What’s your favorite technology that is new to your life?

JL: So I would say, it is not a new technology, but it’s new in adaption for me. Is how much time we spend on FaceTime with my geographically diverse relatives. And that has really brought a new dimension. That’s been high energy and as well the chat room we have on text, which everything, so much more family stuff is shared with pictures and texts and all that stuff. So those are not new technologies, but our use of them is new to us and has really brought the family together.

DA: Right, awesome. What’s your personal choice for days spent in person with your colleagues versus working from anywhere?

JL: I love walking around the office. I love seeing young people talking to each other. They’re doing stuff. Some have their desks up, some have their desks down, they’re working on projects and stuff. Anytime I’m in my office and I feel a bit low or grumpy or whatever, I go walk around. And I’ll tell you, it is amazing to see the energy and the enthusiasm and having everyone together. So that’s what I enjoy the most. The thing I like is probably not in the office, ’cause I like to go out and see other people in their offices and have a coffee. See what they’re doing and have lunch and breakfast and all that stuff. So I spend my whole time kind of traipsing around the downtown of whatever city I’m in, going from office to office and seeing people and just see what’s going on. And that is a secret sauce.

DA: Right, well, I think also as a leader, I think you want to be out and about and not sort of closed off and privatized. So think that’s a great approach. Listen, Jon so much has changed and yet so much is the same. I’m really excited about 2022 and what it’ll bring. I think there’s going to be an incredible opportunity for us all to reimagine the workplace and really continue to elevate buildings in that ecosystem of what work looks like. And I’m really thrilled again, that you could join us for this episode and help kick off season three. And I wish you all the best in the new year. And I look forward to continuing the conversation going forward.

JL: Good luck, David. It’s been a pleasure joining you.

DA: Likewise, take care now.

DA: I want to thank Jon Love for joining me on today’s episode of TEN and for contributing to the conversation that will show the world that buildings are a part of a robust ecosystem that can help to build great companies. And that they are vital in the effort to support and cultivate great people and teams. The new workplace will likely take many forms. We will continue to explore what that looks like together. Please be sure to follow TEN for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts who all have something to say about tenant experience in the built world. 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 And until our next episode, I wish you continued success in building community where you work and live. Thank you.