Linda Foggie, EVP at Turner & Townsend | Designing human, safe, healthy and sustainable spaces | 28:27

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. We are excited to be sharing with you a series of interviews that we recently completed with guests that appeared on the 2021 Power 100 List of Commercial Real Estate’s Most Powerful Players, published by Commercial Observer. Our next Power 100 guest is Linda Foggie, Executive Vice President at Turner & Townsend, Head of the East USA, and America’s Head of Corporate Occupier. In this episode, we will learn about Linda’s journey to her current role, where she brings together her love of architecture, design and real estate. We will tap into her unique perspective about being in a role that she can do 85% in her sleep while being challenged the other 15% of her time, always wanting to learn and grow. We’ll hear her views on how this work from home experiment has given voice to people. Linda will also talk about her thinking around designing space that is very human, safe and healthy and sustainable. She will also introduce us to the term resimercial. 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. And now, I’d like to welcome Linda to the show. Really glad you could be with us today.

LF: Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

DA: My pleasure. Let’s start with your journey to your current position as Senior Vice President of Turner & Townsend, Head of East USA and America’s Head of Corporate Occupier. How did you get started? Walk me through it. Maybe share a little bit more about your current role.

LF: Sure. Well, now I have a new title ’cause since we spoke two weeks ago, I was promoted.

DA: All right, share the title. What’s the new title?

LF: Executive Vice President.

DA: Oh, I love it. Congratulations.

LF: Yeah, thank you. More work. It’s a little bit above my,

DA: Actually, I hope you’ve a little more money too, but-

LF: I’m very discreet, no comment. So my current role at Turner & Townsend, I believe you’re maybe familiar, but for those who aren’t, a brief description. It’s an international consultancy firm, project management and cost management. So we very much play in the real estate consulting services space, so we act as owner’s reps for real estate clients and other types of clients who need to get real property built in the world. We’re headquartered out of London, but our America’s operations and businesses are headquartered out of New York, which is where I sit, which is where I am today. And so I have a couple of roles in the firm.

DA: I’m here too, right?

LF: It looks like it, good job. I guess that could just be somewhere else. And I have a couple of roles in this firm. And so I initially was brought on to be the head of the New York office. We have a couple of hundred professionals operating in and around the New York market. It’s one of our hub locations, like some other businesses that have what we call a hub-and-spoke model. And so New York is one of our largest markets for our America’s business. So I oversee that market myself, but I also oversee all of our East Coast offices and businesses as well, and then finally, that other long part of the title around corporate occupier, it just means that I look after all of our clients and businesses that are occupiers of real estate, so anyone who’s operating a business, since it’s in real estate space and that’s not their primary function. So like a Bank of America or Wells Fargo, those are considered occupiers and I sort of keep all of us joined up around that type of work. It’s really my background, and what I come from and know how to do best. So as I talk about how I got to this role, I think maybe you asked me that, or you’re going to ask me that. I can tell you a little bit more about that.

DA: No, go ahead. Give me the journey to this current role as well, for sure.

LF: Yeah, sure. So, by trade, I always say I’m a licensed architect and I absolutely love architecture and design and space and real estate. And so I started my career that way, but I spent some time with a big outfit called CBRE, and if you’re in this space you’d know. Project management is sort of my core competency outside of architecture, but eventually, after being there for nine years, it’s a fantastic company, with a lot of clients heavily in the… I served heavily in the financial services sector and technology sector for those types of clients. Wells Fargo was one of my clients, recruited me over, and I had a fantastic five-year journey there. I oversaw a portfolio of about 15 million square feet or so of real estate in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic parts of the USA, but the biggest project that my team and I delivered there was a project called 30 Hudson Yards in New York City, a skyscraper in the skyline. It was just an amazing opportunity to be able to contribute to changing the skyline in that way, and it was a fantastic project. And even though I knew a whole bunch about delivering projects and transactions and development agreements, I still learned so much, so it was fun. And then Turner & Townsend was actually one of my consultants, my cost consultant, and so that’s how we knew each other. And eventually they asked if I would come and join, and so it was a big decision for me to leave a totally different side or part of the building, working in-house in a real estate department is very different than running a business, but I had some experience from CBRE running a business and I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family, so I took the chance. It’s been great. We’re growing this business. We’re going to try to double the size of this business here shortly, and it’s really just a fantastic team of great people. So I’m having fun and there’s really great clients, most of them are my friends ’cause we knew each other from Wells Fargo. So it’s been fantastic.

DA: That’s amazing. That’s a great story. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited for this opportunity? Was there that specifically helped you along the way in terms of skills or mentors, colleagues?

LF: Yeah, that’s a great question actually. And it’s funny because I did feel like when… I don’t make a lot of moves in my career, I’ve been slow to move, I think, but when I do, it’s strategically important and I like to say that I like to move into a role where about 85% of the role, I could do in my sleep all day long, stuff I know how to do, but I do like for there to be about 15% of the role that’s a challenge to me because I still have a number of working years ahead of me and I like to be learning and growing. I mean, in strengths finder, I’m a learner, and so I think I just said that this role was a combination of so many things that I’ve done in my career and it was great because I’ve worked, if you noticed in my story, working on CBRE is what we call the service provider side of the business, serving clients, usually corporate clients, so a B2B type of business. So I’ve run a business that had a P&L and I had that experience, but also I think I’m really adept for the role because I have a deep technical expertise as well. So being an architect, I’ve worked in construction on the GC side, I’ve done project management on the owner side, and so when there are problems in the teams, I actually can roll up my sleeves and figure out how to help solve those, and it gives us a lot of credibility with our clients because it’s real. So I’m not just the management type person. And so those two things contributed. And then thirdly, I would say, I have a deep, deep respect and passion around people, developing people, creating opportunities for people, making impact for people, and from this seat in this role, I also sit on the board here at Turner & Townsend. It just allows me a really unique opportunity to have both a broad and a deep impact on people and their lives and their trajectories and their careers, and that is very satisfactory to me. So I think because of those three things coming all together, I think the role was perfect.

DA: The triple threat, I love it. And you don’t be surprised if you see my resume hit your desk sometime soon, ’cause I think I’d love to work with you. Okay, let’s agree that living through a pandemic has been really horrible. It’s been difficult. It poses a lot of challenges for a lot of people. Now, that being said, we think we’re at a time now where we can no longer use the pandemic as an excuse. So for our team, we feel this is a time to be better, to do better and ultimately build something better. So if you had an extra $100,000 of budget right now, how would you spend it, and why?

LF: If I had an extra $100,000 of budget right now, I probably would spend it on my team. My staff is fantastic. They’re wonderful, they’re smart, they work hard. And so I would probably take them somewhere fun and nice and allow them to do something that they’d just enjoy to get a break because living through the pandemic, it’s difficult because we worked a lot of hours, long hours, there’s uncertainty, and for a lot in my group, I have a decent amount of immigrants in my group, people who come from the UK business, and so they’re here alone, sometimes they don’t have families, and so there was social isolation. So I would just get my folks together and we’d just do something really, really fun. That’s what I would do with the money.

DA: All right. Well, put it back and do something special for your people, I like that. That makes sense. There’s still a lot that we don’t know. I feel pretty confident in saying that the return to the workplace, which has now begun, will continue, obviously, much slower than all of us thought particularly a year ago. I think flexibility is going to continue to be a really important theme that will continue to emerge within commercial real estate, with new concepts in and around flexibility that hit the market. So recognizing that people are going to continue to work from anywhere, including the home, I’m just curious what your thoughts are on the implications for the multifamily and office sectors.

LF: Yeah, so, I’ll take office first as I think my projection for office is that office still has a place, it’s still relevant, place is important for people. And even though I don’t mind, it’s good that this work from home experiment, to me, has given voice to people. And so, people and employees will demand flexibility and maybe it’s good for their life. I also, as a business leader, recognize these leaders in these companies, we still are running a business. We have clients that we need to serve and take care of, and so trying to balance that against what our employees need so that they remain happy is ever present for us, and I think people are working really hard to try and figure that out. And so I think offices will continue to have a place, although work from home is productive and no one would argue that. I think there’s something to be said about the ability to build the culture of your firm and to keep your culture strong and unified. And then I think, the other important piece to me is there’s always this element of mentorship, which sounds like a very formal word, but just the raising up of talent, is how I call it, and businesses still need to be able to do that. And a lot of that happens informally and in-person, and not on Zoom. And so I think the office will continue to have a place. I do think employers will need to just be thoughtful around how we balance all of that. And then in terms of multifamily, I believe that it’s a strong feature for multifamily, I mean, on one hand, and on the other hand, you look at some studies that suggest the exodus away from larger cities and sort of this population flowing over to different cities that were secondary or tertiary in our markets before so that they can have a little bit more space, but I do think that multi-family will continue to have a strong place, especially as Generation Z starts to enter the workforce, I do think that cities like New York will always come back and make a come back. And this is where the action is and the energy and once Broadway is live again, and you think about San Francisco and things will come back and the Generation Z will want to be there. And there’s others. I’m not in Generation Z and I love New York and that I will want to be there too. So I think there’s a strong outlook, I think the office will come back even faster than we think, believe it or not. And so that would be my take on those.

DA: Yeah, no, really good. And I might just add in a little bit of perspective, I think we’re going to see a little bit of home in the office, and a little bit of office in the home. People are still going to want that comfortable kitchen and living room maybe in their office and people at home are going to want to see, instead of just a party room, maybe a meeting room or a video conference room. So I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how the physical space in both environments continues to evolve.

LF: I think you’re right about it, and I would say we were seeing it a little bit before the pandemic and the architects have a cute little word for it called resimercial.

DA: All right, I love that, resimercial.

LF: This is the combining, as you would think, of residential and commercial, and people have desired this. When I was designing my space at 30 Hudson Yards for Wells Fargo, we had such opportunity to do really cool and fun things there, but we do have we built these living room settings, so the meeting rooms, they’re the same size on a floor plan as a conference room with a table, but instead of putting a rectangular table, we put sofas and floor lamps and it would just be a different setting, and so people just want choice and flexibility. So I think you’re spot on.

DA: Yeah, yeah. And just one other little addition, just so we’re in Toronto, but my daughter has already booked a trip to New York in October and has already booked her first Broadway show.

LF: Wow, nice.

DA: So I can tell you that we’re dying to get back to New York as well. Let’s take a short break and then we’ll be right back.

LF: Sure.

Commercial Break

DA: We’re back with Linda Foggie, Executive Vice President at Turner & Townsend. I got it right this time, right?

LF: That’s right.

DA: Okay. So the commercial real estate industry, I believe, is moving faster towards recognizing that their core business is not just about owning buildings, but rather about creating the best customer experience for their tenants or their residents, it’s about creating places for people. So can you share your thoughts on how we will define and deliver amazing tenant experience in 2021 and beyond?

LF: Absolutely. I think, I like to say that, space, real estate, which is a big expense for companies, is behind people, usually the second or third largest expense that they have in a company, and so space is important, but it’s because space costs all this money, it needs to work, it actually has to do his job and attract and draw people in and be highly functional and beautiful and appealing to people all at the same time. And so, I think that there’s a move towards designing space in a way that’s very human. In addition to coming out of this pandemic, I like to remind people too, we came out of not just a health pandemic, but also a social pandemic, a racial reckoning that happened in our country and all of this, believe it or not, changes the way that people think and what they desire and demand from employers and alternately, from space. And so it finds its way, believe it or not, into how we design spaces, and so I’m seeing architects and clients really think about spaces that are highly inclusive for people, and what I mean by that is, you always think of a natural light as a very beautiful thing, people are very attracted to spaces where there’s flooded with natural light, but if you are autistic or on the spectrum, this could be very damning for you to try and work. And so people need choice, so we’re designing spaces to make sure there’s some spaces that aren’t flooded with natural light, so that they can work. And we’re being thoughtful about the patterns on the floor, as if you’re epileptic, they can really bother you. And so just thinking through all those things, designing spaces that are very human, very highly functional, but there to support, so the space is working for the people, ’cause it does, is really what we’re saying people think about. The other big thing, I think, as we go forward is people do have short memories, and some of this will be forgotten, but there is an element of safety that’s so important to people now. And so people want to know, what’s the indoor air quality here? Do you have any monitors to show me? What’s the air exchange rate? These are non-engineers asking these questions when we’re negotiating. And then finally, I’ll add that there’s always that element of sustainability that’s becoming very, very important and always has been, but now with the Paris Agreement in place and net zero announcements coming nearly every day from the CEOs of the big companies, you’ll see people starting to think about that as we design spaces that are sustainable and friendly to the environment, but also healthy spaces will be very important. And so I think that’s how we kind of keep it very human as we move forward into the future of space.

DA: Yeah, I think those are really important themes that will all help to define tenant experience. I think, you kind of, you went along that journey, but then brought it back to the human component, and I guess at the end of the day, they’re all connected. So I think that’s a really interesting lens in which to look at it all, whether it be around environment, whether it be around design, whether it be around health and safety, it’s still all got to be at the center of it all, and we like to say, our people because they are places for people.

LF: Yep.

DA: I think that’s been a major shift. I think that, certainly, COVID has accelerated the way in which I think building operators now view the general building population. In other words, I think they were very focused, about prior and for many, many decades on the key general contact, the decision makers, and I think there’s now a understanding that they need to be thinking about each and every person that enters their building, whether they’re, living or working there or whether they’re a visitor to the building and what their connection is and what their experiences are. And I think the more developers that start to really get that, I think the better for the industry as a whole.

LF: 100%, the decision-making is much more spread out than it used to be. Like you mentioned, there was before, one real estate executive that you needed to convince this was the right move for you, whereas now, there’s this whole collaboration that’s happening with HR and with Legal and you’re doing surveys to see how people are feeling in the space and about spaces and what they like and don’t like. I mean, it’s much more inclusive. I mean, I think that this could be seen as a challenge, but on the other hand, I think this pushes us to be better, to design better spaces that work for more people, and so while it’s hard at first, I think it’s worth it in the end because I think what we’ll end up with are spaces that allow people to be more productive and have choice and flexibility, which is really what we’ve all always wanted at the end of the day.

DA: Yep. I wholeheartedly agree. I think in the short-term, there’s pain and it is hard, but I think long-term, it’s going to spell dividends for the industry as well.

LF: Yep, absolutely.

DA: Well, can you share any details about anything new you’re working on or a challenge you’re facing in light of the current world circumstances, anything you think our listeners might find interesting?

LF: Well, this is probably something that all business leaders are grappling with. There is the great resignation, as they call it in some magazine or articles or what I read in the Wall Street Journal, there’s this churn that’s happening and there’s this war for talent that has existed before, but I think what’s happened is during the year and a half where we were sort of locked down, a little people just stayed put, they were a little afraid to move around a lot, and so all of that demand for movement of talent that would have naturally occurred over the course of a year and a half was sort of frozen, it’s pent up and it’s sort of going to unleash. And so finding a way to keep your people engaged, your talent engaged and connected to your business and to your client is not easy. It’s actually a difficult thing to figure out across the five generations in the workplace, what they each want and need, it’s different, it’s a very individualized approach now, as we talked about before. So that’s one of the things that is a challenge, but also I always look at these things as an opportunity for us to learn and grow and be better as leaders and as a business, they will cause us to, they will demand us to, and so I’m approaching it that way, but it’s taking up a lot of energy and time. And so that’s why I call it sort of a challenge and a thing to be looking out for. In terms of some new things that we are working on, I’ll go two ways with it. One, there’s a really cool new project that we’re working on. There’s a skyscraper coming out of the ground, and it’ll be the next tallest building in New York City, about the size of 30 Hudson Yards. It’s next to Grand Central Terminal and we’re very honored to have a place on that team, and so that’s a really fun and exciting kind of thing. We have a lot of other big stuff that we’re working on too, but that’s a really neat project for us, with a great smart developer in New York City, so that’s exciting. And then in terms of inside of our company, what new things we’re working on, we just launched a new mentorship program in the company and it’s been incredibly well received, surprisingly so. And we always had a mentorship program, right? And usually it’s like most companies, there’s a high potential talent, or this little group of 50 people a year that you send through a mentor program, but in my mind, I’m like, if we need to do something profound and make a fundamental shift in how we’re growing our business and growing talent in our business, we have to develop talent at a faster rate. And also, I don’t like it that it feels elite. And so we launched a program whereby anyone in our company could be a mentor and anyone could have a mentor and you can do both if you want. And it’s controlled by a system that algorithmically matches people, but it’s been so well received because I know I get as much out of mentoring people as I get by being mentored, sometimes even more. And so it’s just been fantastically received. It’s also good to kind of help build culture and maintain culture virtually when we weren’t still back together, but that’s something new that we’re working on in terms of the company and people.

DA: Oh, wow. How did you develop that program? Was it an internal process or did you seek some outside support to sort of help think that through?

LF: It was just me and like one of my directors.

DA: Oh, wow, well, congratulations.

LF: And Aaron, my assistant and we just kind of like… And we do have an outside company platform that we use, and so in all honesty, this is what they do, it’s a company called Everwise, and this is what they do, they offer these mentorship programs and these leadership development programs. And so, they did do a lot of the heavy lifting with developing the system and we kind of just fed into that. So that’s how we got it done, it’s actually not an incredibly expensive thing to do, so it was an easy choice to make the investment in the people and the systems, and so, it’s been really good.

DA: That’s awesome. Very good. I look forward to hearing more about the impact and results from that. So our closing speed round, an opportunity to get to know you a little bit more on a personal level.

LF: Sure.

DA: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

LF: Oh boy, it would be, there’s a character in the “X-Men” called Mystique, and I don’t know if you know, but she could make herself look and sound like anyone else in the world, and that is what I would want to do.

DA: Okay, all right. Sounds good. What city or country would you like to travel to first when you’re able to, and why?

LF: To Bali in Indonesia, because I had a trip booked there last April that was canceled because of COVID and it’s still top in my mind.

DA: Okay, so we’ve gotta get that back in the planning motion.

LF: But if you asked me and it wasn’t about that trip, I really want to go to Antarctica, but I can’t convince my husband because he says it’s too cold, so I have to work on that.

DA: I’m with him on that front. What do you do when you’re not working?

LF: I love to travel, first of all. It’s my most fun thing, but when I’m not traveling, I like to travel to other completely different cultures, nothing like winter in the USA. And, when I’m not doing that, I love to cook actually. I write recipes myself, I cook all kinds of gourmet things and regular stuff too, and I just have so much fun. It’s very therapeutic.

DA: I’m sure, I’m sure. That’s cool. I have enough trouble reading recipes, let alone trying to create them. Let’s not go there. The number one thing you’ve missed about the workplace.

LF: The people, the interaction with others, just those impromptu little conversations where I’ve… I mean, sometimes people call me, they literally used this word, they called me jovial here one time, but it just means I’m kind of funny and fun, and I like to just mix it up and have a joke or two. And when I am starting a meeting on Zoom, I’m very prompt and punctual, and so I don’t like to waste time at the beginning with chatter, and so because of that, I totally missed the social element because I don’t do it on my Zoom calls, I just get right to business.

DA: Right, all business. Well, I think I told you on our first phone call, I said you have an amazing energy, so-

LF: Oh, thank you.

DA: I’m on the same page as your colleagues, I think. Your favorite recent TV or streaming movie or series?

LF: I know which one I have in mind, but the name is escaping me.

DA: It’s escaping you?

LF: It was on Netflix, it was huge about the, not the Berkshires, gosh, the couple. I can’t think of the name of it. There was the guy who, he had to launder the drug money.

DA: Oh, oh I know what you’re talking about. Oh, shoot. Well, we’ll insert that name on the transcript for this broadcast.

LF: Let me see if I can think of anything. Oh, you know which one I enjoy, my mind is going blank today.

DA: I think it’s “Ozark”.

LF: “Ozark”, yes, so you can ask me that question over and edit it out.

DA: So, what’s your favorite TV streaming or movie or series that you’ve been watching?

LF: Definitely “Ozark”, because I was so late to the ballgame, everyone told me how amazing it was, and I was like, oh, I don’t really watch TV that much, I more like read, but I finally jumped on it, ’cause we have every streaming service that there is because I have teenagers and I got on it, and I’ve binged it and I love it. So that was my favorite.

DA: All right, excellent. Listen, Linda, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a great conversation. I really enjoyed spending more time with you and gaining your perspective on the industry. You bring a really unique angle in terms of the industry because of your company and what it does, and I look forward to staying connected and talking more about how we’re going to come out and through COVID and how this industry is going to continue to evolve. So thank you so, so much.

LF: Oh, absolutely. You’re so welcome, David. It was a pleasure talking to you both this time and before, and also, I will just say your questions were excellent. Very thought provoking, so thank you for those.

DA: You’re very welcome. Be well.

LF: You too.

DA: Awesome. Listen, Craig. Thank you so much. I’m really glad you were able to come on the show today, share some of your thinking, your passion for commercial real estate. I’d love to be able to re-connect and continue the conversation. We’re thinking a lot about data and research and helping our clients make better decisions. Using some of the information that we gather through our tenants experience platform. Again, just bringing it to market space_bar would love to talk more about that. And I plan to be in New York very soon and look forward to meeting in person and finding opportunities to do business together. So thank you so much again, and I wish you well.

CL: You as well. Thanks. Thanks so much for having me.

DA: Bye now. I want to thank Linda Foggie for joining me on today’s episode of TEN and for sharing her journey from early beginnings in commercial real estate services and being clients’, side to now leading her team at Turner & Townsend, great learning for all our listeners and an opportunity to gain insights into what it takes to become an innovation leader. Please be sure to follow TEN for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts who all have something to say about the impact of technology on 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 david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live. Thank you.

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