Mollie Eisler | VP | Technology and Innovation | Almanac Realty Investors | The intersection of people, technology and place

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network.  I’m your host, David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Mollie Eisler, vice president technology and innovation at Almanac Realty Investors. In this episode, we learn how Mollie began her career journey with an educational foundation in hospitality, which allowed her to delve deeper into her interest in the intersection of people, technology, and place. Early days of working at IBM with big data, analytics, cloud computing, and AI exposed Mollie to the many ways that technology can help people do their jobs better. The experience served her well when she made the leap to real estate, overseeing investment in PropTech companies as a VP of ventures, before landing her current role at Almanac as VP of tech and innovation. Mollie sees two themes emerging that will define the future of commercial real estate. The first is data management, which she views as the most valuable resource. And the second is the creation of unique and memorable in-person experiences that can be shared with others. Mollie is seeing more building operators collaborating with their customers and creating more opportunities to engage with them to gather feedback that will ultimately inform future decisions. I appreciated hearing the example of Neuberger Berman’s use of art tours to connect people to their buildings and help foster community. In Mollie’s view, tenant engagement and communication platforms are on the rise because they’re helping to meet the needs of hybrid work and improve digital connectivity. It was great to have Mollie on the program and I look forward to the opportunity for future collaboration. 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 Mollie to this show, I’m really glad you could be with us today.

ME: Thanks, David, for having me, it’s great to be here.

DA: I’m looking forward to our conversation. So let’s start with your journey to your current role position. How did you get started in the business?

ME: Absolutely, so I’ve had kind of a winding journey, but everything makes sense when you put all the pieces together. We can start with my educational foundation, which is in hospitality, where I studied at Cornell University. I’ve always been really interested in kind of the intersection of people, technology, and place. So I first got my start at IBM where I was an internal consultant to the business and understood how some of the rising technologies at the time, such as big data and analytics, cloud computing, AI, and more could really help people do their jobs better. So that kind of helped illuminate the tech piece for me. I then was interested in bringing that into real estate where I joined WAM Equity Partners and I was their vice president of ventures and oversaw the venture department. So they’re fourth generation owner, manager, developer based in New York City with assets across the city. And the owner is also an angel investor, so we evaluated early stage companies, particularly in the PropTech space, to invest in for his portfolio, and then we would implement those tech within the portfolio. So that’s how I kind of got my launching pad into the PropTech space, taking what I learned from hospitality and from tech at IBM and infusing that with real estate. After that, I’m in my current position now here at Almanac where I started in September of last year. I am our vice president of tech and innovation. I work both internally with the Almanac teams and then also with our portfolio of real estate partners across the country. They are in all different sectors and we invest in the entity level, so we’re working directly with these companies to help transform operations, and I provide a value add internal consultancy guidance to them about PropTech to implement and how they can evaluate various tech for implementation within their portfolios.

DA: Amazing, sounds like a dream job, I think you’ve got your hands full.

ME: Yes, it’s been great so far.

DA: Amazing, so why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this position? What has helped you to become successful?

ME: Sure, so I think really just tangible experience, in all the roles I’ve joined, I have just kind of jumped in head first and took the time to get real actual experience that has really helped serve as a foundation. So I would say it’s that tangible experience and then also, it’s the relationship management along the way, so being able to foster strong relationships with industry professionals, with mentors, and with others has really helped move the needle, I think collaboration is key here in this industry and building up, you know, a Rolodex of contacts and people that you can reach out to has certainly been successful. So I’d say it’s a combination of those two.

DA: Yeah, amazing. You know, going back to your earlier comment, I love your point about people, hospitality, and technology, and I think that’s going to be a theme that I think will, I suspect will be woven throughout our conversation ’cause that’s truly what, you know, we’re all about, what I think the world is all about, and I think your perspective and your experience is going to be really valuable to our listeners.

ME: Wonderful.

DA: You know, I think you can agree with me that, you know, commercial real estate has just gone through one of the most turbulent periods of time ever, certainly that you and I can remember. It remains the largest asset class in the world. However, you know, it is still continuing to rebound from a period of historically low levels of occupancy. It’s trying to meet the emerging needs of people as it moves forward, but it’s also faced with the disruption of technology and the impact that’s having on how it delivers space and service. Very exciting times, I’m sure, for both you and I. Our team at HILO really believes that buildings are now part of a much larger workplace ecosystem and, you know, not, well, the physical workspace is probably core. It only is part of, you know, where people will choose to work, and we’ve got to be able to connect with them and deliver service no matter where they are, their dining room table, their, a co-working space, a local cafe. So I’m just curious, what are your thoughts, what are you seeing right now across your portfolio in terms of how the industry is responding to these emerging needs of our customers?

ME: Great question, so, you know, I definitely agree with you, there’s a huge shift that’s going on, I know people in the industry are calling this a hinge period. And I really believe that the future of, you know, commercial real estate is PropTech. So some things that I’m seeing, I would say, you know, focusing on two areas, one is data management. So data is now the world’s most valuable resource and can certainly be a competitive advantage, so that’s something that I’m working on with our portfolio as a data strategy and management solution so that we can use this data to be able to empower decision making and also involve, you know, the people in the process, getting feedback, opening this kind of feedback loop, so getting data from disparate sources, connecting them, and then figuring out how we can use that data. And then I’d say the other point is really about this sense of experience and creating in-person experiences. You know, from my background in hospitality, we learned about, you know, surprising and delighting customers by providing these unique and memorable experiences, and I think that those experiences have to be shared with others and that is something that can happen in the office, in person, in a physical place, but then also making sure that you have a data back strategy to get you the right people in the room and get the right content and get the right experience together is really, you know, how we move the needle.

DA: Makes total sense. What are your thoughts on how building owners and operators could be or should be collaborating more closely with the occupier, their tenant, in terms of, you know, helping to solve for today’s challenges and then, you know, really focused on helping to attract and retain the best talent? You know, if we believe that buildings can bring people together and there’s benefit and value to help building great companies, what’s the intersection between the building operator’s role and the occupant’s role, is there an opportunity for more collaboration?

ME: Absolutely, I think there is certainly an opportunity for more collaboration, we are just kind of starting to see an open communication channel between the operator and the tenants themselves, often, it was just, you know, pay for your lease and you have the space and, you know, there’s not really any kind of communication there, but I think that the relationship can be much closer. I think that, by creating this sense of place and involving tenants in decision making, whether it’s, you know, involving them in a pilot and creating this ongoing feedback loop, having internal champions at different levels of the organization provide feedback on attack or a pilot and then really embracing that feedback loop ensures that the tenants feel heard and seen and feel like they are also contributing to their experience, so I think this is just starting to open up, this communication channel, and it’s something that can certainly be further explored to be able to attract and retain top talent.

DA: Yep, you know, in the hotel industry, every time a client checks out, they’re normally asked, how was your stay? And that could be as, you know, as short as one night or several nights. But, you know, in commercial real estate, we’ve not necessarily been trained historically to ask our tenants, you know, how was your day today in the building?

ME: Yeah, yeah.

DA: You know, those conversations often and historically took place every five years or 10 years at least for anyone, and I think that’s changing now, and I think that’s what’s really exciting.

ME: Definitely exciting and really goes back to my point about capturing data, so making sure that you do have this feedback, that you have it documented, you have it on a regular cadence, and then you can use that, you know, to inform your decision making moving forward.

DA: Right, so definitely need, you know there’s a requirement for far more engagement, you know, at the earliest stage. I just recorded an episode with Michael Przytula from Accenture and we talked about, you know, the need for building operators to actually engage their tenants not, you know, after it’s built and delivered, but actually even in the development and design phase, that there’s an opportunity for more collaboration and more input to help ultimately deliver a better end product.

ME: Absolutely.

DA: Cool. You know, I think a lot about buildings. We’ve always thought that buildings were not just silos, not just sort of four walls and separate, but they were very much a part of neighborhoods and cities, and so we believe there’s an opportunity for building operators to really think, you know, beyond their four walls. Just curious what your thoughts are around the notion of workplaces playing a role in creating larger and more connected communities.

ME: Absolutely, so I do think that workplaces have a huge opportunity here, especially with, you know, the rise of remote working from the pandemic and this new hybrid model. I think there’s a lot that we can do in terms of workplace engagement and getting people back into the office and collaborating, but then also being able to be flexible and meet people where they are, so if not everybody can be in the office, how can we create this connected and shared experience? Here at our offices, we’re part of Neuberger Berman, and there are several, I would say, in-person and online engagement opportunities that they provide, so for example, the founder of Neuberger Berman originally started as an artist, and art is very important to our organization, you’ll see art on the walls on every floor, so they do monthly art tours where you can actually go through the building and learn about the history of the art. So I think something like that that connects people to the story and to the history, but then also to the physical space so you can tour the building and see where the art is, things like that are, you know, super unique experiences that people will want to come into the office and enjoy. Also, you know, things around shared holidays or meetups, affinity groups or on different hot topics are great opportunities where you can bring people together in a meeting room and then also have a hybrid model and allow people to zoom in. So having these kind of adjacent conversations that, you know, compliment the history or the story of the company and help to shape the future I think can really engage people. It’s just all about figuring out how the companies can create access to everybody, whether that’s digitally or in person.

DA: Yeah, it’s certainly, you know, we have to recognize that it’s not going to be a straight line in terms of creating that connection, and now we do have to recognize that we will often be living in two worlds, and how do you bridge the two? So, and I think that’s going to be a bit of a work in progress. I know for us, we hosted our first workplace engagement workshop with one of our client partners and we tried to bridge that chasm between in-person and those across the country on Zoom, and it had a few hiccups. But it’s something that obviously now we’re going to be continuing to work on and I think we’ll just do better and better. Let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back.

ME: Great.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

DA: And now I’d like to welcome back to the show Mollie Eisler, vice president technology and innovation at Almanac Realty Investors. Once again, I’m so glad you could be with us today.

ME: Thanks, David, glad to be here.

DA: Yes. As I mentioned earlier and we’ve talked about, you know, technologies playing a significant role in shaping how building operators deliver great customer experience to their tenants, and workplace engagement now is uppermost in everyone’s mind, and I think it presents many opportunities to do things differently. So focusing on meeting those evolving needs of people and buildings, I’m just curious what other technologies you are seeing gaining traction in helping to contribute to a better experience.

ME: Absolutely, so I mean, you know, to your point at what you’re building at HILO, certainly tenant engagement and communication platforms are on the rise, it’s, you know, something that is a huge need for this hybrid model of working, so, you know, off the bat, I would say there. I would also say, you know, being able to be digitally connected and have the best digital experience with your WiFi is a huge need, so companies like WiredScore who are evaluating and providing certifications on digital connectivity of buildings based on the building infrastructure so tenants and employees can know that their building is the best connected, I think that’s something that’s huge and in huge demand, as especially people are traveling and working remotely on the go, is just this idea of digital connectivity and being able to plug in from wherever you are. Also, I think smart tech around ESG, so companies like Enertiv are doing some really cool things with putting sensors and being able to capture occupancy data, so understanding, you know, who’s in the building and when, being able to turn on heat or turn off air to have cost savings, but also to provide the most comfortable experience for the tenant, so I remember, you know, back in other offices being, you know, absolutely freezing and calling to get them to change the heat or being absolutely too hot and having them turn on the air, so now having these sensors being able to automatically detect in real time what the temperature should be to provide a pleasant experience for the people who are there and also provide cost savings I think is really cool.

DA: Yep, makes a lot of sense, and certainly, we’re seeing a lot of that as well. And then I think there’s the opportunity is that, how do we connect, you know, tenant experience to sensors, to, you know, some of the other, you know, energy consumption and management. And I think that’s, you know, what we’re excited about as we continue to move forward is that, you know, the needle of what we need to be able to do continuously is moving forward. It’s not, you know, build it and we’re done, it is certainly an evolving process and every day, every month, every year, it seems to bring up new opportunities, new challenges, so it’s an exciting opportunity for both of us.

ME: Definitely.

DA: Our closing speed round is an opportunity to get to know you, Mollie, a little bit better.

ME: Okay.

DA: So I’m just curious, what do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

ME: I really enjoy live music, so I am a bit of a concert junkie, I love going to shows, I love the experience of, you know, being in person with others and sharing this really unique experience of hearing music live and seeing talents, you know, right before your eyes and being able to have this shared experience together, so love going to see live music.

DA: I’m with you on that. What is your favorite drink of choice? Hot, cold, alcoholic?

ME: Yeah, yeah. This might be a bit of a boring answer, but I would say I think water is the nectar of the gods, I love water. Just a nice ice cold refreshing New York City tap water.

DA: Not even filtered, right out of the tap. You’re a true New Yorker. What’s your favorite movie or current TV series that you’re watching?

ME: So I just finished watching White Lotus. Really great show, season two was pretty fun and entertaining, so I hope they renew that.

DA: Okay. Name one way in which technology has improved how you live or work.

ME: There’s so many ways. One, I’ll say one example is a smart light bulb. So I have these equipped in my apartment and I’m able to adjust using my phone the, you know, how bright they are, how warm they are. So when there’s different parts of the day and I’m working remotely, I can adjust the light so that everything looks good on camera. And then also at night, there are cool programs where I can have kind of color changing, fading colors and things like that, to create a unique ambiance and experience. So I would say the smart light bulbs and being able to control them from an app on my phone has definitely improved my environment when I’m at home, whether I’m working or relaxing.

DA: Yeah, very cool, smart home technology is really evolving. What is your personal choice for days spent in person with your colleagues and team versus working from anywhere?

ME: Sure, so, you know, if it’s possible, I would choose both. I think, you know, the future is a hybrid model. I’m a very social person, you know, grounded in hospitality, so I do love coming into the office and just, you know, seeing people, being able to have impromptu meetings and lunch and just, you know, hop over to someone’s desk and ask a question. But then I also do love travel and I love the flexibility of, you know, being able to work remotely one or two days a week and kind of tack on a long weekend and adjust travel schedules and be able to spend one more day in the place that I’ve traveled through remote work, so I would choose both.

DA: Yeah, I’m with you, I think we have the best of both worlds. And I think that-

ME: 100%.

DA: Yeah, and I think that rather than mandating, you know, one or the other, I think, you know, the key word is flexibility and allow people to work with their teams and work with their companies in a way that makes sense, and I think that’s an exciting outcome of what we’ve all lived through over the last number of years, and I hope the world continues to embrace that and becomes less polarizing and more accepting.

ME: Yeah, me as well.

DA: Yeah, Mollie, thanks so much for coming on the program today, and I enjoyed the conversation, I’m looking forward to-

ME: Likewise.

DA: Continued discussion around technology, around people, and around hospitality, and I think commercial real estate just creates an amazing little ecosystem to sort of deploy thinking around all three of those subjects. So congratulations on your success, and I look forward to continued conversation.

ME: Thank you, I do as well, and thanks so much again for having me, it was a pleasure, and looking forward to continuing the conversation.

DA: Excellent, take care now.

ME: Okay, thanks, David, bye-bye.

DA: Bye.

DA: I want to thank Mollie Eisler for joining me on this episode of TEN and for contributing to the global conversation around buildings being part of a robust ecosystem, helping to build great companies, and that they are vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teams. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms, and we’ll 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.