Friday in the Field: Standing Apart in the Crowd

Rachna Desai
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Marketing Manager Courtney Grill to discuss my role at Faithful+Gould and our expanding work in the Corporate Real Estate (CRE) sector.

Having recently completed Faithful+Gould's IMPACT Leadership Development Program, I was excited to discuss collaboration in my sector and beyond.

Courtney Grill: How did you get into project management? Is that what you studied in school?

Well, I actually studied to be an architect by trade. After I graduated from college, I entered a master’s program in facility management at Pratt Institute, in New York. While there, I was able to study various subjects, project management and real estate management among them, and the experience helped give my career a focus. After a few classes, I came to the conclusion that working as a project manager (PM) would allow me to work in a leadership role, while also being able to contribute to the kind of design implementation I was already passionate about from my time as an architect. So it was the best of both worlds.

CG: So you’ve had a pretty clear career track in mind.

On some level, yes. What really drew me to this kind of work is my belief in holistic thinking. I think it is important to not only focus on your part of a job, but to consider other team members and elements and the impact they will have on the big picture. I believe I am the type of person who can lead by example. I like to inspire and collaborate, I like to have roadmaps and discuss ideas with my team around me and get them excited so we can all put our best foot forward. This is the core of project management, especially on a large scale because you are dealing with a lot of people on both teams. Don’t just think of your singular role on a project, consider the big picture and think holistically.

CG: How long have you been working in the industry?

For about 13 years. I joined Faithful+Gould as a senior project manager, a little more than a year ago. Time flies!

CG: You’ve worked with some larger project management firms and consultancies in the past, how have you found Faithful+Gould to be different? Do we align with your holistic way of thinking?

The key difference with Faithful+Gould is we are an independent body that provides technical advice as an advisory team. In my past experience with other organizations, they are a blend of brokerage, as well as project management. While you will have arguments on the benefits of both of these approaches, I find that being independent of a broker, representing the client first and foremost, and keeping technical expertise at the forefront of our offering, makes us stand apart.

I think CRE overall is focused on moving to workspaces that improve efficiency and cut costs, without sacrificing quality and design standards.

I think this approach aligns with my work philosophy because we are able to independently critique every element of a project and see the big picture without being influenced. Clients can come to us and know that we are not answering to anyone but them, and they will be getting our unabridged expertise.

CG: What are you working on right now?

Right now, the bulk of my energy is focused on our work with Bloomberg LP, which is one of our key clients in New York City, particularly in the CRE Sector. I am also working in my limited downtime to standardize certain Faithful+Gould tools and templates for project management, within the CRE sector, basically working to create a streamlined system.

I’ve found that as a firm we have significant experience in CRE, but are still working to grow and expand our presence, working to solidify it as one of our core five sectors. I have been working closely with CRE Sector Lead Saeid Garebaglow, and the rest of our CRE team including, Senior Project Manager Carolyn Jinks and Program Director Glenn Grube to leverage our current client relationships to grow in that sector.

CG: Have you worked in CRE before?

I have, really throughout my whole career in one way or another. I started out in residential development, as part of an internship while I was pursuing my master’s and sort of kept being attracted to projects in the sector after graduating, first at Jones Lang LaSalle and then at CBRE. I was able to work with major players in the industry, including Morgan Stanley and the Lehman Brothers and really gain a solid understanding about what these kinds of clients require in their project planning.

CG: What can you tell me about the CRE sector right now, are there any trends you’ve noticed of late?

I think CRE overall is focused on moving to workspaces that improve efficiency and cut costs, without sacrificing quality and design standards. As a result, agile working environments are becoming very common in the newer offices we’ve seen being built. You have different outsourced offices like WeWork and Regis, with many clients are taking advantage and using these outsourced facilities to set up without the hassle that comes with setting up a big shop. We’ve seen how we can save money for the client, without cutting down on productivity or man-power. That is the general direction of the industry right now.

CG: What’s driving that?

In addition to the obvious cost savings and practicality, I think what’s really driving this is a shift in work culture. This has been spurred by repeated success with this business model. Overall, people are tending to believe that working in silos is not beneficial for productivity anymore. Why close yourself off when you can have your teams collaborating around the table together? You can save yourself a lot of time by being able to literally turn to someone on a different team and discuss plans, rather than emailing and knocking on doors.

CG: Would you say that the bulk of your work is open concept now?

Well, it varies. Right now certain clients are doing a kind of blend, where they have certain inherited standards that they want to maintain, while still taking on the innovation of modernized workplaces. For example, Bloomberg has maintained standard offices for its executives. With this more traditional approach the company has incorporated large open common areas, adapting to a more cooperative environment.

It’s our job to help clients find their comfort zone so that they can keep their core values and still embrace what’s relevant in the changing work environment...

Then, you have clients like WeWork, who I mentioned as a co-working facility itself, who are obviously more comfortable going full-scale into this action. It really depends on the client you are working with. It’s our job to help clients find their comfort zone so that they can keep their core values and still embrace what’s relevant in the changing work environment, namely, that these newer open concept spaces are more collaborative than boxed offices.

CG: Since you mentioned collaboration, I understand you were selected for our Faithful+Gould IMPACT program, which was instituted to recognize upcoming leaders, connecting them with others across the business, promoting collaboration and gearing them toward future leadership roles. I know there was some stiff competition so, first of all congratulations!

Thank you! It was a really remarkable experience and I was so happy to participate. This is the first program of its kind that I have seen where there is a strong attempt to get middle management together across the nation and cross collaborate across various sectors.

I also think it is a great start to where we want to head with inspiring leadership in our employees. It really put middle management employees in a position to not only collaborate with one another, but to plan their careers with Faithful+Gould, knowing that the company is investing in you and your skills. Putting a level of trust in you really gives you something to strive toward. It’s the company investing in you as an individual. We’ve already started talking about business we can do across the sectors, which is a huge part of our CRE strategy.

CG: CRE as a sector is interesting because projects or clients can exist outside of their main industry. All of our Faithful+Gould core sectors, Energy, Manufacturing, Aviation and Pharmaceuticals, have corporate space to attend to, in addition to their factories, plants and airports.

That is very true. The industry is expanding because larger clients inevitably have CRE concerns to attend to and there is therefore great potential for growth. That’s part of why we have made CRE a cornerstone focus of our business.

CG: Have you seen collaboration globally between your team and other Faithful+Gould sector teams?

Absolutely, it’s crucial to our work, both globally and throughout the Americas in order to gain new clients and grow our CRE sector. Globally, we are working to capitalize on the extensive experience and expertise in CRE that we have developed over the years. Recently, Kevin Chrisp was appointed as Worldwide Head of Corporate Real Estate to further streamline our efforts and facilitate cross-sector collaboration worldwide.

The industry is expanding because larger clients inevitably have CRE concerns to attend to and there is therefore great potential for growth.

In the Americas, the focus of CRE is primarily in New York. But, as part of a collaborative organization with valued customer relationships in different sectors across the country, we are still able to contribute to those sectors. In Manufacturing, for example, we recently were able to assist on a proposal for a major Food and Agribusiness client in Saint Paul, helping to guide our local team through what the client would need on the CRE side of its work and align the strategy accordingly. That’s a great example of how we cross collaborate at Faithful+Gould. We have experience across all these different sectors that we can use to better our service offering overall.

CG: That is great, a win for both sectors.

And, most importantly, the client. Cross collaboration is something that Faithful+Gould is working to streamline and improve on as a business. We have seen great success in this so far and are aiming to create the most robust approach possible so we can continue on this track.

CG: What motivates you, working on CRE sector going forward?

I am motivated by the idea of building. Not just in the literal sense but putting together the teams and service offerings for our clients that will help them to succeed. As a result, I am very pleased to be working in a sector that I see is on the rise.