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Person of the Year….. December 26, 2010

Posted by Bob Cook in Profession of Corporate Real Estate.
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This is the time of year when “Persons of the Year” get announced.  Time has anointed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Fortune crowned Netflix’s Reed Hastings.   They both are sound choices, both have changed the world.

I’m wondering this:  Might the “Person of the Year” ever be someone involved in corporate real estate? Might a corporate real estate professional ever change the world enough to be worthy?

This is not as crazy a question as you might think.  Thirty years ago, “Time’s Person of the Year” titles didn’t go to CEO’s; they went to politicians, artists, musicians, scientists.  (See note below.)  The idea that a CEO’s like Zuckerberg and Hastings (and Turner, Grove and Bezos before them) would be “Person of the Year” would have been thought, by many, to be ludicrous; CEO’s were still thought to be “robber barons”.  So it’s hard to tell what types of people will be capturing the awards in the future.  Why not a corporate real estate professional?

So, for those mid-career corporate real estate professionals who aspire to become a “Person of the Year”, let me offer three visionary roles that might spear the title.

Work-From-Home Revolutionary.   By most measures, employees love being able to work from home. Work-life balance and a sense of greater productivity are cited as the benefits and a revolution has already begun.  Work-from-homers are, though, still a minority of workers.  Might a leader come along who can push the revolution to what-some-think-is its logical conclusion: where the majority work-from-home?  What kind of leader might this be?  Perhaps it could be a corporate real estate exec of a major company (or his CEO boss) who willfully shuts all offices and gets his company to send everyone home to work.   Or better yet, someone who does this for the federal government (and in so doing balances the federal budget by selling off all the buildings that suddenly become unnecessary).  Or maybe it will be an entrepreneur who comes along and establishes a chain of drop-in offices that allow workers from any company to rent space and technology by the hour in office centers that become as ubiquitous as Starbucks.   Some have called the concept “Cloud Officing”.  Or maybe someone who takes Starbucks … which already offers a small form of this… but expands and augments the Starbuck’s mission to create the drop-in centers that truly transform how and where and the majority of people work.   Would not such a person be worthy of being anointed “Person of the Year”?  Isn’t how people go about working at least as important as how they watch movies?

Planet Saver

Or, how about someone who discovers some incredibly simple, inexpensive way to reduce the fossil-fuel consumption of buildings.  What might that innovation look like?   It’s probably not something like use of solar energy which is a technology that is sure to continue to advance but not in any revolutionary way; radical change is needed to be crowned “Person of the Year”.  So, think more radically.  Imagine a garage-tinkering facilities manager who finds a simple way to make electricity from the kinetic energy of workers walking around the office.   That’d, for sure, capture the title.   Get tinkering.

Civic Builder

And I have one last suggestion … maybe not quite so “out there” … that could capture the “Person of the Year” title.  Imagine a corporate real estate exec at a fast-growing company that suddenly needs large amounts of office space in major cities … somewhat similar to the situation tech companies like Cisco, HP and Oracle found themselves in at the height of the dot-com boom.  Now think about how a confident corporate real estate executive could use this building program to change the face of the cities where he’s building by constructing buildings with important public spaces, buildings that positively impact the civic life of the city.  It has been several decades since we saw companies building such “people places” as New York’s Citicorp Plaza,  Chicago’s First National Bank Plaza (now, JP Morgan Chase Plaza), and San Francisco’s Crocker Center.  Those tower-and-plaza forms might not be what would make sense today, but I’m sure that there’s some way to make a positive civic impact.

Target: 2020

Achieving great things in corporate real estate takes time, though, so set your sight on getting the “Person of the Year” award, not next year, but maybe a decade from now.  The year 2020 is a good round-number target.   Who out there is up to the challenge?

A Note on Time’s Person of the Year

The first Time “Man of the Year” (as it was originally called) was Charles Lindberg in 1927, and then the next two years the title went to business persons: Walter Chrysler of Chrysler in 1928 and Owen Young of RCA  in 1929.  Then, though, between 1930 and 1990, not a single business person received the title … a sixty-year drought.  Since then, the title has gone to Ted Turner of Turner Broadcasting (1991), Andy Grove of Intel (1997), Jeffrey Bezos of Amazon (1999) and now Mark Zuckerberg (2010).  Of eighty-one titles, only six have gone to business persons, although there have been four business persons named in the last two decades.

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1. Tweets that mention Person of the Year….. « Corporate Real Estate Strategy -- Topsy.com - December 30, 2010

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