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JLL’s New EMEA Markets CEO On The Future Of Real Estate

Late last year, there was a shakeup in JLL’s global corporate tree. Amongst the changes Guy Grainger, a firm favorite of this column, was announced as JLL’s new Global Head of Sustainability Services & ESG, and Andy Poppink replaced him as EMEA Markets CEO in January 2021.

Having spent most of his career in the Silicon Valley region, following a basketball career that took him around the world, Poppink has always been very attuned to the topic of innovation in real estate. We had a virtual sit down to discuss the prospects for real estate in a post-COVID world, JLL’s strategy, and his vision for proptech.

He started his career as a broker in the Tenant Representation team at the Staubach Company, a Californian real estate brokerage firm. After the Staubach Company was acquired by JLL in 2008, Poppink rose to lead JLL’s western region, overseeing Northern California, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Rocky Mountain regions. He is currently based in Switzerland in his role as EMEA Markets CEO.

Poppink reckons he is uniquely placed to understand the current crisis, as “I started in real estate in Silicon Valley in May 2001 and that’s allowed me to have experience of downturns – this is my third; first the dot com bust in 2001 in the bay area, then the financial crisis and now COVID. For people who haven’t been through it, it can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel – but experience tells us that there always is. What’s interesting about this crisis is that the majority of our workforce has never experienced a work environment with challenges of this magnitude.”

Goals and opportunities

Poppink was brought to EMEA from the US to leverage his experience in specific areas linked to the opportunities to grow and scale JLL’s agency, leasing, and tenant representation practices. He believes there is a real opportunity to support occupiers and tenants in these changing times, which is what he built his career on, having worked will a vast range of occupiers from small start-ups to some of the biggest global brands.

He shared that “ultimately, the thing I’m most passionate about is around team building and leadership. It is a fascinating intellectual and emotional pursuit to have experience across markets and cultures and to work with a diverse group of people to bring them together into a culture to best serve our clients.” The goal is to remain locally relevant while accelerating global growth.

Vision for the future

The ongoing pandemic has accelerated a number of trends and has triggered nearly a total disruption of the way we currently work across the world. The sudden and prolonged increase of working from home is one of the effects of that disruption, and the pandemic has also created an opportunity to re-imagine what daily routines look like.

Poppink believes that JLL is at a unique nexus, in its access to information and in its activities, that will enable it to help people rethink the future – from their daily routines to how neighborhoods and cities will function – as it can bring together stakeholders such as contractors, developers, corporates, investors, institutions, governments, and communities. He thinks that in the near future we can look forward to greater connectivity and more innovative solutions.

The disruption in global activity incentivized the firm to invest in new skill sets worldwide. “Out of our five most recently hired country CEOs, four come from outside of real estate from sectors such as tech, consulting, media, etc. We are building a more diverse talent pool. These CEOs represent the majority of the revenues we have in EMEA; it’s an exciting time to introduce diverse skill sets to a traditional business.” For example, their new Italy CEO, Barbara Cominelli, comes from Microsoft and has a strong tech background which will bring a new lens and perspective to the business locally.

Where will innovation and tech take the real estate industry? 

The disruption we have gone through has accelerated the adoption and integration of tech into our daily lives, and Poppink is excited about the fusion of tech and living space.

In his own words, “I love the pace of Silicon Valley – optimism, opportunity, constant evolution. It is exciting to have access to entrepreneurs and executives who are trying to change the world and the way we live. It brings this spirit of eternal optimism around our ability to have a positive impact and make a difference. I hope I can bring some of that to our teams.”

That being said, building and growing strong technology platforms can be challenging as it takes time, investment, and a lot of testing. According to Poppink, JLL has seen a great willingness from partners and clients to go through that journey, and the company as a whole is committed to continuing to invest in the most innovative tech-led real estate solutions for our clients.

In January, Poppink virtually attended the World Economic Forum, which has historically taken place at Davos in Switzerland. He shared that the key themes discussed really resonated with JLL’s strategy, especially the focus on sustainability as a key driving force. In fact, the company has made significant investments into this driver and plans to achieve global net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. As part of this commitment, the company created a new senior role that Guy Grainger stepped into to give global coordination and focus to its sustainability endeavors. Construction and real estate make up more than a third of global carbon emissions and there is a strong push for the sector to think in terms of a sustainable future, as evidenced by Europe’s Green New Deal which forms the backbone of the region’s COVID recovery plan, and the resurgence of the Paris climate agreement now that the US has rejoined it. It is clear that good global citizenship is also good for business, and this push for sustainability will help JLL work better with its clients to shape their vision for a sustainable future for real estate.

As Poppink puts it, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is growing awareness that concerns that may appear distant are in fact very real, climate change being the biggest one. The built environment represents a large share of global carbon emissions, so the real estate industry truly has the ability to help create a better and more sustainable world if it innovates.

The effects of Covid-19

We cannot speak about the future, yet, without talking about Covid-19, as it has been a total shock to the system for us all, both personally and professionally. According to Poppink, the pandemic is a community-based challenge for which we need community-based solutions.  

He shared that “the speed of the lockdowns and system shutdowns that started a year ago was frightening for all of us. Having a strong corporate culture proved to be a key resilience factor [for JLL]. We have led with care for our people first and foremost, and that brought us closer together.”

As a response to the pandemic, Poppink noticed that companies are starting to think about how they are going to recreate workspace. Hybrid models will be key to enabling flexibility and boost performance. At the end of 2020, JLL did an in-depth study of workplace tendencies. The survey showed that while work will change, it doesn’t diminish the need for offices. Nearly three-quarters of respondents still want to be able to come into an office, while 70 percent consider the office as the best place for team building and connecting with management.

2021 is a year of new beginnings for JLL, as the company seeks to best position itself for the change that is underway. It will be interesting to see how its attention to technology and sustainability continues to evolve, and how the EMEA business grows under Poppink’s stewardship.

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