With the world in a state of flux, and the dynamic property landscape no exception, businesses must evolve in order to survive. It’s a moment of truth that commercial real estate services firm CBRE has fearlessly recognised, taking decisive action to ensure its transformation is spearheading change across the industry.
In September 2021, CBRE Group, Inc revealed its new brand positioning which included a new vision, ‘Realising Potential in Every Dimension’. The brand refresh underscored the company’s continued evolution into a provider of highly diversified, integrated services that meet the full range of investor and occupier requirements at all stages of the real estate life cycle.
“The company set out a vision a few years back to become a world-class organisation,” Advisory Services CEO for Australia and New Zealand Phil Rowland tells The CEO Magazine. “By that, we mean not just a leader in the industry in which we’re operating, the property industry, but routinely compared with best-in-class firms across all industries.”
CBRE saw that by operating on a truly global scale with fully integrated services, organisations will be able to better serve clients in the future. “But we’ve also recognised that over time, the world’s changing, the expectations that we have from our people and from our clients are changing,” Phil continues. “The rebranding is a way for us to position how we think about our growth in the future and recognise that our business has changed quite significantly in the past few years.”
Globally, the company now comprises over 105,000 people operating in more than 100 countries, which delivers a number of benefits. “It brings an incredible amount of diversity which helps us to position ourselves better in the minds of our people, our clients and our communities,” he reflects.
However, it also makes it even more important for CBRE to evolve. “Our brand really does need to reflect the transition that we’ve been through,” Phil stresses. “And so the new positioning really seeks to reaffirm our elevated role in the industry and, of course, the benefits that scale and that diversity can bring to our people and clients.”
Rebranding is really about changing the mindsets, the behaviours and the processes of our people. It’s not just about colours and fonts and what you see visually.
While an exciting shift in direction, the brand repositioning also represents a significant challenge. “Rebranding is really about changing the mindsets, the behaviours and the processes of our people,” Phil says. “It’s not just about colours and fonts and what you see visually. It’s also about how we reinforce what we stand for and everything that we do that portrays our brand.
“Getting 2,500 people in Australia to think differently about what they do that reinforces and reflects our brand is a big change management exercise.”
A big part of the brand’s mission is to build better female representation in the property sector, and within CBRE in particular. “I am proud and really energised to be involved in the Property Champions of Change, which is part of the overall Champions of Change coalition in Australia,” Phil shares. The Group works to engage leaders to help achieve gender equality as well as a “significant and sustainable increase” in the representation of women in leadership.
It’s a change that is critically needed in the property sector, he admits, particularly around providing pathways for women in leadership and property. “For us, being part of the Property Champions of Change is being able to leverage that work and take it into our organisation so that we are creating the right kind of environment for women to be able to thrive,” he says. “And that environment is one that is respectful, it’s inclusive, and it’s providing clear pathways for women to be able to choose really meaningful careers in property.”
It is about how not to be a bystander and just enabling us all to take responsibility for creating a respectful culture.
CBRE is working on a range of projects in this area alongside the Property Champions of Change such as recruitment practices to draw a greater number of women into the organisation, as well as an appropriate workplace behaviour program which aims to stamp out everyday sexism within the workplace by offering practical advice on how to identify it and respond to it. “It is about how not to be a bystander and just enabling us all to take responsibility for creating a respectful culture,” Phil explains.
The company has also devised a “leadership shadow” for its top leaders. “That is about assessing and getting feedback for how you convey yourself in the context of gender equality – what you say, what you do, what you prioritise,” he reveals. “Taking our leaders through that program has made us better leaders.”
Then there is the Pitch Pledge, a new Champions of Change initiative which aims to create an industry standard. It will see at least one woman involved in part of the pitch and receiving teams on both sides.
“It’s particularly targeted at the really tough spots in the property sector, which is capital markets and leasing,” Phil says. “And so that’s a collective effort by the industry to ensure that as we work together, we have diverse teams that are representing each other.”
As a major player on the world stage, CBRE’s scale and diversity mean it has access to a wealth of data. Phil understands the importance of harnessing this in order to offer meaningful insights to its clients – a realisation that led to the company making an equity investment in Sydney-based proptech startup Pathzz.
By using artificial intelligence and big data processing, Pathzz analyses mobility signals along with other descriptive data sets to better understand the decision-making process in property transactions.
“We’re always on the lookout for ways to better harness the insights that we have. Pathzz is a really smart proptech startup, which basically uses mobility signals that enable us to understand consumer behaviours and patterns, primarily, as they move through precincts,” Phil explains.
In February, CBRE Group reported a record result for the 2021 financial year, setting new annual and quarterly milestones with revenue, net revenue, earnings and free cash flow reaching all-time highs.
Statutory net income rose 144 per cent to more than US$1.84 billion (A$2.62 billion) last year. Revenue in the Australia and New Zealand markets in the fourth quarter alone jumped 43 per cent year on year as the rebound got underway.
“It’s obviously been incredibly tough for just about every organisation, and we’re not too different,” Phil says. “But we were able to achieve some exceptional results in 2021 as the markets and the economies recovered from the depths of the pandemic.”
He attributes much of the success to CBRE’s emphasis on diversification, which has seen the business look at asset types, lines of business, clients and geographies. “We’ve just got really good exposure across just about all sectors of property,” he shares.
The performance bodes well for the future. On the back of this strong result, CBRE now expects average annual growth in the low double digits for the period from 2021–25.