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5Q PropTech Interview – Christina Reti Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry

September 10, 2019

1. Could you describe briefly who you are and where you set yourself in the PropTech Industry?

I’m a Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry leading Real Estate and Hospitality across EMEA and have been active in this space for over a decade. We work with investors and operators across all geographies and asset classes, including sovereign wealth funds, private equity firms, publically listed companies, operating partners and brands.

We are constantly faced with the challenge of finding talent that brings innovative and creative new approaches to add value to companies in these sectors. Digitalisation and technology have only compounded this. The ‘real estate investor’, ‘asset manager’ or ‘hotel operator’ of today, let alone tomorrow, is vastly different from the talent we were recruiting 5 or 10 years ago.

Today, capturing data and using it efficiently and effectively, as well as interfacing with a property’s end-user is key to increasing value at the asset and portfolio level.

We are at the heart of developing the PropTech ecosystem, providing start-ups with the talent they require from real estate and hospitality sectors. We help them to ensure that the technology they are developing and deploying continues to transform the real estate economy.      

2. How can the hospitality industry make the most of the PropTech revolution?

As our team at Korn Ferry has such a strong track record of working closely with a variety of investors as well as larger traditional operators and more disruptive groups in hospitality, we have a unique perspective on this specific sector.

Hospitality, as a B2C business model, has a clear advantage over other asset classes -which have traditionally been one step removed from the end-user – in its ability to both collect and deploy data. As hotel guests continue to demand greater personalisation and more experience-led tourism/travel, hospitality and lodging providers have had to be agile and adapt their business models accordingly.

Hospitality businesses are increasingly early adopters of new technologies. They seek out partnerships with tech start-ups to create product and services that fulfil their specific needs, rather than waiting for the “right” product or service to come out from the market.

Technology not only allows these businesses to better connect with their guests throughout the entire customer journey. It also crafts unique experiences for guest interaction that can differentiate them from their competitors.

Regardless of the asset class, technology can improve data collection from the customer, which in turn can enhance a group’s ability to meet customer needs more quickly, ideally to anticipate future needs.    

3. What key advice would you give to PropTech entrepreneurs seeking experienced Real Estate executives to join their start-up?

The relationship between PropTech and real estate isn’t just one-sided: hospitality and real estate executives are ‘imparting’ their operational expertise in customer service, revenue management, and digital interfaces into other ‘alternative sectors’ such as co-working and co-living. Blurring the lines between hospitality and traditional real estate and ensuring new technologies and practices can be both operationalised and – perhaps most importantly – commercially successful.  

As with all hiring in start-ups, there is no magic bullet and one-size-fits-all hiring is something to avoid.

Entrepreneurs should keep in mind that real estate is the world’s largest asset class (worth more than all stocks and bonds combined at £230 trillion).

Therefore, working with individuals who understand the “problem” the business is looking to solve or the segment that they are trying to disrupt is essential.

Besides, they are unlikely to find an expert in hospitality businesses that can also provide deep expertise in industrial logistics.

It’s also worth noting that Real Estate is a relationship-driven sector. Thus finding an individual with a strong network who can facilitate introductions and partnerships can be hugely beneficial and make the industry much more comfortable to navigate.

For those businesses who are unsure of the specific expertise they need or who are very early on their journey, being creative about how you bring in talent is key. An ecosystem of “expert advisors” who can provide advice on specific problems may prove to be a sound investment, especially if the scale of the start-up can’t support bringing in an individual with the seniority or expertise as a full-time employee.


4. What would be your message to the traditional Real Estate companies who are trying to revamp their human resource strategy?

Traditional real estate companies are going to have to adapt their human resource strategy to bring talent who can shift their marketing, operations, finance and commercial teams to be more customer-focused and responsive to shifting customer demands. It means changing the balance of roles within the business.

To have an idea of what this might look like, using the examples of large, successful PropTech businesses is helpful.

Looking at the open opportunities on the Airbnb website, over 25% of the roles are within Product, Data Science & Engineering.

Individuals who understand the use of data – how technology can be incorporated to minimise response time to tenants requests and improve communication avenues – will be essential in moving investors into the next decade.

In order to find these individuals, real estate companies will have to move outside of their traditional hunting grounds and explore candidates with “alternative” backgrounds and career paths.

In Executive Search, we tend to focus on the senior level hires, but this transformation will be needed to be grounded through the organisation, right down to graduate recruitment.

Numeric, data-savvy graduates who are capable of quickly sifting through and interpreting large amounts of data will be increasing in demand.

Companies should not shy away from taking “risks” on individuals who have started their career in technology-heavy sectors and wish to enter the industry.

Will data really begin to drive decision making?

At a simplistic level, if real estate companies do not adapt to the new environment, they will fail.

Better access to data about one’s portfolio and the surrounding environment, knowing how to utilise it to improve efficiency and increase value is essential.  

Being willing to bring talent on-board who understands data and how it, in turn, will shift asset management, operations, facility management and financial reporting is very much the starting point.

At the asset level, for example, it is with improved access to data that we can improve our understanding of a building’s operations, costs, how it is used and how it relates to its neighbours and the broader community.

Which specific technology has caught your eye and that you think will revolutionise the property industry?

With so many facets of the property industry to disrupt and so many new technologies, it’s hard to choose just one!

Going back to asset management, the ability to accurately track energy usage through smart technology can help manage costs and proactively respond to tenant needs that change throughout the day. a

If this is extrapolated, not only does it change the very traditional way that real estate companies have viewed asset management.

It also is a game-changer for revenue optimisation by real estate companies and for tackling broader social issues such as climate change and the challenge of creating “sustainable” buildings in hostile climates.      

5.What are your views on the future of PropTech?

Proptech is very much in its infancy, but it is developing rapidly, and its potential is immense.

If we were to break PropTech into four pillars, including the sharing economy, smart technology, real estate FinTech and construction tech, each area is burgeoning with start-ups that could properly improve fractioned elements of a building and portfolio’s lifecycle.

These start-ups are looking to improve aspects of the real estate cycle. Starting from planning, funding, financing, construction, operational and facilities management through to marketing and increasing or improving a building or a portfolio’s use.

Technology is disrupting all aspects of our lives and simplify our understanding of the physical spaces around us. The prospect of thorough incorporation of PropTech is hugely exciting and will undoubtedly continue to transform our use of buildings for work, leisure and lodging and ultimately, the totality of our built environment.

Playing a small role in enabling this transformation by helping to put the right people in the right place is hugely exciting for us at Korn Ferry, and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

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