January 20, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Corporate Real Estate Operating Solutions
Workplace Management and
is recognized as one of the industry's most accomplished consultancy firms,
with a reputation for finding efficient, optimized operating solutions for
their clients. Their service offerings are specifically designed to provide
CRE organizations with the support they need to streamline their business
and implement best practices across their portfolio.
· Serves as a trusted advisor and business partner exclusively, which is a very unique advantage for their clients over the more traditional software vendor partnership arrangement of their major competitors.
· Has extensive knowledge of best practice solutions for global companies as well as public entities. Their recommendations address their clients' existing processes, organizational and technical challenges while aligning with long-term business strategies.
· Provides recommendations, design, and implementation support to companies for Real Estate and Workplace Management solutions. They are experts in identifying and enabling the right solutions for their clients and providing the level of execution assistance necessary for success.
Phil Wales is CEO and founder of Houston-based EBUSINESS STRATEGIES. For more than 30 years he’s advised some of the world’s largest private and public sector organizations in the application of business and technology solutions to support their most critical enterprise assets (people, processes, technology, and the workplace). Working with numerous FORTUNE 500 corporations and federal, state, and local government agencies, he is helping change the way complex, capital-intensive organizations look at and manage their operations in the face of constantly changing technology, marketplace economies, and constituency demands.
A prolific generator of business thinking and documentation, Phil emphasizes the need to share intellectual capital at a time when the volume of information in the world is increasing exponentially. He is a frequent speaker throughout the U.S. on solution-driven issues to wide-ranging professional audiences.
Phil is a
registered architect, certified by National Council of Architectural
Registration Boards (NCARB), and member of CoreNet Global and the
International Facilities Management Association (IFMA). He holds a B.S.,
Bachelor of Environmental Design, and Master of Architecture from Texas A&M
Houston, TX 77084
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 20, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Wales, would you tell us how your process works?
Mr. Wales: Our focus is corporate real estate. More specifically, we focus on the internal real estate organizations within major companies, particularly Fortune 100+ companies with large real estate organizations and portfolios. They are very large organizations within their large companies. Additionally, we also do some work with the real estate organization within federal and state governments, but our focus is large companies, helping their corporate real estate organizations streamline the way they work, standardize on best practices, and implement organizational or operational changes to support that direction. We then help select and implement enabling technology to support their mission. Basically we focus on the business of the business.
CEOCFO: How did you choose to work with that industry? Was it the initial plan or more opportunistic?
Mr. Wales: It was opportunistic. My first degree was in zoology. I had a lot of math, physics and sciences in my background. However, I really enjoyed architecture and how buildings went together so after I got my Bachelors in Zoology I stayed at Texas A&M and got a Bachelors in Environmental Design and a Masters in Architecture. What I discovered as I was doing that, and this was in the mid 70’s, is that real estate companies and facility managers with big real estate practices were struggling with information and how to use it. I was in an unusual position in that I had more math and computer science classes than most people coming out of the architecture degree program did at the time. What I discovered pretty early on was that I could apply what I learned from my various degrees in a different way. One of the things that they taught us in architecture was to undo the damage of 12 years of formal education – or in my case 16 years! They got us to think creatively. I used those creativity tools normally applied to building design and got into consulting pretty early where I was helping companies figure out how to collect information, manage and make decisions. A lot of my consulting was around technology that was just coming into the forefront. It was really just creative blockbusting, helping people think differently and coming up with a better way to streamline how they worked. I spent time in several consulting companies through the early part in my career and some architectural firms doing just that. I ended up with a technology consulting firm in Houston where I ran the real estate practice. That company grew from under 200 people to over a thousand. After it went public it just was not for me. Running a consulting practice inside of a public company changed the focus from what we did for our clients to how to generate 20% growth quarter over quarter. In 2000 I left that company and quite frankly, I was burned out managing a large staff and meeting revenue quotas - so I started EBUSINESS STRATEGIES as a DBA for me. I thought I would semi-retire and do a little consulting here and there. My first account was with the General Services Administration for the federal government – the world’s largest real estate management organization in the world at the time. I spent several years doing process engineering for the GSA around their real estate holdings. Then Nokia became my first corporate account so I suddenly had the biggest real estate owner in the world on the federal side and one of the major companies on the corporate side - and the rest is history. I was just at the right place at the right time. The next big landmark account was Exxon Mobil which led me to hire my first two employees in 2008. We currently have 26 employees and 8 contractors. We are looking to hire and grow even more in 2014. So, to answer your original question, it was just being at the right place at the right time and stumbling on an emerging market need. Right now our company is almost split down the middle between business consultants, who have extreme depth of knowledge of how work is done in corporate real estate and facilities, and technical staff that know how to implement systems to support that. We say we are business consultants that look at a business problem from the top down. We help our clients define their strategic vision, reengineer their business processes (how they ought to operate) and align the supporting practices, whether it is their organization model, operation, or technology to meet their vision and best practices.
CEOCFO: What are some of the challenges in this industry that might be different than other industries that would require more specialization?
Mr. Wales: We are a business consulting practice first and foremost. We do strategic planning, develop roadmaps and all the kinds of basic consulting. The difference is that our focus is on a group of people who are extremely good at what they do but are, for the most part, very tactical in their everyday responsibilities. In the early years of EBUSINESS STRATEGIES, we provided a service that was focused behind the scenes. Then what seemed like an overnight shift, the “C Suite” became aware of their real estate investment and started putting pressure on their internal real estate organization for answers they didn’t readily have. Thus, they came to us for help providing better metrics, aligning with corporate strategy, realigning their organization, etc. We were at the right place at the right time and the rest, as they say, is history. What we discovered as we helped our clients with this new visibility was that they were often disconnected from the corporate strategy or they lacked visibility to corporate level decisions which were needed to drive real estate decisions about process or technology. I have used the analogy that they were looking at the sky from the bottom of a well. They had a very good and deep understanding of what was in their sights but there is not a lot outside of their day-to-day responsibilities to which they had exposure. What we can bring to the table is the ability to look at the way they do things compared to all the other companies that we work with over time and bring them concepts that might work better for them. We are not about to come in and tell a client how to work but we come in and show them what we consider to be industry-leading practices for real estate and workplace activities. We work together with our clients to define a practice that fits their particular culture or organization. The idea is to streamline how work is done by cutting out some of the friction from the process so they can cut cost and improve the service they deliver. Whatever the area is that needs optimization – whether organizational change, policies around how to work with your partners or vendors, reporting and metrics for management or enabling technology, we have the proven skills and tools to guide our clients to a solution.
CEOCFO: Do you find that companies tend to implement your solutions and use all the tools available? Do you follow up to see if they have paid attention?
Mr. Wales: The reality is that most of our major clients become long term accounts. One of our oil and gas clients has been an active engagement for us since 2006. We worked with Nokia for 7 years before they went through their major restructuring. We worked with the government for 6+ years. Our relationships tend not to be project-focused; they tend to be more enterprise relationships. We worked on many projects with these clients through those years, have participated in many of their discussions and have seen in all of these clients significant improvements. They take advantage of standardized processes, and now they have good metrics across a whole portfolio which tells them where they need to manage better. An example is the work our Lease Administration leader is doing with clients around the major changes in leasing coming because of the upcoming FASB 13 ruling. How do they get ahead of that? Since we tend to be around long term, we have the opportunity to conduct “post mortems,” as we call it; we sit down and see how our clients are doing. What worked well, what did not work so well. Our leadership team just recently had a discussion about how to institutionalize some of our services so that we can offer them to organizations where we don’t have this long-term relationship or for clients where we did a one-off project. The idea is to formalize a service offering for follow up.
CEOCFO: Are there typical areas where most companies fall short?
Mr. Wales: In the area of real estate, the tendency is that many companies manage their assets reactively. They make sure the lights stay on and the air conditioning works. They hear that the company is expanding and they start looking for new property. It all tends to be kind of late in the game. One of the shifts that we have seen in some of our more strategic clients is that the real estate organization is either getting a seat at the C suite or they are getting involved early in decisions so that they know in advance what the strategy is they are addressing. With real estate, assets last a long time even if the corporation shifts. The delta has been, in the past, that the real estate and facilities organization has done a great job managing the assets but they have had little exposure as to how that asset can better be positioned to support the mission of the company. For example, they have a big office building and a lot of people in it. They make sure those people are comfortable so they can do their job. This represents operational excellence. However, they may not have been made aware that the corporate mission had shifted with the potential fallout being that work was shifting to another location or that the workforce demographics were changing significantly. Those kinds of decisions tend to be made outside of the real estate world and then it becomes a fire drill reaction in a world that often can’t change direction easily. I wrote a paper about what the 21st century real estate organization looks like for the CRE Journal. One of the big issues was getting ahead of that game and actually getting a seat at the table so real estate can actually contribute to the strategic direction and help make some of those decisions versus just reacting to them.
CEOCFO: Is there much competition? Are there many or any companies that specialize in the area the way you do?
Mr. Wales: There is competition in components of what we do. In the area of technology there are a lot of competitors that work with a lot of different vendors that can implement software. There are companies that focus on organizational change. At the strategic end we compete with the big brand name consulting practices. Where we have found that we have been incredibly successful is with the cradle to grave service capability. We can do the strategy. We can help align that strategy to the corporate mission and we can then focus our talented business consultants on what that means to the real estate/facilities organization. This is where some of the high end consultants tend to start falling off because they do not have this level of industry experience. Then we can drive solutions. There are consultants that will come in and try to sell a solution without fully understanding the problem and there are consultants that help you define a problem without knowing what the solution should be. We merge those two skill sets. When we do consulting, we realized that we have to be accountable for how we advise our clients because we are most likely going to have to build out whatever it takes to support our recommendations. What we think is really unique in our space is that we have not run across anyone that actually can deliver the entire life cycle or that does it as well as we do.
CEOCFO: When you are talking with a prospective client, do they understand the difference?
Mr. Wales: Some do and what we have found in the last few years is that corporations understand that there needs to be a shift. Mangers of many of the real estate groups that we are running into now are business managers that came out of other areas of the corporation. There is a business focus on how they want to manage their assets. That is a big plus for us. There are still organizations where real estate is treated as a back office operation: keep the lights on and as long as that happens and no one complains they are okay. In those organizations we are not terribly successful because there is very little strategic value to having our type of consultancy. If the real estate organization believes they need a transformation of some kind we have a real good shot at it because our message resonates really well with them. If not we tend to look like an expensive alternative to a “simple” problem.
CEOCFO: What is your geographic reach?
Mr. Wales: We work throughout the US, primarily for US companies although most of our clients are international companies. Our solutions have been deployed in 130 plus countries and we would love to open an overseas office in the near future.
CEOCFO: Your presence on the Inc. 5000 clearly indicates that business is going well. How do you continue the trajectory and how do you find the appropriate people for your organization?
Mr. Wales: Those are two separate problems. In the past we used to feel like the industry’s best kept secret. We got our work through word of mouth, clients told other clients. In the last few years we have had a real focus on business development and on getting our brand out in front of the public. That has been very successful. Our pipeline is very deep and one of the reasons that we keep growing is that our target audience needs what we do. We are going to win our share. Thus, today our growth is really coming from the brand being recognized. It is no longer “who is this company?” but “yeah we have heard about you, how can you help us?” The other side of your question is getting the right people for our team. Unlike general consulting where you can go hire a bunch of MBAs, finding people who have a deep understanding of how real estate facilities work and better yet, understand the need for process and technology to support it is difficult. We are constantly on the lookout for good people. That is the big challenge; finding the right people so we can continue doing the quality work that we do. It would be really easy for me to grow to a 50 person company. We have that much work in our pipeline, but we are fanatical about maintaining our reputation for high quality work. So, we grow when we find the right people and bring them along at the right speed so that they can help us maintain our reputation.
CEOCFO: Put it together for our readers, why pay attention to EBUSINESS STRATEGIES?
perspective of the potential client, we bring something that we believe is
really unique. We understand how real estate can support the company
mission. We help our clients get the best out of that investment by
organizing correctly, putting the right policies and processes in place and
implementing the right support systems. For a corporate manager, if they are
questioning whether or not they are getting the right metrics or they ask
questions of the real estate group and cannot get reliable answers quickly
then they need us. From the other side, what we do we think is pretty
unique. We get to work with senior people in major companies to help solve
problems versus just doing tactical delivery. We continue to add major brand
name clients to our resume because of the value we bring to those
organizations. If a company really wants a partner at the table to help them
figure out how to move to the next generation of managing their assets, we
are the team they need. From our employees’ standpoint, we are a big family.
We really focus on our employees. We have retreats where we invite all the
employee’s family members and pay for them to join us. Our employees have
meetings during the day and family activities during the evening. We believe
that we keep the best people by allowing them to have quality family time
and by giving them interesting and important work. If you have seen our
website, you might have seen the page where we list our values. We created
that list in 2001 and they have only been tweaked slightly because we
believe that integrity is important and that both our employees and our
customers are important.
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