“Savills Worldwide Occupier Services (WOS) APAC is pleased to bring you this latest edition of Occupier Insights, a regular series of publications engaging with real estate leaders from various industry sectors across APAC.”
For this edition we spoke with Nicholas Lesek, Director and regional head of CRES APAC for Swiss Re, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer. Dealing directly and working through brokers, Swiss Re’s global client base consists of insurance companies, mid-to-large-sized corporations and public sector clients.
We caught up with Nicholas as he was preparing to leave for India where he has oversight and sponsorship of the delivery of a major project for Swiss Re located in Bangalore. The new facility will deliver business services support to the group and is an important part of Swiss Re’s regional workplace transformation plan. As the newest addition to Swiss Re’s APAC portfolio, the Bangalore project will exist as an embodiment of workplace initiatives and philosophies that have driven Swiss Re’s real estate decision making and approach over recent years. Find out more about their Bangalore project.
Joining Swiss Re in 2014, Nicholas has broad responsibility for leading Swiss Re’s regional corporate real estate requirements taking in real estate strategy and portfolio optimization, facilities, capital projects, technology and workplace. Prior to joining Swiss Re Nicholas has held various senior real estate/ICT roles with other global companies including Nomura, Johnson Controls, Macquarie Group, Goldman Sachs and Honeywell.
Swiss Re has approximately 80 office locations in more than 30 countries. Within APAC Swiss Re maintains office locations in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangalore, Mumbai, Osaka, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Nanjing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Q1) Throughout APAC what would you consider to be your most challenging market/s and why?
Across APAC, Swiss Re has a presence in locations as culturally diverse as Brisbane and Beijing, Melbourne and Mumbai. I would be reluctant to state that one location is actually that much more challenging than the next. This might seem strange but it is a reality born out of Swiss Re's data based decision making environment. We use this approach when developing and executing real estate strategy within our organization. Being a reinsurance company, quantitative analysis and decision making is a culturally ingrained part of our business. It has been important for our real estate team to recognize this and establish processes and decision making frameworks that speak the same language as the broader business.
Q2) What factors make delivering real estate solutions in your industry sector unique?
Business planning within the reinsurance industry typically takes place on a much longer timescale than is usually observed in businesses operating within other sectors. Business contractual obligations/commitments can extend over double digit years and this can create quite unique challenges and opportunities for real estate teams. For example, on the one hand we are able to leverage our strong covenant and an ability to commit to long term lease obligations in order to drive commercially favorable terms. On the other hand however, there is an obvious difficulty in forecasting space needs for the business over the term of a long lease. Trying to achieve an appropriate balance between these considerations and exploring avenues to incorporate flexible lease options and workplace strategies is something which occupies much of our upfront strategic planning when entering a new market or when looking towards new lease commitments in established markets.
Q3) How would you rate your industry sector in terms of being a driver of workplace innovation and efficiency and are there any developing workplace trends that point the way forward?
There has been an observable general trend within the insurance and reinsurance industries towards creating more collaborative, engaged and agile (ABW) workspaces. During my tenure with Swiss Re and in partnership with the C-suite, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have directed and overseen the transformation of our regional workspaces from traditional office environments to the modern and dynamic workspaces that now define our portfolio. The Swiss Re experience is a great example of how effective workplace design that balances form and function can be a catalyst for cultural change. In many instances, I would argue that the new workplace environment has actually led and directed the change of behavior that has made our business much more inclusive, consultative and team oriented.
Q4) What do you look for in your real estate partners?
Creativity and an ability to challenge the status quo are two of the most important qualities we look for in our external vendors and partners. At Swiss Re we are extremely fortunate to have built up a very capable internal real estate team. We are able to leverage the experience and skill sets of our own people to self-deliver a good proportion of our regional real estate requirements as they arise. So when we are looking to complement our team with external resources we are really focused on what additional and specialized skill sets they are able to bring to the table. Whilst we do have some external parties to support in running our life cycle processes or to keep us informed of general market conditions, we lean towards working with consultants/vendors that are able to think laterally, to look at problems and challenges from new and unique perspectives and explore, recommend and/or implement innovative solutions.
Q5) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?
One of the most important lessons I have learned over the course of my real estate career is the need to constantly adapt and improve in order to deliver optimal CX centric outcomes that are aligned with portfolio strategy. Ultimately we are all judged on our results. There is no process or decision matrix that is perfect. There is always something that can be tweaked; every project and activity that our team is involved on is an opportunity to learn and then use that experience to make the result better next time. If the process does not serve to simplify, automate and potentially be "digitized" then the process is in need of review. Having worked as part of the corporate real estate team of a number of different organizations, I appreciate that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ or even ideal approach to managing corporate real estate. Every organization is structurally and culturally different and it is important to make allowance for this. You need to know your audience, the key stakeholders, decision makers and influencers in the business units. They will realize the benefit of your focus, passion for the workplace and holistic CRES function value proposition.
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