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Dutch courage

Corenet event 2013
With the economy set to take a turn for the better, Anna King finds CoreNet’s focus on people over cost to be refreshing and timely.


1 October 2013


For many, Amsterdam is the home of the innovative work style.


Fitting then, that this year’s CoreNet Global EMEA summit was held in the celebrated city of canals. The broad theme for this year was the people affected by real estate decisions – a connection that most FM professionals will be familiar with and would applaud.

Delegates travel from across the world to attend CoreNet and this year attendees came from Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania and Asia.

Professionally, the delegates are a mix of corporate real estate executives and portfolio managers, consultants and economic developers. CoreNet excels in that it is a truly international forum.

A wide range of different types of presentations, from interactive session to short bite-sized seminars, maintained the pace of the conference.

However, the focus for 2013 was on “the challenges currently faced by enterprises”, including the role of strategic corporate real estate as we anticipate an economic upturn, and corporate real estate’s role in human capital, since work is increasingly viewed as a social experience.

Some would argue that the focus on people in building design is – to say the least – a little overdue. But in many ways, it’s understandable that experts who are from an investment background, dealing  in numbers and balance sheets, have taken their time to grasp the most hard-to-measure elements of a workplace: the impact it can have on people and on productivity.

Jack Buckley, EMEA business development manager of corporate occupier and investor services at Cushman & Wakefield LLP, is a relative newcomer to the world of FM and real estate. He highlights another key factor in the shift from cost to property: age. “I have only known work to be about people. Without a doubt, inspiring workplaces, enabled by the best technology, will equate to greater effectiveness, and I think this is accepted as the norm among my peers.”

Buckley continues, “These results are not as blatant as savings on a spreadsheet but they are very real when you take the long-term view – at worst it’s a measured risk.”

Phil Hutchinson, joint managing director of BDG architecture + design, highlights other key  factors. “During the last 15 years we have been though two recessions. Technology has been a massive enabler and sustainability has shot up the agenda. The technology in the building infrastructure is the next big shift that will impact how we all work.”

Despite being rivalled by Google and Saracens RFC, the main FM-focused presentation delivered by Kath Fontana, was very well attended. As managing director of BAM FM and member of RICS FM Professional Group Board, Fontana was in a strong position to discuss the historical challenges faced by FMs. She outlined the struggle among FMs to be viewed as a strategic player,  as well as the increasingly blurred lines between corporate real estate  and construction.

Steve Henigan, a partner at property and construction consultants, Robinson Low Francis, delivered a session on whether real estate was a cost centre or a profit enhancer, citing convincing evidence that a well-designed and inspiring working environment can have tremendous impact on performance.

“Despite most organisation’s marketing machines telling us they are all about people the reality is most real estate departments are still be driven by cost cutting initiatives, a short-sighted and often damaging approach. Human Capital typically accounts for more than 4.5 times that of property. It is easy to see that a small increase in productivity and hence profitability can have a much bigger effect on the bottom line than a simple cost cut.”

Hennigan was also clear  that this is not a new subject but the current economic climate, the shift in employee empowerment and the rising war for talent organisations means that they
are now forced to put people at the centre of the model and take note of this paradigm shift.
The rest programme spanned a number of insightful topics, including the repatriation of manufacturing in Europe and the promise of Africa as an emerging opportunity.

Building tours were also on offer for Dutch electronics giant Phillips and TomTom, well-known for its satnav systems.

The latter, which has been based in the stunning DRK Building in Amsterdam from 2009, has build a space for around 400 employees that focuses on creativity and fun.