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The sporting world offers choice and diversity early on – CRE should too | Jonathan Cameron

Aug 7, 2018

Whitchurch High School, North Cardiff. An unassuming suburban high school that has bred some of the biggest names in Welsh and UK sport. Not many schools can claim to have a Tour de France and double Olympic champion, a Lions series winning captain and a Champions League four-times success story among their alumni. Whitchurch High has also produced Commonwealth Games gold medallists, Glamorgan cricketers and rugby league internationals.

But is it more than fluke that the likes of Geraint Thomas, Sam Warburton and Gareth Bale all spent their formative sporting years under the same roof?

There is something to be said for spotting – and nurturing – talent at a young age. But offering choice is also key. Roger Federer was an excellent football player up to the age of 12 – until he decided to focus on tennis – while Geraint Thomas could have easily been a professional rugby player (according to his former PE teacher) if he hadn’t chosen a career in cycling. In sport, keeping options as open as possible, for as long as possible, play in the athletes’ favour. So why isn’t the same true for sixth formers and graduates?

So often in our role as executive search partners for the global corporate real estate industry, the lack of information about our sector – coupled with the lack of choice available to those at the beginning of their career – means the graduate talent pool is very sparse. But, as the corporate real estate industry grows ever more complex, we need to ensure we’re doing all we can to attract and retain the top talent. Giving graduates choices early on will help us tap into exceptional talent that might otherwise be lost to more traditional career paths – such as medicine, engineering, accountancy and law.

Sport England’s ‘Talent Pathways’ has been set up to do just that; the point is to get these talented individuals on the radar for Olympic standard at a young age, leaving it until later to define their sport and specialism. The same approach would work for the corporate real estate sector and could plug the brain drain into other conventional professions chosen by top achievers.

These days, the corporate real estate departments of large companies are often made up of streamlined, in-house teams focused on stakeholder management and driving contracts. Weighty, outsourced teams support these in-house functions by delivering the contracts – work that is becoming increasingly complex. These two strands of work require differing capabilities which can be found outside the corporate real estate sector as well as inside it.

At the senior end of the scale, those with the determination, career ambition and dedication to jump sideways have a lot to gain from considering a career move into corporate real estate. But the industry needs to get better at promoting this choice. In the Olympics, the Czech Republic’s Eva Nývltová competes in both the Summer and Winter games in athletics and skiing, while Laurine van Riessen from the Netherlands is both a long-track speed skater and a speed cyclist.

Transferable skills, combined with a fresh perspective, need to be harnessed in our industry, especially at a senior level. Playing to people’s strengths and finding the best person for the job should be top priority as in-house and outsourced capabilities become ever-more complex and clearly defined.

Harnessing natural talent in sport is the same as in business. But lack of awareness about what a career in corporate real estate can offer means the industry is missing out on high-performing graduates and c-suite level execs with relevant transferable skills. Professional CRE bodies should be doing more to encourage smart, capable people into the world of corporate real estate – at every level.

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