When considering the role of a corporate real estate position at the world’s largest engineering and design firm, which primarily constructs real estate for others, the word “redundant” comes to mind. However, it’s certainly not the impression one gets when speaking with Nina Desrocher, vice president of real estate services for AECOM. Hers is a new position for the design-build giant, which currently employs more than 45,000 people in 140 countries and reported $8.2 billion in revenue for the 12 months leading up to March 2013. She was hired in 2011 with a goal of repositioning the firm’s global corporate properties—while the staff at these locations deliver similar services to the company’s diverse international clients. Yes, the task sounds redundant, but it’s actually complementary in a way that Desrocher believes ultimately benefits AECOM’s employees and clients alike.
“Our clients hire us to create, build, enhance, and sustain the most complex projects in the world,” she says. “Where AECOM’s clients are pushing new bounds, my team is responsible for delivering workplace solutions that help to enable this.”
Though AECOM is an international company, the majority of its activities were, until recently, concentrated in the Americas. However, recent growth as well as merger and acquisition activity on other continents resulted in a need to streamline and integrate the company’s entire real estate footprint, from business-support functions to frontline project-management offices. This, in turn, is what led AECOM to create a real estate services department, responsible for overseeing the firm’s office-space strategy, planning, acquisition, and disposition as well as its facility-management services.
Achieving this on a global scale requires a team that understands the intricacies of international real estate markets—particularly emerging markets—and that can enhance productivity and deliver value to the bottom line. “Since joining AECOM, I’ve been on a mission to build a best-in-class team that can streamline our service delivery and, most importantly, align with the long-term goals and strategies of the business,” Desrocher says. “After an assessment, we determined [that] even with growth in the business, we could shrink our global footprint by 20 percent and reduce overhead costs by close to $40 million.”
Because AECOM offers professional services in everything from construction to operations management, Desrocher has a greater level of context for the work she’s doing on the company’s corporate side. For instance, AECOM estimates $50 trillion of investment is needed for aging infrastructure in developed countries—as the world’s population and demand for natural resources increase in kind. “The trajectory of world economies is shifting,” Desrocher says. “And where this is shifting, that’s where AECOM will be.”
These shifts are likewise mirrored in AECOM’s reorganization and redesign in some of its larger offices, including Chicago, Houston, and Sydney, Australia. The new layouts emphasize more open and adaptable floor plans, with mobile walls and furniture to reflect the dynamic nature of the projects AECOM is now facing. “As projects ramp up, ramp down, and shift around the globe, we are challenged with incorporating mobility and flexibility at all levels—from our leases to the design of the spaces,” Desrocher says.
The new office designs promote collaboration and interaction among various business functions. “A variety of spaces—and a greater percentage of team spaces—support how we work as individuals and as a company,” Desrocher says.
Bright color schemes and bold artwork decorate the common areas, and all the meeting spaces have whiteboard and tackboard walls. Most also have large-screen monitors. “We’re very visual and collaborative,” Desrocher says. “Teams can storyboard their drafts and open them up for comment, or they can instantly huddle and make updates on the fly. We also want to make sure that we’re set up for growth. This new design layout will enable us to ramp up much more quickly and more easily as growth occurs.”
Desrocher’s role requires her to travel globally to all of AECOM’s existing locations as well as new potential locations, particularly in emerging geographies where the company expects to generate significant growth. By strategically organizing the firm’s real estate footprint, she and her team are key facilitators of the company’s ability to grow profitably in these geographies.