Leaps of faith are never easy, and Deidre Buzzetto had to make hers as the clock ran out. She had already built an impressive resume at IBM—first in corporate litigation, then administration, and finally real estate—when Lenovo, a China-based PC company looking to go international, acquired IBM’s Personal Computer Division and tapped Buzzetto to head up Lenovo’s own real estate division. The catch? She had less than a week to accept, wrap up at IBM on a Friday, and start anew the following Monday.
“I was in Westchester [in New York], and my role was to assist Lenovo in setting up a local office by the close date,” Buzzetto says. “It was during that final month that they realized Lenovo had no real estate group established. I was approached by their HR person literally the week before the close, but I thought it was a great opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”
That was in 2005. Today, Lenovo is a dominant force in the personal-technology industry, employing people in 60 countries and serving customers in 160, with 16 percent of the worldwide market, more than 2,000 patents, and more than 100 major design awards. Buzzetto knows these numbers all too well; as the director of international real estate, she heads up a team of 12 that currently spans five continents, handling Lenovo’s dizzying expansion from the United States to Singapore, from Berlin to Brazil.
Though based out of New York herself, Buzzetto spends much of her time traveling to meet her teammates as they manage day-to-day tasks: working with brokers, getting lists of potential new Lenovo locations, doing market surveys, getting competitive locations, building business cases for the settled-on locations, and securing financial approval. “Once that’s done and they’re working on lease negotiations, they’ll look at what setup needs doing, get a project manager, engage an architect, and instill global design guidelines; that’s all at one location,” Buzzetto says, noting that at the same time her team members must also handle facility issues at other locations and track multiple transactions with multiple suppliers.
In addition to these responsibilities, her staff is training on LEED practices, Buzzetto reports. “They might not all take the test, but it gives them an excellent background; it’s like three-day training on LEED and its attributes,” she says. “We’ve also developed a sustainability checklist for all of our brokers to use—all of the necessary things to focus on.”
As challenging as this barrage of duties might seem, it still pales in comparison to what was asked of Buzzetto in her early days on the job. Once she had successfully located and formed her worldwide cohort of Lenovo teams (no small feat in itself), they were required to locate new real estate for some 300 locations of varying sizes and transfer staff accordingly—within the timeframe of approximately one year. “There might’ve been 10, 20, or 200 people in each location,” Buzzetto says. “We had to determine which part of their country they were in, where we could get a location for that size, then get a competitive lease, and then set up the space. And we had one broker for the entire project. We got it all accomplished, but knowing whom to contact and getting the team together—that was a huge challenge.”
Buzzetto credits her former employer with instilling in her the proper leadership and project-management values to meet her job’s demands. “Everyone coming out of IBM will say they learned so much on how to put a clear process together when working on a project, about the importance of good verbal and written communications, and about having everybody as part of the team, working closely, making everybody feel they were part of the same objective,” she says. “I think we all had outstanding experiences there.”
Once Lenovo’s acquisition had been in place a few years, the duties of Buzzetto’s real estate team settled down. When the company was young and looking to grow, short-term leases (three to five years) were all that it secured. Nowadays, though, Lenovo’s work is about extending leases in its best locations, getting size upgrades where necessary, and dealing with still more acquisitions—five in the past three years alone. The acquisitions have included new locations in India, where the company is not so much expanding as it is incorporating new designs into existing spaces, encouraging sustainable building (India only has six LEED buildings to date), and helping the sales team go mobile with its office needs.
An even more recent acquisition is family-owned PC maker CCE in Brazil, where Buzzetto expects to log many hours this year. With 2,400 employees involved in the takeover, including 200 in manufacturing alone, “trying to incorporate processes, procedures, tracking spending—it’s a challenge for us,” she says. “Especially with no real estate people coming from that side.”
Now, as Buzzetto anticipates yet another part of the world—Moscow—joining her Lenovo team in the coming months, she takes comfort in the fulfillment her real estate work brings her. “You’re at the beginning of a project, and you see the end, with the people happy in their space and productive,” she says. “That’s one of the benefits of this job. You see you’re making a difference.”