Founded way back in 1873, Shearman & Sterling LLP is now one of the world’s largest law firms, with nearly 850 lawyers and more than $820 million dollars in annual revenues. It seems only fitting, therefore, that the legal juggernaut’s director of global real estate, Alan Di Sciullo, began his career as a lawyer, too.
The young Georgetown University Law Center student graduated in 1977, and soon after, he began working as a litigator for Shanley & Fisher (now Drinker Biddle) in New Jersey. By 1980, however, he was working on Wall Street with Paine Webber & Company, where he focused on transactional real estate. “My undergraduate degree was in economics and government, and in law school I had concentrated on regulatory and tax law and was a judicial law clerk on the US Tax Court, so it was a better fit,” Di Sciullo says.
Working at Paine Webber, and later Dean Witter Reynolds (which became Morgan Stanley Dean Witter) as well as Citigroup Realty Services, Di Sciullo oversaw some impressive transactions. Perhaps most notably, he served as real estate counsel for the consolidation of Dean Witter’s New York headquarters into the World Trade Center in 1985. The $1 billion, 20-year lease involved one million square feet of space, with an additional quarter-million-square-foot acquisition, and it was the World Trade Center’s largest single transaction. And, as counsel, Di Sciullo saw it through the 1993 bombing and 2001 terrorist attacks, when myriad issues had to be addressed, including staff relocation. His extensive experience with such large portfolios is what best prepared Di Sciullo for his position with Shearman & Sterling, and since joining, he has navigated the challenges of reining in his worldwide team in order to create more comprehensive design and pricing standards for the firm.
Di Sciullo came to Shearman & Sterling in 2007 to manage a global real estate portfolio consisting of 18 client-service offices and two administrative offices. “It’s the culmination of a career,” he says. “Previously, I did a lot of work domestically and some in London and Asia; now, I’m working globally. But, I’ve found that many real estate practices in the United States and London are mimicked throughout the rest of the world. Continental Europe, South America, and Louisiana are different in that they use the Napoleonic Code, but still, business approaches seem to be the same. People around the world have the same space needs, are conscious of economic terms, and employ similar negotiation strategies [with some slight local cultural differences].”
Di Sciullo’s team, working with the firm’s senior administrators and a liaison partner, recently embarked on the development of design guidelines to promote more efficient use of the firm’s space, ensure consistent branding, and contain costs. “It was really a two-pronged endeavor,” Di Sciullo says. For one, he looked at metrics in order to create uniform sizes for partner and associate offices and eliminate outdated areas such as large libraries and storage, and he also looked at aesthetics in order to ensure appealing and consistent building materials and signage were incorporated. Today, he and his team are promoting the design guidelines globally.
“We promote them as design guidelines rather than standards because we want there to be enough flexibility to account for local cultural differences, but every new project we do is an opportunity to apply our guidelines,” Di Sciullo explains, citing the recent openings of offices in Frankfurt, Germany, and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as examples. “The Frankfurt move was to a floor and a half in the OpernTurm building, and the move in Abu Dhabi was to a single floor in Etihad Towers. These new offices are excellent reflections of our design guidelines, with more-uniform office sizes and extensive use of our design elements, such as glass.”
Everything Di Sciullo and his team do is within the context of industry trends. For years, Shearman & Sterling has been looking at spacing needs and costs, and the firm has been working closely on a number of projects with noted architecture firm Gensler “to fit our design guidelines within the context of industry initiatives,” Di Sciullo explains.
To illustrate this idea, he points to the recession of 2008 and 2009, when his team monitored pricing at all the firm’s locations and renegotiated leases as necessary. “We took a close look at leases that were coming up—and even those that were a few years out—and determined where there were opportunities to renegotiate with landlords,” he says. “In many instances, we were able to renegotiate several years early, allowing us to lock in the low market prices.”
The challenge of the job, Di Sciullo says, is running a business that operates on multiple continents virtually 24-7. Helping to keep his team on top of things, though, is technology, including Webex and cloud computing. “We can finish a document at the end of the business day in the United States and pick up a response the next morning—and vice versa,” Di Sciullo says.
Even as he continues to adjust to an international framework, Di Scullio ultimately considers his transition into real estate management relatively smooth, and he’s actually enjoying it. “Moving from litigation to my current role was a natural progression,” he says. “It’s as demanding as being a litigator but draws upon my real estate background and management skills—and it’s much more fun.”