Bryan Girts is Building a Better Harbor

Clean Harbors’ vice president of corporate real estate directs transactions in more than two dozen different business lines and industries

Photo: Sally Grits

The title of vice president of corporate real estate often means acquiring and selling the same types of buildings or facilities in the same industry, over and over again. But for Bryan Girts, vice president of corporate real estate for Clean Harbors, his role is quite the opposite. He navigates more than a dozen different industries for North America’s leading provider of environmental, energy, and industrial services.

“One of the primary skill sets needed for my position is to be able to determine the value each real estate asset adds to the organization,” Girts says. “Then, you need the ability to make a decision, develop a plan, and promptly work on the transaction that will realize that value. Those have been the top characteristics needed to build my career, so this position is a perfect fit.”

Despite a vast presence across the continent, many people have not heard of Clean Harbors, but they have surely seen one of its buildings in almost 40 states. Its buildings include an integrated network of assets ranging from hazardous waste incinerators to small branch collection centers.

Clean Harbors serves a diverse customer base, including a majority of Fortune 500 companies across the chemical, energy, and manufacturing markets, as well as numerous government agencies. Clean Harbors also delivers a wide range of services, including end-to-end hazardous waste management, emergency spill response, industrial cleaning and maintenance, and recycling services. The company operates throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

“In my career, I have had to manage a wide range of asset types each with different and competing stakeholders,” says Girts, who spent the first half of his career in the banking industry’s real estate lending division. “While working in a corporate finance group supporting multinational organizations with domestic interests, I was recruited by one of our clients who was expanding into the construction materials industry throughout the United States. That’s when I got involved in the corporate service side and kicked off the second half of my career.”

Girts has faced many new challenges in this new phase of his career, but has also relied on his skills of performing due diligence for hundreds of acquisitions.

“Real estate transactions are a big component of my position,” Girts says. “You have to be able to dive into the details and complete your due diligence on each purchase, new lease, or disposition.”

With more than 550 operating locations in North America, Girts and Clean Harbors are always looking for organic revenue growth, which is challenging across a variety of business lines.

In the chemical industry services alone, Clean Harbors provides waste disposal services, tank cleaning, chemical solvent recycling, explosives management and dewatering, as well as materials processing.

Clean Harbors’ emergency response division is always in high demand, and Girts manages the transactions of the buildings and resources that warehouse many of these broad services. Services include solving leaking drums, mercury spills, tank overflows, ship groundings, oil spills, large pipeline ruptures, punctured lines, and damages from earthquakes, hurricanes, and storms.

“When I started this position, I wanted to change both the internal and external view of how real estate was viewed in this company,” Girts says. “We were a service provider and not a business partner, and I wanted to shift that mind-set. I wanted both internal and external groups to see real estate as an asset and a key part of the strategic decision-making process.”

Monetizing the excess or non-core real estate assets has allowed Girts to build credibility with his peers and superiors in the company. Although the transaction amounts can vary widely, Girts has implemented processes and policies to maximize the value of the portfolio. This includes a strong belief in centralizing functions and a standard approval process to drive lower costs and department efficiency.

“I am constantly talking to senior leadership about different business lines and different scenarios,” Girts says. “We never get complacent and become satisfied where we are at. We always want better—better buildings, better facilities, which leads to better services. That’s our company’s bottom line.”

The combination of performing the proper due diligence, monetizing excess real estate, and building bridges with the diverse business lines has allowed Girts to experience unprecedented success in his position at Clean Harbors. By overseeing the real estate issues on a wide range of hazardous facilities, while still keeping an eye on oil and gas exploration properties and lodging sites, Girts can never rest on his laurels and is always a close observer of industry news across nearly 20 different sectors.

“Every industry and every location has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, so you always have to be on the lookout to ensure our uses conform to public and regulatory oversight,” he continues. “Because there are so many changes, we developed a network committee that includes senior leadership members who are constantly reviewing our portfolio with critical data about the site, market trends, and industry drivers.”

Girts’s strong commitment to due diligence allows the committee to start addressing possible solutions and transactions 18–24 months before a lease expires. He has identified underutilized internal resources to further develop a corporate culture in his division that is based on being proactive, combined with completing the proper research and introducing bottom-line solutions to the rest of the company.

“Most of our transactions are geared toward industrial properties,” Girts explains. “We have a large footprint in North America and with each facility there comes risk, so we have to be diligent even before that transaction occurs. Our department has been successful, and we like being a part of the discussion and strategy. We like being part of a winning team.”