When Dan Hoffman says he’s committed to making corporate real estate and facilities more sustainable and innovative, he’s not kidding around. Just ask the herds of goats hired to roam the grounds of the campuses of NetApp and Google. “I rented herds of goats to mow the grass rather than using gas mowers,” Hoffman says with a laugh. “Instead of noisy, noxious, carbon-emitting machines, goats can eat and fertilize the grass. And, it’s proof that thinking sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult.”
Since his school days, environmentalism and conservation have been key concerns for Hoffman. “I was working on solar energy in high school,” he says. “Energy and sustainability have always been front of mind in my career.” Today, from cycling to hiking the woods to relaxing on the beach, Hoffman has embraced the environment of Northern California, but he’s also embraced the spirit of ingenuity and entrepreneurialism stemming from Silicon Valley. It led him to carry out some truly out-of-the-box work for the area’s major tech companies, and more recently it led him to found his own consulting business, Dan Hoffman Associates.
Hoffman first got the chance to truly focus his passion for environmentalism with an internship studying wind energy at the California Energy Commission. At the same time, he was obtaining BS degrees in mechanical engineering and aeronautical engineering from UC Davis. Then, he earned a management MBA through night classes at the University of San Francisco, and by demonstrating an aptitude for both science and business, he moved quickly into leadership roles in an array of organizations, from large public tech companies to startups. He has led large teams, launched offices, and managed projects that have grown with customers across multiple states. But, true to his nature, he has also always looked for what’s next, for a new way to make a positive impact.
“I always try to look ahead of the curve,” he says. “I’m always looking ahead at potential problems and decisions that will need to be made, whether they’re space issues or organizational issues.” Not every issue can be predicted, but by building flexible strategies and relying on decades of experience, Hoffman has helped countless teams find their direction and reach their goals.
His first opportunity in a senior director role came at NetApp, a hybrid cloud data service company in Sunnyvale, California. Over the course of eight years, Hoffman expanded his facilities skill set there, acquiring properties, budgeting and managing design and construction, and handling day-to-day operations. “I was able to have end-to-end responsibilities from real estate, construction, and operations, integrating sustainability and innovation into every element of the work,” Hoffman says.
From there, bigger organizations took notice of his penchant for ingenuity, and he held director-level positions at two of the best-known technology companies in the world: Google and Apple. They offered him massive resources, but many of his moves, like the goats, exemplified his philosophy that sustainability is equally about small changes. “Big solar projects and things like that are important, but there are so many lean, mean, no-cost or low-cost things that can be done,” he says.
At one organization, the leadership wanted to reduce waste from paper coffee cups and water bottles. But, rather than sending out an email reminder to recycle, Hoffman and his team took a more innovative approach. First, they made sure there would be enough reusable mugs stocked, clean, and available to the employees. Then, “one of my team members had this brilliant idea: a mugshot campaign,” Hoffman says. “Our coffee machines had a programmable screen, so we developed a contact where people using a reusable mug instead of a paper cup could take a picture of themselves and submit it, and we would post those ‘mugshots’ on the coffee machine’s screen. Then, whoever got the most votes would get a prize.”
After amassing experience at some of the biggest names in the business, Hoffman launched his own company, inspired by his entrepreneurial connections in Silicon Valley as well as his own father, who had similarly struck out on his own. “Many of my friends were entrepreneurs and had their own businesses, so I wanted to see if I could do it,” Hoffman says. “I was focusing on young, growing tech companies that didn’t have a senior real estate facilities leader in place yet and that I could help.” He landed several clients before putting his new company on hiatus to test himself in the top job at a smaller company, Nimble Storage, but when it was acquired by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Hoffman turned back to consulting.
As a consultant, Hoffman’s been able to to act as a mentor and a guide for young, hungry teams looking to innovate and grow. “Generally, my clients are at an inflection point in their growth where they’re experiencing some sort of pain point, often an office-expansion project, vendor management, or a similar project,” he says. “In addition to the project management, I can offer organizational development mentoring, helping to mentor young facility managers.”
But, the only way to ensure that both Hoffman and his client learn and grow is to ensure that his work fits the culture of the organization. “Google Docs and Android highlighted their open-source, collaborative nature, which meant developing playful, colorful spaces,” he says. “For Apple, on the other hand, we focused on their minimalist design: the white and silver. At Google, I put up a climbing wall inside the lobby of the finance building—something fun in the middle of what could be a conservative space. The CFO loved the idea, and it attracted employees from all around the campus to collaborate with the team. NetApp, meanwhile, was a young company striving for recognition, so by doing things like designing innovation labs and data centers, I ensured—even without a massive budget—that it would be featured on lists of great places.”
Throughout his career, Hoffman and his teams have won sustainability awards, utility rebates, and other recognitions. Hoffman himself even earned a patent for the design of a power-delivery system inside a data center at NetApp. While he’s proud of these accomplishments, though, he always returns to his ability to improve the lives of others. As he puts it, “I always tell my clients, ‘There are very low-cost or no-cost things that you can do to improve sustainability and make employees feel better about where they work.’”