Craig McPhie never expected to have the kind of responsibility that comes with finding a new corporate headquarters for a 155-year-old company. Starting his career as a fresh-faced accountant with a degree from Brigham Young University, he was poached by Mitchell Energy & Development for its real estate, facilities, and telecommunications department. “At first, I was kind of grumpy about it, but soon I found I had a heck of a lot more fun than being an accountant,” explains McPhie of this change
Thirty years later, he’s the director of global facilities and real estate for ABS, a maritime classification organization operating in 70 countries worldwide. In addition to his oversight of the administrative and global real estate functions of ABS, his most recent undertaking has been to move the company to a new corporate headquarters in Houston.
A New Office Home
After a considerable search process, McPhie and his team found ABS’s new home in the nascent corporate complex CityPlace, a 60-acre mixed-use development in Springwoods Village, a planned community on the north side of Houston. Developed by Patrinely Group, in partnership with USAA Real Estate Company and CDC Houston, CityPlace is being touted as “a dynamic focal point and a vibrant new setting” for corporate and retail interests in Houston. Under McPhie’s supervision, ABS is getting in on the ground floor, with an 18-year lease on a building in CityPlace, where they plan to house their corporate headquarters. While this is an exciting change for the company, it has presented a considerable challenge for McPhie’s skills in real estate and facilities management.
Among the major reasons for its move to a new corporate HQ, ABS sought to “find a more up-to-date, state-of-the-art facility that reflects how we operate,” McPhie explains. When he started the process in 2014, the market was more landlord friendly than it is today; however, when Patrinely approached ABS with a very favorable deal, ABS chose to leave its headquarters a year ahead of its existing lease to take advantage of the opportunity. McPhie has high hopes for the change.“This new building showcases us as a state-of-the-art organization,” he says.
This move, of course, has not been without challenges. One of McPhie’s major responsibilities has been working with Patrinely to achieve the goals set by ABS for its new headquarters; luckily, he says, Patrinely has been great to work with. The developers’ biggest concern has been reconciling what McPhie and ABS want out of their building with their own plans for the future. “They want to make sure the development we’re doing doesn’t detract from the value they need for the building in the future,” McPhie says.
Part of Something Bigger
Most vexing for McPhie, however, has been navigating the complexities of being the first company to move into a newly constructed development. According to him, this has been a question he and his team have asked themselves throughout the process: “How can we guarantee, moving into this nascent development, that we can be part of something bigger?” Even with communicative and collaborative developers such as Patrinely and its partners, McPhie has found it a great challenge figuring out how to move into a development he and his team would have to help build from scratch. To solve these problems, McPhie has had to work in detail with Patrinely, providing ABS’s input on every part of the building’s development, from lobby finishes to crosswalk placement.
For this new headquarters, McPhie has had to fulfill many requirements for ABS’s future. In addition to its corporate office space, its new building will have retail and restaurant space on the bottom floors, an outdoor plaza, and access to a fitness center. McPhie has also worked out expansion rights to a five-story building across the street, which will be completed a year after ABS moves into its primary structure.
One advantage to ABS’s move to CityPlace is the construction of a Marriott hotel right across the street from the building, which McPhie says will be a huge help for the regular training events the company plans to hold in its new headquarters. “We bring people in from all over the world nearly every week of the year for training and development,” he says, “and we want them to have access to amenities nearby, within walking distance, after work hours.”
What excites McPhie most about the project? More than anything, he wants ABS to have a top-quality facility for its employees, providing them a more modern, collaborative work space. As McPhie says, “Office space is a tool, just like a PC or any other tool you use to be more effective in getting the work done.” With this new “tool” under way, ABS is primed to take on the future.
Photos: Patrinely Group, Brandy Delapaz