In February 2023, BMO and its subsidiaries announced the completion of its massive acquisition of Bank of the West. The $16 billion acquisition, the largest banking deal in Canadian banking history, gained BMO nearly 1.8 million customers, a real estate portfolio totalling 4.2 million square feet including 500 additional branches, and just over 50 offices. All of that new space immediately became part of BMO’s corporate real estate team’s portfolio, including Tera Oswald and her global portfolio strategy and workplace evolution team responsible for office strategy.
The head of global portfolio strategy and workplace evolution at BMO says the corporate real estate team had time to prepare for the massive new to-do list to achieve the integration, but that nothing can truly prepare a person for an order of magnitude this size.
“The deal was announced in December 2021, so the global portfolio strategy team had to quickly develop proposed office strategies to optimize the 1.5 million-square-foot office portfolio,” Oswald explains. “In addition, the corporate real estate team was also responsible for changing all the exterior signage on all the 500 branches and 60 offices in addition to rebranding all of the branches and client-facing offices inside and out. It was a lot of work by a lot of people, but the team did it.”
Understatement seems to be Oswald’s calling card. The real estate veteran with more than 25 years of experience speaks softly but assuredly. One gets the feeling she knows exactly what she’s doing and doesn’t need to make a lot of noise to be as effective as she’s proven to be repeatedly throughout her career.
Since coming to BMO in 2020, she’s had the opportunity to bear witness to what she’s relatively certain is the most successful supplier and vendor relationship ecosystem she’s ever seen.
“Corporate real estate is responsible for ensuring consistent communication and collaboration with all of our key suppliers and vendors,” Oswald says. “We have an integrated operating model with our key suppliers which means our vendors are included in our day-to-day operations. That integrated partnership has been incredibly successful.”
Along with the successful integration of Bank of the West, Oswald and her team have been involved in some critical projects at two of BMO’s Midwest towers in Milwaukee and Chicago, respectively.
Towers of the Future
The BMO Tower at 790 N. Water Street in Milwaukee is the beneficiary of modernization efforts to create what Oswald calls “future-enabled workspaces that are designed to be flexible but efficiently connect teams working within a hybrid model.”
Oswald says it’s important to point out that BMO is still actively investing in the future of in-person work, and the 120,000 square feet across five floors is a reflection of that focus, including lessons learned from the pandemic. The corporate real estate team elected to restack to fewer floors based on new ways of working and, the executive explains, it is a prime example of the kind of shift the massive organization is capable of making in response to how spaces are used and the needs of the businesses.
The BMO Tower at 320 South Canal Street in Chicago, BMO’s US headquarters, is going through a different kind of evolution. The organization recently completed phase one (phase two will be completed early in 2024) of a massive 3-building consolidation that will rightsize 720,000 square feet down to 430,000 at its new Canal Street home. The site will be home to 3,400 BMO staff once the second phase wraps up.
All of this work, the executive says, is part of a broader multipronged strategy and vision, one centered on creating the right working environment for all of the people it serves.
“BMO strives to create an inclusive and accessible work environment to support our colleagues, our clients, and the communities that we serve,” Oswald says. “All of our real estate projects are part of a broader investment to create a modernized global real estate footprint and build on our similar investments not only in Chicago, in Milwaukee, but also in Toronto, London, and New York City.”
Finding the Dream Job
The portfolio is immense, but Oswald doesn’t seem the least bit overworked. It’s quite the opposite.
“I have to be honest; I think I’ve found my dream job,” the executive says. “It was the right moment for me to make this step in my career, and I continue to work with supportive and strong leaders who have allowed me to grow and learn along the way. There’s an outstanding and inclusive leadership culture at BMO that makes it easy to love what I do.”
This love is apparent to every one of her colleagues. “Tera Oswald is a collaborative partner, empathetic leader, and driven professional. Her strategic thinking and curiosity fuel her success, while her inclusive mindset fosters teamwork,” says James Fontaine, managing director of JLL. “Tera’s determination and empathy create a supportive environment and positions her and her organization for long-term success.”
Oswald spent 15 years in the public real estate sector in Ontario where she had the opportunity to manage a large, dynamic, and complex real estate portfolio which helped her grow by leaps and bounds.
The real estate pro loves her work, maybe a little too much at times. She admits she relies on her supportive husband and two children to remind her to disconnect and enjoy the moment. Learning work/life balance took some work, but like any good challenge, Oswald saw it through with the broader picture in mind: happiness.
JLL, a leading global commercial real estate and investment management company, has been proud to partner with BMO to buy, build, occupy, manage and invest in their office and retail branch portfolio for more than twenty years. It’s been an honor serving as a strategic partner to Tera Oswald, Head, Global Portfolio Strategy & Workplace Evolution, Corporate Real Estate, and, together, developing transformational workspaces including BMO’s new US headquarters located in downtown Chicago. Driven by BMO’s purpose to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life, Tera is a true leader.
Now in their fourth generation of family leadership, Pepper Construction serves clients across the country with comprehensive teams in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Pepper serves clients in a variety of markets such as aerospace, healthcare, science and technology, education, manufacturing and industrial, data centers, entertainment, hospitality and interiors, among others. Pepper’s High Performance and Sustainable Construction group is part of their Integrated Construction Services (ICS) team, which represents some of the most advanced thought leadership in our industry—investigating new technologies, evaluating new methodologies and integrating innovative solutions in the field. For more information, please visit pepperconstruction.com