This month’s FM spotlight is Robert Capua, former Vice President, Director of Global Real Estate and Domestic Facilities for Alliance Bernstein, L.P. (AB). Robert joined AB in January of 2007 as the Domestic Facilities Manager but quickly moved to a Global Facilities Operations role that included completing multiple real estate transactions for the firm. In February 2009, he was promoted to Director of Global Real Estate and Domestic Facilities where he was directly responsible for all global real estate transactions and oversight of facilities management for AB’s 24 offices in North America, South America, and Canada. During his tenure, he was involved in the facilities management for AB’s 48 locations in 22 countries and was a member of AB’s Administrative Services management team.
“The most unique thing about Robert is that one does not often see his breadth of skills combined in a single professional. Robert has the facilities management expertise to manage a complex global portfolio, but also the negotiating instincts of an experienced deal-maker. Wrapping those two elements together so effectively is Robert’s ‘secret sauce’ and what makes him stand out in his field.” - Tiffany Winne, Senior Vice President, Branch Manager, Savills Studley
What is one thing that no one knows about you?
“I am an avid news enthusiast. I love being informed on what is going on in the world. This may be because I am curious by nature. This hobby started when I was very young; I think I was only eight years old when I began listening to NPR and watching the nightly news. When I am traveling around New York City, you will always see me with headphones listening to the news or political podcasts.”
How did you get into the Facilities field?
“Very few people plan to go into the Real Estate & Facilities Management field. I took a job to take a job.
I had just moved back to Chicago, IL from Orlando, FL in early 1994. I needed a job to support myself. A good friend of mine was working for PREMISYS Real Estate Services, a subsidiary of Prudential, as an Administrative Assistant to the Regional Vice President. PREMISYS was awarded the Property/Facilities Management contract for the First National Bank of Chicago (now Chase) which included the management of its $2.1 million class “A” corporate headquarters, the iconic One First National Plaza. Winning this account was a major accomplishment for PREMISYS. They were staffing up positions for the office of the building and needed an Administrative Assistant for the newly appointed General Manager relocating from Detroit, MI for the assignment. My friend recommended me, and I interviewed for the role. I had no idea what an office of the building was, but lucky for me I was offered and accepted the position. I worked with a phenomenal group of Real Estate professionals, many of whom I still talk to regularly. I fell in love with the industry and did my best to learn as much as I could from my peers and the management team on the assignment. I was mentored from that excellent group of people and learned way more than an admin should.
Since then, I have said that Real Estate chose me, changed my career aspirations and I have never looked back. I have a feeling many people will tell you similar stories of Real Estate choosing them.”
Tell us about a favorite project highlight.
“When the great economic downturn happened in 2008 I, like most Real Estate professionals, faced having to cut staff and find cost savings wherever possible. I launched an initiative at AB to review our United States real estate portfolio to see where we could try to find rent savings. It was an arduous project and took a lot of time, patience, and aggressive negotiations. However, I was successful and restructured select leases that produced a rent expense savings of $10 million from 2010 to 2014.”
What is your greatest success story?
“Again, this was due to the economic downturn in 2008. AB, like many global corporations in the financial services industry, had to cut headcount to survive. As a direct result of these cuts, we were left with excess space throughout the global portfolio, the majority of which was in New York City. I spearheaded a global space reduction initiative. Given the glut of empty and available sublease space on the market, this was no easy task. However, I was able to successfully sublease 1.1 million RSF from 2010 to 2016 securing at (or above) market rental rates and minimizing incentive packages. I am very proud of this accomplishment and the amount of work it took to achieve. I was fortunate to partner with some outstanding brokerage teams that helped me secure some incredible deals.”
Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Real Estate/Facilities world.
“Doing more with less.
Most of us that had to cut staff faced significant budget cuts and streamlined processes and procedures to be as cost efficient as possible, only to be asked to come up with further cost savings initiatives. Under these types of circumstances, it is tough and challenging to keep up employee morale. However, it is our job to look and re-look at how we maintain our facilities to achieve the highest standards in the most cost-effective way. I have found that if I lead by example, my team will follow suit. I have had think tank sessions with my entire team to come up with new and creative solutions. I have been proud on multiple occasions when an individual produces an out of the box solution and implements it across multiple regions leading to new cost savings. However, it was also my job to ensure the maintenance of the facility is completed to a high standard and to push back when necessary to receive the funding to achieve that goal.”
What learning experience would you pass onto future FM’s?
“Communication, Communication, Communication. Specifically, to your client, but also to your staff, supervisor and senior management.
As an FM it is important to realize that most people in your organization have very little knowledge of what you/your staff role is or what you/your teams do. It is our jobs to educate them.
With client communication, when something goes wrong we all know it can take some time to fix the problem, which could be because of a whole host of legitimate reasons. I find that if you set expectations up front, give status updates and report on any unforeseen circumstances which cause delays, it avoids frustration on the part of your customer. Nine times out of ten, when I get a frustrated client, it is because they were not communicated to properly. Their expectations were not properly outlined, and little communication was given during the project. We are experts at what we do; our clients are not. A simple update e-mail or phone call throughout the project can go a long way in ensuring your customer has a good experience vs. a frustrating one. My teams often tell me that they do not want to burden the client with excessive e-mails/phone calls. I have found that not many people complain about being updated, but many complain about not getting enough information or feeling left out of the process.”
Interviewed by Sonya Verny of IA Interior Architects, IFMA NYC Secretary.