This month’s FM spotlight is Jim Derasmo, Former Global Head of Corporate Real Estate (CRE) at AIG. When appointed as the Global Head of Corporate Real Estate in January 2014, Jim Derasmo was responsible for managing 200+ CRE employees globally with an annual operational budget of $640 million for a portfolio of 14.2 million RSF, 900+ global locations across 81 countries, and managed and annual capital project budget of approximately $300 million.
"Jim brought skills to his role as head of Corporate Real Estate that gave both an edge and from my perspective a clear advantage in managing a portfolio and group of people that were both diverse and global. His CPA skills, Procurement experience and multi lingual skills all contributed to his success." - Michael R. Cowan, former EVP and Chief Administrative Officer for AIG.
What is one thing that no one knows about you?
“Most people know me from a purely work-related standpoint, and are not aware of my community involvement work. One of my proudest accomplishments was helping found a local education foundation, which is a qualified 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, dedicated to promoting quality education in my community.
In addition to serving as one of the founding trustees, I also served as president for the first ten years. During this time, we were able to raise, via fundraising activities, and award approximately $250K in grants to our school district.”
How did you get into the Real Estate & Facilities Management field?
“My career began in public accounting, with a ten-year focus in real estate, which was followed by serving as the Senior Financial Officer for Merrill Lynch’s Corporate Services organization. I also did a three-year ‘tour’ through Merrill Lynch’s Global Sourcing & Procurement Services organization, where I was responsible for developing a performance management function, which focused on spend and vendor management, deal compliance and supplier diversity. This then led me back to real estate, where I served as the CAO for the Americas Property Management organization.
After one year with Bank of America, I was able to join AIG as the Chief of Staff to the then Chief Administrative Officer of AIG. I held this position for two years until asked to serve as the head of Administration supporting AIG’s Americas Property Casualty business. In this role, I was responsible for ensuring the delivery of all “Admin-related” services to the business, such as sourcing & procurement services, vendor management and governance, business continuity, corporate security, and various other corporate services.
In late 2013, I was asked by the Chief Administrative Officer to assume responsibilities over facilities management, project management, strategy & transactions and space planning, and serve as the first-ever global head of corporate real estate for AIG.
At the time, facilities and project management were managed by one senior manager, while strategy & transactions and space planning were managed by another senior manager. In an effort to create a true CRE organization, I was able to establish global functional leaders in each of these areas. This afforded me the opportunity to improve the integration between groups via streamlined processes and hand-offs, which had a positive impact on general turnaround times and the overall client experience.
I believe that my progressive experiences resulted from a skill set founded on accounting and finance, coupled with a strong discipline around governance, internal controls and reporting. This has allowed me to bring a different perspective to the operational aspects of managing the real estate portfolio.”
Tell us about a favorite project highlight.
“In early 2015, the CRE team launched an initiative to identify cost savings opportunities relating to our real estate portfolio. Included in this initiative was the development of Real Estate Guiding Principles and next-generation workplace standards, designed to help inform real estate decisions and improve the overall real estate ‘experience’.
Utilizing these Guiding Principles and next-generation standards, we were able to identify significant occupancy cost reductions via space consolidation. When we coupled this with utilization statistics, we were better able to understand our true vacancy, which allowed us to manage our vacant space more efficiently and achieve greater savings.”
What is your greatest success story?
“Beyond consistently exceeding our expense-reduction targets and other company-wide goals, the greatest success story I can share relates to the bi-annual Global Employee Survey. Fortunately for me, I was one full year into my new role as global head of CRE when the new survey was launched – which meant that the survey results would be all mine.
The Global Employee Survey covered all employees, and manager-specific reports were generated for all managers with 20 or more people on their team. Given that I had more than 20 people on my team, I received a customized report highlighting my team’s results compared to AIG’s results as a whole, as well as to an industry benchmark. My team’s results far exceeded both AIG’s and the industry benchmark’s results, which really made my day.
Given my managerial style, focus on developing individuals to their fullest potential, and having respect for all team members, achieving these results was extremely rewarding.”
Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Real Estate & Facilities world.
“One of the greatest challenges we faced regularly was around the availability of good and reliable data. When I first got to my new role, occupancy data was managed via an Excel spreadsheet. Knowing that this was not an optimal or sustainable situation, I immediately set out to develop a standardized process to capture and report on occupancy data globally, utilizing Tririga as the system of record. Through training and including ‘data accuracy’ goals in people’s objectives, we were able to migrate off of the Excel spreadsheet to a global system, which contained standardized data fields and was more easily reconciled to the general ledger.
As a result of implementing this process improvement, we were able to develop a monthly “Real Estate At-a-Glance” report, which provided details around firm wide occupancy costs at a consolidated level, with drill-down capabilities by region, by country, and by location. Having this level of detail allowed the business leaders to marry occupancy information by country and location to country-specific business plans – something that had never before been achieved.”
What learning experience would you pass onto future FMs?
“While all FMs work hard and are always trying to add value, the one thing I would say is to stick to your guns when it comes time to lobby for capital improvements or large preventative maintenance-type items.
For example, we had a situation where our facility managers felt that our elevators were getting close to the end of their useful lives and were good candidates for elevator modernization work. However, due to sensitivity around incremental costs at the time, this work was removed from the capital and operating budgets. As you would imagine, our elevators started experiencing reliability issues, resulting in an unprecedented number of entrapments – much to the chagrin of executive management and employees alike.
Consequently, we ultimately launched a full-blown elevator modernization project that took two years to complete, and at a cost much higher than if we had completed the project when originally contemplated. Had we been more steadfast in our defense of this project initially, we would have been further along in the modernization work and potentially experienced fewer entrapments.”
Interviewed by Sonya Verny of IA Interior Architects, IFMA NYC Secretary.