Although his post-collegiate career began with a three-month stint as a player with the Philadelphia Eagles football team, Christopher J. Kelly is now scoring points and tackling challenges in an altogether different environment. As executive director, Portfolio Management, for Verizon Communications, Kelly currently coaches a team of 70 individuals, collectively serving the company’s real estate needs.
Under his direction, this group manages a portfolio that comprises 120 million square feet of space, including the acquisition and disposition of land and buildings for Verizon’s $9 billion Telecom Real Estate Portfolio. “The group is spread all over the country. What they’re responsible for is making sure that the company has what it needs when it needs it, and at the lowest possible cost,” he explains. “If the company needs a new call center, we are the group that will go out and buy it, take the customer/tenant requirements and match them up against that building, and then work with the total team to build it out.”
The strength of Kelly’s team has not gone unchallenged. On September 11, more than 2,200 Verizon employees were displaced. “We had employees in 2 World Trade Center [and] our central office is adjacent to 7 World Trade Center. We had over about a two-week period to find a place for all 2,200 employees to get back to work,” says Kelly. This disaster could have easily had Verizon employees on the sidelines for months, but Kelly and his team rallied. “It was a monumental effort,” Kelly remembers. “I was frankly very proud of my group for behaving the way they did during that period of time.”
Kelly’s playbook is filled with strategies to control costs and respond to the company’s real estate needs. When Bell Atlantic merged with NYNEX and GTE, forming Verizon in June 2000, the emphasis was on efficiency and the game plan included returning capital to the company. “Since the merger, we have disposed of about 4.2 million square feet of space out of the portfolio,” explains Kelly.
While with the Eagles, Kelly met Coach Dick Vermeil (now with the Kansas City Chiefs) who suggested he seek employment with Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Co. As an investment analyst for Capital Analysts Inc., a wholly owned brokerage subsidiary of Fidelity, Kelly was exposed to many different types of investment vehicles and took a strong interest in real estate. Kelly’s journey with Bell Atlantic began in 1987, when he joined Bell Atlantic Properties Inc. as vice president of Investments. In 1994, he joined Bell Atlantic’s Corporate Real Estate Department as director of Leasing and Planning. “Through the Bell Atlantic/NYNEX merger and then again through the creation of Verizon with the Bell Atlantic/GTE merger, I kept the same position and have done (with a much bigger scope) the same basic function for the last 10 years,” Kelly comments.
Kelly believes that no success comes from one single individual’s effort. “In my world of business, it’s really a team sport. There really is no individual that drives a particular project. It really needs to be done through team play,” he explains. The group never fumbles on its mission to positively impact how Verizon conducts business. “We are able to control a great deal of costs for the corporation, which is something that gives myself and my team a great deal of satisfaction,” says Kelly.
Without regret, Kelly reflects on his career and the game of real estate. “I really like the real estate business. I’ve been on the equity side, the debt side, [and] on the tenant side. I enjoy the industry. It’s a group of really dynamic people,” he says. “I’m not sure where I would fit in [at] other jobs, but the ones I’ve had I’ve really enjoyed, including this one.”
Jana J. Madsen (email@example.com) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.