Critical Issues: Hines

12/29/2004 |

Clayton Ulrich, Vice President, Director of Corporate Engineering Services, Hines, Houston

David Robinson, Vice President of Conceptual Construction, Hines, Houston

At Issue:

› Embracing and Managing Change

› Quality People

› Budgets

 

 

Founded almost 50 years ago by still-active Chairman Gerald D. Hines, the international real estate, development, investment, and management company bearing his name retains its stature as one of the industry’s most innovative and successful organizations – due, in great part, to the quality and integrity of its people. In an entrepreneurial culture that is revered and modeled by peers and competitors, Hines fosters an environment that encourages creativity, individuality, and empowerment. As such, the 2,900 full-time Hines professionals take their development/management responsibilities for an 86.3 million-plus-square-foot real estate portfolio very seriously – and personally. “Our people love what they’re doing and it shows in the pride and ownership they take in their work,” explains Clayton Ulrich, vice president, director of corporate engineering services at Hines.  “They treat our buildings like they’re invested in them.”

David Robinson, vice president of conceptual construction at Hines, concurs with this assessment, noting that what could be a company dichotomy – new development vs. operations – is, instead, a complementary exchange of best practices and continual improvement. “Competitiveness does exist, says Robinson, “however, it’s more about trying to make improvements from one project to the next. We’re constantly sharing knowledge, pushing the level of technology – and that is something that has been promoted from day one by Mr. Hines. We have the benefit of an owner and leader who is technically based, and extremely adept and educated in finance. There are very few of our competitors that have anything close to that balance.”

Apparently, that lesson has been taught and embraced by senior management as well. Both Ulrich and Robinson lead their teams as catalysts for the inter-exchange of information and solutions between new and existing buildings – a day-to-day philosophy that culminates in a quarterly “Operations Engineering/Conceptual Construction Conference.” The information exchange is not left to chance. “With more than 600 building engineering personnel, informal employee-to- employee exchange isn’t adequate,” notes Ulrich. “We have a very productive Best Practices Program that can be accessed through our intranet via a searchable database. Approval of a Best Practice submittal by the oversight committee results in individual and team recognition for outstanding ideas.”

Such collaboration also means that critical issues can be identified, evaluated, and addressed company-wide, according to Robinson and Ulrich. “Budgets are big for us, especially on the design side,” explains Robinson. “In these economic times, if we’re not hitting budgets, then projects may not go forward. Tenant retention is another important area; it’s our assurance that we’re delivering a quality product.”

Ulrich agrees, adding his three top-of-mind focuses: “First, maintain a competitive advantage; if we don’t keep moving forward we will no longer be able to differentiate ourselves. Next, embrace and respond to the changes occurring in our industry. Some aspects of the industry are evolving faster than they ever have. Lastly, and our main focus, is our employees. The day-to-day – and even year-to-year – focus on the latest ‘industry crises’ is substantially less captivating and capitalizing if you have the right team.”

The commitment to employment longevity clearly starts at the top of this organization that is at the top of its game. Hines President Jeffrey C. Hines and the executives in charge of each business unit average 25 years with the firm. “If the average tenure were 5 years, we would have changed our key personnel five times.  Through the turnover we would have lost a significant amount of our history, culture, knowledge, and many key business relationships,” says Ulrich.

For the future, he notes, “The more complex systems going into the buildings today will require more capable personnel tomorrow. There are two basic ways to address the challenge. One is to continue to evolve by teaching, training, and developing the people you have, which is our first commitment. The second is through hiring new employees. The new employee search criteria today are different than they were 10 years ago. We’ve always looked for ‘success characteristics’  in our new hires. If you acknowledge the industry has evolved and become more complex, you have to accept it takes more capable employees to meet the challenges. The change does not mean the same people aren’t the right people to meet the challenges; rather, it means if they haven’t made a commitment to their professional development; they won’t be able to keep up as the industry evolves.”

Fortunately, adds Robinson, “We have those capable people on staff; we’re not playing catch-up. For instance, if we were just stepping into green design (one of Hines’ long-standing initiatives) and we had no history, we might need to bring in someone from the outside to help us. But we have people who have been looking at this for years; they were at the forefront of green design when it was in its infancy.”

Ulrich sums it up: “The limitation in the Hines world is ourselves. That’s exciting, but it’s a serious responsibility.  Hines employees are up to the task.”

Linda K. Monroe, Editorial Director (linda.monroe@buildings.com)


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