Five Things We Learned from Todd Olson


How can commercial real estate professionals succeed in markets like Japan and Korea? What’s driving the growing interest in REITs in these markets? Cushman & Wakefield’s Todd Olson, Managing Director for Japan and Korea, touches on these topics in our Shaping What’s Next podcast series. In this podcast episode, Todd also shares his insights on workplace trends, the importance of data analytics in servicing clients, and more.

We take a look at some of the key points from that conversation.

Workplace solutions and the REIT market are the two hot trends that Cushman & Wakefield Japan and Korea are keeping a close eye on
“Workplace solutions is an area that wasn’t really on the radar for any Japanese corporates, say 12 to 18 months ago. But now almost every meeting they’re asking about it. They’re not as advanced as in some of the other Western countries but they’re in a learning phase. And they’re very curious on what the global best practice is, what Japanese companies are doing, and what other multinational companies are doing. So we’re spending a lot of time with them explaining that. And that certainly will lead to business opportunities with them and opportunities for them to drive the efficiencies and savings in their business. 

Another one is the REIT market. We see how that’s developed in other markets in the region, probably Australia and Singapore being two more mature markets. Certainly the US market as well. The Japanese market is very mature and transparent. We’re actually working and managing the assets for the Nippon REIT which is very active here. But I think as we look forward, the Korean market will really mature and grow and that area will really expand and will have a lot of opportunity not only with our Capital Markets team but also for our other service lines, specifically in Korea.”

Talent attraction and retention as well as M&A activities are currently driving the interest in workplace solutions in Japan 
“I think there are three big things that are driving workplace solutions, at least on the Japanese corporate side. One of them is attraction and retention of staff. With the demographic trends and the fierce battle to attract from a limited labour pool, they’re really trying to enhance not only the workplace itself but also locations of offices and then growing into that to really attract the best talent. And it’s a very competitive market for that right now. Also, we’re in a very low vacancy market where Grade A office is at around a 2% vacancy rate, so the cost for that real estate continues to increase. There’s also an efficiency in trying to rationalize the portfolio and cut operating expenses through workplace solutions. And that goes all the way to hotdesking and other ways to use and occupy less office space.

The third driver is that we’ve had a lot of M&A activity with Japanese corporates globally in the past few years. They merge, they learn, and they see how some of these outside companies are actually a little bit more proactively realising some of these strategies. It’s kind of a peer – not pressure – but there’s a driver there to really look at that and try to be on a global level. They want to make sure they’re also implementing the best practices and there’s pride in trying to do that.”

Integrating global best practices and working on local nuances enable Cushman & Wakefield to succeed in markets like Japan
“In working on a project, what we like to tell them is that there’s certainly many nuances specific to the Japan and Korea markets – language, being perhaps the largest. There are cultural nuances and more business protocols. There’s hierarchy in how you work more effectively within that legal framework. Certainly, they’re different and through experience we need to allow our clients to be able to anticipate and set their expectations back at headquarters appropriately. But at the same time, sometimes the challenges are overblown a little bit by local landlords and there’s a perceived mystique around the markets. When actually, global best practice works in Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka or Busan just like it does in any other global market.Having said that, you do need to customize a little bit certainly and work on some of those nuances.”

When it comes to hiring CRE professionals in Japan and Korea, the right skillset along with real estate experience hold more value than the ability to speak the English language
“Sometimes with the limited bilingual talent available, especially in the North Asian markets, many companies fall into the trap of going just for language rather than pure real estate talent. So we really want to have an environment that caters to all levels of English speakers.As long as you’re a professional within your field, that you can feel comfortable and you can operate within the company, then we have to be open and set up the infrastructure and actually walk that talk per se. 

Some companies or international service providers are leaning more towards putting expats in all senior roles in department head roles throughout the company. In the long term, to get the best for our clients, I don’t think that’s the best and most sustainable value add proposition. But certainly, we do need to find the English speakers as well. I think talent is looking for companies that aren’t just like Japanese or Korean companies, so we want to be like a multinational company. I think that’s really where our culture is and how we set up position as really well.”

Data analytics allows Cushman & Wakefield to better serve clients
“We have to innovate, change, be more efficient, and find ways to not only provide data but analyze that data better to bring better insights to our clients. It’s just an inherent need and rallying point to always try to be better and offer better services. I think being agile is part of that. If you are going to change and you need to change, then you need to be agile and you need to be quick on decisions. I think those are two of the really big, most important things that I also draw out and emphasise with our staff. And because of that, if we’re looking at what’s next, we have to be ahead of our clients and anticipate their needs and issues not only with real estate but also in their business. 

Then we need to be ready to bring that to them and show them what’s going to be what’s next for them as well before they even thought about that. I know that in doing that, we really need to leverage our analytics platform. We have so much data within the company and I am excited in the tools that we’ve invested in to collect that data.Now we’re investing more in really analysing that data. And that really arms all of our professionals to bring some really good insights to our clients, which is a great way to have a conversation at all levels within the organization and not just be reactive to transactions when they’re happening.”

To listen to the full podcast, visit our Shaping What’s Next page on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podbean, Stitcher, or TuneIn. Subscribe to our podcast series to ensure you never miss an episode.

Note: The above article has been edited for clarity.

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