Educational or extinction: real estate executives have a choice

Are corporate real estate executives about to become an endangered species? Companies continue to downsize and divest. Outsourcing of real estate services is accelerating as companies look for ways to improve their bottom line. And to make matters worse, cyberspace is threatening the need for real space.

But is it all doom and gloom? Absolutely not. There's no question that corporate real estate professionals stand at a pivotal point. In the next millennium, it will be survival of the fittest. We all need to sharpen our Darwinian skills.

Fortunately for real estate executives, there are some excellent survival tools now available. Emerging as one of the most powerful is the new industry-wide certification program known as Board Certified in Corporate Real Estate (BCCR). The designation was developed to confer the clout of a CPA in accounting or AIA in architecture.

An outgrowth of landmark Corporate Real Estate 2000 research conducted by the International Development Research Council (IDRC) in conjunction with M.I.T., Cornell and Carnegie-Mellon, the certification recognizes that simply being an outstanding real estate "dealmaker" no longer ensures job security in today's world. That task could easily be outsourced tomorrow to a specialist without a hefty benefits package to cost-justify.

What corporate real estate professionals need to strive for instead is to become generalists with in-depth knowledge of the whole corporate real estate spectrum and how it can be used to contribute to shareholder value and corporate profitability. They must keep their transaction and project execution skills sharp, while moving into strategic planning roles that focus on how companies can leverage what is typically their second-biggest asset: real estate.

Toward that end, the new certification requires candidates to pass rigorous examinations in five core competencies I ) strategic planning, 2) transections, 3) site selection and location analysis, 4) management of facilities, and 5) project execution. All exams include pertinent general business, accounting and finance questions. It is a big-picture approach that requires professionals to take off the blinders and become well-versed in multiple tasks that will make them indispensable to their companies.

Testament to the certification's potency is that the highest ranks of our industry are pursuing the BCCR designation. Top real estate executives from Dun & Bradstreet, Prudential Insurance, Lockheed Martin Corp., The Travelers Insurance Co. and numerous other blue-chip companies were among the first to register for the program. Leading service providers, ranging from brokers to developers, have also signed up in impressive numbers. Many have 20 or more years of experience in the business.

Equally important is that none of these seasoned pros are being "grandfathered" or being awarded the designation without completing all the requirements. That makes BCCR highly credible. It is truly a standardized corporate real estate competency-assessment tool. There are no short-cuts and it offers a black-and-white picture of a person's knowledge and skills.

The certification's objectivity is precisely what makes it so appealing. Corporations can use it as a benchmark to assure that they have the highest competency levels in their management ranks. It provides an effective means of identifying professionals who are ready to take on broader, more difficult challenges. It is also a valuable tool for hiring new employees and will almost certainly become a prerequisite for some positions.

I believe BCCR will also set the standard for service providers. It will become especially critical for site selection consultants, brokerages, design and construction firms, property management companies and others who typically work in alliances. If the groundswell of certification continues, the day will come that corporations will require their service providers to be certified. Impossible, you say? Consider how ISO 9000 certification is now a baseline requirement for doing business with many companies.

Just as becoming ISO-certified is no cakewalk, attaining the BCCR designation is also a stringent process. In addition to passing examinations in the five core competencies, candidates need to complete four elective courses and a capstone course. The capstone is an intensive three-day workshop that will require a candidate to integrate skills from all five core competencies and to demonstrate their ability to apply skills and knowledge to "real life" work situations.

Earning the certification will be tough, but certainly not impossible. Study guides that provide a roadmap for preparing for the exams are available. These include detailed discussions of the five subject areas, as well as a list of references for further study, including reading materials and educational courses from IDRC, SIOR IFMA, BOMI, CIREI and other organizations. Although a fast-track approach is possible, candidates can take up to five years to complete certification requirements.

My advice to corporate real estate and related professionals? Get started on your BCCR today. Don't wait until it's too late.

John Peace is a senior real estate manager at Lucent Technologies Morristown, N.J., and chairman of the board on Certification for Corporate Real Estate.

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