Garvey Goes Cisco's way

Christine Garvey has recently made the move to vice president at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems from Charlotte-based Bank of America's Commercial Real Estate Services. She served as group executive vice president and was responsible for a $7.5 billion portfolio that included 4,300 properties with 40 million sq. ft. of space in 40 countries. She has also managed corporate real estate for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank.

Garvey holds a juris doctor from Suffolk University Law School in Boston and received her bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.

With just two weeks on the job, Garvey talked to NREI about the challenges she faces at Cisco and how she sees technology changing to meet the needs of the real estate industry.

NREI: What is your overall strategy for Cisco Systems' real estate group and how will your Bank of America experience serve as a resource from which to draw?

GARVEY: I think the issue of the adaptability of space is really enormous. The growth that is envisioned right now for space is so different than for organizations that have been around for 50 years or 100 years. Cisco is growing exponentially when compared to growth in traditional organizations. So how do you put teams of people in geographic areas that can adapt to the requirements of the business unit, anticipate growth three to five years out and find the necessary space for that growth? You can prognosticate but its unlikely that what you theorize now will have validity within a year or two.

NREI: What are the specific real estate needs of a high-tech company, which may not apply with other types of companies?

GARVEY: Cisco has an enormous number of engineers so we need space that allows for collaboration. There is a lot more interaction at Cisco than might exist in more traditional companies. The other is competition for employees - specifically, engineers - is huge, especially in a confined area like Silicon Valley. A company wants to present their amenities package in a way that appeals to new employees. We have a lot of amenities. Our theory is that you spend more money from a space point-of-view on these types of employee benefits instead of focusing on the size of work areas. If you look at our layout and our furniture design you will see that John Chambers, Cisco Systems' president and CEO, and any other officer within the corporation, has the same furniture and the same amount of space as any other employee. Cisco is dedicated to its people and gymnasiums, coffee bars and daycare centers are the kinds of things that make employees more productive.

NREI: What kind of a challenge does handling a global real estate portfolio present?

GARVEY: The challenge is to find indigenous people that understand your culture and needs. Sending expatriates over to other countries can be a very costly alternative. The local players will know who the other local players are in brokerage or construction. Finding people who can adjust to our standards and how we do business is a big challenge.

When we were interviewing five outsourcing vendor partners for Asia they were not used to partnering with each other. You're not going to find the best set of skills in just one company and so we really push them to work with each other and to develop consistent standards for reporting information. In Europe and Asia they weren't used to nor even tolerant of that concept. So it was really sort of 'hammer and nails' to make that happen. The fact that new developments in the United States usually take three to five years to get to other countries also presents a big challenge. And some companies are buying European and Asian partners and integrating those companies with their own standards, which will impact change.

NREI: Do you know of any future global expansion plans?

GARVEY: We will be going into Asia, which is one of our biggest growth markets. And there will be partnerships with companies in India as well. There will also be a big push into Europe. We have offices in London as well as Madrid and Milan. There will be a lot of field offices there for sales and support services for our customers.

NREI: How do you envision the real estate needs of the technology industry as it grows?

GARVEY: As real estate technology needs grow, our business will adapt to the needs of our customers. Banks are just one example. There is a move to call centers, distribution centers and a bricks-and-clicks technology thrust. The challenge will be to make our buildings adaptable for all that and working with our customers to wire their buildings with the technology they need. And again, what you can put in your building that is good for employees will attract good help.

NREI: How do you think technology is influencing real estate?

GARVEY: One - and this is an aside from the corporate premises itself - is e-commerce. is a good example of where e-commerce is central to a company. Rather than relying on outsourcing vendors, they are building huge warehouses so that they can use the top technology to get their items off the shelf and into delivery within half a day. The expectation of buying over the Internet is that the merchandise will be to the customer in a couple of days, not weeks later. Also, you're going to be attracting people from old- line companies who would rather work where they can get paid in technology options, which is an attractive option.

NREI: Why do you think we are seeing an increase in technology awareness and usage?

GARVEY: Because it only makes good business sense. Five years ago if you were developing a 300,000 sq. ft. to 500,000 sq. ft. build-to-suit office building you would have a meeting, the architect would redraw the plans and the plans would be sent back out to everybody. All the comments would have to come back and be analyzed and that takes an enormous amount of time. Now you can be filming in rapid time and watch the project develop over the Internet and make changes together.

NREI: How has the explosion of the Internet influenced your company?

GARVEY: I think Cisco is at the heart of it because we have a company that all the Internet runs on. We wouldn't be growing if the Internet wasn't exploding. And the opportunities for Cisco in Asia and Europe are staggering.

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