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At Your Service: Rajesh Pandit

Automation will never replace quality personal service. Rajesh Pandit, CBRE Asia Pacific’s Managing Director, Global Workplace Solutions, India and Property Management, India, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa, understands this and has grown the business around it.

After years of turbulence and instability, recovery is finally on the cards for the real estate market in 2024. That’s the view of leading commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Asia Pacific, whose outlook for the year suggests a return to normalcy will follow a final gust of headwinds in the first quarter.

Good news for the sector, and even better for its people. Those who’ve endured the tough times are set to be rewarded for their patience, and according to Rajesh Pandit, CBRE Managing Director, Global Workplace Solutions, India and Property Management, India, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa, retention is the firm’s secret sauce.

"If you ask me, we’re the biggest brand in the market, but clients don’t choose us for that reason," he tells The CEO Magazine. "Our people are our biggest differentiators."

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With a workforce of over 130,000 people spread across offices in over 100 countries around the world, that’s a powerful point of difference.

"We don’t sell products the way a professional services firm would," Pandit says. "You can buy quality products, but what you cannot buy is a good service attitude. And that’s something we really propagate within our business."

CBRE’s roots can be traced back almost 120 years, when a small commercial real estate services firm was founded in San Francisco. Over the decades, the company became increasingly global in scope, and as it did so, it leaned heavily on its foundation of strong values.

The RISE value system – respect, integrity, service and excellence – remains at the heart of CBRE’s global operations. Pandit says these values are the reason why CBRE is able to retain the best and maintain such a strong clientele network.

Keeping People Happy

Talent development is at the forefront of Pandit’s work with CBRE Asia Pacific. "When you have no products to sell, you must be all about the people, so talent continues to be a challenge," he says.

"Take project management, for example. In India, there are courses one can do to become a project manager. But when it comes to facility management and property management, the training options aren’t sufficient in my opinion."

By inviting people into a company, you must also offer a pathway for growth and development. "When you’re trying to attract talent, you want the A player. You don’t want to hire a C player if you don’t have the bandwidth to make them into A players," he says.

"We invest not just money, but time into learning and development. Of course, 70 percent of that is on-the-job training. And as your company grows and you’re doubling your number of people, you need a leadership pipeline wherein they’re able to run such a large business."

"If you ask me, we’re the biggest brand in the market, but clients don’t choose us for that reason. Our people are our biggest differentiators."

With a lack of effective formal education options in the field, that on-the-job training is a crucial investment for a company like CBRE. Pandit believes the solution is interpersonal.

"In this industry, it’s no longer simply managing offices. We manage budgets of upwards of US$20 million – not a small number. By upskilling people, you help them understand how to handle these larger responsibilities," he says.

"We must be doing something good," he says. "Our clients continue to work with us because they respect the work that we do. It’s that exceptional service that sets us apart and that comes through our people."

There’s a simple formula behind Pandit’s success. "People are more important than clients. If I can keep my people happy, they’ll keep my clients happy. That’s my business motto."

A Growing Team

This line of thinking has kept Pandit in good stead for more than two decades. "I joined CBRE in August 2000, in what was then the very small, sleepy city of Chennai," he says.

"It was a modestly sized operation, and I was responsible for building all lines of business for CBRE."

With his background in management and sales, it didn’t take long for Pandit to rise through the ranks. Within two years, he was promoted and sent to Mumbai to run facilities management for India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

"That means managing assets for owners and investors, but I was given an additional responsibility: looking after our outsourcing business," he adds. "At the time it was a very small business in India, typical of facilities and property management."

Today, outsourcing is the largest business in CBRE’s Indian arm, and the entirety of it falls within Pandit’s remit.

"This business is about doing things right the first time."

"When I started with the business, I had a team of 150 people. Two decades later, I’m very proud to have a team that’s grown to 7,000 people in the region, and that includes many people I hired 20 years ago," he says.

"We continue to work together all these years later. I’m also very big on succession planning. I already have three ready successors. We’re very passionate when it comes to people at CBRE, and it shows."

Pandit has a significant role to play within the business, which explains the size and strength of his team.

"I’m responsible for the occupier’s side of the business, which we call facilities management," he notes. "I’m also responsible for property management, which looks after assets for owners and investors."

This area of influence includes India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well as South-East Asia and select Middle Eastern markets.

"Some of our businesses in these countries were not always very well aligned within the larger firm," Pandit says. "Early on I would travel much more than I do now in order to strengthen these businesses. Even today, I try to make at least a trip or two each year to the geographies I manage."

Roadmap to Growth

The result of this hands-on approach is strong CBRE leadership in those countries, as well as a winning market position that affords Pandit and other CBRE executives time to spend nurturing and growing the business.

"When I joined, we were a US$2 billion company," he says. "We’ve made so many acquisitions since then that we’re now a US$30 billion company. We were nowhere on the Fortune 500; currently we’re at 135."

CBRE is an outsourcing business, but it’s not always clear to clients why that matters. Through strategic outsourcing partnerships, clients are able to optimize their commercial real estate portfolios and free themselves up to focus on doing business.

Pandit says it’s crucial to explain to clients why they should outsource. "It’s not about why they should work with CBRE, but how outsourcing can work for them," he says.

"When I joined, we were a US$2 billion company. We’ve made so many acquisitions since then that we’re now a US$30 billion company."

CBRE’s clients are, he explains, at various phases of outsourcing; some may only be first generation while others are more advanced.

"We create a road map for our clients," he says. "It’s a journey that shows them what they can outsource now, and how that will benefit them in the long run."

For many clients, CBRE’s guidance has dramatic ramifications. Dusters Total Solutions Services and Orril Energy Services are among those who’ve enjoyed the benefits.

"Rajesh’s commendable support extends beyond mere opportunity," says Lakshmi Arun Kumaar, Director of Orril Energy Services.

"It catalyzes our growth. By entrusting business to CBRE, Rajesh not only champions diversity but also fuels the expansion of the woman entrepreneur’s portfolio, amplifying her impact and fostering economic empowerment."

Sustainable Goals

In India, CBRE manages 500 clients totaling 41.8 million square meters of real estate. "In the context of India’s total footprint, that’s a big number," Pandit says. "And that’s a place where we do extremely well from a management perspective when it comes to energy, waste and water."

Sustainability has become a galvanizing cause in the business community, but Pandit says CBRE is ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting its net zero goal by 2040.

"We want 100 percent renewable energy across our corporate operations by 2025, as well as 100 percent renewable CBRE fleet electrification, meaning any vehicle that CBRE would use by 2035 would be electric," he says.

"We are pursuing that goal with the same commitment with which we work with our clients to create their net-zero roadmaps."

Technological Tools

To do so, CBRE employs one of the sharpest tools at its disposal: technology.

"If 23 degrees become 24, how does that impact the business and its output? How do we improve efficiency and productivity? Technology. Little by little, we are using digital tools for jobs such as data collection."

While automation may seem like anathema to a people-focused company such as CBRE, Pandit says careful implementation can improve the business as a whole.

"You can buy quality products, but you cannot buy a good service attitude."

"Getting the right people to work in our buildings is becoming a challenge. As more and more avenues open up, people will become shorter in supply," he says.

"Hence, technology will help augment manpower we currently use. There’s no chance of manual error in our finance processing because we’re using robotics, for instance. Another example: buildings are now being designed in a way that allows robots to handle cleaning."

But this is far from a future where machines do it all, he stresses. "You’re using technology to support the end user to get the experience they want. And the employee experience then improves because you’re getting people who understand what excellence in service means."

Exceptional Service

Thought leadership in the commercial real estate services sector is a challenge.

"How do you institutionalize the sharing of best practices?" he asks. "Frankly, we’re not rocket scientists in this business. It’s about doing things right the first time."

CBRE has tackled this issue by creating a strong governance program that’s attended and appreciated by clients.

"Because of our size to scale benefits, we are able to benchmark for our clients. I actually think our business is very similar to hotels. Each and every member of our group works to create an exceptional service platform for anyone who’s with CBRE, regardless of their industry."

And just as it is with hotels, Pandit believes service makes a world of difference.

"I’d like to invite more service industry professionals to our sector," he says. "When it comes to hotels, I personally prefer exceptional service above all, and that’s what we at CBRE are here to deliver."

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