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Effective office use, efficiency and innovation at Barclays Bank: an interview with Simon Ward


Interview by: Debbie Hepton

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Image: Simon WardSimon Ward joined Barclays Bank as Group Property Director in June 2009, based in London. He is accountable to the Group Financial Controller and the Group Finance Director for the overall real estate strategies and policies for the firm.

Previously, Simon was Global Head of Corporate Real Estate & Services (CRES) at Deutsche Bank, where he spent eight years. Initially, as Head of the EMEA region, he led a significant rationalization of the real estate portfolio and the re-engineering of the CRES business in support of the Bank’s cost containment programme.  He spearheaded the introduction of the Workplace Strategies Team, and also the Global and Regional Real Estate Committees.

Simon became the Global Head of CRES in April 2004, and was latterly focused on developing the strength and depth of the CRES team and operating model in support of the Bank’s business agenda, whilst maintaining strict cost discipline.  Prior to joining DB, Simon worked for JLW/JLL from 1988 through to 2000, firstly in the City Agency team until 1995 following which he moved over to what is now the Corporate Solutions Team, before leaving to join DB.

Simon is a qualified Chartered Surveyor and dedicated family man.  He is a past President of the British Council for Offices and an active member of CoreNet Global.

DH: Earlier in 2009 you joined Barclays as Group Property Director. How have you settled in to this role? What do your day to day tasks entail?

Simon Ward:

I am really enjoying my new role at Barclays. There are a lot of very talented, ambitious and pleasant people here. The Bank is driven by its desire to become one of a handful of universal banks leading the global financial services industry, helping our customers and clients throughout the world achieve their goals, and I feel thoroughly re-energized by that challenge.

My role as Group Property Director is split into two parts. First, as Head of Barclays Property, I am responsible for the Group’s property strategy. This entails ensuring we have “joined up” real estate strategies for our major hubs and locations, and that any capital projects are aligned to those strategies. As the Group Principal Risk Owner for property, I am also responsible for ensuring that the operational CRES teams perform their tasks in accordance with the Group’s various policies and procedures that we apply to our property activities.

The second part of my role involves working with the leaders of the CRES teams to evolve a vision of what world-class CRE looks like for Barclays, and to work out how we are going to get there partnering together. We have already made quite good progress with this and have a clear set of objectives not only for 2010, but for the next 3-5 years. It has been a great deal of fun getting this together and I am looking forward to working with many of my new colleagues to operationalize this vision.

DH: How does this role differ from your previous position as Global Head of Corporate Real Estate & Services at Deutsche Bank?

Simon Ward:

Many of the issues and challenges are the same for both banks. Deutsche Bank and Barclays are structured differently and the Barclays structure allows me much more time to think and operate at the strategic level.

DH: What were your main achievements during your time at Deutsche Bank?

Simon Ward:

One of my key achievements was building a strong team. All of my former senior colleagues and I can be proud of the strength and depth of the team that we built. That includes not only the internal team but, also, all of the relationships and partnerships that we built with our Tier 1 and other vendor partners.

I’d like to think that I will be remembered, more than anything, for building a team that had spirit and that, as a group of professionals, we enjoyed working with one another, were very committed to what we were doing, and executed superbly.

I was also pleased with the strong and pro-active focus that we were able to bring within the business to longer-term real estate strategies for our key locations, as opposed to just tactical deal-making in reaction to business need. To me, that is the crux of what a corporate real estate function needs to get right most of all; everything else it does is really in support of delivering and maintaining that.

We did a lot of work in terms of process improvement and standardization, and that is still very much ongoing. I was particularly pleased with the achievements in the project management space, as well as some of the progress we were making with workplace and sustainability which are obviously two of the principal issues that most large corporate real estate team are focused on today.

DH: Continuing on from the first question, what obstacles and challenges have you faced during this early stage at Barclays, and what do you hope to achieve going forward?

Simon Ward:

In terms of obstacles and challenges, I would turn that around and say that I have had a very positive experience in joining Barclays, as I have alluded to already. The overarching feeling coming here is that I have joined an organization that is very receptive to change and continuous improvement as part of its ambition to become a World-class universal bank. The Bank’s Guiding Principals really say it all: Winning together, Best people, Customer and Client Focus, Pioneering and Trusted.

DH: What role can the CRE strategy play in attracting and retaining employees?

Simon Ward:

Barclays takes the health and wellbeing of its staff extremely seriously, and I’ve started to work with the HR and CRES teams to think about how we increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the workplace at the firm.

“As people travel less and use technology more to connect, and as we get better utilization out of the office space that we do have, that suggests that there will be, overall, less space required.”

As well as cost and efficiency, an effective workplace initiative can also help attract and retain staff by creating fit-for-purpose working environments that stimulate greater productivity and innovation. Specifically, we recognize that the bank is an amalgam of different businesses who have different demands of their people and, therefore, of their space. Practically, therefore, they work in different ways and thus CRE has to recognize that one size does not fit all.

There is no question that banks rely on innovation just as much as any other corporation, much of which comes as a result of intense collaboration and teamworking. So the ability to provide the right environment for teams to come together and collaborate is key.

I think we have a particular challenge with parts of the Barclays portfolio around enabling and supporting management in terms of inspiring their people. By that I mean that quite a lot of the portfolio seems ‘tired’. As part of looking at the workplace, I certainly feel we need to look at how we can make the space more inspiring for people to work in, as we seek to motivate and inspire our staff more generally.

DH: According to an article in Telephony World, office use by corporate America is expected to decline by 40 per cent over the next five years. How far do you agree with this, and do you think it is a global issue?

Simon Ward:

That’s an interesting one, which plays to the workplace question that you have just asked. Logically, if we are going to create more efficient and more sustainable workplaces, then we are going to need less of them. As people travel less and use technology more to connect, and as we get better utilization out of the office space that we do have, that suggests that there will be, overall, less space required. So less space, yes. Whether it’s as much as 40 per cent less, I really wouldn’t know

I still think there is a crucial role that the physical workplace will continue to play as regards team working and innovation. Yes, you can do some of that with technology – on the internet, etc. – but it’s not the same as being face to face, working as part of a team and really getting the creative juices flowing in a way that people would recognize today. Logically, I think we will use less space. I think that we could also end up using space in a more distributed model. If you look at Barclays in the UK, we are certainly going to be looking at ideas for what I call a “micro-hub strategy”, I.E. more local and regional use of space, so that people would perhaps need to come to the main or regional head office less frequently and otherwise working more locally.

DH: Speaking at a CoreNet Global meeting, best selling author Rowan Gibson highlighted that many corporate real estate executives would agree that cost cutting has gotten pretty close to the bone, and that “innovation is the only tool left in the toolbox.” What is your opinion on this?

Simon Ward:

A number of things come to mind: Many organizations, particularly the larger ones, have squeezed space standards pretty much as far as they can go. They have also squeezed their vendor partners, in terms of FM service and project management service and cost. There will always be ideas about how you can streamline a process and therefore make things cheaper, and they will continue as one is able to Lean and/or Six Sigma processes or services. There will always be areas for improvement, but a lot of cost has been cut. It is surprising, though, how you can keep finding savings. I still think that there is probably a fair way to go yet in terms of the standardization of a lot of the services in the operational world. There is an opportunity for the Johnson Controls or CBREs of this world in the FM and construction disciplines to further standardize their service offering, because corporates – given the opportunity – will tend to specify a service very much to their own standard, whereas in fact a market standard should be perfectly acceptable.

However, in many ways corporates are more comfortable thinking about the revenue line rather than the cost line. One can directly influence the cost line quite quickly, which you need to when you lose control of the revenue line in an economic downturn. We have been through an awful lot in the last couple of years so people have had to look at cost, but more generally, innovation is something that organizations are thinking an awful lot about; whether that’s new products or new ways of doing things and that’s why a lot of corporations are very focused on getting “A” players into their organizations. They need to be a step ahead and innovating all the time. Banking is no different to the IT world. A new banking product probably has a shelf life of six months before the competition catches up, in the same way that something out of Nokia does. It’s pretty similar in that respect.

I think that people would agree with that general assertion. Innovation is key, and CRE’s role is to enable people to network and collaborate so that they can innovate and invent, as I said earlier.

April 2010.

Effective office use, efficiency and innovation at Barclays Bank: an interview with Simon Ward