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Feb 28, 2020

Amsterdam – City of Contrasts


I really enjoy visiting Amsterdam, it is an intriguing city, full of contrasts. There’s the old-fashioned, picture-perfect gabled painted houses harking back to the age of Vermeer, flanking the patchwork quilt of canal-bordered islands. Another characteristic of Holland’s largest city is that Amsterdam’s 860, 000 plus inhabitants own an equal number of bikes, making it the most cycle-friendly in the world – its goal is to become a ‘car-free city’ with zero emissions.

Yet Amsterdam is also a city of the future, with some incredible and innovative architecture, including its office buildings. Such as the pioneering Edge, home to Deloitte’s HQ in Amsterdam and described as ‘The Greenest, Smartest Building in the World’. Through its state-of-the-art tech systems it shapes the way people work by assessing the best place for them carry it out.

So this city of contradictions always fascinates and intrigues me every time I visit, as I did recently. My mind kept pivoting between understanding how real estate investors think, to debating dilemmas facing decision-makers in a complex business world, to experiencing a city where the bicycle is ‘king’!

My trip to Amsterdam was a refreshing break and helped me glean some useful insights to complete my thinking for a book I have been working on, titled ‘Where is My Office: Reimagining the 21st Century Workplace’. The book takes a holistic view of the workplace sector from many angles, including the consumer’s. More details will follow…. And this also accounts for the reason why I have been rather quiet on the blogging front in the past few months!

Aside from getting inspiration for my book, another reason for my visit Amsterdam was to catch up with Fons Trompenaars, somebody who certainly knows a thing or two about cultural change. His ‘model of national culture differences’ is applied to business management as a framework for cross-cultural communication. Undoubtedly the multicultural aspect of Amsterdam is a perfect base for Fons, as 50% of the city’s population was born overseas.

Fons was the keynote at the CoreNet Global 2019 Euro Summit in September and having chatted with him about his views on the dilemmas facing corporate real estate, we agreed to do a joint podcast. Our conversation centred on the strategic challenges which impact leadership, the workplace and the role of corporate real estate, as well as how they can come together to provide creative solutions.

Our podcast provided a useful frame of reference for the other reason for my visit, which was attending the ULI European Conference. ULI or the Urban Land Institute is the world’s oldest and largest network of land use and real estate professionals across its many disciplines. It was certainly interesting to meet so many people whose sole focus is financing, development, design and management of real estate. Although it was also just as interesting to note that a key theme running through the event was the topic of climate change and carbon footprint

Personally for me, the most thought-provoking item was a debate on ‘Who will be the future winners in real estate – operators or owners?’ Both perspectives were very well argued, with various compelling points. For example, should investors shift their business models to a B2C basis?
The opposite side, which in my view won the day, argued that overall real estate has done pretty well in recent years, so why change? ‘Location, location, location’ and the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality still rules the day!

I came away from this event wondering whether the supply-side could ever see a different relationship with its consumers. Or, is it the case of never the twain shall meet?

Participating in the ULI conference where the focus is primarily on rent, returns and awards helped me build another perspective. It also provided useful insights which differed with my expectations of the event; a view which I held before coming to Amsterdam. I was certainly gratified to see the issues such as climate change, ESG and sustainability on the minds of delegates. All in all, there were many contrasting opinions and views which befitted the city of contrasts.

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