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|Moderator:||Simon Ziff, Ackman Ziff Real Estate|
|Panelists:||Brad Greiwe, Fifth Wall|
|Tyler Henritze, Blackstone|
|Ayesha Menon, Sidewalk Labs|
By Christopher Grube ’20 & Jason Segal ’20
Simon Ziff led an engaging panel on the ways technology is transforming real estate and the built environment. The group covered diverse topics including the applications of big data, the impact of disruptors such as WeWork and Airbnb, and the innovative designs that are shaping cities in the future.
Tyler Henritze opened the discussion with how technology is changing Blackstone’s approach to real estate investment. Blackstone now deploys a team of data analysts to garner insights from the firm’s extensive portfolio. With this data, Blackstone improves its efficacy as a partner and an investor, using its scale to provide actionable information to its local operators and new metrics to value investments beyond traditional underwriting measures. Technology has also changed the way Blackstone looks at an investment opportunity. Henritze referenced recent changes in the hotel industry as an example. In the past, a hotel guest’s experience was believed to start and end at the property. Today, that experience has stretched beyond the asset, beginning with online discovery and ending with a post-visit review. As a result hotel owners and brands are investing significantly into various technology initiatives. When evaluating new investments, Blackstone’s team seeks to understand both the real estate and how technology is impacting the overall customer/tenant experience.
Ayesha Menon echoed many of Tyler Henritze’s sentiments, highlighting the potentially transformative effects data will have on urban planning. Through a pilot program in Toronto, Sidewalk Labs is testing a new urban environment that will offer ubiquitous connectivity and explores new technologies in the design of infrastructural systems, construction techniques, building operations, and city operations. The goal is to enable cities to be more sustainable and more affordable, with happier, healthier and more economically productive populations. One example of how new technologies can accomplish this is with the design of road networks. Ayesha is particularly interested in the advent of autonomous vehicles, which she believes could spark a reconfiguration of road design, land use (around right of way), and amount of density that a city can handle without becoming crippled with congestion and lengthy commute times. By more efficiently allocating right of way (parking, number of lanes, sidewalks, bike lanes etc.), autonomous vehicles could free up land for public realm or more built space, making our neighborhoods more walkable and enabling more efficient land use.
Brad Greiwe agreed with Ayesha that the future real estate landscape is highly dependent on the use case of vehicles. In his view, self-driving cars could make entire asset classes disappear and give rise to new types of real estate. He also spoke to the still sizable opportunity for technological innovation in the real estate industry. Through Fifth Wall, Brad looks to help entrepreneurs close the technological gap in the real estate industry. Fifth Wall’s portfolio companies include innovations that reshape interactions with the physical environment and leverage data to improve the efficiency of retail space. Moving forward, he believes data will be increasingly valuable, and firms that are able to leverage data in their decision making processes will come out ahead. One example he gave was in the hotel industry, where he sees potential for hotel owners to integrate data on short term rentals into their pricing models. The move towards a data-driven approach, Brad noted, is dependent on managers’ abilities to rethink their business models in anticipation of a new technological landscape.
The panelists agreed that data analytics and changes in mobility will continue to transform the relationship between owners and users of real estate. Technology has the potential to produce new uses for office and retail space, redefine the urban environment, and reshape the way we interact with our physical environment. Tyler, Ayesha, and Brad see this as both an internal and external opportunity. Internally, firms can now use data in order to make better decisions, while externally, there are increasing opportunities to invest in growing businesses that will help bridge the technological gap in the real estate industry.
Chris Grube ’20 is a first year MBA student at Columbia Business School focused on real estate investment and development. Chris graduated with honors from Northwestern University, with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and International Studies. Prior to CBS, Chris was an Associate in the Commercial Real Estate group at Deutsche Bank where he managed the origination of large commercial mortgage and mezzanine loans for a variety of institutional sponsors.
Jason Segal ’20 is a first year student focused on real estate. Prior to Columbia Business School, Jason served as the Director of Residential Leasing for the KRE Group, overseeing operations for the firm’s portfolio of 9,000 residential units. Jason graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a BBA in Management and Entrepreneurship.