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Hiring strategies: Time to think outside the square?

Whenever we witness a major global ‘event’, we react and our behaviours change; and we certainly see these significant events occur more often than they used to. In this current COVID-19 crisis, Eddie Reed, Director Property Network of Australia believes it’s now time for more businesses to reassess what skills will be required to move the industry forward and strongly consider sourcing new talent from alternative sectors to complement existing centre management teams.

The economic collapse in the early nineties, 911, the GFC and presently, a global pandemic, are all examples of significant global events that have occurred within the past 30 years and have contributed to changing the course of the world on many levels. These events significantly affect our behaviours, our decision-making and the way we do business. 

As humans, we have an innate ability to become conditioned to new environments and circumstances, adapt and move forward and we’ve done that for thousands of years as a mechanism for survival. Businesses do the same and good businesses and, more significantly, the people who are responsible for leading them, do this to varying levels of success. Unfortunately for the retail property industry, it finds itself at a cross-roads at a time when the industry could ill-afford an unanticipated event to weaken its already fragile position.

In order to successfully adapt to the new challenges we face, we require an increased shift in attitudes towards the type of skill-sets that shopping centre management teams will need to harness to strengthen themselves and operate in this new environment. It’s not about making wholesale changes to personnel, it’s more about a cyclical re-collaboration of team structures and skill sets to match the needs of the new landscape. 

A re-evaluation of what skills shopping centre management teams have at their disposal is what every progressive business should be doing over the coming weeks and months and acting upon it to capture the best talent available. 

In any industry, if you don’t move forward after a period of standing still, you go backwards and for plenty of businesses, we’ve now reached that point. If you weren’t already ahead of the curve by a certain degree, then COVID-19 will unfortunately be the tipping point for moving backwards. Those who act quickest will be the strongest in the long term for sure.

Vicinity’s job fair

For almost ten years I’ve been told by my clients that by and large, candidates ‘must have shopping centre experience’ and while that makes sense to me to a degree, it could also be considered naïve, when assessing the benefits of hiring and introducing skill sets and experience from other industries. This has to change.

More forward-thinking companies don’t always stick to this ‘rule’, however, and the first shift I saw away from this attitude was back in 2012 when the then CFSGAM (Vicinity) moved Casual Mall Leasing (CML) out of what had always been part of marketing/administration roles and into individual sales focused positions. The then and current national manager’s hiring policy was to source individuals who had a sales background (over existing CML) and to move the commercialisation of mall space and media opportunities up to the next level and drive income from additional streams using a focused and sales-led approach. Vicinity now has a highly successful national team and it’s no surprise that they recently made the first industry play (as a landlord), by ‘commercialising’ their CML function and are now delivering CML on behalf of another owner (Perron Group), despite the portfolio in WA being operationally managed by JLL. That’s smart!

Other leading landlords such as AMP Capital, Lendlease, Mirvac and Westfield have also led the way in recent times through thinking outside the square with hiring strategies within centre management functions, particularly in the marketing and facilities space. In many cases, this group of landlords have demonstrated a willingness to source marketing expertise from outside of the shopping centre industry. There has been an increased focus on driving non-discretional spending through improved digital strategies, driving presentation and the customer experience agenda. This has heightened the need to search for new talent from non-traditional sectors such as retail itself, digital agencies or tourism, for example.

This year, we’ve been working on a range of roles where the brief has been to specifically avoid existing shopping centre experience. This has predominantly been within the areas of Casual Leasing, Marketing and Facilities. 

A recent placement in Darwin was for a Leasing Executive, however a candidate with a strong retail marketing background was successful, with our client leaning on the candidate’s ability to first promote the asset to potential retailers using marketing techniques and then position the retail opportunity in an alternative way to secure leases. Since March, that approach has yielded four leasing deals in the middle of a pandemic, but it was this group’s willingness to think outside the square that has brought the strong outcomes in this instance. 

I believe it’s now time for more businesses to reassess what skills will be required to move the industry forward and strongly consider sourcing new talent from alternative sectors to complement existing centre management teams.

The world is a big place and there are a lot of creative people out there who can bring new ideas and solutions to problems from other sectors – and other industries have been doing this for years. 

Smaller, independent landlords certainly have a bit of catching up to do in this respect – and only time will tell if these organisations will be resilient enough to survive the challenges the industry faces in the post-COVID retail era, without making the necessary changes their national competitors have already started to adopt.

About the author

Eddie Reed

Originally from the UK, Director and Founder of Property Network of Australia, Eddie Reed specialises in property related recruitment nationally, across the development, asset/facilities management and leasing space, with a focus on Shopping Centres.

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