INTERVIEW WITH STELLA CANIVENC
Interviewed on June 19, 2020
Interviewed by Yingying Zhu
Stella Canivenc is fully engaged in bringing Host to investors and occupiers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa through “whatever it takes” missions to bring innovation and change in the workplace. Prior to CBRE, she founded two proptech start-ups, launched streaming media and web hosting services in Europe and started her career in finance in London. Stella holds a BTS in Bilingual Administration & International Trade, an MS in English and Economy and an MBA degree. She is a foodie who likes to travel the world, particularly Asia. She is a wife and mom to a second grader who has an insatiable curiosity.
First, can we start with what is Host as a new service product provided by CBRE and what are the issues in the workplace that Host is trying to address? Host is a workplace experience platform offered by CBRE to both occupiers and building owners. Host consolidates a variety of service at our clients’ fingertips. Whether it is lunch delivery, conference room reservation, visitor management, or wellness class booking, they can do it within our intuitive mobile app. The more important part of Host’s benefit is the creation of community. Our well-trained service professionals organize all kinds of in-person services to employees providing mail and document services, events to improve connections and collaboration between everyone in the workplace. Technology also helps fostering the community. For example, our indoor location technology makes it possible for employees to send their locations within the building to their teammates so they can easily gather for an informal meeting at a café table or an empty training room. Recently we adapted by moving our programs online such as virtual site launches and events. The purpose is to provide a highly connected experience and remove friction for our clients.
What is Host’s value proposition for building owners and occupiers? Most clients are interested in Host for the hospitality services, the improved sense of community that we provide and enables their digital workplace strategy, which in turn contribute to higher productivity and higher retention rate for talents and tenants.
You mentioned a few teams of Host. What is the team structure of Host? Host has dedicated teams including Sales and Solutions, Implementation & Operations and our in-house Product & Technology team. More importantly Host is able to pull in any SME (Subject Matter Expert) from any part of CBRE global team to provide a full suite of service for our client. This is the one of the biggest strengths of Host.
“…with the help of Mixed Reality, building managers will be able to monitor and populate the digital twin while walking through a space, allowing collaboration and remote shared knowledge, similar to performing a remote surgery.”
Host is “a people led tech-enabled workplace experience solution built using Microsoft Azure, IoT and Mixed Reality”. Can you explain what these technologies do for Host? Host provides technology-enabled services by creating a “digital twin” of the workplace. It is beyond a 3D digital model of the physical space in the architectural context. Using digital twins, we create virtual replicas of the spaces and resources within buildings and occupier spaces. Combined with the use of IoT sensor data, we surface actionable insights into the way spaces are being occupied and used. Mixed Reality is a very interesting innovation that I believe will change the future of how we experience our environment, buildings and workplace. It adds a digital layer to our real environment and can deliver a personal experience. For instance, with the help of Mixed Reality, building managers will be able to monitor and populate the digital twin while walking through a space, allowing collaboration and remote shared knowledge, similar to performing a remote surgery.
How did you decide to join Host after founding two startups? I founded two Proptech companies before Proptech was even the term. I started a media firm by operating dynamic digital signage network in office and retail buildings in 2007. I partnered with Quividi, who provided a key differentiator solution at the time. Using facial recognition technology, we were able to track the efficiency of the digital content, measure real time audience on the network, and deliver key insights to advertisers, such as how many people had actually watched the ads, their attention time and whether they were men or women. It was valuable information that was often lacking in other medium at the time. In 2008, once the financial crisis hit the advertising industry, the business model proved hard to sustain. My second startup came as I was operating a short-term rental in the same shared hospitality mindset as Host – my team provided a unique curated experience for guests whilst having to manage the back of the house operation including clients’ check-in and check-out, maintaining, cleaning and renovating. I developed an app to deliver both front end services and managed back end operations. Host’s vision was very close to what I was doing albeit in hospitality, so it convinced me to return to the corporate world after 12 years of building startups.
How different is it to rejoin the corporate world? How does your entrepreneurial experience help your today? There are a lot of adjustments. Working in a large company where I am not the only leader, requires more communication and collaboration to reach a decision. I have been able to bring my expertise from my experiences from leading cross functional teams in tech and marketing, working in hospitality, but mostly my entrepreneurial experience has taught me to think about both how to meet client’s objectives at a strategic level and how to develop a solution at operational level to ensure we deliver. No matter the size of the client, it is a big commitment when clients place their trust in us. I always take that trust very seriously.
“We have read a lot of support statements from companies who indicate they are “listening” and want to “do more and better” as a result of the recent social movement, which is good but it is NOT a plan.”
There has been a lot of discussion on minority discrimination and leadership lately. As a minority female leader, how would you suggest the corporations to address the issue? As a minority it is made very clear that you have to work much harder to be recognized or promoted in a corporate environment, so meritocracy is an issue. Based on current data, the probability of Black female accessing a senior leadership role are next to none and it has nothing to do with skill set, competence, or experience, it is solely based on gender and race. We have read a lot of support statements from companies who indicate they are “listening” and want to “do more and better” as a result of the recent social movement, which is good but it is NOT a plan. For decades, we have had support and statements but not much has changed. This time, we need a plan of actions to see a real change. Putting my founder hat on, a company needs to spend time understanding their future clients first and foremost, in this particular case, the employees. Once we have gathered feedback, to be successful we set targets, recruit the right team, test and track the progress. It might have to be a long-term target to resolve this particular issue, say a 10-year plan, but the senior leadership has to set a specific plan with milestones. “Doing more and better” requires stopping doing some of the other things to make way for new initiatives. The leadership has to diligently see to the target being reached without immediately delegating to a “diversity officer”.
It sounds very similar to the Proptech situation. Many companies like to include it as a buzzword in their company mission but only a few would put in the time and effort to adopt and change. It is a great analogy. Companies should be careful of the “Tech Tourism Trap”: talking about technologies but not taking real actions to change their way of doing business or to pilot new ideas. Again, a top down approach will provide the necessary impulse and a commitment to change will be key even if it means having to go through test, adjustments and uncomfortable phases.
How does being a mother work with your other demanding roles including being a startup founder and a leader at a top real estate firm? I did not plan to be a mother at the same time as starting my own business, but it just so happened:) I am not saying this is a must for everyone by any means, but being a mother does make me a better person. It teaches me about how to guide, being a leader in the long run and helping others realize their potential. That said being a mother is definitively a tough role. Mothers are pulling a quadruple-shift every day, i.e. the before-the-work-getting-your-child-ready shift, the working-full-day shift, the after-the-work-taking-care-of-your-child shift and the-picking-up-more-work-while-your-child-sleeping shift. There is no vacation or break from being a mother no matter what happens. Multitasking means that I have to be more organized at work and to adapt. I do not believe work life balance is about complete separation. Both my child and my work deserve dedicated time slots which I plan for. That said creativity and problem solving rarely happen on schedule. I find that allowing for flexibility and space helps increase my performance.
Edited and condensed for clarity.