CBRE Labs Specializes in ‘Experiments’

Elie  Finegold, Senior Vice President, Global Innovation & Business Intelligence at CBRE. Photo by Michael Samples.

The company that has been known as CBRE since 1998 has actually been around for more than 100 years. What started as a real estate brokerage is now the world’s largest provider of commercial real estate services, with a hand in everything from janitorial supplies to facility strategies.

To ensure that it maintains its leadership position well into its second century, the firm has to stay somewhat nimble. But nimbleness is not a quality one would normally associate with a company that has more than 70,000 employees managing billions of square footage. That’s why CBRE Labs was created in 2012.

“We have a global mandate to look across our business lines and our geographies to create and find interesting new things,” says Elie Finegold, who leads CBRE Labs as the company’s senior vice president for global innovation and business intelligence. This is his second stint with CBRE; the firm acquired Insignia Financial Group, where Finegold was chief innovation officer, in 2003. He was recruited to return to CBRE in 2011, after serving as the founding president of Island Global Yachting, a developer of luxury waterfront properties and marinas.

The CBRE Labs team expands and contracts depending on its projects—or, as Finegold calls them, “experiments”—because each one requires a different skill set.

Although CBRE is headquartered in Los Angeles, much of the company’s technological operations are based in Dallas as a result of the 2006 acquisition of the Trammell Crow Company. CBRE Labs shares a flexible space in a downtown skyscraper with the firm’s global IT department. There are no assigned desks, and lockers are available to store employees’ possessions.

The CBRE Labs team expands and contracts depending on its projects—or, as Finegold calls them, “experiments”—because each one requires a different skill set. Consequently, the team is a mix of outside contractors and full-time employees who are temporarily reassigned. Sometimes, the headcount numbers in the single digits.

The Labs’ first project was CBRE Engaged, a tablet app that allows sales teams to make more effective presentations. It debuted a few years ago—“well ahead of the curve of iPads being widespread in our business,” Finegold says. More recently, Finegold’s team developed BOLT, a proprietary marketing intelligence tool that was introduced at a companywide summit in October. BOLT—which, among other things, makes it easier to present comps about similar leases—is already in use in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets before being rolled out globally.

“Technology grows exponentially, but real estate is a linear business. It moves to a different set of rhythms than the tech world,” Elie Finegold says. “For us to be effective, we have to manage both curves.”

But, Finegold says, “We look at what we create as just one of our outputs.” Other such outputs are partnerships with firms such as Hightower and View The Space, which Finegold’s team “discovered” and brought into the CBRE fold. Another is the technological education CBRE Labs can provide to the company’s employees and clients.

Some of the CBRE Labs experiments originate with Finegold’s team, who comb the entire organization for problems in need of solutions, while others come from leaders of various business lines who say something like, “We have this idea. Can you look at it?”

“Technology grows exponentially, but real estate is a linear business. It moves to a different set of rhythms than the tech world,” Finegold says. “For us to be effective, we have to manage both curves.”


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