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View from the C-suite: Patrizia’s HR head

Evaluating the employer value proposition is paramount, PATRIZIA’s head of human resources, Simon Woolf, tells PERE

What prompted your appointment and how is the HR function evolving within the real estate fund management firm?   

Patrizia has strengthened its European footprint in recent years to become a major player internationally. The board regards the company’s people agenda as being a crucial element in supporting the company’s growth. My role is to ensure we have the talent in place to support this growth and ensure Patrizia remains an employer of choice. My experience from outside the real estate industry was also important. I was previously head of human resources for a major music corporation, an industry that reinvented itself due to digitalization. The real estate sector is on the cusp of that journey, which presents an exciting opportunity.

What single activity or aspect of your role takes up the most bandwidth on a daily/weekly basis?

I only joined Patrizia six months ago, so it is early days, but my initial focus has been to ensure we have the infrastructure and processes in place for HR to manage talent on a global scale and in a rapid way. We are developing exciting plans for Patrizia’s progressive talent agenda, but to do that we need the infrastructure first.

What HR issues keep you awake at night? 

Attitudes to the working environment are changing. People are more environmentally and socially aware, and we need to support our employees in achieving that. I see that as an opportunity, not a worry. We are currently evaluating our employer value proposition to understand what current and future generations really want and expect from an employer. That touches everything from flexible working, working in an ‘always on’ digital environment, to generations which are less focused on the modern, traditional hierarchical routes of career progression. It is about creating the life opportunities people are looking for from employers.

What is the least understood aspect of the HR function in real estate fund management firms?

The potential to really harness the power of the brand by living and breathing the culture is a really powerful tool for the people agenda. People analytics is another area, which every sector, not just real estate, is grappling with. Automating systems using AI and analyzing that data has the potential to really change and enhance people management capabilities. It is an important tool for organizations but no one has found the silver bullet yet.

Technology and data skills are becoming critical in real estate investment. Is it a challenge to hire for these roles?

Technology, innovation and digital capability are areas we are very much focused on building out as an organization, but it is a combination of building our own internal function while also bringing in experts from outside to help. Being a relatively new skill set, recruiting talent in the area of big data and analytics is tougher. We find it less challenging to hire technology roles.

What lessons have you learned in your role? 

The trick is to be super professional and client-centric. Understand the business, understand the business strategy and what you are trying to achieve, and make sure your people agenda aligns to that. Real estate is a people business, you need excellent people for doing excellent business. A people strategy built in isolation is meaningless. Listening and getting close to the business, understanding how each business unit operates and the interconnectivity is crucial.