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MARKET PULSE: With Charter Hall picking up two big hires in recent weeks – Tica Hessing as workplace strategy manager for its $23 billion office platform and Andrew Cole as group head of ESG (environment, sustainability governance) and more to come – it’s fair to say this is more evidence of the strategic shift underway in the property world.

Hessing comes from a role of human geographer with Cushman and Wakefield and has made an impact on the events circuit with creative and engaging views on what makes the tenant/office space relationship tick. Now with Covid raring back in Sydney – and its long term impact already underway before the current lockdowns – it’s clear office owners need to pay special attention to whether tenants and happy and healthy. And that doesn’t just mean throwing a café into the foyer. (Watch for our upcoming book on this topic, covering our event of the same name, coming out soon.)

Cole’s appointment (See our 29 June article) indicates the other side of big property owners’ preoccupation: meeting the demands and growing scrutiny coming from investors and tenant stakeholder on ESG (environment, sustainability, governance).

With more big hires believed to be under way it’s clear boss David Harrison is aware he needs to stay ahead of the curve especially as his company seems to be vying for biggest property funds manager against Goodman, as the AFR regularly reminds us.

On size it’s a “whatever” from us, unless size (or scale ) can actually make you better, but on sustainability it’s good to see these roles rising up the pecking order. It wasn’t so long ago the susty manager was tucked away in a corner by themselves, or part of the marketing department.

Worse was when we were told there was no sustainability team as sustainability had to be part of the company’s DNA, a part of “everything we do”. The irony is that this glib comment is now starting to look like imperative. If sustainability or its now modern calling card, ESG, is not part of a company’s DNA, the company’s likely to be left behind.

Trouble is senior, experienced sustainability people are thin on the ground so there’s a bout of musical chairs underway with the prize for each seat getting ever more attractive.

According to Natalie Devlin, chief experience officer for Charter Hall, there is more than 600 staff on the books at present but the new spate of growth isn’t necessarily about size. It’s about filling in a “higher level capability” around the key demands from tenants and investors.

On ESG there’s an industry wide race to net zero. Modern slavery and supply chain issues are also growing strongly in importance. And now capital markets are starting to ask tough questions about environmental stewardship – not just minimising harm but on regenerative practices, she says.

“We have been constantly recruiting, but what we’re very focused on at the moment is going after certain capabilities that are important to us.”

The platform for stronger sustainability has been laid, she says, now it’s time for “more sophisticated responses to tenant expectations and investor expectations –  the next level of maturity”. “We want to make sure we have a position that’s authentic.”

Hessing’s appointment was key to meet the company’s “strong focus on customers particularly trying to think through what the new world of work is and being able to partner and being able to partner with tenants and think though how the workplace strategy supports their business.”

The modern slavery and supply chain issues were difficult, she said, but “the wonderful thing” about the industry was how it often gets together to solve some of the most difficult issues, collectively. “We’ve got the same suppliers so why don’t we have a common way off assessing things?”

A significant influence in the company has been Carmel Hourigan who joined in November last year and was putting in place a strong team under her offices remit.

According to another company source the company also wants to further build its skills in attracting greater tenant loyalty across various property sectors, such as its provision of industrial facilities for Amazon as well as new “state of the art” office headquarters at 555 Collins Street in Melbourne and other customers who have premises in five states with the company.

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