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LISTEN | Craig O’Donnell, Grosvenor’s innovation lead

Craig O’Donnell, group innovation director of the global property developer, talks to Paul Unger about future-proofing businesses and testing out new ideas.

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  • Grosvenor is a major developer operating in 60 cities globally
  • O’Donnell joined four years ago after 17 years at Landsec
  • Created a dedicated innovation team alongside group services director Ian Mair three years ago: to understand threats, create opportunities and add value
  • Innovation team works with colleagues to understand what their needs are and find solutions
  • Traditional way of making money by charging rent to tenants is at risk. Most value in future will come from relationship with end customer, users of space
  • Value of real estate is changing. Landlords must protect the space they have and learn how to enhance that, by engaging with tenants more
  • Focus: innovation can be a fruitless exercise, you have to be targeted: Grosvenor has scouted 450 startups this year. These enter a ‘funnel’, where they are rated and, if they are liked, an initial meeting is held. O’Donnell and his team have met more than one startup a day this year
  • Priority areas
    • Committed to being net zero by 2030, ‘We are going to have to rethink completely how we do things’
    • Future of retail: 40% exposure to retail, rebalancing, oversupplied market
    • Tech to improve how Grosvenor operates as a business, especially using AI and machine learning
    • Beyond built environment: metaverse…‘starting to think about that – don’t learn if don’t try things out’
  • Partners: Plug and Play in US; True Global in the UK for retail and consumer; F6S database of startups
  • Investments: made five so far in techs, NearSt is one example, a local live inventory showing on a map the goods in stock near you – is the shirt available in your size before you go in store
  • Budget often gets in the way of innovating, figure out what working capital you need for experimenting and, for everything else, if it’s a good idea find the money
  • Retrofit is the right thing to do, looking at how it can make you money is the wrong starting point
  • Real estate in UK and EU is ahead of North America on climate

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