125 years later, candy corn is still a Halloween staple and Colliers remains a Canadian success story as a diversified professional services and investment management company with over 18,000 employees operating in 66 countries.
As Colliers marks its 125th anniversary, the firm with Vancouver origins is a recognized leader in commercial real estate, not just nationally, but globally. This company and country have faced immense global challenges over the past 12-plus decades, and we look towards the obstacles (and their solutions) in the coming decades.
Company’s history shaped by major challenges and resilience
Since I stepped into the CEO role in April 2020, it’s been quite an adventure for the world, and commercial real estate (CRE). The pandemic created a global health crisis, but also prompted a revolution in how — and where – we work. With technologies emerging and the industry adapting at what felt like the speed of light to meet the needs of the “new normal,” the CRE sector faced a shift as workers vacated office buildings for home offices; urban retail and services lost many daily customers; and tourism halted.
This isn’t the first global crisis Colliers has weathered – and it won’t be the last.
Colliers and its previous iterations weathered events like the last pandemic of 1918-1920, both world wars, the Great Depression, the sky-high inflationary period of the early 1980s, and the 2008 financial crisis.
CRE is well-equipped to navigate a downturn, but transformation is often required to emerge through these episodes with strength. We’re hardly finished. There’s lots more to do.
Shifting work patterns, AI, and climate change among future challenges we're anticipating
We’re now on a path of post-pandemic resurgence. For instance, the rate of in-office work in Vancouver has returned to 70% of 2019 levels, according to Colliers proprietary data; tourism to Canada is booming again; and national demand for industrial space remains robust. Canada’s population is growing at a record pace, and more people will drive demand in all commercial sectors, as well as for all types of housing.
Meanwhile, interest rates have climbed due to this resurgence in demand, causing a period of inaction in the national CRE market. We've seen this movie before over 125 years, and while it presents a challenge, we know that strong deal volume will return.
There are other challenges to embrace and overcome. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be both friend and foe and has the ability to unlock innovations and efficiencies in every stage of the permitting, design, construction, and operations of the built environment. We’re only scratching the surface.
Climate change is a topic the real estate industry is starting to address in a meaningful way. Our experts are evaluating the impacts of climate change and providing solutions to help our clients improve sustainability of buildings through net-zero development, retrofits, and sustainable building management.
Colliers’ culture enables substantial and sometimes rapid pivots into new business streams like investment management, investment banking, engineering & design, and new ways of working. However, what’s made us successful and kept us in business in Canada longer than egg cartons have existed (invented in 1911 in British Columbia) is an ongoing commitment to our culture and values – regardless of business evolution.
With AI advancements in medicine, I’m hoping I’ll be around to see the results of our next 125 years of progress. In the near-term, another huge area of focus for the industry, and Colliers, is enhancing the diversity of talent. Innovation and excellence are only achieved when we have more perspectives, experiences, and personalities. CRE in Canada and the U.S. has been improving in terms of gender diversity and minority representation, but not fast enough. It remains a priority for Colliers.
I joked about AI, but technology is another area in which Colliers is investing heavily as we see it changing. A historically technology-adverse industry, CRE has been slower to adopt new tech, but as a data-rich industry affected immensely by the changing ways people work, there is an opportunity for bold, risk-taking companies.
Enterprising approach will lead to better fails and bigger successes
Colliers is awash in data, and we are investing heavily to collect, organize, share, and analyze this data to maximize insights and results for our clients. Many innovations will fail, but I’m confident that our enterprising approach will help us fail fast, fail better, and succeed bigger.
Anniversaries are a time for introspection, celebration, and motivation. For 125 years Colliers has been a Canadian leader, and just like Taylor Swift, we think we’re getting even better with each incarnation, but we have not lost sight of what got us to where we are today (Colliers Canadian CEO = Swiftie).
Our people remain committed to our clients, each other, and to the communities in which we live and work. While it’s been a challenging few years for CRE, I am optimistic about the future of our business and Colliers’ role as a leader in Canada – and around the world.