PRODA are back with another exciting blog series; this time to explore the different challenges, as well as breakthroughs, experienced by leaders across the PropTech, Finance and Real Estate industries over the last 18 months.
The acceleration of digital transformation has been a noticeable trend across many industries due to Covid. During the course of the next few weeks, our CRO, David Oates, will be speaking to leaders of organisations across the Real Estate, Finance and PropTech industries. They will be sharing their own learnings, and experiences as we go ‘behind the scenes’ to get an insight into what life has been like for leaders at the forefront of driving change, whilst operating during a pandemic.
To kick-start the blog series, David sat down with the VP of Fund Accounting at Ares Management Corporation, Laurence Hayes. Read on for the full interview.
DO: Hi Laurence, can you tell us a little bit about Ares and what your work involves as the VP of Fund Accounting?
LH: Ares is a global alternative investment manager operating in integrated groups across Credit, Private Equity, Real Estate, Secondary Solutions and Strategic Initiatives, with approximately $227 billion in assets under management.
I’m part of the Real Estate group and while I sit within the Finance team, my title is a bit misleading as I concentrate on digital transformation. I work across offices (UK, US, and Europe) and departments and concentrate on improving our systems, data, and processes.
DO: Ares was founded back in 1997, and has since seen many economic changes globally, but how has business changed for Ares in the last 18 months?
LH: I joined Ares at the start of the pandemic, so it was only recently that I set foot in the office and started properly meeting colleagues, so it’s difficult to judge how things have changed, however, during my time with the business I’ve been fortunate enough to see it grow in terms of fundraising, company acquisitions, and new assets added to our Funds.
I guess, one change the pandemic has shown us is that you can get things done without travelling!
DO: Covid-19 has accelerated digitisation across all industries, including Commercial Real Estate. As the lead for the digital transformation programme at Ares, we want to know from you, what do you prefer – The new normal or the old?
LH: I’m not sure we are quite at the new normal yet. I do think that in time, things won’t be too much different from how they were before the pandemic, just with greater flexibility in how and where we work.
If you are looking at silver linings, Covid-19 has probably helped companies accelerate digital transformation programmes and decisions.
DO: What would you say has been the key to adapting and ensuring you stay afloat during these unprecedented times?
LH: Remotely joining a new business could have been very difficult but Ares managed the whole process well, and the support and culture within the team have really helped. Zoom and Teams have been invaluable but have also been a double-edged sword as while at home, your ‘office’ is only a couple of steps away and it is easy to stay logged on.
For me, it has been about working flexibly and while you might stay logged on for longer during the day, there is also the opportunity for natural breaks in the day, whether that is for a school pick up, family dinner, or a morning run.
DO: Wellbeing in the workplace – A fad or here to stay? And, how important has it been at Ares in a post-Covid world?
LH: I think it is here to stay – not only will businesses want to be prepared for the next time but people now expect this as standard. I do believe that if you treat staff well, you’ll be rewarded in terms of loyalty, productivity, and the culture created.
From an Ares perspective, I think the business has taken this very seriously and sensitively. This isn’t just seen in our offices and how we engage/work but you also see it in investment decisions and how we manage and develop our assets.
DO: What are your predictions for the industry, for the next 1-2 years?
LH: Over the next few years, businesses will start to see the benefits of digitisation decisions that were perhaps accelerated during the pandemic. They will have better quality data, better processes, and this should lead to better decisions with more time to take them, as well as adding value rather than spending time just trying to collect and verify the data.
In Real Estate, there is no substitute for going to see assets, but I think the pandemic has shown we don’t need to travel as much as we did.
DO: Finally, do you have any words of advice for other Investment Management companies in digital transformation?
LH: There is so much that is possible with technology these days and many competing priorities. The first thing you need to do is agree on what the priorities are, and then seek support from the top of the business to address them.
To deliver successful transformation you need strong foundations. The initial stages won’t be exciting or earth-shattering, but they are essential. There is no point delivering something that is based on bad data, poor processes or is not user-friendly.
Take small steps, and be prepared for iterative progress. This will help the delivery of quick wins and build support and acceptance of change.
All the way through, you’ll need “champions” from within the business teams to help plan, create and test new processes and systems and they will need to support solutions once rolled out. In addition to this, support from senior leadership is crucial to help drive through change.
A huge thank you to Laurence for taking the time to speak to us. We will be back soon with another post as we continue to speak to leaders across the industry.
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