Talent Trends in Real Estate 2022

Industry TrendsLeadershipSuccessionFinancial ServicesReal EstateExecutive Search
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February 22, 2022
7 min read
Industry TrendsLeadershipSuccessionFinancial ServicesReal EstateExecutive Search
Executive summary
Russell Reynolds Associates captured 5 major themes that define the 2022 talent landscape.


01. Board composition and C-suite succession for public Real Estate companies

New topics are rising to the Board – sustainability, D&I, and cyber security just to name a few - and the Board requires new areas of expertise to address them. But more important than simply adding the expertise is the Chairman’s ability to activate that expertise, linking the expertise to strategy and to the relevant executives. RRA research shows that the most effective Boards are 14% more likely to have a Board Chair who connects the independent Director’s area of expertise to the business platform1.

In addition to bringing new and diverse perspectives into the Boardroom, recruiting diverse board members remains a top priority, with RRA placing around 10 diverse board directors on real estate boards in the last two years.

Succession also continues as a primary topic for the Board, but now with increased emphasis on executives beyond just the CEO. Boards are proactively looking at leadership development and cross-promotion of executives, with the most impactful development plans beginning 3 to 5 years prior to an expected vacancy. This approach is critical for good governance, but also a retention tool for hard-to-replace executive talent. RRA is proud to be a leader in this arena, partnering with many real estate clients to future-proof their leadership teams.


02. Sustainability in Real Estate gains steam

Sustainable real estate is far from a new idea, with global consciousness around environmental stewardship growing steadily over the past decades. With the pandemic causing residents to move to smaller cities, workers to abandon office buildings, and consumers to shop online, the twin crises of COVID-19 and the climate emergency are forcing real estate developers and investors to rethink the design, purpose, and sustainability of buildings.

Furthermore, we are seeing real estate companies taking an additional step to integrate sustainability into all facets of their organizations, with many hiring Chief Sustainability Officers or Heads of ESG, often as newly created roles. The Chief Sustainability Officer generally reports to the CEO and understands how to speak to the market about the return on sustainability investments. Measuring these efforts has become critical to obtain the support of and continued investment from most market and investment constituents. Shareholders are making sustainability a criteria for investment, consumers want sustainable products and services, top talent wants to work for companies that have a clear purpose and address inequities, and regulators will increasingly reward sustainable business practices. 93% of sustainability leaders appointed in the last 18 months have come from outside of the company2. Given that, RRA is continuously striving to be more creative and discerning when we think about where to find and how to evaluate this talent.


03. Heightened expertise in functional roles

Mirroring Board activity, we are seeing significant demand for new functional expertise in leadership, particularly in diversity, digital, and government affairs. Companies have shifted their stance from a reactive, “nice-to-have” perspective on these roles to viewing them as a proactive necessity and a competitive advantage.

  • The Chief Diversity Officer is now a must-have at the highest level of the organization in many global companies with this becoming an area of focus in the real estate industry. This executive is involved in all areas of the business, from strategy, marketing, and operations to talent acquisition and development. Yet, RRA research shows that the average tenure of this role was just 1.8 years in 20213. Against this background, RRA works with clients to achieve sustained success with a leader, from appropriately scoping the role, to selecting the right candidate, to creating robust transition plans and D&I infrastructure.

  • A Chief Digital Officer has become essential, as every company is becoming a data company. A digital presence is now fully embedded in real estate to drive strategy and operations. For example, in the rental home arena, owners have tremendous access to customers, enabling companies to build a brand, own the emotional connection with the customer, and extend to a variety of customized service offerings and new revenue streams beyond rental income. In another arena, retailers have learned that omnichannel is now the competitive advantage, more so than location. Real estate companies who understand how to commercialize data around traffic patterns, dwelling time, and brand loyalty can build their own brands to attract customers to a true destination experience and lessen the power of online retailers.

  • The Head of Government Affairs has shifted from a back office, compliance-oriented role to a proactive influencer of policy and regulatory activity. As clients grapple with everything from Prop 13 in California to nationwide response and communications around vaccine status, this role is seen as both a way to protect the business and to open new revenue streams.


04. War for Talent continues

What does the ongoing War for Talent mean for recruiting and retaining executive talent in 2022? Competition is coming from traditional places, as well as from novel sectors. A major driver is the unprecedented availability of institutional and retail capital, together with:

  • Rapid increase in CEO turnover. CEO departures spiked in the first half of 2021, with turnover rates estimated at close to 10%4. This is expected to continue accelerating as many executives have delayed retirement due to the pandemic. Additionally, CFO and CHRO turnover generally follows CEO movements. For example, 69% of CHROs were appointed following a new CEO appointment. These factors lead to increased competition for these executives, driving up both cost and the need for attractive comprehensive platforms.

  • Diversification of large firms into niche areas, such as life sciences, data centers, and cold storage. Large firms are acquiring vertically integrated operating entities and utilizing broad non-compete agreements to retain leadership. Additionally, RRA has seen a significant uptick in search activity for executives to lead these new verticals. Together, this stretches an already thin supply of executives and challenges management teams to be creative in securing this talent.

  • Unprecedented growth continues in industrial and multifamily sectors. Given limited talent supply, these firms are recruiting production executives who don’t necessarily have relevant sector expertise, but who bring valuable leadership or capital experience. RRA conducted over 15 assignments for these two sectors in 2021.

  • Private equity firms have tremendous dry powder. These firms can extract executives from smaller platforms or REITs and create specialized businesses, with the attraction of large potential payouts.

  • Explosive growth in debt funds.  Most debt-oriented firms previously hired directly, but in this environment, there has been a marked uptick of RRA search engagements. Debt fund clients are targeting a broad candidate pool from commercial or investment banks, to executives from smaller equity firms who want to migrate into the structured debt arena.

  • Growing sophistication and capital raising success of small and mid-market firms. These firms have become compelling long-term wealth creation vehicles for executives and have extracted talent from larger global platforms. From 2020 to 2021, RRA has worked with many emerging platforms launched by respected investors who have raised new institutional funds up to $500 million and attracted talent ready to be part of a true build.


05. Compensation, and … what else?

Compensation will remain a key element of both retention and attraction. Most firms offer long-term incentive programs and present compelling rationale to both internal constituents and external recruits as to the benefit of their programs compared to the competition. A willingness to model low, high, and medium results and share projections and assumptions provide an edge.

Counteroffers are at an all-time high. Strategies to head off and mitigate counteroffers are imperative, in addition to a well-thought-out and proactive plan to avoid losing key players and find yourself delivering a counter.

Given COVID, the emphasis on culture and career progression is at an all-time high. Firms that are winning in this area create career development plans with progression timelines. They provide other benefits, including wellness, remote work options, and uncapped vacation. And many others are showcasing their social impact commitment and inviting employees to join in the effort.

If retaining key talent is a core differentiator, then culture, diversity, flexibility, and social impact are the drivers.




Deb Barbanel leads Russell Reynolds Associates’ Real Estate practice. She is based in Los Angeles.
Cameron Scott is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Real Estate Practice. She is based in New York.
Trina Wright is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Real Estate Practice. She is based in San Francisco. 
Anjelica Zalin is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Real Estate Practice. She is based in San Francisco. 
Kristi Walters is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Real Estate Practice. She is based in Dallas. 
Beijing Zhu is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Financial Services knowledge team. She is based in New York.
James Baek is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Financial Services knowledge team. He is based in New York.


1 Russell Reynolds Associates, Board Culture and Director Behaviors Survey
2 Russel Reynolds Associates, ESG 2.0 - The Next Generation of Leadership
3 Russell Reynolds Associates, Positioning Your Chief Diversity Officer For Top Performance
4 Reuters, More chief executives join the 'Great Resignation'