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Site Selection: It’s All About Strategy

Although reducing operating costs is an important goal, site selection should be a strategic decision and not just a financial one.

When Holiday Retirement chose Winter Park, Florida for the company’s new home, CEO Lilly Donohue knew it was nearly the farthest possible location within the contiguous U.S. from the company’s previous headquarters location in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Only a small percentage of corporate employees made the move east, she says, but bringing in new, Orlando-based talent with roots in hospitality was part of a much larger strategic plan to further evolve the 47-year-old company.

“We had to remember why we do what we do. That had gotten lost over the previous couple of decades,” says Donohue, who took the top post in January 2016.

As the country’s largest provider of independent senior living, Holiday Retirement manages more than 260 retirement communities, which makes real estate expenditures a sizable line item in the budget. Because of that, the company’s focus over time had shifted, emphasizing real estate valuation and selection over service. Donohue sought to reorient the company’s priorities, putting service back on top. “That’s what ultimately drives people to live in our communities, hence creating real estate value—not the other way around. It’s not, ‘build the real estate and then they will come.‘ It’s ’provide great experiences and then they will come, and then your real estate is worth something.’”

Access to Talent

Service starts with people, of course, and access to top talent became priority No. 1 for Donohue. In a climate where unemployment figures are at historical lows, companies across the country are seeking ways to make jobs look more attractive to top prospects.

That’s why, although reducing operating costs is an important goal, site selection should be a strategic decision and not just a financial one, says Michael Brown, CEO of Wyndham Destinations. In 2018, when Wyndham Worldwide split in two, Wyndham Destinations became the world’s largest publicly traded timeshare provider. Brown had to consider whether the existing headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, made sense now that Wyndham was a conglomerate operating both hotel and timeshare business lines. “When you look at the overall goal for a separation, it’s always to create clarity in the market for what that business is all about. Investors today want to invest in a business with a singular vision, and now we have that around vacation ownership.”

But New Jersey, with its cold winters bracketed by long rainy seasons, wasn’t all that suggestive of warm vacations, as sunny Florida was. “The heart of the industry is here [in Orlando] and it always has been,” he says. “If you were to draw a five-mile radius around our office, you’re going to hit every major timeshare brand in the world.” Being adjacent to the competition would give Wyndham access to the best of the hospitality talent pool and make it easier to stay abreast of the industry’s challenges.

The site selection decision wasn’t as intuitive for KPMG LLP, the professional services firm, when it was looking for a home for what Lynne Doughtie, Chairman and CEO, calls the firm’s largest capital investment ever: a $450 million, 800,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art learning center, designed to be a magnet for talent. “It’s an investment in our people,” she says. “We’re creating a world-class environment that inspires our professionals to achieve their fullest potential and helps enable us to attract the best talent.”

KPMG conducted a comprehensive search of potential U.S. cities, ultimately whittling down a list of 50 to four finalists that could potentially meet its long list of criteria. These included the right culture, business climate, community partnerships and easy access to a major airport, given plans to bring in 800 employees each week for training. Finally, KPMG wanted to build in a city that appeared to have a “future-forward vision” that would resonate with its own strategy. Ultimately, that led to Lake Nona, a 11,000-acre community in Orlando that features futuristic amenities such as an underground uber-high-speed fiber-optic network, intelligent buildings, smart work centers and Bluetooth door entry. While there were many positives about the location, “one of the key factors in choosing Orlando was the innovation we see here,” says Doughtie.

Appealing to Next-Gen Workers

The new KPMG learning center will be similarly futuristic, intended to appeal to the next generation of workers by reflecting the company’s commitment to learning and innovation. “We want to ensure that each stay at the facility provides our professionals at all levels the opportunity to learn, innovate, connect and immerse themselves in KPMG’s unique culture,” says Laura Newinski, vice chair of operations, KPMG.

Donohue is similarly enthusiastic about potential partnerships with local colleges that have strong hospitality programs, such as Rollins College, Valencia College and Rosen College at the University of Central Florida. “That excites me because it allows me to touch [students] earlier in their career cycles,” she says, noting that, like manufacturing, her industry hasn’t had an easy time attracting the younger set. “I’m trying to get people to think about aging differently. It’s a pretty awesome job, frankly, something that I found late in my life, but I really feel I found my life’s work. There are so many wonderful reasons to be doing this, and we think it’s important to attract a diverse talent pool.”

She hopes that recent accolades—a Best Place to Work certification from the Great Place to Work Institute and inclusion in Fortune’s first annual “Best Workplaces for Aging Services” list—will help Holiday stand out to upcoming graduating classes. The move across the country, which brought the sort of cultural growing pains associated with staffing up by 150 people, wasn’t easy. It helped to have the Orlando Economic Partnership making quick connections with other businesses in the area that were able to share information and best practices, says Donohue.

All in all, the hard work was worth it. “If you have a really clear mission and you’re transparent and value your people, you’d be amazed at the kind of energy, work creativity and effectiveness that really comes together,” she says. “Scary as it was going through the change, we couldn’t be happier about where we are today.”


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