Walt Disney Co.
Specialty: Corporate Real Estate Management
Recent Deals: Acquired a 145,000-square-foot building and adjacent land in London for Disney’s TV and Film European headquarters.
When George Garfield was recruited by Walt Disney Co. five years ago to head up its real estate department, he figured a significant change was in order.
Like most other large companies, Disney had a real estate department that responded to requests from its various business units to acquire, develop or lease property. The department was told exactly what was needed, and it merely responded to those instructions.
So if the head of a business unit decided that the unit needed, say, 140,000 square feet of space, the real estate department would be informed of the need and merely go out and lease or buy that amount of space.
Garfield didn’t believe in such a passive approach. He decided that Disney’s real estate had to be handled more aggressively which meant developing a business plan and identifying long-term strategies. “We shifted the approach from one that was exclusively transactional in nature to one that’s more strategic,” said Garfield.
Instead of taking instructions from a business unit chief with no real estate expertise, and a perceived immediate need, Garfield sits down with that executive and discusses the unit’s long-term needs. Then Garfield and his team of real estate experts determine how to best meet those needs.
Garfield says his proactive approach has saved Disney tens of millions of dollars since he took over.
Engaging in such proactive planning is not easy, especially when it involves a company with real estate spread around the globe. Garfield estimates that each year he travels to Europe six or seven times and Asia four or five times in addition to regular jaunts to the East Coast, where Garfield has overseen Disney’s investment in helping to revive New York’s Times Square, among other projects.
In planning for the coming year, Garfield predicts that Latin America will become a bigger market for Disney because of strong growth in the region’s video and film market. As a result, he is planning to focus his department’s efforts on leasing office space and acquiring various properties in Latin America (especially in Mexico City, Buenos Aires and other large cities).
“I want to be there ahead of that growth,” said Garfield.
Lisa Steen Proctor