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December 13, 2012

CBA Insights speakers profile: Lisa Picard


Firm: Skanska USA Commercial Development Seattle

Position: Executive Vice President

Q: What brought Skanska to Seattle?

A: Seattle is a dynamic market. It’s a place where entrepreneurialism and creativity have fostered a robust economy. The dynamics are very positive for a platform like Skanska to be successful.

Q: What sets Seattle apart?

A: Seattle has many of the same qualities of the great cities of the world, a working waterfront, great access to resources, vibrant institutional and academic communities. You layer that with an unbelievable setting, a somewhat pioneering or outpost location for the United States, and it screams of self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and a need to depend on your community.

Q: You’re in a traditional business, yet you’re a futurist and change agent. How do you cultivate imagination and progressive thinking?

A: The key is taking yourself out of it and focusing on the market you serve. Our profession is largely filled with many successful companies that rely on doing what they’ve always done in ways they’ve always done it. Many don’t realize that the market is now constantly changing, and has changed.

To have relevancy today you need to change. To do that effectively, you can’t be concerned about your legacy, your products, your past ways of doing business. You need to think about how you can manage the risks of your partners, your community. This is no different than the way our customers are thinking about their markets. In short, we need to mirror our market. Our market teaches us how to innovate if we listen.

Q: How do you get people to adapt to innovation?

A: I guess when we say adapt innovation, we are saying adapting acceptable change. The way to lead and gather people toward acceptable change is by having a strong vision for what can be, and how that vision far surpasses the current paradigm.

This takes a community of people discussing, debating, dreaming; it’s not done by one. For example, we commonly discuss everyday experiences involving the entire team (internal and external), exploring what’s missing and how the experience can be imagined in another way. This process begins to excite all those creating the experience, including those who eventually will use the developments like tenants and retailers — basically we use a process of co-creating the solutions with our market.

Image courtesy of Skanska USA Commercial Development Seattle
Lisa Picard uses this graph to show the push toward status quo. Picard says if you create a pig of a project, you are criticized; and if you do the greenest project in the world, you are equally criticized. But, she says, if you do what everyone else is doing, people leave you alone. She says Skanska believes in doing the hard work.

Q: Tell us about Skanska’s current projects.

A: We are developing two mixed-use office properties in Seattle and one apartment tower in Bellevue. Our first, Stone34, is part of Seattle’s Deep Green Pilot Program and will be the corporate headquarters for Brooks Sports.

The second is 400 Fairview, our new office workplace in South Lake Union with 12 stories of office over an activated market hall serving local retailers.

Alley 111 is an apartment development with an alley retail experience in downtown Bellevue.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: Lead with vision, inspiration and the mission that we can do well by focusing on doing good work for our customers, which includes community and the market. Our team approach is to support each other, not self.

Q: What have you learned about yourself through leading?

A: I’m constantly learning about myself. I hope I never stop learning. I also know that everyone has something to teach me, and as long as I’m open to it, I will keep learning, which is a core value of mine.

Q: Sustainability is taking hold, but is still a strong sell for some. How do we move faster on this?

A: Many of our codes in Washington state automatically place the buildings high on the sustainability scale that you can just breathe and be LEED silver.

That said, doing something different, which includes green practices, involves a lot of hard work and the risk of being criticized. Doing everything you’ve done before, same systems, same processes, is the easy work (perception is no risk). If the market involves a lot of risk and uncertainty, there is less desire to explore doing new things.

Q: Have you seen the movie “Lisa Picard is Famous?”

A: It’s rather odd to have a movie title with your name when Picard is really not that common, unless you captain the starship Enterprise. Most people find that movie when they Google my name. It’s great at obscuring other whacky things that might appear about me on the net.

— Interview conducted by Barbara Travers

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