DiscoverREALtalk - Conversations with Commercial Real Estate LeadersREALtalk – with Michael Turner (Oxford Properties Group)
REALtalk – with Michael Turner (Oxford Properties Group)

REALtalk – with Michael Turner (Oxford Properties Group)

Update: 2021-02-17


On this episode of REALtalk, Michael Turner, President of Oxford Properties Group, joins REALPAC CEO Michael Brooks to talk about leading a global organization, corporate culture and management style, and COVID acceleration and reversal.

The episode covers:

  • Stepping into the President’s role at Oxford

  • Leadership, culture and management changes prior to COVID

  • How COVID impacted change at Oxford

  • Michael’s evolution as a leader

  • Technology as a differentiator at Oxford: objectives and measuring success

  • COVID acceleration and COVID reversal

  • How prudent investors should approach various asset classes

  • Investment focus and overall vision for Oxford moving forward

About Michael Turner:

Michael Turner is President of Oxford Properties, a leading real estate investor, developer and manager, and Global Head of Real Estate for the OMERS pension plan. Michael is Chair of Oxford’s Executive and Investment Committees and is responsible for the overall leadership and strategic direction of the global team and $60 billion, 100 million square foot business.

Oxford creates financial and social value by building communities and connecting people to exceptional places with best-in-class investment and operating platforms that span real estate asset classes and the entire capital structure. The Oxford banner operates in nine countries across four continents, and the company’s subsidiary platforms including IDI Logistics in the US and Get Living in the UK further extend Oxford’s reach.

Michael joined Oxford in 2010 to lead the investment team. He subsequently took on leadership of the Canadian office and retail businesses and following that led the entire Canadian business before being appointed to his current role leading the global business. Before joining Oxford, Michael spent 12 years at a leading global real estate investment service provider. Michael has lived and worked in Canada, the US and the UK, and has led teams, completed transactions and built businesses across four continents.

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello, everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC. I’m pleased to be joined by Michael Turner, who is the president of Oxford Properties Group, the captive real estate entity of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). Michael is ex of a global brokerage, CBRE, where he worked on some of the biggest deals in Canada during a 12 year career. He has a B.A. from UBC, a Master’s of Urban Planning from Queens, and a Master of Finance from Rotman. He’s a CFA: well educated Michael! OMERS has a 60 billion dollar global portfolio of real estate assets under management. He’s managing 2200 people operating out of around 70 offices (from 2020 data, though I’m sure this changes from time to time). Oxford had quite a run in 2020, with it being named to Fast Company’s world’s most innovative companies, named  IPE RE’s Investor of the Year had four of its resort hotels named to Travel and Leisure’s Top 10 list, as well as a lot of milestone developments from London to Sydney. Real estate is cool at Oxford. It’s the #OxfordWay. Welcome, Michael.

Michael Turner (Oxford Properties): Well done and thank you. And you’re very generous both with your characterization of me (I think you’re too generous) and of Oxford. And if this podcast doesn’t work out for us, I’m sure there’s an opportunity with our marketing and communications team with a lead in like that. Thank you for having me.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Ok, I’ll dust off my CV. Let’s let’s get to the questions. So you’re over two years into the president role at Oxford and boom, the pandemic hits. What changes were you implementing internally at Oxford to its culture and management style? And why and how did the pandemic affect those changes?

Michael Turner (Oxford Properties): Yeah, thank you for the question. I want to start by saying I had a lot of great tools in the toolbox to work with.  Oxford is now a 60 year old business. And I think it has and had at the time a terrific culture. So having said that, every new leader puts their own stamp on things. And Blake, as CEO of Oxford, you know, Michael, he had a very successful C-suite that were his running mates for the better part of a decade. So one of the most important things that I had to do was manage a generational succession of the entire C suite of Oxford. And that took me a little over two years to do, took about two and a half years. So I was quite down that journey. And as the leader putting in place that succession and setting up the business for its next decade of success is probably one of the most important jobs and contributions I had to make. And I wanted to make sure that we reflected a diverse set of backgrounds that is more reflective of society and that our leadership team also reflected the global footprint that Oxford had become over a decade period, that it wasn’t originally. But it clearly, by the time I had the opportunity to lead the business had become a global business. And I wanted its leadership team to reflect that as well. So that is a major change that we were underway. I think culturally, we’ve always had a winning culture focused on stewardship and service excellence. So do not disturb those things. And I did want to add a little more emphasis around the areas of agility, flexibility and scalability because the business is just different. It was no longer the Baker building that started in Edmonton. It’s, as you described, a big global business in a fast changing world. And so I wanted to bring a little more emphasis to that as part of our culture and our our journey.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): So much of your career, you’re still a young man. You’ve been led, but now you have to be a leader and now you have this pandemic thrust upon you. How do you think you’ve changed as a leader over the period of time you’ve been running Oxford?

Michael Turner (Oxford Properties): Yeah. So I’m going to give myself a little more credit because I had led divisions of businesses or large components or countries before. I’d never led a global business in each one of those leadership challenges were an opportunity to learn and to improve my own self awareness and make mistakes and get better. So when I originally came to Oxford, I ran the investment function and loved being surrounded by Type A personalities that would work until obscene hours in the night and all weekend and a few years into my career at Oxford, I was asked to take a large operations role and I did that for many years and it included the better part of two thousand employees. And that was my first opportunity at scale of understanding that I was not the subject matter expert. And in fact my own success was entirely dependent upon others and had nothing to do with my own abilities in any one domain. That’s just to say, Michael, I’ve had some practice and had some opportunities for experience of leading people and leading different types of groups at scale for for many years of my career. And this was different.

Michael Turner (Oxford Properties): So the pandemic didn’t happen immediately. It happened after I was a few years into leadership succession, changing some reporting lines, critically enabling technology to allow us to operate remotely like this. And I was also accustomed with a distributed leadership team myself to be able to work with a group that wasn’t always in the same place at the same time. That’s just to say, I think I was lucky when this pandemic came and had a pretty good starter set. Thinking about your question, I’m not really sure I can answer it specifically around how the last short period has changed me as a as a person. I have changed in the last decade as compared to when I came to Oxford. When I came to Oxford, I had no kids. Today, I have three kids. We all experience our own growth. And that started from a Toronto employer, went to a Toronto based employer with a Toronto mandate. And now I have a global mandate and have been around that journey of Oxford’s global expansion for many years. So that’s contributed to my my own perspective as a leader. And I’ve had lots of crises in operations and in other areas along the way. You are right: this was the first time I’ve ever experienced a global crisis everywhere we operate all at the same time. So I think the breadth and scale and just the magnitude of unknown and pressures was it was a very difficult period for all of my team. And I think grit and innovation got us through to where we are today. And I shared with my leaders we we have a much better leadership team now because they’ve gone through a once in a generation crisis and they have tools in the toolbox that I don’t think they ever thought they would develop. So I’m not sure if I really answered your question. I’ve sort of given you a bit of a journey there in my own experience.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): No, it has. I mean, it’s a journey for everyone. I think in those in your position and the fact that you’re open to learning and continuous learning to me is terrific. The technology piece is interesting. You mentioned that that early focus on technology you think helped Oxford

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REALtalk – with Michael Turner (Oxford Properties Group)

REALtalk – with Michael Turner (Oxford Properties Group)