Get to know one of Bob’s crew: Benjamin. From riding on horseback to the frozen Chinese-Indian border to criss-crossing the US to value unusual real estate assets, he’s got a knack for understanding places.
Thoughts on travel
Hi Benjamin! Thanks for telling us what it’s like to be Director of Real Estate at Bob W. Before that, though, I heard you’re quite a nomad. As an American, how did you come to be based out of London?
I moved here about three and a half or four years ago from New York City. My wife was living here and working on assignment, and we were in a bi-continental marriage. We now have two daughters. I grew up in the South and as much as I love and long for a small town, like my own hometown, what I like about London is it’s a series of small towns.
In all of your extensive travels, what was your favourite trip ever?
Besides visiting the US, my favourite destination was a three-week horseback trip with my wife to Ladakh, Kashmir and the Siachen Pass on the Chinese-Indian border. You really get to know someone when you spend three weeks in the far north. There was nothing there. Roads close in early fall, and we went in March. It was the coldest we’d ever been. The first two days were miserable, but by the time we left, we were really happy.
Most underrated travel destinations you know of?
- When people ask me, “What’s the one place we should go in the US?”, it’s Austin, Texas. You’ve probably been to New York, LA, Las Vegas, Miami, and San Francisco. It gives you a taste of the South, and it’s only a few hours to Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. The drive is an American experience.
- India, as a whole, is underrated. Hiking, beach, wine tasting, yoga, mountain hiking, seeing rhinos and tigers: You can do it all in India. Good weather, extreme conditions, volunteering. I didn’t know food could taste so good, and I’ve never been so cold as in Ladakh or as hot as in Delhi. It’s an underrated place to put your time, energy, and expendable dollar into.
- Abu Dhabi. Just don’t go in August, but you never have to worry about it raining. It’s a small place in the desert. What’s the temperature? Hot. What’s the weather? Sunny. You can land, get through customs, take a taxi for $3, and be on the beach within the hour. It’s totally underrated for beaches. One of my favourite flights is NYC-Abu Dhabi with a 14-hour transfer in Paris or Milan. You have the whole day to exhaust yourself, then sleep the whole flight and wake up in Abu Dhabi.
Which destinations are on your bucket list?
I used to have a bucket list, then I finished it. It’s not about the bucket list for me anymore, it’s about the stuff on your way to the bucket list items. Maybe it’s the 24-hour stop-over. Maybe it’s not the trek but having to spend four days acclimatising to the altitude before the trek.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no place left to go. I’d still like to go to:
- Svalbard, to see the northern lights. I’ve seen them before, but that seems cool.
- Mongolia, to cross the steppe on a camel.
- Almaty, Kazakhstan. My wife and I are super serious about going.
Thoughts on real estate and Bob W
Your title is Director of Real Estate at Bob W, but how would you describe what you do in just three words?
Hyper-growth at scale.
What were you doing before Bob W?
In EMEA at WeWork, I was helping to open new markets, B2B. I was finding flexible offices for big companies in many different cities. That’s how I found myself going to Africa, Middle East, and Russia. The mandate was “move fast and create value”. Thriving in that environment made the Google search for my next company easy: “High growth, EMEA, based in London”. I searched for other jobs opportunities, but I found when you want to do the most, you have to go the smallest. And that was Bob W.
When I started, we were 200 strong in EMEA. By the end, we were an army of 3,000. I was doing well at WeWork, but I thought, if I get to do this again, I’m going to be in a position to say “this is how we should enter Africa”, and “this is the best approach for Russia”. My great effort in life is going to be around participating in the built environment to benefit the connectivity of people. WeWork did a pretty good job, but that’s not the end of my mission. This is the next logical step in that.
Wow, that sounds pretty intense. What was your journey in real estate like before that?
I travelled for work for real estate. When I was living and working in New York, people asked, “Who wants assets in Memphis, Buffalo, Minot, Burley or Kearney?” No one wanted them, so I went. I have a keen interest in variety and an appreciation for different markets. One of my favourite assignments was a valuation project for a grocery store chain. Who knew that there was so much value in so many places. I learned that value came from the use case of the community and virtually nothing else.
When I could choose to fly or drive, I would drive just to experience the space in-between and take the time to appreciate where a place was actually located. I jumped at those opportunities. My skill is in distilling clusters of information that constitute a place or a market. It’s a talent I refined in The States. People think, “How could you understand the submarket differences in Paris?” In fact, it is much easier than understanding Phoenix and Charlotte.
US markets have connectivity and a common banking system that work in tandem to create similarity in trend e.g, Denver and San Francisco, Chicago and Houston, Austin and Albany. This stimulates a multivariate analysis that challenges the mind and keeps the output interesting. Conversely, market trends of Paris and Berlin or London and Madrid markets have almost nothing in common. Rather than creating one grand narrative of property as can be chased in the US, European markets present the challenge of being isolated pockets that contain their very one complex story. The journey continues.
Years ago, my career took the first step I took away from traditional properties. I was working in valuation consulting and started working on everything a company could own: water towers, cell phone networks, industrial refrigeration, solar farms, meat processing plants, below ground salt storage, vineyards and, and fish farms. Companies where real estate is not their core business, someone’s got to advise them on what the dirt is worth, the air above it or the buildings that keep the business running.
I once participated in the valuation of Seaworld: Warehouse buildings large enough to store backup water tanks for whales, massive refrigerated buildings to store enough frozen fish for Shamu and all of his friends, generators to ensure flowing water at all times. It is amazing how valuable the parking lot was and when it is all stripped back, these entertainment parks operate much like a regional mall with a food court. All said, I learned to put a value on a place.
What’s been challenging about working at Bob W?
This job isn’t just about signing leases, it’s about establishing trust in a market and understanding product-market fit. Bob in Tallinn and Helsinki will be different than Bob in Paris and London. Each location presents its own unique expectations and thus challenges. Bob in Helsinki has saunas in the apartments paying homage to the rich history deeply woven into the culture of the place. There will be no saunas in Paris. The challenge often begins with finding the regional and local equivalent. Vihta!
It is a crowded field at the start of any marathon. One constant challenge is to differentiate ourselves from the dreamers and competitors and turning potential investors into believers. We have a brilliant idea, capital to bring that idea into fruition and the talent to scale. The last component of our future success is also the challenge, effort. It is very hard to keep the energy level high while creating something unique and different destined to change the way that people travel. Effort is the challenge, however, the good news is that we have the answer. It's also effort. All it takes is all I’ve got.
How are you helping Bob W differentiate from competitors?
For Bob to be successful, we must differentiate ourselves in each market. Primarily, I am working to ensure that one of our differentiating factors is our close relationship with landlords. We must bring value to their existing operations and acquisitions. We have worked to establish ourselves in new asset classes such as second-floor retail, office conversions and possibly even rail arches. The pitch to landlords begins as it always should with a partner, how can we help improve your portfolio. Our strong brand allows for us to adapt the product to fit the problematic or high-potential yet underutilized elements of the Landlord’s portfolio. Beginning conversations with, “How can I help” and knowing that our brand can support a positive transformation for the Landlord is a strong pitch.
What role does Bob W have in placemaking?
Real estate is really about place. It’s in Bob’s DNA. It is a part of everything that we do beginning with the technology stack and ending with the local partnerships. It is the people that make a place and bring space alive. Placemaking requires a sense of collectiveness and historically collectivity was part and parcel with community. Bob uses design, technology, and the intrinsic nature of the place to build that community. We are able to give people community without making everything communal. For example, people with balconies say that they feel closer to their neighbours even though they don’t socialise across their balconies. Two Bobs next to each other create a sense of community that has all but been ignored by the traditional hospitality monoliths.
And what’s the best part of working at Bob W?
It’s such a cliche, but it’s the people. When I started, I got a customized package in the mail with a good amount of swag. I’ve come to realize that this package was not a new starter pack that all new hires receive. After meeting everyone in the firm, I realized that the chocolate in the box was a local Estonian chocolate and was one person’s favourite. The stickers are a favourite of my daughter and my wife has claimed the hoodie as her own. I love the people. They make it worth it. That and trying to change hospitality as we know it, it is wonderful to work for Bob.
What kind of people are you looking for to join your real estate team?
A good team definitely has lots of different personalities and types of people. Be yourself, be your best. If you’re your best self, you’ll be fine at Bob W.
Join Bob W’s team
We’re hiring an Associate Director of Real Estate to work with Benjamin in our real estate team. The team drives supply growth by identifying top-of-the-funnel lease opportunities, negotiating leases, managing deal closings, overseeing development projects, planning and executing designs and ramp-ups of new properties, and asset managing existing properties in our portfolio. Are you up for the challenge?
Apply and see all current openings on our jobs page!