Last week, the Global Workspace Association (GWA) appointed Jamie Russo as its new Executive Director. This marks a tipping point for our Workspace-as-a-Service trade association for 5 main reasons.
1. Jamie Russo comes from the Coworking world.
Jamie Russo started one of the first Coworking places in Chicago and in Palo Alto under the Enerspace Coworking brand.
The Coworking world has been –by far- the most dynamic sub-segment of our industry. GWA, in its “2015 GWA Financial Study”, accounted for over 13,000 Workspace-as-a-Service operations worldwide in 2014, 7,525 of which defined themselves as Business Centers or Serviced Offices and 5,875 as Coworking places. However, the number of Business Centers and Serviced Offices grew by 6.2% that year when the number of Coworking places grew by a stunning 118%!
The term “Coworking” is now universally recognized but many folks include other forms of shared office space when thinking “Coworking”. It was important for the association to recognize this tectonic change and to reflect it in its leadership ranks. Jeremy Neuner, cofounder of Nextspace, was the first high profile Coworking operator to join the GWA Board a few years ago. Now Bill Jacobson, cofounder of Workbar, and Benjamin Dyett, cofounder of Grind, are on the Board.
The appointment of Jamie Russo as Executive Director is a clear sign that the association gets it: Coworking will continue to be the most dynamic segment of our industry and the positive PR it generates benefits all GWA members.
2. Jamie Russo believes that all forms of shared office space are part of the same industry
Coworking operators, Business Center operators, Virtual Office and Telecommute centers have more in common than they are different from one another. In the earlier years of the coworking movement, that thought was not prevalent among coworking outspoken leaders. Some were dismissive of Business Centers, positioning their concept as opposite to what a Business Center stood for.
While I have much affection for these coworking entrepreneurs whom I grew to like and appreciate, I found their attitude in the early days a bit immature, shortsighted, and borderline arrogant. The support users can feel from their center business community is critical to a good Business Center operation, no less so than it is in an open Coworking place. Business Center operators have taken extreme interest in Coworking, embracing the new wind of innovations a fresh breed of Coworking entrepreneurs brought with them. Many operators from the Business Center world have implemented hybrid approaches, using Coworking recipes to improve their communities, at the same time as many successful Coworking operators have increased their foot print of private offices and learned from the deeper experience pool shared by Business Center operators.
The clear Reds and Yellows that could easily be differentiated 5 years ago are progressively being replaced by oranges and other color mixes. Not long ago I witnessed folks having passionate discussions on whether WeWork was a Coworking space or not. Who cares? WeWork is clearly a provider of on-demand workspaces and a curator of business communities that many members value if I gauge by how busy their locations are. But that’s just one flavor of the many flavors offered by the Workspace-as-a-Service industry.
Jamie Russo got this early on, not being afraid to partner with a company that had its roots in the Business Center world (Pacific Workplaces) to open Enerspace Palo Alto. That experience also gave her tremendous insights into the operation of business centers, and an appreciation that the challenges and solutions are more similar than they are different.
The world of Workspace-as-a-Service does not stop with Coworking and Business Centers. It should also include incubators and other forms of Shared Office Spaces. In this respect a strong case can be made to include Hotel operators in our industry conversations. Our Association should not discriminate against size either, and include WeWork and Regus who have much to contribute to all of us, and have raised the awareness for services in ways everyone has benefited from. Jamie Russo has the ability to be a credible advocate of all segments of Global Workspace Providers and demonstrate to Regus, WeWork, and perhaps Hotel operators the benefits they will gain in participating in the GWA-led conversation.
3. Jamie Russo was an operator.
Jamie founded and operated two successful coworking places, Enerspace Chicago and Enerspace Palo Alto. She understands the excitement associated with the ramping up of a new center, the anxiety of wondering whether rent obligations can be met past the free rent period, the nitty gritty of web marketing, social media, technology infrastructure, community curation, and the value of peer learning obtained at the GWA conferences and through networking with other operators. She is well suited to drive programs and forums that will raise the level of education and exchanges across operators to the next level, because she understands that no one can be an expert in all facets needed to run a successful operation.
4. Jamie Russo is an amazing leader.
Her track record speaks for herself. Recently, as President of the League of Extraordinary Coworking Places, she was instrumental in encouraging members of that platform -leaders in the coworking movement- learn more from each other.
From several years of attendance at GCUC and other coworking forums, I found that the original coworking players were paradoxically less open to sharing best practices than long standing GWA members, but the efforts of Jamie and other leaders from the coworking world in that respect have changed this a bit and brought more maturity to the process. Jamie will be an excellent catalyst to integrate the various sensibilities that will be found in a more ambitious definition of our industry.
As I said earlier, she was not afraid to associate herself with an established business center (at the time Pacific Business Centers) to develop Enerspace Palo Alto. From Pacific Workplaces’ perspective (formally Pacific Business Centers), this was an opportunity to learn from the inside, without contaminating the experiment with our own thinking. That was our stated goal.
Easy to say, harder to implement! If you knew the opinionated characters involved, you would not expect that a superficial involvement by the “Pac-Mates” would last very long, particularly since Pacific Workplaces and its principals (the “Pac-Mates”) had a controlling equity interest in the joint venture.
What made it work is Jamie’s leadership, competency, and ability to stay fiercely independent. I recall in the early days of our joint venture proudly showing her a fully furnished ~6,000 square foot open space in Palo Alto, with furniture we had purchased less than 1 year earlier to support a temporary 9-month space need by LinkedIn. Jamie quickly told us to throw everything away and start from scratch …. with Ikea furniture instead! I remember saying incredulously: “but Jamie, if LinkedIn, a cool Silicon Valley company, was perfectly happy with our $100k brand new furniture system, why do you think it won’t work ?!?!” Her “No, sorry” response left me speechless… and we spent the next 2.5 years happily watching from the sideline, while learning from each other.
In the end, our investment in Enerspace Palo Alto proved one of the most productive in our portfolio, in percentage return on investment. In the process, we also gained a tremendous respect and appreciation for her style, a combination of firm leadership built on total integrity, decisiveness, intellectual curiosity, and rare listening skills. That Jamie knows how to resist intense pressure to drive what she believes is right does not mean she does not know how to incorporate other people views in her strategy and tactics. She proved this to us many times and inspired much respect in the process.
5. Jamie Russo represents the future
Jamie Russo, better than anyone, can build an Association that is commensurate with the growing importance our industry represents. An Association that is a forum to share best practices, to expand education, a forum for service providers, landlords, and operators to learn from each other, transact with one another, and also a powerful PR platform to evangelize the Workspace-as-a-Service industry in all its flavors, protect it from fraud, and work with the political arena to avoid unproductive regulations and promote proper industry rules and organization. That’s an ambitious program. One that requires special leadership skills which Jamie Russo embodies.
The good news is that Jamie will not start this program from scratch. The GWA platform is solid, with a culture of sharing best practice that has been the norm for many years. The annual GWA conference is one of the most productive Trade Association conference I have been associated with (and I have been to many!). The leadership of GWA over the last few years deserves all of the credit, including recent Board members, its current President Scott Chambers, and the Association’s former Executive Director, Richard Meyers, who was able to build extremely effective annual conferences. That work can’t be forgotten and I also want to use this opportunity to thank our friend, Richard Meyers, for having helped the Association build strong foundations.
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By Laurent Dhollande, CloudVO & Pacific Workplaces CEO