Deutsche Bank’s Real Estate Managers On New Columbus Circle Offices

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The name is already on the front awning. The logo, which looks like a comma inside a box, is on various spots at street level.

It’s actually meant to be a forward-slash, created in 1974 by graphic designer Anton Stankowski to represent Deutsche Bank, one of New York’s animating financial institutions.

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The German bank is replacing AT&T’s Warner Communications as the anchor of what used to be known, and is probably still known to a lot of people, as Time Warner Center. Which now and henceforth will be known as Deutsche Bank Center.

Warner, having spun off Time Inc. has alighted to 30 Hudson Yards, built by the same developer as Deutsche Bank Center, Stephen Ross’ Related Companies. 

Alison Kwiatkowski, Deutsche’s Americas business partner for its global real estate team, said in an interview last week that the bank is in the second month of a six-month process to move staff from Lower Manhattan’s 60 Wall Street, its longtime American headquarters, up to the center at Columbus Circle in Midtown. 

In the years since 1979, when it opened its New York branch, in the darkest days of the city’s graffiti-scarred, arson-riddled existential crisis, Deutsche has been all around Manhattan. Now it will be in Deutsche Bank Center, with almost 5,000 staff members overlooking the southwest corner of Central Park.

At Deutsche Bank Center, a lot of the numbers-crunching that precedes a loan might take place outside on a picnic bench overlooking said park or the open terrace’s own green plantings.

New beginnings are the order of the day for one of Europe’s largest banks. Its involvement in the mortgage bubble that burst and brought about the global financial crisis more than 12 years ago led Deutsche to issue a public apology. Just this January, the bank agreed to pay $130 million largely to settle claims that it used middle-men to hide payments in an effort to boost global business. And it has had a rocky relationship with one of its most prominent borrowers, Donald Trump, who owes hundreds of millions — which Deutsche executives said in 2020 the bank was trying to offload from its books in an attempt to break ties with the former president. 

In the end, Deutsche says on its website that its aim is nothing less than “to make the bank a pillar of society once again.”

Christiana Riley, the bank’s Americas CEO, told Bloomberg last month that the new headquarters is “just as seminal, just as pivotal” as Deutsche’s decision 20 years ago to be the first company to IPO after the 9/11 attacks ground the New York Stock Exchange to a halt. 

In a LinkedIn posting, just following the former Time Warner Center’s official renaming ceremony, Riley said she regarded it as an “ongoing return to normalcy” and symbolic of “the opportunities we have — as a bank, as a community, and as a city. Rarely does a constellation of events come together to underscore the zeitgeist of the moment.”

In mid-October, Kwiatkowski, who represents the bank’s 3 million-square-foot presence in North and South America within its global real estate operations, and James Dyson, the bank’s regional director of projects and leader of project delivery in the Western Hemisphere, spoke to Commercial Observer about the bank’s new beginnings in New York and how the new headquarters — the interiors of which Gensler designed — fits in. 

Their remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Commercial Observer: As a practical matter, you represent all corporate real estate for Deutsche Bank?

Alison Kwiatkowski: I represent all the service lines under global real estate in the Americas to regional management, senior leadership and externally within the industry. James is the head of projects in the Americas, and he and I work side by side. James builds it, I represent it.

I’d been working as a consultant with the bank before I joined internally. So it’s been about 10 years that I have been with the bank. I did workplace strategies, I did portfolio strategy and occupancy planning for the bank. I ended up leading a piece of the projects team under James, and then transitioned into my business partner role now. My background is in architecture and real estate development.

The 10 years is that 10 years as a Deutsche Bank employee or does that include some of the outside consulting time?

I was with JLL [Deutsche Bank’s outside adviser on its New York real estate needs] for most of that. I’ve been with the bank since 2019, as an employee.

Explain the difference between the office you have here and the ones you have at 60 Wall, and why is this better?

The big difference is we’re designing this for the way people work today, 60 Wall was essentially untouched for quite some time, and now with hybrid work environments, changes in technology and general changes in the way business works, it’s a little bit more aligned. We have proper collaborative space, proper amenity space to support employees — which we were lacking at 60 Wall Street — access to daylight, proper client areas, outdoor spaces which is an amenity. 

We have the snack and the coffee bar, which seems to be more aligned with what employees are looking for. And we have that proper break-out space and collaborative space, and that area where we can bring clients in, rather than always having to follow our clients.

James Dyson: And we encourage our population to use that space.

What sort of feedback are you getting from staff up to this point?

Kwiatkowski: So far it’s been exceptionally positive. People are very excited to return to office, and that we are returning to this fresh start and to having the right support to make it easier to get things done. So far, we’ve had great reviews from staff, clients, many of our visitors, our partners in the industry. Overall, timing-wise, people are very excited, and I think we’re in a really good position.

When you started planning this, nobody knew that a virus was even coming. So talk to me about the change in mindset as the project rolled out.

Kwiatkowski: We started the design right after we signed the lease in 2018. We started construction in December of 2019.

Dyson: Any project of this size, you’re going to go through some reprogramming. We had a reorganization in 2019 so we adjusted the program for that. And, then post-COVID, we adjusted the program again. We’ve probably done two major replans, and a couple of minor ones.

Kwiatkowski: But our design standards have not changed.

Is there anything major that had to change because of COVID?

Kwiatkowksi: I don’t know that COVID changed our design, it more changed our awareness around what we can provide — whether it’s the technology systems to support the building, whether it’s the amount of open space we have in the building.

Dyson: No, it was more on the operational side. How do you incorporate those personal adjustments? And I think everyone was used to those at 60 Wall Street. And that was fairly straightforward.

Kwiatkowski: Our offices [at Deutsche Bank Center] can quickly flip to a huddle room or a think-tank type environment so you can quickly transition from a private office to a team meeting, with just a reconfiguring of monitor arms. And the tables are adjustable, so that is much more multi-functional.

We also changed our technology strategy to laptop, a laptop-based strategy. That was probably the biggest change because of COVID.  The expectation was that people would lever personal equipment. In the case of the pandemic, that was challenging.

Much of it is the changed management, and the communications that people feel safe and they understand what we are doing to make sure it is safe to come back.

A lot of these changes were already in the pipeline pre-COVID. In New York, finance is considered the anchor industry, but it’s been invaded in the last dozen or so years by tech. The workforce you’re competing for might be just as comfortable if not more so at Google as it might be at Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs. 

So there’s a lot of pressure to adopt what some of these firms, like Google or Facebook, have, like open-plan, a less-anchored, more transitory workforce.

Dyson: We’ve built in collaboration. The place is for interactive people. There are plenty of places to meet and interact. You don’t have to pick up the phone, you can meet them at the coffee bar and answer that question.

Kwiatkowski: One of the big differences between us and Google and Facebook is they are very much tied to their desk, whereas our people, they’re out with clients, there’s larger teams. The nature of the financial industry gives us an opportunity, we can encourage people to get out more away from their desk.

An expansive terrace off an office building.

Well, you can’t give loans to yourself, everything has to be done with clients.

Dyson: A worker can be proud to bring someone here, versus taking them to a restaurant.

Did you find either due to COVID or some other change in technology that you didn’t find you needed as much space here as the bank previously thought?

Kwiatkowski: We came into this building assuming a hybrid workplace strategy, so we have not needed to change the way we are occupying the building. It was inherent in our design standards to enable mobility and hybrid working.

We have 4,200 work points and we are anticipating just under 5,000 people occupying the building. Some businesses have a higher ratio because of the nature of their work, and some, like a trader cannot stand, they need to be at the trading terminal.

Now instead of having my desk, my chair, a place to put up pictures of my dog or my children, you have in a lot of places a booking system for a spot at a table where you can plug your laptop in. How does that work here?

Kwiatkowski: A good percentage of our staff will go through a booking system. The desire to work differently has changed that conversation. A couple of years ago, we heard about, ‘Where do I put up a picture of my kids?’ I have not heard that once in this process. So I think that people want to work differently, and know that comes with expectations for when they’re in the office.

And I think people are so excited about all of the other things that this building brings, that it makes the transition easier because they don’t need all those things hanging from their desk because there’s so much more away from their desk. The No. 1 comment we get is, ‘Just give me a laptop and I’ll work from the terrace.’ I never heard that at 60 Wall Street.

A lot of people in the banking industry have discovered they can be just as productive, maybe even more so, working from home, including a lot of old-school people, who don’t want to go back to the old way. How are you dealing with that?

Kwiatkowski: Our hybrid program is voluntary, We all believe there is a lot of value to being in-person. We’re definitely encouraging people to come in, and, overall, once they come in, and return from COVID, they see all of the benefits of being with colleagues, and having that in-person interaction, and see that decision-making is much faster. The excitement about the work people are doing is better when you are together in person. It’s a balance that we are working to achieve. People will have that heads-down time and the work-life balance they are looking for, but also have the opportunity to be in-person with their colleagues.

Dyson: Over the pandemic, at one time we had some 98 percent of the staff working from home, and then in our hybrid program I think something like 80 percent are going to be working remotely at some point. And a good portion of the remaining 20 percent are people who are restricted to being in the office for regulatory reasons. So there’s a big desire to work remotely from the staff.

Kwiatkowski: It’s a structured program; it’s scheduled, so it’s agreed with by your manager. And it’s been very well-received.

And I presume you have a vaccination requirement?

Dyson: This building is fully vaccinated — employees, vendors, it’s only accessible if you can prove that you’ve been vaccinated.

This interview originally appeared in Commercial Observer’s Tenant Talk newsletter. Sign up for this and other newsletters here

CORRECTION: This interview has been updated to reflect Kwiatkowski’s correct title.