Transcending Brand

What "Brand Job" is cool enough to leave Microsoft's XBOX Team? And what does it mean when a company focuses on transcending mere brand?

Enter Jason "J" Anderson, the SVP of Brand Marketing for Cadillac Fairview who joins The Chad & Cheese to talk about these topics and much more...

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Jason: ... this reality where a marketing budget is bigger than an HR budget. So we're not going to let 10, 20, $50,000 get in the way of a great idea.

Intro: Hide your kids, lock the doors, you're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Joel: Oh yeah.

Chad: Here we go.

Joel: What's up kids? You are listening to the Chad and Cheese Podcast, HR's most dangerous. I'm your cohost, Joel Cheesman.

Chad: And I am Chad strange brew Sowash.

Joel: No way [Inaudible [00:00:47.24] And we are happy to welcome our Cult Brand series marches on Jay Anderson, SVP, let me get this right, SVP of marketing and communications at Cadillac Fairview. Jay, welcome to the show.

Jason: Thanks so much for having me. How you doing guys?

Chad: Great. Well, we already know what you drive, right?

Jason: Yeah. 99% of people will say, "Oh, this is a local Cadillac dealership that they're talking to."

Chad: Yeah.

Joel: Let's straighten that out right off. What is Cadillac Fairview?

Jason: Cadillac Fairview, your right, lots of people used to think that we were, not only the car maker but a car dealership, but we are a commercial real estate company, head office in Canada. Most of our real estate holdings in retail and office are in Canada and then we've also got some international holdings in the U S and South and Latin America.

Joel: Very good. Very good. Now let's talk about you. Give us the elevator pitch on your background and what you do at your capacity of SVP, of marketing and communications.

Jason: Sure. Yeah. I joined the company about six years ago. I was previously, I spent 10 years at Microsoft Canada, leading the Xbox video game business in the Canadian market. Then saw an opportunity to move to a Canadian company and be a little closer to the decision making and strategy. I saw a company that I didn't really know, but as I learned more about them, it was a company that really wanted to leverage brand as a competitive advantage in a category that doesn't really think much about brand. And an opportunity to be in an industry that's facing some headwinds, but taking them on directly with boldness, and I got excited by that.

Chad: You got excited to leave Xbox to go to building buildings and residential? That's pretty amazing. What did they pitch you on this? I'm sure it was pretty much blue sky, right? You can do whatever you want.

Joel: Yeah. And this was before Fortnite came out, right?

Jason: That's right, it's pre-Fortnite, but post Halo. So there you go. Yeah. It was an opportunity to come to a place that is bold in their thinking and is a leader in the space and wants to keep winning. And that got exciting. Yeah, certainly once I had made the decision to leave Microsoft, there was no shortage of people that I knew personally and professionally that were saying to me, "My God, what happened? Why did you get pushed out of Microsoft? Because that must be the only reason you would leave." But I got to say, this has been six of the best years of my career. It's been absolutely amazing. It's been a rocket ship. It's so fun.

Joel: And the company is really old, right? Like 1950's?

Jason: Yeah. Actually, originally started as two separate companies, Cadillac and Fairview. They were like the Hatfields and McCoys, they hated each other. Then in the mid seventies, they said, "Wow, we could actually be more powerful if we joined forces." So they did that in the mid seventies, and haven't looked back since.

Chad: So what does winning look like for Cadillac Fairview? Because I think we can understand, like Xbox, we know what winning means for Halo, you're selling a hell of a lot of copies of those. What does that actually mean for Cadillac Fairview?

Jason: Yeah. We think of it in two ways. One is, I'll just talk about it from a more traditional market perspective, which is to say that we're focused on owning premium real estate in every market in which we operate. We want to hold properties that are the standard of excellence. Whether it's Toronto or Winnipeg or Calgary or Vancouver or Montreal or wherever that might be, we want to hold the best standard of excellence premium properties that exist in those markets. We believe that yes, there's some headwinds happening right now in both the shopping center and office business, but we believe great properties, great real estate with great experiences will thrive in the long term. That's just a traditional more market view.

The financial view of it would be, we're owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which is a huge pension plan that funds the pensions of over 300,000 teachers. Our job is to drive the valuation of the land. In the same way that we understand the value of the home that we live in, we understand the value of every property that we own, and that adds to about $30 billion in real estate value. So then the pension fund uses that as a hedge against inflation. So winning in that regard, is about growing the land value of the properties that we own.

Joel: For a lot of the companies that we talk to in our Cult Brand series, it's all about, sort of, grand mission. Whether it's Airbnb, anyone can fit in anywhere, or name any sort of cult brand out there that has a mission. It seems to me like real estate would be hard to build a mission around for all of your employees to get behind. Do you find that ... What is the mission that drives everyone? What gets everyone out of bed in the morning? Or is it easier than maybe I'm thinking?

Jason: No. That is where I've spent the majority of my time in my time here at CF, is really ... Once we knocked off some roadblock and tackle low hanging fruit in the brand space, we really then became, well, what if we transcended this brand journey to be more of a purpose journey? And what would it take to become a purpose driven organization and unlock the potential in every one of our employees? When it started with that, we then started down this path of trying to figure out, well, what is our purpose? We had a mission statement at the time, it was very financially motivated, it was about driving returns for our owner, not the kind of thing that excites people to get out of bed every morning.

Jason: So then we said, well, let's get rid of the mission statement altogether, and let's develop a purpose, and let's replace the mission. We really wanted to find something that we felt did a great job of being true to who we are and our heritage as a company, but still aspirationally plant a flag on where we need to go. And so our purpose is transforming communities for a vibrant tomorrow. We think that there are multiple things that set us apart from other real estate companies, including our focus on premium, really great real estate. The fact that we operate the real estate that we build, so we're not just in it to make a quick buck and get out. The fact that every dollar of profit that we drive goes and funds teachers' pensions after a very noble career of developing the next generation of young people. So we landed on this purpose of transforming communities for a vibrant tomorrow, and it feels like it's got that balance of being true to the heritage of the company, but aspirationally planting a flag on somewhere we need to go.

Chad: You talk about balance, which I think is pretty much paramount for every cult brand that is out there. Because obviously you have the teachers that are shareholders, and the pension plan, and obviously after they've done their great work with the kids over the years, they deserve to get the hell out and go have a great rest of their life.

Jason: That's for sure.

Chad: You have them to be able to report to. But also, from a purpose standpoint, you have to balance that. Instead of constantly focusing on just driving real estate value or what have you, that all is more balanced with doing the job and how important the job is. How do you, literally, how do you balance that out? I think that's one of the hardest things any brand can do.

Jason: Yeah. Part of my job as a brand leader in the organization is figuring out how to tell the stories of the great work that the company does. Yes, there's a bit of a stewardship of our purpose and leading that on behalf of the organization, but how do we tell the stories of the great work that we do? I look at that purpose, we have rooted in this notion of transforming communities. An example I would give would be, we're this real estate company based in Canada that not a lot of people have heard of outside of Canada, but the example I would use, earlier last year, I guess, the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship. All of a sudden, the world's guests ... There we go. That's a proud moment, especially if you are a Canadian, when our hockey team hasn't won here. But ... That's right. Yeah. So there's this reality where the world's eyes got opened to this thing called Jurassic Park, where thousands of people gather outside of the arena. The people that aren't going to the Raptors game that still want to partake in the community. And that's an area called Maple Leaf Square that we built. And lots of people don't realize that, but that was literally contaminated land 20 years ago. We created this whole new vibrant district in the city of Toronto and created this gathering place for thousands of sports fans.

Chad: On contaminated land?

Jason: Yes. Exactly. It takes a lot of work to make it uncontaminated.

Joel: Was it a Molson beer dumping ground? Or something I don't ...

Jason: Oh, Canadian stereotype. I love it. That's awesome.

Joel: Yeah. Staying on purpose, purpose many times starts at the top. When we do interviews like this, I like to go to Glassdoor, see the review, see what kind of love or hate a company is getting. Overall reviews, you guys are crushing it, 4.2 out of five. But I was really impressed with your CEO's approval rating, which is 99%. So talk about the CEO's role on purpose and how he's engaged with employees to keep that ball rolling.

Jason: Yeah. There's so many factors that get talked about on what it takes to become a purpose driven organization. If I had to pick one, that would be it. From the very first time I started interviewing with CF about the possibility of what this could be, I got an absolute sense of not only the commitment, but the boldness of our CEO. It was him that ultimately said this is going to be the next great competitive advantage for our company.

There have been multiple times through the journey where, because this has been such a change for CF, there's been multiple times where either things aren't going well or people are resisting and you've got to be careful when you pull that card. But to know that when I need him either in the foreground actively going and doing things or in the background influencing things for our company to see, especially in a more traditional industry like ours, that's very traditional hierarchy driven, it is so critical that our CEO be on board. And I often say to people, "If our CEO wasn't here, I'm not sure I would be." Because either they might've gotten rid of me or I might've said, "This isn't for me." Just that commitment from him as a leader has been amazing.

Chad: It sounds as if you are building toward legacy and do you believe most brands aren't building toward legacy and rather that's one of the biggest issues that they're really building to see the next quarter's report, but they're not really focused on legacy, message and being able to engage their people?

Jason: Yeah. I'm definitely inspired by companies that are clearly doing legacy work. I think about companies like ... There kinds of companies we often look at as reference points. Because we're in a category that doesn't really focus on brand and purpose, in commercial real estate, we often look to companies outside of our category. We regularly go to school on companies like Nike, and Disney, and Nordstrom, and Four Seasons. Those are four reference brands that I often use in the journey that we've been on. I look at examples there, what they are just doing, it's clearly legacy work, they are not just doing this to make a buck. But I think the reality is with purpose, is helping people to realize that purpose is just simply the reason you exist beyond driving a profit. Those two things are inextricably linked. You need a clear purpose to inspire your people and make them feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves. And that will help you drive more profit. And the companies that can connect those two things are the ones that really, really have that figured out as opposed to feeling like it's a trade off.

Chad: Right. Most leaders out there, and I think they get overcome with shareholder value. In a leader's eyes, if you were talking to a leader today, what is their benefit to building a legacy?

Jason: Yeah. When I think what that comes down to is, how can you make it about a legacy for everyone, not just for yourself? I think quite often people can get caught up in building a legacy for themselves. Whereas if you take an organizational view of legacy, when Nike takes a stand on Colin Kaepernick or when Nike takes a stand on designing a Pro Hijab at a time when the anti-Muslim sentiment around the world has never been higher, that's clearly not just one person trying to make a name for themselves. That's an organization thinking about legacy. And so I think that if leaders can find that way to transcend, not making it about themselves, but making it about the legacy of the organization, then people really get on board and want to be a part of it.

Joel: Interested in how technology is advancing some of your mission and purpose. You guys have quite a few YouTube videos on your website that talk about the history and the purpose and being an employee. You have social media presence on pretty much every major social network. And I think a lot of people would think a construction/real estate company, what the hell are they doing on social media?

Jason: Yeah.

Joel: Talk about that strategy and how that helps advance the purpose of the company.

Jason: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I think ultimately what we're trying to do is humanize the company. If I had to simplify it down to one thing, that's what I would say. We're a company, and in an industry that can at times be criticized for being unknown. Quite often, if you build a shopping center, that's largely about just building four walls for the world's greatest brands to come in and have a relationship with shoppers. You're a company that can be largely unknown, and at times real estate developers get all painted with a brush of being greedy, being short term focused, doing shoddy work to make a quick buck. So the extent to which we can get out there and get to know people and connect with people and humanize our company and tell cool stories. Whether that is the Jurasic Park example I talked about earlier or there's a construction project we did to connect two with this really cool bridge. We said, hey, why spend a couple million dollars on a very functional bridge when instead you could spend 20 times that on a really cool bridge that's going to create a tourist destination in the city of Toronto? Well, the story of how we built that is actually really interesting. If you put that out on social media and tell the story of how you built this bridge with construction materials from Germany and you did this really cool maneuver to put the bridge into place without disturbing the city street below, there's a cool story there. So how do we humanize the company and how do we use storytelling to help people connect with us in meaningful ways?

Chad: We'll get back to the interview in a minute. Building a cult brand is not easy, especially when you're sending candidates into a black hole, which is why you need friends like Roopesh Nair, CEO of SmashFly on your side.

Joel: Having someone submit a resume that just goes into the black hole is devastating for candidate experience. Doing to close the black hole and ensure everyone has a great experience when applying.

Roopesh: We're doing a group of things out there. One is to ensure that the application experience itself is seamless by integrating with ATS's meaningfully and providing that statuses back and forth and ensuring that the levers of communication are activated every time there is a status coming back and forth from the ATS. Just providing transparency in the application process by leveraging our candidate relationship management solution. The second aspect is then actually ensuring that we're using our matching algorithm to bubble up people pretty quickly where they are a great fit for that particular role in the company and ensuring that the conversational engagement starts right away and the recruiter is notified while the engagement is going on. It's critical then that ways we are prioritizing those engagements which are needed to the most important applicants right away and then eventually ensuring that anyone who's not necessarily a good fit at that point, we are continuing to engage them, whether it is the job they applied for, or for any other job, or for that matter, just general brand awareness and general engagement on what might be a good fit for those guys ensures that that black hole is minimized.

Chad: Let