Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Commercial real estate might not seem like the most innovative industry, but one of the industry’s biggest players is transforming with technology to rely more heavily on data and create a more efficient model.

JLL is one of the world’s largest commercial real estate companies, with nearly 100,000 employees across the globe. I had a chance to talk to CEO Christian Ulbrich for my book, The Future Leader, and his excitement and passion for technology was clear.

Christian told me this: “We will succeed in the digital era only if we engage with enthusiasm and welcome the ideas and opportunities that digital tools, data analysis, and new technologies will bring.”

Christian has led his company to many innovative applications of technology, including using camera technology to anonymously track employee movement, which JLL can then use to help shrink its customers’ real estate footprints and lower their cost and environmental impact. He understands that in order to succeed in an uncertain future, leaders must understand and thrive on technology.


Like many leaders, Christian believes the constant stream of digital and data innovations will keep turning business models upside down. It can be difficult for companies to keep up with the constant disruption from new technologies. But Christian says that passionate leaders who continually look for improvements to keep their companies competitive can make all the difference.

“To win in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond, leaders must thrive on change, embracing volatility with enthusiasm and being willing to look beyond traditional approaches,” he said.

Leaders of the future need to be comfortable in the digital world but not fall into the trap of adopting technology just to chase what’s new and shiny. Christian says that along with being tech-savvy, leaders need to be able to step back and focus on what is best for customers and the future of the business.

Christian put it this way: “Employees, clients and potential customers have heightened expectations about the promise of technology. As companies compete for talent, employees expect their workplace technology to be as easy-to-use as the tools they use at home.” He also noted that customers are looking to vendors to provide new technologies that will help their organizations reduce costs and improve business performance.

Christian believes one of the biggest responsibilities of leaders is ensuring that they harness new technologies for good. Technology also includes data and properly leveraging the vast amount of data available to companies today. Data is powerful and should be used judiciously with the long term in mind.

Christian shared with me the example of data in commercial real estate. JLL has access to millions of data points about how people use space to live and work and how those spaces operate. JLL uses that data to help its customers make the best real estate decisions and save money, while also engaging employees and boosting productivity. Data must be used responsibly, but it was tremendous power to increase both customer and employee engagement.


Going hand in hand with technology is uncertainty. No one knows what will happen next, and even the most experienced leaders can’t know with certainty what the next decade will hold. That change, especially with new technology, can feel unsettling for employees. Leaders need to provide their employees with a clear, inspiring, and motivating case for change. They can’t simply follow the trends and move around recklessly without vision. In order for their people to stay engaged during uncertain times, leaders must be the driving force with a vision for the future.

Christian says that as the world becomes more automated, the quality of human experience will become even more important. How people think about work is changing, along with their need to have a sense of purpose and connection. How we treat each other matters.

Uncertainty and a rapid pace of change means organizations must be agile and leaders have to be able to read the tea leaves to anticipate changes and move quickly. Teamwork will matter more than ever because an agile company can only happen when everyone embraces constant change.

How can future leaders follow in the footsteps of Christian Ulbrich at JLL? It starts by finding the balance between technology and humans. Stay connected to the right new technology to further your business, but don’t lose sight of your customers and employees. Leverage data in the right way and guide people towards a clear vision, no matter what uncertainty the future holds.

Christian shows that every company—no matter the industry—can and should innovate. Staying ahead of new technology and guiding their organizations to a clear vision will help future leaders thrive in uncertain times.

From my interview with Christian, here’s another quote I love: “A big challenge will be to constantly provide transparency for your internal and external stakeholders on the journey ahead for your business. The lack of trust in global corporates and their leaders will force them to spend much more time explaining their thought processes and the value their company is creating for the society.”

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

  1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.
  2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.
  3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did it. You can subscribe to that here.