MAY 2008

Click to visit

Expanded Bonus Web Edition
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Meet a Member

Van Baker Van Baker
Van Baker began his railroad career 40 years ago in the accounting department of Southern Railway. Retired as of April 1, he now leaves his corner office in downtown Atlanta to Patti Carroll, one of six corporate active members from Norfolk Southern who now belong to IAMC.
Van Baker

Title & Organization:
Assistant vice president, real estate, Norfolk Southern Corp., Atlanta, Ga.

Portfolio and Operations:
Norfolk Southern Corp. is a Norfolk, Va.-based company that controls a major freight railroad, Norfolk Southern Railway Co., which operates approximately 21,000 route miles in 22 eastern states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada; serves all major eastern ports and connects with rail partners in the west and Canada, linking customers to markets around the world. Norfolk Southern employs approximately 31,000, with 45 employees in the real estate department. We own approximately $22 billion in properties over the entire system which includes both operating-right-of-way and non-operating properties.
   Our facilities are primarily owned, with over 7,000 active leases (mostly land) across the system. The real estate department is first and foremost a service department: supporting rail operations and interacting with every business unit within the company; working closely with our operating department to acquire properties for expansions of mainline tracks, intermodal yards and with our industrial development group for new industries. Second, it provides a steady and consistent income stream from sales of surplus properties, leases, and other programs including wires and pipe crossings, farm and timber, fiber optics, and billboards. Half of the $100 million we make a year in the real estate department comes out of repetitive income.

To whom do you report?
I report to F. Blair Wimbush, vice president, real estate, and corporate sustainability officer.

How many years have you worked in the profession?
I have been with Norfolk Southern 40 years, having started my career with Southern Railroad in the accounting department, held a number of positions there for 25 years and then coming over to real estate in 1993 as director, real estate, then general manager and later assistant vice president.

Where and what did you study?
I went to the University of Georgia for my first two years, then on to Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, where I received a BBA degree with a major in accounting.

Describe the most important transaction or project for which you were responsible.
If you measure importance by dollars, then there are a number of large transactions, but if you measure importance by long-term stability, strategic importance and employee impact, it would have to be the purchase in 2004 of our regional headquarters building in Atlanta, the David R. Goode building. Having gone through two major mergers – the Norfolk & Western merger in 1982 and the Conrail purchase in 2000 – the old Southern Railway buildings in Atlanta had become too small and obsolete. We had been leasing space for 10 years in addition to pouring dollars into these older buildings that were not efficient.
Norfolk Southern's regional HQ in the David R. Goode Building
Moving its regional headquarters into the David R. Goode Building in 2004 was a timely, cost-efficient and employee-friendly move for Norfolk Southern.
After a lengthy search with a number of failed candidates, the former AT&T regional headquarters building became available. It was a perfect fit for our 2,000-plus employees in a great location. The overall transaction was not as easy as had been expected, but well worth the efforts.

What is the biggest professional challenge you face on a regular basis?
Keeping current on real estate trends, market, and overall activity within the industry and then somehow interfacing that with the core business of Norfolk Southern. I know that my company is no different than any other Fortune 500 company when it comes to the real estate group and core business. Core business is always – and should be – the most important aspect.

How is the role of manager of real estate evolving?
If you go back 10 or even five years, you realize that the real estate manager has evolved into something more than just a salesman, lessee, lessor or property manager of real estate. Environmental laws, accounting changes, corporate strategies, wetlands, litigation, and Wall Street have all changed the way we manage our real estate. Every day one or more of these entities influence the real estate managers' decisions, requiring a working knowledge of the processes and sometimes just knowing when and where to go within your company to protect your assets and ensure that you are in compliance.

Which technology do you consider to be essential in your professional life?
The two most important areas of technology for the real estate professional are information and communication. You must have the best and most current information on your real estate portfolio available. When I came to the Norfolk Southern real estate department 15 years ago we did not have a working, active database, only a file server. We designed our own database, and over a period of several years loaded 175 years of data into this new system. We went back and scanned everything in our archives. When you start pulling out paper that's 175 years old, it starts deteriorating. So lawyers and the people who maintain our archives didn't like us pulling out all our archives.
   Not only did real estate benefit from this, but many other business units did as well, such as tax and accounting. As with any other technology, you must keep your database current – we are now into our third generation of rewrite, going to a Web-based system.
   Equally important to information is communication. As everyone knows in the real estate world, timing is everything, and fast, accurate communication is a must. We have gone from only the head of the department having a cell phone, to all real estate agents having high-speed notebooks and, most recently, everyone having a Blackberry. We haven't had a GPS system, and we now have one – we're buying mobile units for all of our field people that will interact with our engineering GPS. When someone is out in the field trying to determine where our property ends and begins, they'll have this piece of equipment that will tell them exactly. We looked at buying some products out there on the shelf, and there was nothing that looked like it would work as well as something we could do in house.

What is the value of IAMC membership to you?
Having been a member of IDRC, NACORE, ULI, CoreNet and a few other real estate organizations over my 15-year career, I understand the two most valuable components of such organizations: education and networking. What I like about IAMC, however, is being able to meet with end users like myself in a setting that is small and enjoyable without feeling overwhelmed by vendors and large crowds. To that end, I have asked more of our real estate team to become active in IAMC, with two directors and two senior managers joining.
IAMC's University Connections
College of Charleston's Stern Student Center
Stern Student Center on the campus of the College of Charleston
y the time you read this, IAMC's latest post-Forum university session will have taken place at Arizona State University's prestigious W.P. Carey School of Business. The session is fast becoming a tradition that corporate active members want to take part in, a) because their companies, like everybody else's, want to fill their talent pipelines, and b) because they want to show the next generation just what corporate real estate is all about.
   In addition to these fruitful sessions, the university community already is well represented in the coast-to-coast ranks of IAMC membership. Academic members include Stephan Lauzier, director of real estate for Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and John Lombard, director of the Center for Real Estate & Economic Development at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
   But the higher education link extends even farther: Over its more than five years of existence, IAMC has boasted a small but steady stream of university students. As of April, they included Bradley Johnson of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Raniero Fini of Cleveland State University in Ohio, Brendan Redeyoff of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and Robert DiPiero of New York University. Several of these schools are widely recognized for their real estate and economic development curricula.
   DiPiero, who is pursuing a master's degree, is in the midst of an internship with Meridian Development Partners, known for its redevelopment of former industrial sites, including the recent conversion to flex space of a glazed and unglazed mosaic tile manufacturing plant formerly belonging to IAMC active member firm Dal-Tile near Jackson, Tenn.
   Redeyoff has pursued his own internship with a CB Richard Ellis industrial broker in Charleston over the past two years, while he majors in Business Administration with a focus on real estate and supply chain management. He plans on becoming a CBRE associate upon graduation, with a focus on port-related businesses and others in the Charleston, Greenville-Spartanburg and Savannah markets.
   "I hope to learn and stay up to date with current issues corporations are dealing with in regards to their supply chain and real estate decisions," says Redeyoff of his IAMC membership. "I plan on also making use of the extensive network of professionals in the corporate real estate industry."
Adam Bruns

Next Page

Site Selection Online – The magazine of Corporate Real Estate Strategy and Area Economic Development.
©2008 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. SiteNet data is from many sources and not warranted to be accurate or current.