One of the nicest and most charismatic guys I’ve met. Wayne Berger, CEO of IWG Canada & Latin America, knows what it takes to lead a team and stick to the vision. Their two main companies, Regus and Spaces, are quickly becoming household names in the co-working space. Berger, adopting fundamental principles of good leadership, was able to grow their Canadian market by 5X in only 5 years. How’d he do it? “I’m a massive believer in treating your career, like an adventure,” says Berger. “I’m also a big believer in maximizing potential and nothing excited me more than working with people and helping give them the environment where they can do the same.”
The conversation was inspiring and he packs a wealth of knowledge and a contagious positive energy we could all benefit from. In an industry that is relatively new, he gives us great insight on how things are shifting in office space, flexible workspace and why co-working has become so popular in recent years – with no signs of slowing down.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started?
I grew up in Ottawa, went to school there and then moved to Toronto to start my business career. That was about 21 years ago – over the years I worked in different Industries, with the majority of my time at Staples. Mostly in sales & sales leadership, spending half my time in the US and half my time in Canada. Which was awesome, a great career adventure, lived in six cities over 10 years, two countries – it was remarkable. Then you get to a point in your career where you know, from a financial perspective and general perspective, it can be really powerful and valuable, but it also starts to be limiting because of the responsibilities you have. It becomes harder to take risks and I’m a big believer in treating your career like an adventure and taking those risks. That’s when I heard about the opportunity to join Regus and have been here for 5 years now.
What attracted you to the co-working industry?
I started getting calls from an executive recruiter, and I ignored the person for like a month, but they were so persistent. So one day I just had to call them back, because having started my career knocking on doors, literally in the middle of winter in Toronto, I really value persistence. So I call the person back. They told me about the opportunity here in Canada with Regus and just fell in love with the industry and the opportunity. I went from working for one of the best organizations in a mature industry, from an economics perspective, to now looking at this completely embryonic, early stage industry with a company that has been in business for 25 years.
“…the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and love every second of being here”
They were truly the trailblazers in co-working and when I joined Regus it was still kind of small then. The opportunity to lead a country in all capacities and to grow aggressively in this industry, which was still early stage, but high demand, was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and I’ve loved every second of being here.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
So Canada has been recognized as the number one business in the world for operating profit and sales growth. Even though it’s probably one of the smaller markets, we’ve grown at the highest rate in the globe per capita. We’ve built an incredibly successful business because we’ve been smart and aggressive in how we build and who we hire. As an executive team, we’re aligned on the mission and the vision, we’re a family and we’re so driven to success. We‘ve doubled in size in three years with great product and then introducing diversified brands like Spaces because people want different design elements. Another major reason for the success is we leaned out our business, not treating every location as a single entity. This helps our team focus on the client experience versus back office stuff. There’s opportunity for everybody to be rewarded by growth.
What makes a good leader/CEO?
I’m a big believer in maximizing every single day in life. To me, we’re so blessed to be here. And life is so precious, why waste a second, right? Nothing excites me more than working with people and helping give them the environment and the culture where they can do the same. And then it’s also about helping people define what success looks like, and then recognizing them for those successes.
“My goal culturally, is to build an environment where people go to bed on Sunday, excited about Monday.”
My goal culturally, is to build an environment where people go to bed on Sunday, excited about Monday. And that involves a lot of selfless leadership. If I’m not always engaged and excited about it, how would I ever expect my team to be? So to me, culture is paramount. If my team’s not happy, how do they provide an amazing experience that will resonate through. We have to have a great culture internally, because then you can keep your attention and focus on the client experience every single day.
Why do you think the shared office space industry has blown up in recent years here in Toronto and across Canada?
There’s something so powerful about community and just the social norms. People are social beings. They want to be part of something special – they want to gather. We always thought of it from a professional side, but it’s also so important from a social aspect, right. We literally help improve the quality of people’s lives by helping give them the opportunity to have choice in immersive communities, not just functional workspace. There’s one thing in designing and building a beautiful space. But there’s another thing in building an amazing environment and culture. All types of companies are starting to recognize and work towards improving the quality of their employees lives to attract and keep top talent.
How do you differentiate yourself and maintain market share in this competitive space?
We are so committed to building the community that we constantly have to turn down short term financial gains for the greater good. I’ll give you an example – at Spaces on John Street, in Queen West, we have a brilliant event space upstairs on the second floor. It’s gorgeous. It’s 2500 square feet, it’s 5% of the space, which is a big deal. We’ve had multiple offers from companies who said: “we want the space, we will pay top dollar if you let us take that space”. And we’ve turned it down every time because it’s a commitment we’ve made to that space that we know will have a greater return on investment long term than short term.
“We are so committed to building the community…”
We understand the value that a space brings in bringing together the community not just the Spaces and Regus clients, but also the external community. We’re hosting three weddings there this year. Who would’ve ever thought that anybody would ever want to get married in an office? It’s insane, but the world’s changing so dramatically and the space is so powerful. So we stay on course and focus on community, a strong culture and amazing people. And my personal goal and goal as an organization is to change the world by helping to improve the quality of people’s lives.
With more Canadians working remotely, do you think it’s smart for all companies to consider coworking space?
Yes, 100%. For a few reasons: One, there’s an immediate financial gain and the reason why is because traditional commercial real estate goes under utilized upwards of 50%, right, so with companies in a building, they’re literally 50% inefficient, because they’ve got more space then is required per person – just because the way everything is shifting. Think about the amount of space you actually need to operate today. It used to be on average 250 square feet per person. Now we have some density models that are 40 square feet per person, because you just don’t need as much space and you want to move around. Technology’s become such an enabler for mobilization. People aren’t situated in one desk anymore. I can’t imagine working from a large office. I leverage location based on my need and companies are recognizing this as a driver of attracting the right people. Employees expect flexible working options now when searching for a career.
“Employees expect flexible working options now when searching for a career.”
Personally, I could never see myself trapped in one office from 9-5, 40 hours per week. Maybe that’s why I had such a hard time getting a “regular job” in my early career days. A recent study conducted by Regus found that there will be a 59 per cent growth in the number of jobs associated with flexible workspaces by 2030. Greater levels of flexible working will save businesses money, reduce operating costs and boost productivity – ultimately causing a ripple effect across the economy from core businesses through to supply chains.
“Businesses that fail to embrace the cultural and financial benefits of flexible working risk being ignored by top talent and being seen as out of touch by their industry peers. It’s no longer a matter of if or when the workforce will change — it’s already happening.” says Berger.
The specific benefits include higher business and personal productivity, lower overheads for office space for companies using flexible workspace, and millions of hours saved commuting. In Canada alone, the number of hours saved from commuting could be as high as 86.9 million! If not for the financial gain, flexibility, top employee talent or stronger compensation offers – at least consider it for the environment.