Where were you born?
I was born and raised in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. It is the Capital’s garden city, one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Al Ain’s Oasis goes back 4000 years and is still operated with the ancient irrigation system, housing 150,000 date palms and fruit trees. Its Zoo is home to 4000 animals and offers safari tours. Al Ain is also home to the second tallest mountain in the Emirates, with 500 beehive tombs dating back to 3000 BC. I affiliate with the Al Balushi tribe from the Emirates, and our indigenous culture has many similarities with the Maori culture. If you ever make it to the Emirates, I highly recommend that you visit Al Ain.
What brought you to New Plymouth?
My wife is from New Plymouth, so I had the opportunity to visit a few times and felt it reminded me of my hometown. I also attended the West End Precinct launch in 2016, which inspired me to consider living here. We decided that when we have kids, we will raise them here for their early childhood years and use that opportunity to put some roots down. My wife and I moved to New Plymouth in 2017. We live and work in the West End Precinct. It is also where we got married- at the White Hart. This place now holds many memories for us.
How did you get into commercial real estate?
In 2018, I decided that it was time that I give entrepreneurship another go, with two failed attempts in 2009 and 2014. I had spent my entire career at large enterprises, helping improve the workplace experience using technology. I had just completed my master’s degree, studying how large enterprises can transform their culture and organise their people for long-term growth. The key takeaway was that the physical environments where we work played a significant role. I started experimenting with a few ideas. That’s when my father-in-law, Harvey Dunlop, suggested that I work with him and Jeremy Thomson to create a physical environment where people from any business can utilise it as a coworking space for collaboration.
I realised a niche market within the commercial real estate sector, providing flexible workspaces to enterprises, growing startups, and working professionals. Around the globe, the flexible office market accounts for less than 5% of the total office space, and pre-Covid, industry leaders predicted that by 2030, 30% of office buildings will provide flexible office solutions. I realised that the commercial real estate sector was up for major disruption. To penetrate a global market at such scale excited me, and I also loved the challenge behind developing a brand, attracting talented people, marketing, design, and logistics of opening and operating multiple locations. There is no New Zealand brand operating overseas, and I challenged myself to create the first brand to achieve that. Our culture of work is world-class, so why don’t we offer that in the overseas markets?
Johnson Corner officially opened its doors in 2018 at The Brougham House, located in the West End Precinct. Since then, we have attracted thousands of people to work, collaborate, get inspired at our events, and network at Johnson Corner New Plymouth.
Where does the name, Johnson Corner, come from?
Coming up with the name was very much a family affair. Everyone was sharing ideas on the family Whatsapp group. My mother-in-law, Kaye Dunlop, suggested ‘The Corner’ because the building we were about to occupy was in the corner of Brougham and Devon Street West. At the time, I was preparing for speaking at TEDx New Plymouth, and I really admired the TED brand because it was timeless and named after a person. I started searching for family names. I discovered that my wife’s mother’s side, the Johnsons, were very entrepreneurial. They started a transportation business, Johnson & Sons, in the late 1800s in Lancashire, England. I remember saying to my wife, I love this story. She then suggested ‘Johnson Corner’. A name that celebrated an entrepreneurial family and a place where our first location now stands.
Tell us about Johnson Corner and what does it offer?
We offer a range of open and private workspace solutions on a shorter lease term, a higher quality workspace, and a culture that integrates wellbeing with performance.
Businesses outsource their office design, build, and operation to us to focus on their core business. We either establish our own branded open and private workspaces or operate a building on behalf of a landlord or an enterprise.
Are their plans to open any new locations?
Yes. Pre-Covid, the flexible office market in New Zealand was growing at 25% a year. The demand is now expected to surge for flexible offices, and the prediction is that 50% to 70% of office buildings will provide flexible office solutions by 2030. However, we have seen many office operators pursue aggressive growth, which has proven unsustainable. We are taking a cautious approach. Our immediate priority is to mature our brand as an office provider. We think we can achieve this by opening and operating 7 new locations in New Zealand in the next 5 years. We have also been working with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) from day one to ensure our brand and solutions can be expanded in overseas markets. I will be attending the Dubai Expo this year to build relationships in the Asian and Middle Eastern markets.
What is the future of offices?
The office will become more dynamic than ever. With the ability to work remotely, many companies are launching ‘Work from Anywhere’ policies. The total demand will reshuffle. Most office activity will not move to homes but be distributed within and between cities and regions, saving people the trouble of commuting to a central business district.
The office will become more of a consumer product. Like any consumer product, the office will have to fight for its customers, meet their demands, regularly launch new solutions, and create a brand that people can resonate with.
The office-as-a-product will have to satisfy the corporate real estate leader, the HR leader, and the employee. The office operator will have to deliver offices with sound financial modelling satisfying property developers, owners, lenders, and investors.
What differentiates Johnson Corner from other branded operators?
Delivering the workplace experience: Flexibility and community are value-added components of what we offer. They are not at the core of our product. Coworking is interesting to only 10-15% of the customers in the office market. The shared office is something we tolerate because it gives us flexibility; it is not the core reason why we procure office space. Many operators simply offer flexibility that this is easily replicated. At Johnson Corner, we take responsibility for delivering a company’s workplace experience for their employees on their behalf. In return, their team will be more efficient, healthy, productive, engaged and high-performing.
Well-First framework: We believe that an organisation can have a competitive edge if it can integrate wellbeing with performance. I believe that New Zealand’s adoption of a wellbeing budget is at the core of why it has performed well in dealing with Covid-19 compared to other countries that measure success based on GDP performance. When the lockdown was announced, Johnson Corner focused on supporting its customers with wellbeing and realised it was valuable and a key differentiator. Our customers could perform at their peak sustainably without burning out. The work we do is becoming more uncertain, and people who are better equipped with wellbeing tools can perform better. As a result, we developed a workplace wellbeing framework, Well-First. This is integrated into our design and workplace experience delivery which the users benefit from. Our office managers are also wellbeing responders to ensure people feel safe in our spaces. Cultural safety is a key driver of creativity and innovation.
Less expensive and high value: Corporate real estate leaders are looking at ways to reduce office costs. HR leaders are looking at ways to provide a higher quality of workplace experience. This is where we bridge the gap by providing a 10% cheaper solution than a traditional fit-out office space managed by the company itself or by a traditional property management company.
For instance, if the average cost of a workstation in New Zealand was around $10,000 a year. Johnson Corner can provide a workstation for around $9000 a year. Our efficient operating model means we can provide a solution that is 10% cheaper with a quality of experience that employees are demanding from their HR leaders.
What is the best way to engage with Johnson Corner?
We are currently helping enterprises assess their corporate real estate footprint and presenting how Johnson Corner can help meet their corporate real estate and HR goals. If any enterprise needs assistance with this, please don’t hesitate to contact our enterprise team at email@example.com.
If you are an enterprise operating outside of New Plymouth and are looking for a satellite office for a small team in New Plymouth, please don’t hesitate to contact our enterprise team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a small business or a working professional looking for a workspace in New Plymouth, please jump on our website- www.johnsoncorner.nz, find a solution that fits your needs, and fill in the form online. We look forward to giving you a tour of Johnson Corner.
If you are looking to host an off-site leadership session or a collaboration workshop in New Plymouth and are looking for an inspiring meeting space, get in touch with us at email@example.com.