Facility Facilitates Merger

December 18, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — In the recent merger of Grand Real Estate and Taatjes & Tol Inc., the resulting company needed to be more than the sum of its parts.

In fact, the resulting company, NAI West Michigan, is a strikingly different organization than either of the two real estate brokerage houses. An affiliate of NAI Global, the firm was tasked with adopting the attributes of its corporate parent. To do so, it used the very asset it sells: real estate.

"We made a conscious decision to not just pay lip service to being team-oriented and serving customer needs, but to drive that right down into the way our space was laid out," said Rod Alderink, one of the firm's principals.

Historically, like many industries, the architecture within the real estate industry had leaned toward private offices. Brokers and salesmen are territorial and independent, and the space reflected that. Agents often see clients as theirs alone, and not as clients of the larger company.

When NAI West Michigan moved into its new 9,000-square-foot office in October on the ground floor of

100 Grandville Ave. SW
— where Taatjes & Tol previously had its offices on the third floor — the space did not reflect traditional real estate culture. The open-plan office was divided into three sections, one each for the office, industrial and retail groups. There are no private offices: New agents are situated in close proximity to veterans to encourage knowledge transfer.

"At the design level, we were looking at how to function as a team, how can we collaborate, and how can we share data to service our customers," Alderink said. "The walls are gone and we've got people conversing, solving problems in a collaborative environment."

InterActive Studios Architect Rick VanGelderen, who also has an office at 100 Grandville, explained that the facility change was needed to encourage more than just collaboration. The two West Michigan firms, although sharing the same basic principles and values, were quite different from each other.

"It was quite interesting," VanGelderen said. "They shared a lot of characteristics and values, but how they interpreted that culturally was different."

VanGelderen declined to go into specifics, but did suggest that some of the differences arose from location and age. Taatjes & Tol has been working in the Grand Rapids commercial real estate market since 1979, and has long resided in commercial downtown. Grand Real Estate, on the other hand, is a decade younger and was based in the Wyoming suburbs at

333 44th St. SW.

In working toward a design for the  office, VanGeldern led the two companies through a number of organizational culture workshops, evaluating the values and visions of both.

This process is very similar to the Ideation Lab that Holland furniture maker Haworth Inc. launched last year, built upon a model developed by University of Michigan researchers Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn. That model, chronicled in the book, "Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture," has been used to forecast the success and failure of mergers and acquisitions with 90 percent accuracy — reasoning that if organizational cultures cannot integrate, the merger will fail.

Haworth's belief is that a cultural change can be influenced with a calculated application of workspace solutions, which was what VanGelderen set out to do.

"In doing this, we wanted to make it an experience," he said. "We wanted them to recognize an organizational, cultural move within the physical move."

The combined NAI West Michigan needed to instill the values of innovation, collaboration and service that it would need to take advantage of its suddenly global reach. The open-plan model and the experience of the move were meant to ingrain these new expectations for both companies.

Some Haworth product was used in VanGelderen's plan, working with local furniture dealer Interphase. Most of the furniture was from another local manufacturer, izzydesign in SpringLake         

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