Weekend Interview: JLL Spark Managing Partner Raj Singh
This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.
He isn't a train driver like he wanted to be, but Raj Singh is responsible instead for driving the proptech industry forward.
Singh is managing partner of JLL Spark, the venture capital arm JLL created in 2017 to invest in proptech companies. It launched a $100M global venture fund in 2018 and thus far has placed tens of millions of dollars into more than 40 startups, according to its website.
Before joining JLL Spark in June 2021, Singh was managing director of investments at JetBlue Technology Ventures, the VC arm of JetBlue Airways.
When he isn't working, you can find Singh playing squash, reading, ferrying his children around or Twitter doomscrolling.
The following has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.
Singh: I believe leaders need to enable their teams to do their best work. The role of a leader is to set direction and strategy, remove roadblocks and hire great people who can execute and grow themselves while doing so. I learned this from a great leader I had in my early career at IBM, and it was reinforced in other roles throughout my professional life, through both good and bad examples.
Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now?
Singh: I think the perception of a leader has changed more than the reality. There is a tendency for leaders to believe their own publicity and think they're responsible for success while avoiding taking the blame for failure. Perhaps executives are humbler now, especially in the face of greater difficulty in attracting and retaining top talent.
Bisnow: What will the role of CEO/business leader look like in 10 years?
Singh: As per my previous comment, the substance of the CEO/business leader will be similar in 10 years. I believe the ability to learn and change more rapidly will be even more important for leaders 10 years from now.
Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?
Singh: Actually, no. My goal was to be a train driver.
Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?
Singh: A few of my biggest mistakes as a leader have been not innovating quickly enough, not hiring well enough and not understanding the reasoning behind why things within an organization were not working.
Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?
Singh: Yes, the one-size-fits-all style of working at an office has been fatally undermined. The future of work is hybrid to a greater or lesser degree, and different roles need more or less proximity. Organizational culture will have to be deliberately created and cultivated in the new era of work. Leaders will need to learn to manage staff wherever they are and build structure and processes to succeed.
Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?
Singh: At JLL Spark, diversifying our workforce is extremely important. We’re actively looking to hire more people of color and women and ensuring a representative sample of candidates is always considered. We're also broadening the areas we are looking for talent to find the right people.
Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning?
Singh: I believe the recent focus on sustainability and climate change to be insufficient. We have hugely ambitious goals at JLL to measure and reduce our carbon footprint, as the built environment accounts for 40% of all carbon emissions. The CRE industry can do a lot to help stabilize the rising emissions across the world.
Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?
Singh: I think that the commercial real estate industry needs to be a little less cautious in how we embrace change and look for ways to pilot and test innovations more quickly.
Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?
Singh: While I can't predict this, I do hope the venture capital and proptech industries continue to grow over the next five years.
Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?
Singh: Business books and articles come and go, and none of them stick out to me over an extended period of time. The book In Search of Excellence resonated with me because it was a fresh perspective (although hasn’t entirely stood the test of time). I love science fiction and books like Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, or the Culture series by Iain M. Banks are also favorites. The book I’ve gifted to people the most is Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Read into that what you will.
Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?
Singh: I love Thunderbirds. The show follows the exploits of International Rescue, a lifesaving organization equipped with technologically advanced land, sea, air and space rescue crafts.
Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?
Singh: I like to get up early on Saturday mornings and talk to my family and friends in other time zones. Then I usually fry-up for breakfast, carry out household chores and ferry my children around. If we’re lucky, we'll do dinner at our house with friends into the wee hours.