Property Biz Canada

BOMA Canada President Leaves with No Regrets

Diana Osler Zortea has a long list of accomplishments, and few regrets, after nearly five years at the helm of Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Canada.

She left the position of President and Chief Staff Officer of the national non profit in January after the board of directors determined that it wanted to take what she described as a “different approach.”

Osler Zortea leaves BOMA Canada in a much different place than from where it was in the fall of 2007, a time when it had just started to take over its funding and financial responsibilities from the U.S.-based BOMA organization. The change allowed BOMA Canada to retain dues within Canada which it devoted towards homegrown issues and advocacy, giving it not just more autonomy but allowing it to offer more relevant services for its members.

Osler Zortea highlights the importance of industry volunteers to the success of BOMA. While working on the commercial sales, marketing and leasing with Wasteco and York Heritage Properties, she served as a volunteer in Toronto for 11 years, culminating in the volunteer position as BOMA Toronto Chairwoman 2005-2006. She was also an active member of the task force which developed the new affiliated agreement with BOMA International.

When she became president, the newly independent BOMA Canada also physically moved, shifting its headquarters from Ottawa to Toronto to be closer to its member constituents, a change from BOMA U.S. where a Washington, D.C. address was paramount to lobby key politicians and bureaucrats. “Being in Ottawa was not as relevant as to be where the real estate market really was,” she said.

New Programs for BOMA Canada

During her time as chief of the national organization, she is most proud of the creation of BOMA BESt, a national environmental recognition and certification program for existing buildings that may ultimately be adopted by U.S. BOMA members. “The fact that we were able to obtain recognition within the federal government’s Federal Sustainable Development Strategy Plan for Canada – they identified BOMA BESt as being one of the criteria for satisfying obligations for 2012 and forward – is a real significant accomplishment for any national organization.”

Another highlight was the development and rollout of BOMA’s Pandemic Planning Guide, a web-based program and set of resources offered free to members and non-members to create corporate pandemic plans and keep updated on developments in the area. “When H1N1 hit, we were in the forefront because the tools and the setup we had provided for previously (webinars and training programs) allowed people to carry it throughout their building.

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“It is how the buildings respond to these outbreaks,” she added. “It is the building manager who is responsible for keeping people in the building or getting them out. That has been a real change over the last 10 or 15 years, the mindset of how to manage that.”

BOMA Continues to Grow

Another milestone for Osler Zortea was last fall’s BOMEX 2011 conference, held in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Despite its remote location, the retooled event attracted about 350 members. “We pulled off one of the best BOMEX events ever,” she said. “It was financially a success and with improved content and attendance. It speaks to how we have grown over the years.”

Overall membership of BOMA Canada has grown from approximately 2700 members when she first assumed the role of President to 3200 today. Members include building owners, managers, developers, facilities managers, asset managers, leasing agents, brokers, and the product and service providers to over 2.1 billion square feet of commercial real estate in Canada. Set up as a national non-profit organization, BOMA has 11 local associations, the most recent to join being Newfoundland & Labrador and New Brunswick in 2007.

The commercial real estate industry has undergone a great deal of change over her five-year term as president. “The sophistication of the training people are getting now, it is no longer the superintendent giving you a set of keys and saying go in and make sure everybody is happy,” she said. “That superintendent is now a senior V-P of one of the pension funds.

“In terms of commercial real estate it is absolutely amazing how the industry has evolved and the education that is evolving to train these people from when they go into university is fantastic and long overdue,” she said.

Osler Zortea’s parting wisdom for her future successor? “My advice would be to continue with the strategic plan that is set and not to waver on new ideas at the whim of others.”

BOMA’s unique federated model with 11 local organizations must also be top of mind for the next president, she said. “Canada is a very diverse country and while we are all friends and neighbours, there is a lot of diversity there and that is an interesting model to try and overcome coast to coast.”

What the Future Holds

Given the surprise timing of her departure from BOMA, Osler Zortea is now taking some time to decide where to take her career. “What I am planning to do right now is to strategically focus my efforts towards consulting opportunities in the real estate industry and other associations in the not for profit sector.

“My area of knowledge and skills are best suited for strategic and business planning opportunities and I am looking forward to those which will afford me the intellectual challenges that I thrive on.”

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