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An opportunity 'you simply must grab': New Savills president

Ruth Fischer takes reins of commercial RE services firm after 14 years at CBRE

Ruth Fischer, president of Savills Canada. (Courtesy Savills)
Ruth Fischer, president of Savills Canada. (Courtesy Savills)

When Ruth Fischer recently announced her new job on social media, she called the move “bittersweet.” 

While she’s thrilled to be the new president of Savills Canada, it meant leaving CBRE after a 14-year run that included stints in Toronto and Montreal. 

“Sometimes when you’re really lucky and prepared,” Fischer wrote on LinkedIn, “an opportunity comes along that you simply must grab.”

For Fischer, that opportunity is the chance to expand the Canadian foothold of Savills, which opened a Toronto outpost in 2015 before adding offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal.

Though Fischer has left the familiarity of CBRE behind, she’s been boldly crossing the boundaries of industry sector, geography, language and culture for her entire career.

Fischer's early years

Fischer grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The Cleveland suburb is famous for its commitment to racially integrating schools and housing developments, especially during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

The history of Fischer’s hometown “was my first understanding that city planning frameworks could shape the impact cities have on people’s lives,” she says.

Fischer adds she “grew up in a very international household (where) different cultural perspectives and norms were something that we always got to incorporate into our lives.” 

Fischer graduated from Cornell University with a degree in city and regional planning. After working as a town planner in the Boston suburb of Brookline, she pined for a career path that didn’t revolve around zoning bylaws.

So, Fischer quit urban planning and got a master’s degree in economic development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. That led to a job at U.K.-based commercial real estate and investment firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), where she analyzed markets in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. 

“I came across the commercial real estate world and realized there was research being done that was broader than just renting office space, that was really impacting the built form and the urban fabric,” Fischer explains. “I was looking at how companies were making their decisions of where to be. It had to do with labour, costs, transport, networks – all of those sort of harken back to urban planning for me.” 

Then came Fischer’s move to a new company (CBRE) and a new country, Canada.

She started as a consultant in the firm’s Toronto office, worked her way up to managing director of client solutions, then headed to Montreal as senior VP and managing director before the Savills job came up.

Fischer believes working in the U.S., U.K. and Canada (including three years in Quebec’s unique cultural and linguistic landscape) shaped the way she relates to both clients and co-workers. 

“It’s allowed me to play in the area that I enjoy, which is really understanding people and the way people are driven and inspired. Respecting where people are coming from has always been a really core value of mine,” says Fischer, a polyglot who speaks six languages.

New role at Savills

Fischer’s new position entails overseeing all of Savills’ current Canadian offices, plus any future markets and service lines.

Fischer is already eyeing Vancouver as the next new Savills location at some point, but wants to focus on growing existing operations in Toronto and Montreal first.

Though she says Savills Canada “doesn’t expect to compete size-wise with our closest competitors,” she plans to woo clients with outstanding customer experience and savvy tactical manoeuvring. 

Sizing up the post-pandemic Canadian market, Fischer notes that although vacancy rates are rising overall, the supply of quality inventory remains tight, with plenty of older, end-of-life inventory lingering on the market.

On the industrial side, Fischer cites a disconnect between the high prices some vendors are (still) demanding and the hindered ability of potential owner/occupants to secure financing for purchases amid ongoing interest rate uncertainty. 

On the plus side, Fischer says the return of workers to office towers after four years of work-from-home bodes well for commercial real estate in Canada. Viewing the bigger Canadian picture through a wide angle lens, she likes what she sees.

“The Canadian market is still the place where foreign capital wants to go. It’s stable, it’s steady, it’s got population growth. The underlying fundamentals here are fantastic,” she says. 

As for internal brokerage operations, Fischer says she wants Savills “to be seen as the best from our brokers’ perspective.” The company is in the midst of a digital transformation push, streamlining processes like payroll, business analysis and forecasting.

The use of technology is aimed at improving efficiency, identifying potential growth areas and giving Savills and its brokers greater visibility into their business. 

As a former urban planner and analyst, Fischer loves how GIS technology helps brokers and clients visualize data metrics ranging from labour pool stats to commuting times, suddenly bringing abstract numbers to life.

Yet after two decades in the business, she insists nothing beats walking through a property with a prospective client in-person.

“It’s that duality that I love about brokerage,” says Fischer. “We’ve got technology pieces that can support it, but there’s still a deeply human and tactile nature to real estate that is very cool and very inspiring.”  

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