Separate existing sites. Implementing strategies with Steven Bell.

Often we hear of mergers, but what happens when companies separate existing sites? In this episode, your host Sabine Ehm is joined by Steven Bell of Wella to learn about real estate strategy in a newly independent company.


Meet the guest

Steven Bell is the head of real estate at Wella, based in Geneva. With over a decade of corporate real estate experience, he previously worked for Swarovski in Zurich, as well as SGS Group in Madrid. Steven is originally from Scottland, where he studied economics. 

Wella has a broad real estate portfolio. They have office spaces, manufacturing plants, R&D centers, and educational studios. Until December 2020, Wella was a part of the COTY group. Steven has since been giving his full attention to managing a smooth separation. Listen to the next few clips to learn more about his process. 


“We had to separate existing sites, from a legal perspective as well as physical. Physically separating the workspace is important [as] people [must] have a sense of the company they’re working for.” – Steven Bell


As of December 1st, 2020, Wella officially left the COTY Group. Wella shared many of its offices with other COTY conglomerates. Consequently, this needed immediate attention. In this clip, Steven speaks to the impact this move had on the real estate front. Many sites had to be divided, both legally and physically. The difficulty of this process depended on the site. Majority-Wella buildings were emancipated, but some offices were relocated to new facilities. This meant creating completely new workspaces. 


Steven’s short-term CRE plan revolves around this issue. Long-term, he is working to lower the desk sharing ratio. Initially, he will lower it to 70%, as this is within reach. He also plans to create more flexible working spaces for the company. The benefits will be measured both in terms of financial return and sustainability. 


“You can see the financial benefits of doing [training] online, however, we need to keep the professional stylists happy, interested, and using Wella’s training centers.” – Steven Bell


Leaving COTY has been a major investment. Only 6-months into the project, all eyes are on cost. Therefore, an important aspect of Steven’s work is maximizing efficiencies from a financial standpoint. In this clip, he speaks to Wella’s education centers. “They need to feel like the new Wella.” 


Training programs were moved online when Covid hit. From a cost perspective, you can see the benefits of doing online training as you don’t have to provide the physical space. However, keeping a foothold in the industry is key, so Steven is focused on bettering the education system. He has been working closely with the VP of Education to create new success measures. 


“It’s the communication of the process. We’re not cutting 30% of the desks away and it’s a free-for-all. There are going to be neighbourhoods within the building; there are going to be hotdesks and fixed places for certain departments.” – Steven Bell


Return-to-work is a hot topic in CRE. Hence, companies are experimenting with management methods. Steven suggests that within Wella, there’s interest in using a software that shows desk usage. Hee’s not yet sold on the idea. Steven defines the overall goal as reducing desk space. Some departments may still require assigned seating, but others will need more flexible collaboration spaces. 

Steven wants employees to feel secure when going into the office. “There’s a fear around hot-desking”. This fear comes from desk availability. As well, with all the Covid regulations in place, it is hard to predict just how many people want to go in. Sabine mentions how Locatee recently reopened its office space. Looking at only a week of data, it doesn’t look like there’s much interest yet.



When a company separates existing sites, many issues arise. Steven’s goal is to make sure employees feel a part of the newly independent company. The move has been a huge investment, and the measures of success have been purely financial. However, Steven has been working with the educational sector to ensure that industry professionals are happy with their services. We’ll see how the return-to-office plays out in the newly-formed spaces. 

Listen to this (episode No. 22) and other podcast episodes.



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About the author


Lars Thalmann

Growth Marketing Coordinator

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