How Cushman & Wakefield Deployed Digital Transformation

Neil Johnston, global CFO at Cushman & Wakefield, shares insights into the global real estate firm’s digital transformation and the benefits clients and employees have experienced because of it.


Over the years, the commercial real estate industry has experienced a whirlwind of uncertainty and change—from the recession in 2008, to the recent resurging demand for office space, and the rapidly expanding need for more data centers and logistics warehouses.

Few organizations understand the commercial real estate market’s fast-changing landscape—and its technology needs—as thoroughly as Cushman & Wakefield. It’s one of the largest global commercial real estate services firms, which manages properties and transactions for owners and occupiers in 60 countries. After a major 2015 merger with DTZ and Cassidy Turley, Cushman & Wakefield integrated both culture and technology to turn three companies into one global firm. With more than 50,000 employees around the world—many of them working remotely—the company relies on a modern technology platform to help maintain a competitive edge in its ability to meaningfully impact people, cities, communities, and the planet through the continually evolving commercial real estate space.

Neil Johnston joined Cushman & Wakefield as global CFO in February 2021—in the thick of the pandemic. As the workforce and workplace underwent seismic changes, and hybrid work became the new norm, Johnston and the broader leadership team were charged with optimizing the company’s resources. Having a cloud-based solution in place ensured that both employees and clients continued to thrive in the new environment.

We recently caught up with Johnston to learn about Cushman & Wakefield’s digital transformation journey over the years. What follows are a few highlights from our conversation.

What was Cushman & Wakefield looking to get from its enterprise management system?

The needs of our clients and our employees are changing quickly, so we needed a system that adapts—a system that’s mobile, cloud first, and can scale very quickly. It needed to be global, so anyone in the world could access the system and see the same data. But it also needed to have incredible detail and granularity because our stakeholders want to know what’s happening in their market to their people. Another priority was to ensure our people were spending as much time as possible with our clients, really adding value, rather than working on back-office tasks.

“Having that single source of truth is absolutely critical, not only for me in my role but for the organization as a whole.”

Neil Johnston Global Chief Financial Officer Cushman & Wakefield

At Cushman & Wakefield, about 75% of our costs are related to our people, so we have to be able to integrate people and financial data to optimize the workforce. The technology has to be easy to use, it has to be seamless, and it has to provide actionable data and information so we can improve outcomes for our clients and our employees. We chose Workday because it is an integrated people and financial platform.

What are the challenges with digital transformation in commercial real estate?

There’s just so much data. There’s data about the buildings. There’s data about the employees—how often they’re coming into the office, how they’re using the space. Those insights inform how our clients—real estate owners and occupiers—will invest in office space in the future. So we have to be able to gather that data and present it in an actionable form.

How is the new platform benefiting your clients?

Commercial real estate is a multiyear decision. It’s a large part of the budget for the CFOs of our clients. And once a decision is made, it takes years to really see the outcome. Having that data to drive the right decision is absolutely critical to manage costs, engage the workforce, and ensure that any investment in real estate is optimized.

How has the transformation impacted Cushman & Wakefield’s bottom line?

We’ve been able to save significantly and improve the overall efficiency of the organization. Over the last five years, we’ve improved our margins from approximately 9% to 13%, so over 300 basis points of margin improvement over a period of five years as a result of the work we’ve done to improve our back office and drive efficiency.

What has been Workday’s greatest value to you as CFO?

For a CFO, credibility is critical. Financial numbers and KPIs have to be accurate and readily accessible. For me the most important thing is when I’m looking at reports in Workday, the numbers I am looking at are the same as those that someone remotely or in a different city is looking at. When everybody is looking at the same information, you get the same result. Having that single source of truth is absolutely critical, not only for me in my role but for the organization as a whole.

How have you been able to better engage employees since implementing Workday?

Almost everything we do regarding our people is on our Workday platform. For example, we ensure performance reviews are done throughout the company, and we do all of our talent and performance reviews in Workday. Workday is helping us help all of our employees work better.

An area of change post-COVID has been the significant level of attrition we’ve seen impact companies across industries. We have to create a very high level of engagement with our people to ensure they stay with us. We’re able to pull data to really understand what employees’ needs are, so we can attract and keep the best talent in the industry.

Check out this video to learn more about Cushman & Wakefield’s success with Workday.

More Reading