Building for the People at Verizon

John Vazquez on transforming Verizon’s facilities—and transforming its culture in the process

John Vazquez Verizon
John Vazquez, SVP and Global Real Estate Head, Verizon (Photo by Gillian Fry)

When the brass at large companies sit down to figure out how much of their budget to allocate to new facilities, it can be tempting to concentrate purely on structural concerns and cut corners when it comes to how the employees who go to work every day in the building will experience it.

At Verizon, though, senior vice president and global real estate head John Vazquez is ensuring that the latter is as much a consideration as the former. His philosophy, in a nutshell, is “we don’t build for the building; we build for the people.”

“My focus here is on the workplace, what people experience here, and how can I help enable them to do their best work and be more productive,” he says. “When people wake up every morning, they should feel good about coming into the office. People come first. Buildings don’t talk to you; people do.”

Case in point is the corporate campus the company is developing in Las Colinas, Texas, outside Dallas. It’s currently a 135-acre property with two buildings, but 100 acres remain untouched, and as more corporations continue moving their operations to Texas, Verizon is taking advantage of the empty space. Most suburban campuses are isolated, but the idea behind Las Colinas is to make it both part of a larger community and a destination.

Verizon is working with a developer to add retail, residential, hotel, and office space. “It’s a live-work-play model,” Vazquez says. “Employees don’t have to make a choice between life and work because it’s blended.”

Vazquez began his real estate career as an intern in the boiler room of IBM’s real estate group. The day the internship ended, he went to thank his boss, who immediately offered him a job. By that time, he had five other engineering job offers from major companies, but he loved his experience at IBM, and it was close to home, so he immediately accepted.

He was recruited away in 1993, during the company’s downsizing phase, and his career began to take some interesting turns. He went to work for JP Morgan, with an office on Wall Street. The first vice president that the company had ever hired from outside (its culture was to promote from within), he was responsible for the firm’s global and domestic real estate portfolio outside of New York City.

“My focus has always been on transforming organizations and cultures to be more collaborative, and that’s what I get to do here.”

—John Vazquez

After eight years, he took a position as senior vice president of global facilities at Chase Manhattan, increasing the scope of his responsibilities. A year later, Chase acquired JP Morgan, and Vazquez found himself leading the same people he had worked with before.

He spent a year as a consultant, then was vice president of real estate at MetLife for eight years. In 2012, Verizon came calling, asking him to take on their global real estate operations. The company’s portfolio comprised 120 million square feet across the globe—more than Chase and dwarfing what he had worked with at IBM and MetLife.

“It’s an amazing blend of all the different types of portfolios I’ve worked with before,” he says. “I’m leading six hundred real estate professionals, and we’re transforming the way the company works. My focus has always been on transforming organizations and cultures to be more open and collaborative, and that’s what I get to do here.”

As Verizon has moved from being a telecom company to a tech company, the public’s perception of it has changed, as has the culture within the company itself. When Vazquez interviewed for the position, he was dubious because he was still thinking of the old Verizon. But, once he sat down with leadership, he saw that big changes were on the horizon.

“My boss is a tremendously dynamic leader,” he says. “We connected on the idea that corporate real estate is about providing a workplace for people. I saw that the company was moving into the future.”

As a Latino, Vazquez has honed in on the diversity aspect of Verizon’s company culture. His father owned and worked at a garage as a mechanic, and Vazquez was the first in his family to go to college, so he knows well the challenges that Latinos face in entering the corporate world. He overcame those difficulties and wants to see the latest generation do
the same.

“Even given the difficulties for a Latino, my father always told me, ‘Nobody owes you anything; if you do the right things, then good things will happen for you,’” he says. “And at all the companies I’ve been with, I always felt I earned it, that it wasn’t simply because I had the right last name and met a quota.”

At Verizon, Vazquez is part of a fund-raising committee that helps disadvantaged Latino high school students make it to college. He often serves as a mentor to give back and says he relishes shattering biases that people have about Latinos—that they aren’t educated enough, for example, or that they won’t do well in a particular industry because there isn’t a history of Latinos being successful in that industry.

But Vazquez’s thoughts about diversity go deeper. “To me, what I value is diversity of thought and experience,” he says. “I think that to limit it to a certain sector of the population, a certain race, is unhelpful. I have to be careful of my own biases.

“When I am formulating strategies or structures, I ask myself, am I being biased in an unconscious way? Because whether someone is male or female, or has two years of experience or thirty-five, you have to be open to everyone. If people close their minds to diversity, they’re limiting people’s potential and what they can bring to the organization.”

Clune Construction is proud to congratulate John M. Vazquez for his feature as an exceptional leader in Hispanic Executive. John’s diverse educational background, coupled with his determination and hardworking spirit, are values that Clune holds dear. As a national general contractor employing more than 450 professionals and managing $920 million in commercial interiors and mission-critical projects, we place an emphasis on honesty and integrity, and we truly value our national relationship with Verizon. Professionals like John inspire us to produce high-quality results on every build.

JLL congratulates John Vazquez on this special recognition.  As a member of Verizon’s global supplier team, JLL has supported John’s vision and accomplishments and observed his commitment to diversity, inclusion, and the development of human talent.  JLL is proud of its association with John and wish him continued success.