Kristen Ulve

Business

Lunch With D CEO: Chandra Dhandapani

CBRE's chief digital and technology officer is infusing her technical prowess into the $13.1 billion real estate company.

She can be described in one sentence: She likes to simplify things. At her first job managing funding for nonprofit and governmental organizations in India, she built databases to track proposals and vital information. During a stint advertising vacuums and washing machines, she studied data that helped her employer rise to No. 2 in market share in less than two years. When she took her first U.S. job, she led efforts to create a software system that gave employees all the tools they needed on one screen.

Although she never aimed to be an engineer, Chandra Dhandapani has used her penchant for math and solving complex problems to build solutions her entire career. Now, as chief digital and technology officer for Los Angeles-based CBRE, she’s infusing her technical prowess into a $13.1 billion commercial real estate company. “It’s an absolutely … target-rich environment for digital enablement,” Dhandapani says. “This industry has yet to realize the true benefits of data and technology and how all of that comes together.”

She’s infusing her technical prowess into a $13.1 billion real estate company.

Dhandapani joined CBRE’s huge Dallas office last July after serving Plano-based Capital One Financial Services for 17 years, most recently as chief information officer. The decision to leave was a tough one, she says, but she couldn’t miss the opportunity. “I said, ‘If I don’t do it now, I will never leave Capital One,” she says over a grilled salmon salad at Centric Bar & Grille at the Marriott in downtown Dallas. “So, here I am.”

The waitress briefly interrupts to explain menu changes and that certain items are being tested based on customer feedback and data—a keyword that spurs Dhandapani’s interest. “I’m always fascinated by how much data can tell you in finding key insights on growing business,” she says about the interaction with the waitress. And that’s exactly what Dhandapani plans to do for CBRE—find solutions for the driving question: “How does technology make … everyone’s lives easier?”

About one year into her new job leading thousands of employees, Dhandapani has already laid the groundwork at CBRE. Her top priority is creating a product and capability roadmap based on the client lifecycle. She also wants to improve skills related to the software methodology CBRE adopted under Dhandapani’s leadership, bring data to the forefront of the decision-making process, strengthen information security, and create an operating mode that continuously scans the industry for new innovations. Between all of that, she’s exposing the company’s 70,000 employees to existing technical capabilities they may not be familiar with.

Dhandapani has led efforts like these before. At Capital One Financial Services, she not only led information security initiatives, she helped launch the division’s innovation center, The Garage. And she knows her way around technology just as well as she does business. The native of Chennai, India, has two MBAs—one in marketing and finance from the Institute of Rural Management, Anand in India, and one in information systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.

When she’s not brainstorming new ideas for CBRE’s systems, she’s conjuring up new ways to express herself in writing. Dhandapani, who thought she’d end up in literary studies, has started writing three books—two of them are nonfiction; the other is a science fiction story she started four years ago with her then-6-year-old son. Of all of her projects, she hopes to publish the co-authored book about intergalactic travel with her son. “I’m not really into sci-fi, but what fascinates me about it is the possibility of what could happen in the future,” she says. “I am always in my head [thinking], ‘What if?’”

And if she’s not traveling to other places via reading or writing, she’s doing it via plane. Since her son was born 10 years ago, she’s traveled to 10 different countries.

Upon self-reflection, Dhandapani has trouble describing herself: “I think I’m quite boring.” But with a background that includes literary works, worldly travels, technology, and innovation, it’s unclear how “boring” fits in the mix. 


Chandra Dhandapani is the Chief Digital and Technology Officer at CBRE.

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