Brookfield GIS Starts an Innovation Convention

Brookfield GIS’s John Castelhano explains how to advance entire marketplaces by improving processes, prizing outsider thinking, and providing a venue for new concepts

Photo by Todd Duncan

As a newly minted college graduate, John Castelhano was set on turning his summer manufacturing gig into a full-fledged career. As for what career, he wasn’t sure exactly. Yet, one afternoon, when he glimpsed his general manager strolling through the plant, Castelhano did what any ambitious young person would do: he asked for a job. Any job.

The manager’s suggestion? That Castelhano try sales. He soon enrolled into the firm’s intensive training program, where he worked in nearly every department between the administrative office and the shop floor. In just a few months, Castelhano says he gained a lifetime of experience—but he never did become a sales rep.

“I found a real love in operations and purchasing and returned to school to further develop my skills,” says Castelhano. “I found operations and procurement very dynamic—a hands-on business field that I could be really passionate about. It felt like I had a real impact and that really struck a chord with me.”

Castelhano spent the next eight years with the manufacturing company, before moving on to a housewares company, a position that introduced him to the filaments of international trade and took him across the globe. When he began to work in consulting, a friend let him in on an opportunity at Brookfield GIS in Markham, Ontario. So he joined the team to herald a trade-vendor-consolidation project in a completely new industry—corporate real estate. The learning process harkened back to his early days in manufacturing.


Castelhano believes innovation begins and ends with engaged employees. He starts every staff meeting with a “praise to share” session, taking the time to recognize a fellow team member’s efforts and accomplishments. It’s also crucial to involve employees in identifying and prioritizing problem areas, so they can work together to develop solutions and feel good about affecting change. “Celebrate the little successes along the way,” he adds.

Brookfield is an integrated corporate real estate management firm, specializing in facility management, project management and capital planning, and professional services like energy and sustainability, strategic workplace consulting, and real estate services.

“This is a complex, high-paced environment with many stakeholders,” Castelhano says, now a director of strategic sourcing. “In our organization, we purchase on behalf of our clients and the rules of engagement are unique in each client environment. Building effective relationships and understanding the business were a challenge. I paid a lot of close attention to the ins and outs of the business in my early days with the organization.”

According to Castelhano, 20 years ago, the field was filled mostly with buyers focusing on straight purchasing. Today, the field is much more evolved. “Purchasing became procurement about 10 years ago, and now our field is known as ‘Strategic Sourcing,’” Castelhano says. “We’re not just tactically issuing purchasing orders; we’re being strategic about how we define opportunities and desired outcomes, how we assess the marketplace, how we leverage scale, and how we choose our service provider engagement approach. This is all in an effort to ensure our value proposition is maintained to consistently deliver successful outcomes. Strategy deployment of this nature requires a much higher structured level of project planning.”

When Castelhano came aboard at Brookfield, the company had already established itself as a leader in its industry and began differentiating itself in the marketplace through innovation. The executive team recognized the strategic-sourcing area for additional enhancement opportunities, and as his level of responsibility continued to expand, Castelhano realized that improving the procurement approach was a necessary step in helping its internal client groups in supporting its customers.

“We needed an updated sourcing vision and a game plan in order to strengthen our internal relationships,” he says. “That part was hard but we were fortunate to have terrific support from our executive office. After some opportunities became available we became better aligned with our client account teams and really focused on the category-management approach. We set forth strengthening our team and making it more effective and specialized. We identified gaps and built an end-to-end enhancement strategy that considered organizational design, people, processes, tools, and communications.”

For example, instead of assigning team members to a random assortment of clients or projects, Castelhano helped to organize sourcing managers into categories of expertise, such as hard services like HVAC and elevators, or soft services like janitorial and grounds. Before the change, Castelhano says the sourcing team only had a handful of flow charts to define its work, which at times were inconsistent. He led the meticulous charge to document policies, process work instructions, and templates that resulted in a refreshed library of over 50 process documents including the development of a proprietary contract repository and pipeline-initiative tracking tool.

“We needed to have a good playbook to help us define what we do on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “It was a key part of our transformation.”

That transformation has supported Brookfield’s recent growth into a company that manages more than 56-million square metres of property and infrastructure across the country. Leveraging that success has allowed the company to shift its focus back to being an innovative corporate real-estate leader.

Four years ago, the company launched its “An Inspired Future” conference to make that happen. The annual event brings together hundreds of Canada’s industry professionals and vendors to discuss trends in sustainable and restorative business best-practices, including health and safety, sustainability planning, and workplace innovation.

Following the event’s success, Castelhano and the team suggested an offshoot to the series called the “Supplier Innovation Symposium,” which awards vendors who were demonstrating innovative leadership in their business channels.

“The objective of the session was to draw awareness to innovations among our service providers to help promote them across our other client accounts,” Castelhano says. “It was a mutual business development proposition. We want to show our clients that we can draw on the expertise of our many service providers to bring new solutions and technology to enhance our overall service delivery.”


Developed and launched Pipeline, an in-house project-tracking and initiative-collaboration tool.

Developed and launched Contract Hub, an in-house contract-repository tool using Sharepoint. Castelhano’s team won the Corporate Employee Innovation Award

Developed an updated set of operating policy and work-instruction document library with more than 50 files for sourcing operations

Received procurement employee engagement survey results: 88 percent, the top score in the organization

The forum also provides an opportunity for Brookfield to give its strategic vendors updates on the company’s own key initiatives and future direction. Castelhano says the entire procurement and strategic-sourcing team encourages vendors to submit innovation nominations and participate at the event. This year, the number of vendor participants doubled.

“Everyone hears about innovation these days—it’s a common buzzword,” says Castelhano. “But if we can meaningfully promote innovations from our service providers together to grow our business interests, that’s real success. There have been some really inspiring innovation submissions.”   

Among this year’s winners included a lighting firm that created LED technology to reduce energy costs by 40 percent; a service provider who has launched a zero-waste program and deployed sensor technology to determine when a garbage can needs emptying; and a snow removal company that used cameras to track snow accumulation rates, instead of leaning on sometimes unreliable weather reports.

“I think the Supplier Symposium really differentiates us from our competitors and ties us closer to our suppliers so they understand what is important to us: innovation, health and safety, and growing our business together day to day,” Castelhano says. “Several of the key innovation submissions from last year are in the implementation stage this year with measurable results.”

Castelhano encourages Brookfield’s service providers to create an innovation program to fuel their paths to growth. “These are methods that we can work with to add additional value for our clients,” Castelhano adds. “It’s allowed us to showcase our thought leadership.”

National Reach Local Touch

GDI provides innovative cleaning techniques, best-in-class capabilities and unrivaled experience. You will enjoy clean, healthy and welcoming work and leisure environments every day.