Tech Culture Meets Bank Security at Sterling Bay

Director of IT Joe Lauricella innovates and remains agile to keep the real estate leaders safe

The company culture at Sterling Bay is a strange juxtaposition of two distinct styles.“The example I always use is that you want everything fun like at Google but still need the security that you would at a bank,” says Joe Lauricella, director of IT at Sterling Bay.

As a one-man tech team, Lauricella plays an active role in balancing a tech company culture with one appropriate for the innovators at Sterling Bay.
Sterling Bay is a company of developers, investors, builders, and innovators. Its employees transform buildings in promising locations. Through real estate transactions, the work of Sterling Bay’s legal, architectural, design, construction, and asset management departments goes to benefit Chicago’s economic climate.

Lauricella perceives the company culture as fun, challenging, and welcoming. Employees dress casually, and the company offers weekly yoga classes, ping pong, foosball, and a gym. Sterling Bay even has chef and author of The Adventures of Fat Rice: Recipes from the Chicago Restaurant Inspired by Macau Hugh Amano cook high-end lunches for employees at the corporate headquarters.

Sterling Bay’s property management team extends that culture of fun to its for tenants, too. At 111 North Canal Street in downtown Chicago, the company hosts seasonal events for tenants, such as pumpkin carving in the fall and gingerbread house building in the winter. Additionally, a welcoming spirit is present throughout the company. “There is definitely an open-door policy,” Lauricella says.

He says some companies falsely claim an open-door policy, but it’s true at Sterling Bay. Lauricella could visit a coworker and talk about something work-related or not work-related. Employees can call or submit an IT ticket to Zlan Partners, the company’s managed services provider, but most of the time they come straight to Lauricella.

Sterling Bay employees offer a wide range of real estate expertise, but Lauricella finds the work he does in conjunction with the construction department to be the most appealing. He feels satisfied when he completes access control, cameras, and network solutions at the end of a project.
“When we rework a building or build a new building, once it’s completed from our end, that’s the most satisfying because there’s a lot of different moving pieces from an idea to when they’re up and working together,” he says.

In 2015, Lauricella helped put the finishing touches on the Google building at 1000 West Fulton Market. Initially a ten-story, 385,000-square-foot storage facility built in 1920, Sterling Bay recognized its potential in the Fulton Market area of Chicago’s West Loop. Among other tasks at the Google building and many other properties, he installed the Morse Watchmans KeyWatcher, an electronic key control with custom management reports.
Outside of construction projects, Lauricella feels rewarded when he completes major internal projects, too, such as migrating the company to the Office 365 platform. On the other hand, Lauricella feels challenged when problem solving and facing too many tasks. Being pulled in twenty different directions, as he puts it, is stressful.

“Everybody, whether or not they actually need it now, needs it now,” he says.

And he does get pulled in many directions. Recently, Mac users were reshuffling machines, and a vendor came in to set up new Macs. On a given day, he may run to five properties. He supports Sterling Bay as well as janitorial and security services at each property. And though Lauricella considers himself a one-man team, outside vendors assist him with when necessary. With the help of vendors, Lauricella installed a video wall in Google’s lobby, where one large screen can be divided into four screens. He also helped install Destination Dispatch, which utilizes an access control key card that informs its user which elevator to use.

“I try to be hands-on because a year from now, if there’s something I had a consultant come in and take care of, there’s going to be some ins and outs that I wouldn’t understand,” he says. “There might be specific things that were not duplicated at other properties.”
Technology aids Lauricella’s one-man operation, too. He utilizes monitoring software that sends him e-mail alerts about potential hardware issues and network problems. Other software allows him to access computers from any location.

As Sterling Bay branches out nationally, the technology that supports it will evolve. Lauricella says that the cloud will become a more important tool because decentralizing information eases communication. Currently, the company owns the 6,700-acre Victory Ranch in Kamas, Utah, where a consulting firm does most of the work on-site. At the home corporate office in Chicago, utilities, e-mail, and file storage are already in the cloud. “As it continues to grow, I think we will push further and further into the cloud,” he says. “And I’ve tried to make sure that I’ve set us up so that we can scale up as needed.”

Technology shifts are not only determined by Sterling Bay, but also by the market in general. Lauricella recently noticed a shift in phone solutions. He says a person’s office phone is no longer as important because a “soft phone” connected to a cell phone now serves as a professional phone number.
Even as technology progresses, Lauricella wants to maintain some traditional software at the company. “We don’t want to be Windows 11, but we don’t want to be Windows XP,” he says. “We want to be something that’s proven, something that works but still cutting edge.”

He only praises the latest, greatest gadgets to a point, though. If they don’t work, then they’re all for show, he says. In conference rooms, Sterling Bay experimented with technology that allowed users to interact with information on the screen. Unfortunately, it proved unreliable and overly complicated.

Lauricella doubts that technology could replace his job or other jobs at Sterling Bay. He and his fellow workers value personal communication, relying on face-to-face and one-on-one communication. Personal communication effectively meets tenants’ and employees’ needs. “It’s possible that at some point the right software could perform certain parts of our jobs,” he says.

That said, he can also do a lot of work from home. But Lauricella realizes that users appreciate his presence in the office and feel more comfortable with him in person than they would with a voice on the phone or a cursor on the screen. “I don’t know how much of my job could be replaced by tech,” he says.

When given the freedom, Lauricella explores various technologies, considers software and hardware, and thinks about how he would present new options to different departments at Sterling Bay. He often plans steps of a process and requests feedback.

Every day, Lauricella relies on the values he’s learned from the Freemason community. Admitting that his direct report is going to win his attention on a busy day, he still makes an effort to treat employees with respect, equality, and honesty. “I try to treat everyone like they’re my boss regardless of where they’re at, what their title is, and what their position is,” he says. “I also think you should tell people the truth about how things are and not say that something is working if it’s not.”