The #25×25 Interview Series, a special editorial project powered by Schoenherr si Asociatii SCA, featuring companies that have been in business in Romania for 25 years, continues with another installment: Laurentiu Lazar, Managing Partner & Head of Investment at Colliers Romania, talks about the journey of the real estate consulting agency which started in 1996.
- Starting with a bit of historical background, what can you tell us about your company’s entry into Romania back in 1996 and about your industry as a whole back then?
In 1996, there was only one real estate consulting agency in the Romanian market, Jones Lang Wootton (now JLL). Colliers had a global mandate from Microsoft and on the occasion of the opening of the Microsoft office in Romania, Colliers also opened its own office. The market was extremely small, with only one office building – World Trade Center, which was rented at over 40 USD / m² – and no modern storage space. In 1996, most of the transactions were for renting houses for foreign managers who came to work in Romania. The first big customer for Colliers in Romania was Mobifon (now Vodafone) followed by Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestle, Xerox etc. Colliers grew rapidly and became the market leader in 2-3 years.
- How did your company navigate during all those years in Romania in terms of goals, achievements, challenges and opportunities?
In a real estate market very small at the time, our goal in the first years was to dominate the largest segments of the real estate market, i.e. the office, valuation and industrial market. The main strategy was to hire the best people in the market and offer them the systems and platform to help them perform. We introduced a test with GMAT questions in the recruitment process that attracted many super smart young people. In addition, we invested heavily in technology and software development in-house, which at the time was a real differentiator. The IT platform developed in Romania has been used for many years by all Colliers offices in the region.
Innovation has been another important factor in Colliers’ success. In 2007 we had 9 different divisions generating revenues of over 2 million euros each. Of these, 4 were developed only in Romania (land, residential, project monitoring and feasibility studies) and didn’t exist in other Colliers offices around the world at the time.
- What is the proudest moment for your company in its 25-year history?
People are what defines Colliers and the spirit and belonging to something very nice, beyond the day-to-day activity, make us rejoice when something important and impactful happens or when a difficult challenge arises, when you have to tighten your rows, to find solutions or to completely reinvent yourself. It’s a legacy that I’ve inherited, that I’m very careful about and will do my best to pass on.
Colliers has been and remains a trainer of consultants in the real estate market, where many experts started their careers, a true Real Estate School. Some of them continued in Colliers, we have 11 colleagues with over 15 years #Together with us, of whom 3 have over 23 years within the company, some colleagues are part of the team right from the beginning and others have remained in the field and are still working successfully.
- Moving into the present, how would you describe your company’s role in the current social and economic context?
Education is the only way Romania can change for the better in the long term, but it is a process that requires a lot of patience, perseverance and resilience, as sustainable results cannot happen overnight. This aspect is important both in what we do internally #Together with our team, but also externally through our actions. First of all, we set out to be better people, to have an impact in our close circle personally, but also professionally. As early as 2018, we discussed with our partners from Mind Education about emotional health at work and we started various programs in this regard, and the pandemic started when we were in the process of transformation and accelerated certain aspects, especially those of affiliation, adaptability and agility.
Together with the above, Colliers aimed from the very beginning to attract new investors, new companies in Romania and to convince existing players in our country to continue to expand their activity here. In the midst of the pandemic, in August last year, Colliers managed to facilitate the largest transaction in the office investment sector, the acquisition of AFI Europe of four existing buildings owned by NEPI Rockcastle. Colliers also set out to discover with his partners the best solutions given the current situation, an example being what is happening in the office market, where we are firmly convinced that the office will never ever be the same, but we can make it better… #Together.
- No one has a crystal ball, so we won’t ask about the next 25 years. But looking into the future, how do you see the road to 2030 for both your company and the industry you represent?
I take as my starting point what Peter Diamandis says: “The change in the next 10 years will be greater than in the last 100 years”. After a detailed analysis made in the CEE, we came to the conclusion that in the coming years the real estate market will be shaped by the following five Driving Forces, which we have prioritized in terms of impact and probability: AI becomes the consultant, E-commerce, Remote work, Online access to information and services and Rising focus on health, wellness and green. These Driving Forces are based on five Megatrends that from our point of view will influence the world in general: Climate Change, Fast Changing Technology, Whom and What to Trust, Urbanization Growth and Demographic Changes. So, the world is changing,everything is changing very fast, and all the aspects of our life will be impacted: relationships, behaviors, how we live, how we work. The real estate industry will take its hit on how we build, where we build, what we build and how we use the buildings.
It is clear that the current situation has produced many changes in the real estate market, structural changes in some sectors, paradigm shifts, such as working from home, for example. In December 2019 I was talking to the CFO of a large company, and WFH was inconceivable, but 4 months later everyone was working from home, including in that company. These changes are here to stay, and in many cases we are no longer talking about resilience, but rather about adaptability.
In addition, I believe and hope that the gap between us and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland will narrow, and Romania will start to evolve to its true potential, for example at the level of real estate investment market Poland is attracting for years around 50-52% of the capital, while the other five countries in the CEE, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, together attract the difference of up to 50%.
Related to Colliers, last year we went through an adaptation process in which the real estate broker turns into a guide, facilitating the discovery of the “road” and navigating along the “journey”, often being in a position to discover #Together with the customer the most appropriate option. We aim to complete this transformation process in the coming years and to be able to create teams with complementary skills, precisely to respond to increasingly complex and individual challenges. Understanding the coming changes together with the ability to foresee are becoming the key elements of success. We want real estate to be just the beginning for our partners, as our people will do their best to create solutions beyond real estate. So, our dream is to act as reliable guides, who will navigate our partners through the changes, engaging in developing scenarios and solutions that will help them make the most appropriate decisions.