19 Mar Tapping into Portugal’s immense potential
Séverine Boutel Bodard, CEO, NHOOD Portugal, shares with us the company’s vision under the 15-minute concept
How would you sum up the key ingredients that Portugal boasts to make it such a competitive destination for commercial real estate investors?
For me and our company, Portugal has an enormous capacity for adaptation and innovation. We are thinking that in Portugal we can develop a new vision of urban life. Our aim is to work on urban life and the concept of the 15-minute cities, a famous concept recently, is really fitting Portugal. The 15-minute city concept refers to the fact that everything is close to you in less than a 15-minute walk. Portugal is bringing this opportunity forward and we have still a huge potential of transformation of the cities. Another advantage is that we can promote this approach with a strong and sustainable approach. We can bring in Portugal new ways of living, by regenerating and transforming existing space. When I first visited Lisbon, I was amazed by how many things can be worked on in order for the city to be transformed. I also support that the city should not only be reliant on tourism. The best interest for Portugal is to create live cities, not only for tourists, but for its permanent residents as well. This is a challenge, as Portugal grows through its tourism industry. I think that COVID-19 will certainly bring us this necessity to do more than rely on tourism. Something that also reflects on our company and it DNA, is the fact that we need to bring something to the citizen and the country.
You have got over 20 years of experience in the dynamic retail real estate market, leading your first center in 2007 with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. In 2009 you joined Ceetrus and have since occupied executive positions in the Russian, Chinese and now the Portuguese markets. Since your appointment as CEO of NHOOD Portugal, what can you tell us when it comes to doing business in the environment of Portugal? What are some key insights from your experience in the fast-paced Chinese market that can be applied on Portugal?
You cannot directly compare those two markets and countries, as China is a unique phenomenon. However, we can see that there is a big concern both in China and Portugal about the environment, as both realize that there is a need for change and the time to act is now. That is the thinking I want to cultivate further in Portugal. When you are in China, you have to keep in mind that everything is going so fast. This is something I try to bring to my team from the very first day. As most people were used to working in traditional markets, we had to shake nearly everything up. Somehow, COVID-19 came to prove us right in that regard. Now digital is everywhere. As COVID-19 has brought this acceleration of digitalization, it has brought many companies before a jump that was projected to require 5 to 10 years into the future rather than today.
You have noted that you would like to create and transform spaces that generate active communities and sustainable cities, focusing on places and projects of mixed use that cross different facets of daily life, creating a triple positive impact. You have made an ambitious investment and management plan amounting to more than EUR 500 million until 2025. Can you discuss this new company in more detail? What is planned with this investment across these next 5 years?
For this programme, we are bringing together all the traditional scope of real estate. The idea is to bring solutions for our public and private partners. This project is co-created with them aiming at the transformation of the neighborhoods and the cities. We want to bring into life some spaces in the city. We are here not only to create, but also revitalize and transform real estate assets. Always in these ideas we take into account our new urban vision and the evolution of the current ways of living. Alongside our clients, we have projects of total worth of EUR 500 million in the pipeline for the next 5 years, covering nearly 15 cities from North to South of Portugal. This entails different types of projects, from commercial to residential and offices and other real estate, as we always try to grant this mixture a certain atmosphere.
What are the specific characters of the Portuguese market that you think that make it ready for investment this time round?
I think it is really important for us to transform the cities of Portugal. There is a need to continue to accelerate the change of the cities. Maintaining this idea of neighborhood we can do a lot of great things and create this new urban life. Thanks to our extensive experience in the Portuguese market of more than 20 years we can bring critical solutions. We know very well what is happening locally, which is really important in our work. Portugal will remain strong for sure, but especially for those who are willing to create something new. Just building or relying on tourism is not going to suffice anymore and this is something that we do not support. We want to promote sustainable buildings for the citizens that will bring some immediate value for the neighborhoods.
As you mentioned you pay a lot of attention at the local level, listening to local needs, including local entrepreneurs and co-creating with the view of impact on younger generations. Can you give us an example of how company plans to include the best interests of the community in each specific location?
Sharing with the local people and authorities has always been in our DNA. The core mindset has been always something that we promote in the company. Now, more than ever, who knows better what people need and want than themselves. We always prefer to work with local authorities and citizens, so that we can complete the project. The most powerful aspect of our work is not about the market shares, but about listening to the people.
Construction sustainability is not just a flag but a necessity. Energy efficient designs, self-sustained buildings and better quality of construction are becoming requirements and a condition for better business. New strategic ambition for the Portuguese market is to ensure than 100 percent of its projects use renewable energy as their energy source, a prime example of this trend. Can you tell us how sustainability parameters throughout the group’s different operations are and comment on new initiatives in particular?
I would say that the triple positive impact is the main pillar for our company. When we talk about the triple positive impact, it means we do not put profit against people. We have to work to create a virtual circle where we find a place for everything. We cannot support any longer this polluting situation and we need to act as soon as possible on creating a better environment. This is so obvious that we do not have to just focus on sustainability, but we are urged to jump onto positive impact. It is not too late, but it is certainly a time to act. Profit is important, because when we are doing projects, we also try to bring a profitable impact on these neighborhoods, by creating new positions. Transformation of assets and a turn towards sustainability is a must-do, not something that is just nice to get started.
What goes hand in hand with sustainability is the use of technology and innovation. Do you think that this is part of Portugal’s DNA going forward, as well as one your company’s pillars?
For me innovation and technology are everywhere. Again, they are more than a pillar, they are a must-do. We have to encourage municipalities to accelerate changes towards that direction whenever that is possible. Technology is the one responsible for bringing new solutions to clients. To bring the best for our clients, digitalization is indispensable.
What would be your final message for our readers of Newsweek?
NHOOD is a beautiful project. It is company with a real purpose. For me this is very important. When we say that we want to create generate active communities and sustainable cities we have to do it all together. We need to share this vision that we all can act together for a brighter future in urban life. We must work the real state assets with mixed use perspective, answer to the new living mood under the 15-minute concept and generate positive impact. Whit this we will be bringing real benefits to the citizens life.