Interview: HB Reavis group chief executive Pavel Trenka

HB Reavis group chief excecutive Pavel Trenka

Pavel Trenka joined HB Reavis from McKinsey & Company in 2007 with no real estate experience. He has overseen the growth of the company from 150 to 530 people.

In Depth: HB Reavis eyes London for major expansion 

I think our prior developments don’t reflect where we are today. With the exception of the Polish assets, our historic assets are more like commodities. They are not very distinctive, they are average quality. So what is in our plans is more interesting and more representative of where HB Reavis is today, such as in Warsaw and Budapest, and our focus on large-scale projects between 60,000-100,000 sq m.

We expect to do things differently, this is our mantra. You have to if you want to be a trendsetter. And that’s what we challenge our teams to do. Sometimes we have to focus on investors and long leases, and you forget about the client. But it’s up to us to change that, and that’s our expectation. I think the principle of entrepreneurship should be with everybody.

I was shocked [by Brexit]. When our board discussed it, we were 100% convinced that it was not going to happen.

We have a philosophy that we typically do well when the market is in a good cycle, but even better in a bad market. Financially, in absolute terms, we might not be as good. But we do very well when it’s tough. So we create something unique in terms of what we are and how our business is set up. The London market is so huge that there will always be tenants – you just need to be distinctive to attract them.

We like the potential of Berlin because it doesn’t have the mega-city status. It’s going to happen. It has a lot of development opportunities because of the effects of World War II, but also because of the unification of west and east Germany and Berlin becoming the centre for Germany. There is a vibrant technology sector and start-up sector, so we like that aspect as well.

Where we see the opportunity for us to be distinctive is in value-added services, for the client when they are looking for a location, and for the employees when they are in the building, so how they live their lives is better, more connected. They do not have to go for shopping somewhere else, they don’t have to go for food too far, or we can bring food to them. Creating that service element in our buildings is a distinctive proposition for the longer term.

You need to keep innovating, and that’s not for everybody, that’s for sure. I keep telling clients who are pressing us on prices: “We are not going to be cheapest. If you want the cheapest, let’s not waste time, that’s not us.”

Seeing what is happening [with the rise of the far right], professionally I don’t see the relevance of it. Personally I think, where are we heading as a humanity? I have four children, so for me, what’s going to be there for them?

The problem in Bratislava and Prague is that the city leadership has no vision. Every two to four years, there is a change in the political leadership, so there is no continuity. They start going somewhere, stop, restart somewhere else… there is no one to say: “What do we want to develop in this part of the town?” In 2008, we won a European architectural prize for the original Twin City shopping, entertainment and hotel centre, spanning across two sides of the road. It was proclaimed as a top architectural design, but politicians said, “We don’t like it.” They thought it was too futuristic. What can you do? Go back to the drawing board and completely redesign.

I think Ukraine is off limits, not only because of Russia. It is difficult for us to operate in Bratislava and Prague, where we feel we are actually home, and it is more difficult in Ukraine, irrespective of Russia’s influence and impact. It’s a completely different world. Ukraine is a significant problem economically, but the leadership there is just not ready for a change in society.

I’m quite a private person. I am a family man, I have four kids, so I spend most of my time when I’m not in the office with the family. I love good wine and sports, for balance.”

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