An interview with Stefaan Martel, Managing director of Bopro, who was already preparing for the change 15 years ago.

PwC just published a survey on real estate trends 2019 as part of their 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey trends series. Even though the real estate market keeps on flourishing, they advise the sector to get prepared for the new rules as the game is changing. One of the main forces driving this change is the shift towards an increasingly consumer-oriented business.

We couldn’t think of anyone more suited than Stefaan Martel, Managing Director of Bopro, to give us his opinion and approach in regards to the “Five Game Changers” of the real estate market 2019 as well as future trends.

Stefaan Martel, Managing director of Bopro

Over the past 15 years Bopro has developed from a project management company to a consultancy business and incubator for detecting and testing of new trends within the world of living, working and playing. By shifting their focus to sustainability 15 years ago, they were and still are way ahead of their time. Already back then, so to say light years before most of the European governments, Martels company set the objective to be carbon neutral by 2020.

“We started with our own company, evaluating everything: mobility, what we eat, the way we use the building, the way our offices were equipped etc. We started changing things and motivating the entire team to be on board, for example by giving them foldable bikes or supporting public transportation tickets. We moved from highway located decentralized offices to the center off the city and changed existing gasboilers by heat pumps powered by green electricity. We learned al lot from making our own company carbon neutral, first-hand experiences we can now hand on to our clients.”

Stefaan, how is your company dealing with the game changers of PwC survey? Let’s talk about them one by one.

1. GAME CHANGER: “Real estate businesses are competing more consistently as customer-oriented enterprises” How do you tackle that?

By listening to our clients how they are confronted with these problems and the challenges they face, following up of economic, social and environmental issues in our society and in relation to Real Estate, by developing products that respond to these challenges and help our clients to achieve their objectives. Co-creation, stakeholder dialogue, design thinking and other participative methodologies are becoming increasingly important in Bopro’s product range. This means our staff needs to develop more soft skills, such as communication abilities and listening skills, and needs to develop a broader knowledge on social, ecological and economic issues. The acquisition of Common Ground was an important step for us in our stakeholder engagement strategy. Common Ground creates space for new projects, often characterized by a multitude of partners and stakeholders and complex decision-making processes. It is important to look for common interests that lead to win-win situations for all actors. In this way, we make these projects better and ensure that they are realized more quickly.

Source: Common Ground

2. GAME CHANGER: “Businesses see the real estate they occupy as critical to attracting and retaining talent and increasing productivity.” How do you react to that?

The new generations are more sensitive to the environmental and social challenges we are facing as a society and they have a clear view on the responsibility that companies should assume in these matters. Young talented workers want to work for companies which share these preoccupations. Therefore CSR should be part of the strategy of the company, with KPI’s integrated in the business objectives that leads to actions that are noticeable in the daily business operations. In this matter it is important that this strategy is also reflected in the performances of the buildings those companies occupy. We developed several tools that make the link between the Company strategy and the Real Estate strategy and our management methodologies helps our clients to define the sustainable performances of their buildings in line with their business strategy. Our tools are based on international objectives and standards such as the SDG’s, GRI, ISO 14001, GRESB, BREEAM, WELL ……which allows our clients to report objectively and globally on their achievements.

Source: BoPro

3. GAME CHANGER: “Awareness of tenant well-being and the social and environmental impact of real estate is increasing.” What is your approach on that?

Reporting on sustainable performances and other ESG objectives is important to create awareness and to show the benefits of these business models. We see indeed more and more Real Estate actors in all sectors and branches that become aware of the necessity to develop a CSR strategy to “compensate” the ecological footprint of their business. However it is more important to see the opportunities to develop a “good” business model that has no negative impact on our society. The Circular Economy principles have the potential to develop an industry with positive impact. The Circular Economy Principles contains in itself solutions for all kind of problems such as the scarcity of energy, the scarcity of materials, climate change, the loss of biodiversity, health and well-being issues. But also economic problems such as the increase of raw material prices. Developing knowledge on the principles of the Circular Economy and translate this expertise in practical solutions is in the heart of our innovation process.

4. GAME CHANGER: “Quality of service (amenities) and of place (infrastructure as well as setting) are becoming more important than the size and design of the space.” What is your experience with that?

The path to a sustainable and circular business will be long and difficult and will depend also on factors where companies have little or no impact on, such as technological evolution and the acceptance of the customer to the sharing economy for instance. The community in which the company operates will have an important influence on the development of their circular business model. The infrastructure and services provided by that community should be stimulating. We believe business parks, residential, commercial and mixed developments should provide services that respond to the principles of the Circular Economy and create an environment conductive to innovate with sustainable processes. Bopro wants to help companies in their transition towards a sustainable business by delivering “Circular Developments” and “Sustainable Consultancy”. For more than ten years now we are sharing knowledge and creating tools and models to deliver these sustainable services. A good example is the development of Blue Gate Antwerp where we can apply all these services and help creating a truly Circular Business Park.

5. GAME CHANGER: “The risk of rapid obsolescence, prevalent in retail, is now creeping into other areas of real estate. Examples include offices becoming more difficult to rent or lease because they fail to adapt to the evolving priorities of the modern-day workforce.” How do you deal with that risk?

We are convinced that our mission does not stop with the conception and creation of a Real Estate Development. Once the performances of the buildings and the shared services are in place it is important to monitor, to evaluate and to maintain or even to improve the output. This is true for the services of the building but also for the building itself. Flexibility and adaptability in order to cope with functional or operational changes in the use of the spaces have become important assets of the building in order to avoid rapid obsolescence. Both good management and the potential to adapt to new demands guaranty the long term value of a Real Estate Object. That is the reason we decided more than 20 years ago to work on the whole life cycle of a Real Estate Object. This approach was particularly appreciated by the Jury of the contest “Inventons la Metropole du Grand Paris” where we were selected as laureate for the project “Triango – Triangle de Gonesse” in 2017. Triango is the development of a new city district of 15ha, mainly consisting of office buildings.

Triango – Triangle de Gonesse. Source: Grand Paris Développement

Stefaan, Bopro goes beyond project management & consultancy – why is it necessary to do more?

We are facing fundamental and complex changes in our industry. Since the Construction and the Real Estate have the image of being conservative. But the change our sector is confronted with is on a very long time horizon of 30 to 50 years. So the answers are quite different with fast moving goods. The changes are on the investment side but also on the behavior of people using the premises our sector invests in. So the change we are dealing with is different and more complex. We noticed that our clients have a lot of questions on new technological evolution, on the technical and economic feasibility, on the acceptance of the building users and on the impact of the long term value. The answers to these questions are not easy and can only be found by a participatory approach between the different stakeholders. Bopro wants to enter into this participation and take a leading role. Once we see a solution is viable we try to set the good example and show the market that the advice we give is feasible.

What did you see as the main evolution of the past ten years, both in terms of property management as well as in users’ demands/needs?

Building users are more aware of the fact that they play an important role in obtaining better sustainable performances in their buildings. Companies set up ambitious strategies but often fail in translating it into daily practice. Often they do not know how to improve their performances and/or there is no time to work on it. Nevertheless they are interested to be informed about the measures that are being taken by the owner of the building. They want to be informed about their consumption.

In the last years there have been profound changes in acquiring new tools, new talents. What is your experience on that and how do you attract the right people at Bopro?

We have a clear mission that we are committed to creating a better world, and we developed and implemented a strong strategy based on product leadership. Our staff played an important role in the definition of that strategy. Since then we are trying to implement this strategy in a consistent way in all processes. This is also the case in communication and HR. They play an important role in the attraction and training of our staff. Our employer branding must reflect our mission, our strategy, our values and our culture in order to attract the right people. New talents are screened on these topics and we encourage applicants to do the same. It is important to determine that the talents, the interests and the values match before starting a collaboration. After that we train our personnel on the job by learning new ways and was to implement new tools such as BIM and other digitalisation processes.

Are there any challenges for the coming years you want to add?

Our Economy as a whole is struggling with low growth and has no longer gains in productivity as we have known before. Although we see a lot of potential gains in productivity during the whole investment process of real estate (design, construction, use). The digitisation of our sector has a lot of potential to increase productivity.

The digitisation of our industry is an important and potentially disruptive evolution. It will have an impact on the conception, the construction and also the exploitation of the buildings. Knowledge and scale are important assets for companies that want to digitize their processes. That is why Bopro acquired Advisers a Brussels based Project management company.

Applied in the right way we are convinced that BIM has the potential to increase the efficiency of the design, the construction and the maintenance of the building. All information will be available on line which enables all kind of applications to enter in the process in order to increase efficiency or to create new possibilities such as the material passports, VR or AR applications and internet of things for instance.

BIM will allow us to design, to experiment, to test, to manage and to maintain the real object by working in the virtual model. An evolution which is already well developed and applied in other industries such as the automotive and aviation industries and in the medical world.

Thank you Stefaan for sharing your profound knowledge and your experience with us!

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Karolin, on behalf of the team