INTERVIEW 'We are big believers in the urbanisation trend'

Herman Kok has assumed the role of head of research at European investment manager Meyer Bergman, based in London. We spoke to him about the priorities in his new role and the outlook for the European retail market.

Kok joins Meyer Bergman after a 16-year career at Multi Corporation, where he worked in a variety of functions, including research for its investment activities and international expansion. He began his career at a real estate consultancy in Budapest and in 2001 joined the International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) European Research Group as a senior research analyst.

What are the priorities in your new role? Where will you be based?

The priorities in my new job are to deliver research that helps define investment strategies, informs investment decisions, and supports capital raising. I will be based at the Meyer Bergman HQ in London, although the nature of my work means that I anticipate spending a significant amount of time travelling.

Will your new position at Meyer Bergman be very different from that at Multi?

At both companies the job is research focused. What’s different at Meyer Bergman is that I am part of the investment team, which brings me closer to the assets to help identify the optimal asset management strategies. My role will embrace more diverse sectors too, since Meyer Bergman’s assets involve mixed-use buildings, which involve more layers of complexity than a pure retail focus.

Where is Meyer Bergman seeking to expand or retreat?

Meyer Bergman has a pan-European focus and advises its funds and other clients on investing in retail-anchored assets in the largest cities or dominant shopping centre destinations. These include shopping centres, outlet centres and, increasingly, mixed-use buildings in core city centre locations. We are big believers in the urbanisation megatrend and have invested in up-and-coming locations in London and Berlin in particular.

As economic growth gains momentum in Continental Europe, we are looking at opportunities in core markets in the Eurozone and have invested actively in the Nordic region. We have a large exposure to the UK – mainly London – already and will invest there if the right opportunity comes up. One area that’s not on our radar at the moment is the CEE – not least because we can find more interesting opportunities in Europe’s core markets.

Will Meyer Bergman be more directly involved in development as opposed to being ‘only’ an investor supporting a development?

Meyer Bergman has a number of development projects in which it is deeply involved. As a value-add investor it is never merely a capital provider and the business plans for our assets depend on our in-house asset management and development expertise. Two ‘live’ examples are in London – the wholesale redevelopment of the Whiteleys Centre in London’s Bayswater and the Stoney Street project next to the Borough market. In every investment, it is the building that defines our approach, whether it is redevelopment, alternative usage, or repositioning. This is especially the case for urban mixed-use assets, which offer the greatest opportunities for redevelopment.  

Will you be looking at other/different geographies and sectors than at Multi?

Both Meyer Bergman and Multi are pan-European in terms of market presence and acquisitions.  The focus at Meyer Bergman is more on Core Europe including the Nordics, and currently less on Central and Southeastern Europe.

What is the outlook for the retail sector (shopping centres, high street stores) in Europe?

The general outlook is positive on the back of a broad economic recovery with improving labour markets and rising spending power. Also, online trade is increasingly evolving into multi-channel trade with a growing role played by retailers. Though still a major issue, the first steps to comprehend and embrace the online channel have been made by giving market places and retail locations a virtual dimension. But the outlook differs strongly by location type and asset class. Key words are experience and convenience.

What would you say has been your biggest lesson in 20 years of working in the European retail sector?

I have two: Always do your homework and never take things for granted.  The basis for wrong investment decisions is often lies in the details.

What is your favourite shopping centre/retail asset in Europe?

That’s hard to say, as there are many nice assets in the market and many locations do have unique features. I am impressed by Il Centro shopping mall near Milan as major mall destination and by Bataviastad outlet center in The Netherlands because of its development history and the way it evolved. Forum Aveiro in Portugal is my favourite urban mixed use development as it reflects a strong design and development philosophy.



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