We have talked to Juan Copovi Mena, former Group CEO of Telge AB, about challenges in the real estate industry, leadership, and the current energy crisis.
You have worked in property management in the public sector your whole career. Can you tell us briefly about your career and why you chose this industry?
“I started as a consultant at Jacobson & Widmark, today a part of WSP. I quickly got into quality and project management and worked a lot with public clients such as Vattenfall, the Swedish Road Administration (Vägverket) and Region Stockholm. When Region Stockholm formed the company Locum, I was recruited to a role as project manager followed by a role with the responsibility for property development and property management. Among other things, I worked with the development plans for the university hospitals where New Karolinska Hospital was a giant project. After 13 years with Locum, I was ready for something new and came to SL (Stockholm Public Transportation) and their large traffic properties. We started several new projects, such as a new tram depot in Norsborg, several bus depots, tram depots, and stations for Citybanan (Stockholm City Line).
In 2011, I was appointed property director at The City Council of Stockholm’s Real Estate Office, which consists of a mix of everything from castles to nature reserves that are important for Stockholmer’s outdoor life. The rebuilding of Östermalmshallen and the modernization of Kulturhuset-Stadsteatern and Liljevalchs were exciting projects! Since I also wanted to work with housing, I took the role of CEO for Telge Bostäder (housing) and Telge Hövsjö (housing) with the assignment to develop and meet the need for housing in Södertälje. I ended my time there as Group CEO and CEO of Telge AB.”
In your most recent role, you were Group CEO of Telge Group, which is owned by Södertälje Municipality. Tell us about the role and what your mission was when you started. Did the business face specific challenges?
“The assignment was to lead one of Sweden’s finest municipal corporate groups. The big challenge was to take the Group from a consolidation phase to a development phase to meet the enormous need for housing. By 2036, 20,000 new homes will be built in Södertälje, which means an increase of 50%. Telge would partly build these homes via Telge Bostäder, but to cope with the expansion, Telge Nät (energy) needs to expand the electricity network, district heating, water, sewage, and fibre. Telge Återvinning (recycling) needs to expand recycling and Telge Bostäder needs to build schools, preschools, nursing homes, sports facilities, libraries, recreation centres, and so on. It was important to turn the Group from a managing organization to a developing and building organization.”
What are the main challenges for the real estate industry/property management companies today?
“The challenges are many, but to name a few: the investments are large and long-term, but do not provide great returns, which requires building in a way that can be adapted to trends and what is in demand. Central retail premises and offices can quickly go from being attractive to being shut down due to, for example, the pandemic and increasing e-Commerce. It is then important to find new ways to use those premises. On the housing side, the strict regulation is a problem because the long-term rental income is not linked to the real estate costs. A current problem right now is that the high leverage on real estate is extremely sensitive to interest rate increases. If you are old enough as I am, you remember the crash of the finance company Nyckeln in the 90s that most resembled a pyramid scheme.”
As CEO of Telge AB, you were also responsible for Telge Energi, what is your view on the current energy crisis?
“Unfortunately, it is not unexpected. A severe backlog of maintenance and rebuilding of electricity networks linked to European liberalisation of the electricity market and a shrinking generation of electricity in the high-consumption areas can only lead to one result. If the taps to alternative energy sources are shut down – we have a crisis.”
What are your top tips for households to save electricity?
- Switch to LED lights
- Avoid standby mode on appliances
- Turn off all the things you do not use
- Lower the temperature a few degrees
In your opinion, what is important when leading an organization and getting everyone on board during a change?
“Have a clear message that is not too complex – simplicity is important to take in what is happening. Use every opportunity to convey the message, be available and answer questions – even obvious things may need to be explained. Keep the direction steady and without hesitation, but with empathy for the concerns that may arise. Repeat the message over and over again.”
You have hired Interim Managers, what is the advantage of this and when is it a good solution?
“I have used Interim Management on several occasions for leading roles. The advantage is that you bring in a highly qualified person with a clearly time-limited assignment to, for example, implement a change or fill a vacancy during the time a new recruitment takes place.”
One of your big interests is food. What are your “Top 3” restaurants?
“It is hard to limit to just three, but if we start with Stockholm, it is Franzén with La Ragazza as a strong runner-up. Colimacon in Paris and Oasis in Tel Aviv are fantastic and well worth a visit!”