Juan José Brugera: art and office collector | Business

Juan José Brugera (Badajoz, 75 years old) has been at the forefront of Colonial for almost four decades, the historic real estate company converted into a socimi (listed real estate investment company). He arrived in 1994 from the hand of La Caixa as CEO; he opened a parenthesis in 2006, when Inmocaral bought the company and he left for Mutua Madrileña; and he returned in 2008 when the creditor banks asked him to take charge of a business on the verge of liquidation. He did it as CEO, but times have changed. “I believe that CEOs are an endangered species,” he reflects one morning in June at the Colonial headquarters in Barcelona.

“The new trend of governance in the listed world leads to the chairman being non-executive,” he develops at the beginning of the interview, mentioning the position he has held since last month and in which the shareholders’ meeting must ratify him in two weeks. “At 75 years old, I think I shouldn’t stand for re-election as executive director,” he continues with a solemn tone that quickly changes: “Maybe they were thinking of telling me, but the truth is that the one who had the initiative was me,” he says amused this electronic engineer, who also studied a master’s degree in business management and taught bank management classes for years (a sector where he worked for two decades). Despite his varied career, he is clear about his profession: “I don’t consider myself a financier, I think I’m a company manager”.

And is he a brick lord? Colonial is one of the two large socimis on the Ibex 35 and has assets (its business is real estate leasing) valued at almost 12,500 million euros, according to its latest results. Unlike his rival Merlin, born in 2014, Brugera and his company lived through the bubble at the beginning of the century, but he rejects that term so associated with those years and that he believes was applied more to the owners of the promoters. “The sector in general in Spain did not know how to read the cycle”, he reaffirms, “that is why I do not want to be a brick lord, because I think we knew how to read it”. Although he also rejects visionary interpretations. “The mantra that La Caixa had a great view and sold the company [en 2006] because I saw them coming is not true. She agreed to the price that was offered to her.”

The director claims that Colonial, despite the development activity, always had as its main vocation to be the owner of buildings. “Real estate development is a rotation business: I take a piece of land, transform it, sell it and start over”, he explains, “while the business property [propiedad] is of value. You manage value”. “The objectives that I shared with the first shareholder, La Caixa, was for this to be a company with a very high degree of security in the value of its assets. Then we realized that the safest, what was always busy, were the central offices”.

More than 90% of Colonial’s portfolio is office buildings. The real estate company was born in Barcelona in the mid-20th century and expanded to Madrid (where it set up its headquarters in 2017 in the middle of process sovereignist), but it is in Paris where it has most of the business, as a result of the purchase of the French SFL in 2004. “Today it is 65% of Colonial’s portfolio,” the president puffs out. “The idea of ​​internationalization was mine and La Caixa shared it,” he says proudly, although he remembers that there were also those who did not understand the operation: “They said that these businesses are always local.”

He could not disagree more, including today: “Within the euro zone, we see ourselves in more than two markets,” he maintains. There is no need to insist on clarifying what he is referring to. “Germany is a target for us and we will go when we can, because prices are high there,” he says. In the presentation of the latest quarterly results, the CEO, Pere Viñolas, pointed out that Colonial has the liquidity to invest 2,600 million. Brugera clarifies that “they are not saved for Germany, but for opportunities.” “If those opportunities arise in Germany”, he abounds, “we would have a company in three markets in which, sooner or later, we will end up being”. Do you dare to set a deadline? “It’s very difficult,” he replies, “it would seem imprudent to me to talk now about projects that are only in the study phase.”

He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.


The impact of the war

In a more present future, those who have deeply studied “the world of the East” (it has an extensive collection of Byzantine art, which can be admired in part in the Museum of Montserrat) sees concerns coming from Eastern Europe. “We expected a revival, but obviously the war in Ukraine, which we don’t know how it will end, will put all economic activity to the test again,” he says. The effects are already noticeable. “In the Stock Market we are all suffering; however, it is curious that the market [inmobiliario] It works very well,” he says. “One of the two is wrong and it will be corrected.”

Personally, his new role will be the direction of the company’s board, which is left with an executive director (Viñolas), five proprietary directors (two of them from the largest shareholder, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar with 19%, and another two from the second shareholder, the Mexican group Finaccess, with 15%) and four independents. In addition to him, who will be “another counselor”, he jokingly remarks, alluding to the new category of his position.

Environmental policies —Colonial began the energy certification of all its buildings years ago and Brugera considers that this is “a conviction that is now necessary” because investors demand it— and the incorporation of more women into the highest body of the socimi (they need one more director to comply with the 40% recommendation of the CNMV, although in the company “there are already more women than men”) are presented as the most immediate challenges.

From this new position, he hopes to continue to see Colonial grow. “In five years it can manage around 20,000 million in assets and will be present in more markets”, he answers. But in that same five years, he, who renews for four years, sees himself “surely out.” He says it bluntly, but he doesn’t mind expanding on that reflection. “I say that because I think that is what I have to say, time will tell”, he adds, “if you allow me to throw a flower at me, I think that what I have worked a lot on is having competent people by my side, not to be essential for nothing and I don’t see myself within I don’t know how many years of being essential”. And he imagines himself retired after more than half a century at the forefront of business? “If there is health, I have many private entertainments that fill my life.”

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