Maurizio De Angeli, COO in Colliers RES, shares what it means to be part of an international network and how to balance learning and mentoring in professional development.
How long have you been working in the real estate industry and how did you end up with Colliers?
I’ve been working in the real estate industry for the past 20 years. I started out as an insurance expert specialising in damage appraisals for things such as fire, theft and water damage. My job was to set metrics and decide on the level of compensation that needed to be paid out to insurance holders. In 2004, I found out that Colliers was looking for a junior staff member to join its property valuation department. I was looking to change job at the time, and even though I had never done real estate appraisals, I decided to apply and go for an interview anyway. I've been part of Colliers ever since! Over the past 17 years, I’ve worked with people who have believed in me and have pushed me to develop, taking me by the hand and supporting me. It’s something I’m very grateful for. They're not just my colleagues or managers – they're people I care about. To me, this company is home.
"We’re likely to see a substantial reduction of office spaces and a new approach to what businesses want from an office, with greater attention on communal areas and multifunctional spaces"
The pandemic has triggered a series of significant changes within the Italian real estate sector – and this process looks set to continue. What’s the current situation for each asset class?
I've always been involved in property valuations at Colliers, and though I'm not as active nowadays, I'm still able to keep a close eye on market trends. On top of that, the fact that we produce real estate valuations for clients operating on the ground in the sector means we’re able to get immediate feedback on what’s happening across the various asset classes. To give you one example, I feel confident in saying that we’re going to see major changes in the residential sector. Many operators are now approaching this market from a slightly different angle, shifting their focus from building apartments for sale to building them for rent. This is what tends to happen in England and America, where homeowner numbers are very low. There’s been a conceptual change too. Clearly, the pandemic has had an effect on what people want when buying a house. There’s a bigger focus on communal and open-plan spaces and on balconies or terraces.
COVID-19 has had a number of repercussions on offices, accelerating a process that was already underway but that had never really become established. Take smart working, for example. The effects of this "new" way of working method on the office market are clear. We’re likely to see a substantial reduction of office spaces and a new approach to what businesses want from an office, with greater attention on communal areas and multifunctional spaces. We expect a slight recovery in the sector in 2021.
Retail is probably the asset class that has been the hardest hit by COVID-19, especially shopping centres, which have already been enduring something of a crisis since 2017-18. All shopping centres now need a complete rethink if they are to recover. Many companies in Europe and around the world have stopped seeing shopping centres simply as facilities dedicated to shopping, but as entertainment and leisure hubs where shopping is just one of an array of available activities. Lots of businesses have already started to go down that route. In the near future, the aim is to work out how to transform and reposition stock in a market that has seen shop numbers spike in recent years.
Hospitality is a very unique sector. On the one hand, COVID-19 has hit the pause button on the whole industry, wiping out revenue in the process. But on the other hand, we've seen investor interest remain, albeit to a less evident degree. If I had to choose one asset class to bet on right now, it would definitely be the hotel sector – that’s where we’re seeing the most sudden and significant growth in the medium term. Let's not forget that Italy tops the rankings – alongside China – for the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in one country. Add Italy's culture, food and natural landscape to that and you have a highly attractive destination – one without any equal.
Logistics is virtually the only asset class that has continued to show positive signs. Domestic and international operators are showing a growing interest in the sector, which is increasingly aligned with the changing face of consumption. If you look at how much e-commerce has grown in Italy over the last few years, it's easy to see why the sector has grown so much.
In terms of the healthcare sector, it’s worth pointing out that the pandemic hasn't curbed the momentum we saw in 2019 and 2020. In fact, it’s an asset class that many operators are returning to. The main focus is on RSAs, where the ample room for improvement represents an opportunity for all investors.
"We’re more reliable and attractive to Italian and foreign clients, because they know we adopt a certified approach"
Many of your colleagues are RICS members, yourself included. How important is it to be part of an international network and use standards that are recognised by key players in foreign markets?
Being an RICS member isn’t just about belonging to probably the largest network of real estate professionals in the world – it’s also about adopting clear standards that are recognised by clients of all types. This means we’re more reliable and attractive to Italian and foreign clients, because they know we adopt a certified approach. Nowadays, RICS membership has become almost a mandatory requirement as a natural consequence of the organisation’s pursuit of excellence. The association allows us to stay up to date and to forge links between colleagues and competitors, in order to initiate positive conversations that will benefit the state and transparency of the sector.
As well as being a requirement of RICS membership, professional development appears to be a key part of the Colliers philosophy. How do you strike a balance between learning and mentoring?
Colliers is one of the leading players in the global industry, so we do work internally to research the latest fashions and trends. We have entire divisions who focus on specific asset classes and keep us up to date with the latest developments. In terms of mentoring, Colliers RES has always employed young people who we can then train ourselves. That obviously requires significant effort on the part of the company and a willingness to learn on the part of the employee. At Colliers, we always encourage employee development by ensuring there are strong relationships between junior and senior staff, because we believe dialogue and shared experiences are the best way for people to progress. It’s an approach that has proven very successful over the years and now means we have a very solid company structure and can rise to any challenge.
"Teaching has become a key activity for us and the feedback we get is really positive"
How important is it to work with universities when it comes to attracting talent and expertise?
When it comes to Talent Acquisition, Colliers works directly with the academic world to hire junior employees that we can then train up and keep with us for the long term. As part of this, Colliers actively participates in three Master's Degree programmes at the Milan Polytechnic and the Luiss Business School in Rome. By working with universities, we’re able to intercept and identify the most promising graduates. After an initial internship, these individuals then join the company on permanent contracts.
We make sure our lectures are really practical, in order to give students the ability to understand the real problems appraisers have to grapple with in their role. Students come into the Colliers module having completely many hours of theory and financial maths, so want to apply what they've studied in a practical context. That’s exactly what we try to do with our lectures.
Teaching has become a key activity for us and the feedback we get is really positive. We pride ourselves on having one of the highest levels of student satisfaction of any company. There are two main reasons for that – the first is that we love our work and that passion is obviously very infectious, but there’s also another reason, which is more subtle and harder to fine. It’s the fact that the people who give up their time to teach understand the importance of what they are doing and take the task of passing knowledge on to younger generations very seriously. It’s a privilege for me to call these people my colleagues.