Silvio Sancilio, who has recently joined Colliers as the Head of Capital Markets in Italy, shares his views on the unprecedented changes of the last year and on what excellence means in our sector.
How long have you been working in the real estate industry and how did you end up with Colliers?
This question makes me smile, because it brings back memories of when I was just a child and was already begging my father to take me to the construction site. This passion has always been a part of my family. I started working in real estate as soon as I graduated from university, so over 20 years ago, but I didn’t get into Real Estate services (advisory and investment) until about 12 years ago. In 2020, during a meeting, some Colliers executives told me about an ambitious growth plan for the company. They said: “It’s time for Colliers to grow,” and I answered, “If Colliers grows, I wouldn’t mind growing with it.” And here I am.
"If Colliers grows, I wouldn't mind growing with it. And here I am."
How do you invest in relationships to forge a solid bond with your clients?
First of all, it comes naturally: I am an enthusiastic and passionate person, so I can’t be fake or forced. Second of all, I try to spend as much time as possible with clients to serve them and try to understand them and their problems. I find this approach very rewarding because, on the one hand, I am always learning, and on the other, there comes a time when, having grasped my client’s problems, I can share my vision and we work together in sync. The approach I take is more like a colleague than an external advisor. I love to share their goals and ambitions. Obviously, it is a relationship that takes more time to build, but it is much more gratifying. I might not be able to have this kind of relationship with everyone, but I think it’s better to have an excellent relationship with 4 people out of 10, than a mediocre one with 7 people out of 10. I believe that this type of approach pays off in the end, because you are happier as a professional and you make your clients happier too.
What are the challenges that investors are currently facing and what are the trends to focus on to stay competitive?
2020 was probably the most difficult year that most of us have ever had to face in the real estate industry, because we saw changes that, in other conditions, would have unfolded over about 5 years. We experienced an incredible acceleration that has impacted us and our investors. This is why we need to focus on 3 types of crucial and indispensable drivers for our industry:
Knowing our structure, our company and our pockets of capital, because every investor has radically changed the way they see the market at this moment in time and if we are not completely in line with their risk profile, with which Asset Classes to be looking at and how to approach the market, we risk being completely off the map.
Strategically positioning ourselves in an extremely decisive way. This is not a market that allows us to start the year off with a hybridish strategy. We need to be highly selective from the get-go. In these historic times, it is difficult to know what to buy and where to find opportunities and there is so much competition. If you don’t have a clear picture, you could easily find yourself in dire straits. So you need to lay out a strategy and be prepared to immediately spot changes on the market. Flexible offices, last mile logistics, sustainability and PRS risk becoming empty slogans if you don’t have clear ideas about how to apply them in the short term.
The third driver is also the most complex one: foresight and catching the additional changes that will take place on the market. During the pandemic, I often heard the expression new normal, but in my experience, next normal would be an apter way of saying it, as this next normal will be followed by another next and then another, and so on. I don’t think the market will stabilise in the next 6 months. There will be various changes and they will be, precisely, other nexts. What we are saying now, at the start of the year, will probably have to be interpreted differently over the course of 2021.
"I often heard the expression new normal, but in my experience, next normal would be an apter way of saying it."
In these difficult times, when companies are often sailing in uncharted and unpredictable waters, what do you think are the three most important attributes that a leader should have?
Vision and enthusiasm. There are people who manage to have an extremely clear vision of what the future will be. Regardless of whether this vision is positive or negative, they are deeply convinced and can have an extremely decisive impact.
Building a team - which today is something very flexible - that is a group in which everyone feels safe and there is extreme trust. And by trust I mean everything: willingness to listen to everyone's ideas and supporting one another in success and in adversity. 2020 was the year in which the most authentic leadership stood out. For instance, at Colliers, I experienced a sense of trust and teamwork with a ruling class that managed the effects of the pandemic by taking a people-first approach.
A leader today cannot overlook their reputation on the market, especially in real estate. First of all, their ethical reputation: ours is a difficult industry, with a lot of money circulating, and at some point your ethics will come into play. Second of all, their reputation in terms of expertise: ours is not a very innovative industry and we will finally see a digital disruption over the next few years. The fear could be that human skills will be replaced by digital skills, but the exact opposite will happen, because the support of digital technologies will only widen the difference in expertise between us and real estate professionals.
"2020 was the year in which the most authentic leadership stood out."
Could you mention a leader who embodies these 3 characteristics?
Bill Gates! In 1995, he saw what the world would look like in 2020. He created a company that is still innovating today. Think about Microsoft Teams, which enabled us to continue cultivating our professional and personal relationships during the pandemic, a program that was created 5 years ago, but we only realized today what an extraordinary and useful tool it was. Think about what he has done with his foundation: he carried his vision of excellence over into some of the most important and crucial areas.
Is there a particular quote that inspires you and that you refer to in your work?
It is a quote attributed to Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” It is a challenge to strive for the excellence that is achieved through continuity.
“Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
What is excellence in the real estate industry?
In the past, I often heard saying that “foreign investors want to come to Italy, but it lacks product”; what I said, even though I was still very young, was “what is lacking is expertise”, because back then we weren’t able to compete with the more advanced countries yet. Today, instead, I feel extremely optimistic, our excellence abounds: think of our asset management companies, which years ago were very closed off, whereas today there are extraordinary Italian firms drawing foreign investors in. If we think, for example, of how the urban renewal and property redevelopment process is handled today, we realize that we have reached a high level of overall quality in the industry. It’s enough to take a walk around Milan to see that it was transformed for the better not by capital, but by the expertise that steered that capital in investments.