Working within different international cultures makes for extremely stimulating working relationships, and the Atterbury Europe team have forged great bonds with our global partners. This month we get to know one of these new colleagues better, in a sit-down with Raluca Munteanu, the Business Development Manager at our Romanian partner company, IULIUS.
Can you share a bit about your background? Where you’re from and your work experience before joining IULIUS?
My home town is the city of Iasi, the second largest city in Romania. I come from a family with a strong medical background, who has been living here for the past four generations. I studied economics and business administration. My Bachelor is in marketing and I worked in marketing and communications for the first six years of my career. After university, I moved to Germany for two years to learn German and was hired at DHL Express. Living abroad at the age of 21 was an experience that changed and shaped me profoundly; and I decided to return to Romania because I wanted a more entrepreneurial role, to make a difference and do my part in shaping my community.
On my return I worked at a marketing agency specialising in shopping centres. It’s a period for which I am also extremely grateful, as it introduced me to the world of retail. I loved every bit of it. When you’re a consultant however, the power of implementing ideas is very limited, hence I realised the place to be for me was for sure on the developer’s side.
How has the property development landscape in Romania changed since you joined IULIUS? What would you say are the biggest differences in the sphere now, compared to 2012?
I joined IULIUS on 31 May 2012 – the exact day of the launch of the PALAS project which, at the time, was the first mixed-use development in Romania. The launch event consisted of breaking a Guinness World Record…not a bad way to start a new job! IULIUS has been a pioneer in the real-estate market in Romania for 20 years, ever since we opened the second mall in Romania in 2000, the first one outside of Bucharest.
From a developer’s perspective, I think the biggest difference in the market is that everybody now wants to shift from developing a simple shopping centre towards a mixed-use scheme. I think however that there are no other schemes in Romania that can match our developments’ complexity. Our projects not only provide a mix of uses, but are proper urban redevelopments, office districts combined with leisure areas, parks combined with shopping areas, terraces that provide easy access to public service, underground and above ground parking, or you name it… And, very often, they imply an entire rethinking of the surrounding infrastructure system.
From a consumer’s perspective, we see a change as well. Clients nowadays want different things from a retail destination, they want more than convenience. They are keener towards the live-work-play kind of concepts, they expect real-estate developments to cater to a broader array of needs of the community and to act as a changing factor within the city. The expectations are quite high to be honest, that’s why I guess seeing a project completed and the impact it has, is even more rewarding.
Tell us a bit more about your role as Business Development Manager.
My role within the company is a very fluid one, it very often takes the shape of the priorities the company faces at a certain point. I focus on development; and am involved in the entire process that precedes the launch of a new development, so I work with a wide array of teams, from the designers who design a master plan, to the financial teams structuring the finance, to leasing and marketing who shape it into a defined and financially sustainable “product” and then sales-pitching it to all the stakeholders, from the banks all the way to the community.
What project have you enjoyed working on most, and what professional achievement in the last year or two are you proudest of?
The answer for this one’s easy, in one word: Timișoara. The project we jointly developed with Atterbury in Timișoara has been one of the best experiences ever. Being able to see a shopping centre transformed into a proper mixed-use development, creating from zero the business district of a city, being part of the process from the stage where it was all just a (very bold!) idea, was truly a privilege. After five years and hundreds of flights, challenges, thoughts that kept me awake at night, time spent away from loved ones, filled with small victories but equally very often with small setbacks, I remember sitting at the inaugural ceremony and really getting emotional.
Being part of an international team, while also benefiting from the experience of the entire Atterbury team was the cherry on the cake, I think the teams are so much more bonded after that experience. Experiencing the pressure of a tight deadline and working together towards achieving a common bold goal… there’s no better teambuilding than that.
About that newly forged bond; what in your opinion are the reasons for the success of the partnership between Atterbury Europe and IULIUS?
I think there are many things that contribute to the success of our partnership. There’s the like-mindedness of the respective owners, the fact that they’re both self-made men who have always been guided by fairness and good faith in whatever they’ve built. They see eye to eye in the way they approach business and I think that’s vital in any partnership. Then there’s the chemistry on a team level which I think was present from day one. Both teams are very hard-working and driven by the desire to always go the extra mile. And last, but far from least, there’s the emotional factor: both teams are SO emotionally involved in their job, they treat the company as if it’s theirs and that really makes a difference in achieving excellence.
What do you, personally, enjoy about working with the Atterbury Europe team? Were there any challenges to overcome initially?
On a personal level, I clicked from day one with each of the team members I met. I am a strong believer in the saying that if you’re the smartest one in the room, it means you’re in the wrong room. And working with Atterbury has been a great learning experience!
I love the South African culture (to the extent I cook oxtail at home now!) and being able to visit South Africa provided a better understanding of the background and approach to things and life in general. I really enjoy the fact that they are all strong personalities, very opinionated, used to hardship and focused on getting things done. You know, the ability of making decisions is like a muscle: you need to train it daily to increase its endurance and efficiency. That’s what I really enjoy about the entire Atterbury team, there’s little that scares them.
There were no challenges to overcome, really. There’s a difference of culture, I won’t deny it, as we Europeans are maybe more formal and have more ties in our lives, but I wouldn’t label that as a challenge. Many of us have forged close bonds, to the extent that sometimes I find myself saying in English: “ag shame!”
The word on everyone’s lips is Covid-19. How is that impacting on your working life? Tell us a bit about the measures in place in Romania.
Our property management team are the soldiers on the frontlines these days and they’re doing a tremendously difficult job. Throughout the whole period the key word has been “proactiveness”. Even before the restrictions imposed by authorities, our food-court capacities were reduced by 30% in order to allow distance between tables.
We’ve obviously intensified the self-protective measures for the customers. Just like before, in our locations the stores, restrooms, food-court area, elevators, escalators and revolving doors have been frequently disinfected and cleaned. All our heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are operating with a 10% fresh air intake and we also continuously do general disinfection actions by means of atomisation. Right now, Romania is on complete lockdown which means that only the supermarkets and very few operators are still open.
We’ve had a very proactive approach regarding our tenants, in order to establish proper communication with them. It is important to be in close constant connection with them in order to be able to adapt the measures taken not only in accordance to the authorities’ decisions, but also in accordance with your tenants’ individual needs.
It’s a new experience for the team as well, as our own staff works from home, where possible. We’ve learnt all possible online communication systems, and we’re all aware that the top priority nowadays is keeping safe. After all, at the end of the day, as long as you are healthy, you can tackle any business challenge that may arise.