Experience grows with every crisis

Aareal Bank depends on the expertise of its employees, which has been built up over many years. At the same time, we are attracting more and more younger colleagues. At the occasion of our anniversary, we brought experience and youth together for a discussion. What can different generations learn from each other, and how do we get along with each other? And why are both backgrounds important to ensure our future viability over the next 100 years?

Jean Meaudre, currently Director for France, Belgium and Luxembourg in the Paris Euro-Hub, has been working at Aareal Bank for 21 years and Florian Kern has been part of the Hotel Properties team in Wiesbaden for almost four. This interview is about the importance of continuity and change.

Editor: Jean Meaudre, Florian Kern, our interview today could be called "decades-long experience meets youthful energy". Jean, could you please tell us how you came to join Aareal Bank?

The establishment of the Aareal brand was the beginning of a new chapter for both the Bank and me.

Jean Meaudre

Jean Meaudre: Gladly, as my story fits very well with our 100th anniversary. I started working at the former Belgian branch in Brussels in 2002, when I already had around 10 years of property financing experience under my belt. At that time, Aareal Bank had just been created from the predecessor institution Depfa Bank by means of the "Twins" project, and my first time in Wiesbaden was for the big Aareal Bank party on 27 September 2002. In a way, that was the beginning of a new chapter for both the Bank and me. The bank was developing its activities abroad and Belgium just started a few years before and had just expanded through the acquisition of the lending portfolio of Anhyp. The challenge for us in Belgium was to find our market niche and build up a portfolio. Within just a few years, we had managed to make Aareal a very well-known and respected name throughout the industry in Belgium.

Editor: Florian Kern, you joined Aareal Bank's Hotel Properties team in 2019. Do you still remember your first day in Wiesbaden?

Florian Kern: I distinctly remember how warmly I was welcomed and how straightforward the onboarding process was and how complex the business appeared back then. The hotel team is very young, multicultural, and my colleagues come from many different countries. As a "lateral entrant" from the hotel industry, I felt at home straight away. I was also very impressed by the professional way of working and without my experienced colleagues there would have been no way I would have gotten my head around our very elaborated financing structures. We work on very complex finance transactions with investors from all over the world expecting the same level of quality and service they would get from a major investment bank; luckily there's a high level of expertise pooled within the team, and we managed to remain industry leaders in our sector. Having flat hierarchies and strong team spirit ensure very efficient internal knowledge transfer and thus enable us to deliver great results.

Experience grows not only from professional expertise but also from the knowledge of having overcome difficult situations before.

Florian Kern

Editor: Which particular moments come to mind for you when you look back today?

Jean Meaudre: The 2007/2008 financial crisis was a defining period for me. In Brussels, we were just coming out of a successful phase of development and new business acquisition, and many agreements had to be reappraised practically overnight. The flat hierarchies and close in-house cooperation helped us a great deal here. Everyone works together with great focus and on equal terms, from the lawyers and risk managers to the market and industry specialists. People know each other, they trust each other, and they support each other wherever they can.

Florian Kern: That coincides precisely with my experience, although my key experience was the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hotel operators, in particular, were being faced with great uncertainty as a result of the lockdowns and travel restrictions – I can still remember how our phones rang almost every minute. We had many in-depth discussions with our borrowers and managed to find suitable solutions to get them through this difficult time. That's when I realised that experience grows not only from professional expertise but also from the knowledge of having overcome difficult situations before.

Editor: Let's now look to the future. Since MIPIM, the traditional industry gathering, will take place in Cannes in March we wanted to ask you: Which trends are you expecting to see in the future?

Jean Meaudre: MIPIM has always been a firm fixture in my diary as it's an excellent opportunity to establish and maintain contacts. The return to normality is undeniable at present but as a “new normal” with teleworking and high interest rates. I'm still noticing a wait-and-see attitude at the moment in the investment market; at the same time the hotel sector is booming in particular, especially those which received new capital expenditure (capex) during Covid. Over the coming years, sustainable travel or new housing concepts like co-living will open up opportunities for us to grow our portfolio further.

Florian Kern: I share Jean's view about the fundamental development of the market: the time has come for bold ideas. We're talking about a period of 100 years with our centenary, and Jean was in the lucky position to help shape 20 of those himself. When I listen to him, I realise that the Bank has always been willing to look ahead and change, and we need to keep on nurturing this spirit. Think about Uber, Airbnb or N26 – a few years ago their business model was heavily questioned and ridiculed, especially in Germany. Yet today they are not only a reality but shape the future of their industries. This pace of change will continue, if not increase. Having said this, I am convinced we not only need to be prepared for that but remain ahead of the curve. I genuinely believe that this is what made the Bank so successful over the past years and that innovation, open-mindedness, agility, and business acumen are the sheer core of our DNA.

Jean Meaudre: I agree, and our well-structured, very functional, and very effective teams will ensure that we continue to operate among the major players. That, for me, is the DNA of Aareal Bank.