The Romanian Revitaliser
Forte Partners prides itself on identifying areas of Bucharest with potential to grow, executing developments to exacting international standards
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
Romania is home to a busy construction industry.
Having suffered profoundly in the years following the global financial crises, the sector has shown remarkable levels of resilience and is now enjoying a period of sustained growth.
According to research carried out by the European Commission, there were 89,943 enterprises and 608,715 people engaged in the broad construction sector in Romania in 2016, figures which represent respective increases of 7.6 percent and 2.9 percent since 2010.
The same period also saw building production activity grow by 21.4 percent, while civil engineering production increased by 9.7 percent. Crucially, profitability has strengthened alongside this expansion in business, which has seen turnover across the construction sector grow by 19.8 percent to reach €30.6 billion in 2016.
It is an exciting period for local developers such as Bucharest-based Forte Partners, one of continuing opportunity to grow business and uplift industry standards.
“The market is maturing at a steady rate,” comments Co-founder and President of the Board Johny Jabra. “Having tenants and buyers that have higher expectations than before means we as developers must meet and go above their demands.
“Our biggest challenge is to identify the right places that can accommodate our vision of developing communities, not just buildings, whether they are offices or residential structures. At the moment, Forte Partners is a local Romanian company that follows international standards as a work ethic.
“Being active in a small real estate market like the Romanian one is, as opposed to well-established ones like the UK or Germany, an opportunity for us because we can mature along with it and expand it in a powerful way.”
Forte Partners was set up by Jabra and his business partner Geo Margescu in 2014.
Today it is recognised as a holistic and well-rounded blend of talents, capabilities and competencies operating at the forefront of real estate investment, development and successful exit (to the tune of more than €100 million) in Romania, all under one roof.
Jabra’s journey into the world of real estate began in the early 1990s, the establishment of Forte part of his ongoing effort to rebalance his investment portfolio.
The Co-founder recalls: “It all began with coffee. I started in fast-moving consumer goods in 1992 by building the first and largest coffee roaster and distributor at the time, in Romania. As a brand, Nova Brasilia was very well received by Romanians before it was successfully exited to US based Kraft Foods, now Mondelez, in 2001.
“The following year, I wanted to create something that was not available on the Romanian market at that time. This idea materialised under the name of Supreme Chocolate, a chocolate confectionary and biscuit producer. The portfolio of the company consisted of renowned brands which helped the company became the second largest player on the Romanian market.”
Such was the success of Supreme Chocolat, the company was bought out by Austrian firm Meinl Group in 2012. This paved the way for Jabra to concentrate on real estate.
“The strategic decision to rebalance my investment portfolio was taken in 2005,” he continues. “It happened by redirecting the net worth from FMCG manufacturing, marketing and distribution towards value added real estate, under the name Room Property Development.
“The company has developed and exited the Nova Office Building and is the owner of over 10 prime located income generating properties in Bucharest and several well-placed plots which are currently in the process of being developed by Forte. Creating Forte Partners five years ago was therefore a natural step forward.”
Pioneering in Bucharest
Forte is a 100-percent local developer in the Romania, part of a market which houses a wide variety of players both local and international.
For Jabra, this extent of competition, although a challenge, is good for both his company and the industry more widely, the country being the ultimate winner as it benefits from a busy pipeline of projects executed to high standards.
Bucharest is Forte’s predominant focus. Here, the firm is overseeing five ongoing projects: The Bridge phase 3, the Matei Millo office, the Tandem building, U•Center (all office developments) and Aviatiei Park phase 2, which is a residential project.
“We like to see ourselves as pioneers, because we try to identify new areas for our projects and develop buildings in areas of Bucharest that have potential to grow,” Jabra explains.
“An example is Sector Zero, a concept we introduced for the two buildings we are creating in the central area of the city – Matei Millo and Tandem. Sector Zero is a premium initiative in the office real estate category and it consists in the development of two office buildings destined for the daily work of creative communities, including for both companies and individuals.
“This vision will demarcate an area of buildings, which are designed to perfectly integrate into the zonal art deco architectural style, neighbouring the iconic Bucharest Telephone Palace. This aims to emphasise not only the central positioning of Sector Zero on the map of Bucharest, but also to mark the intention of Forte Partners to facilitate the beginning and the nurturing of creative activities in the surrounding area.”
In the central-south area of the city, U•Center is an office project that is confirming the company’s long-term focus to build projects which are both beautifully designed and equally practical.
The Bridge, however, is particularly significant both in terms of scale and also quality and timing.
Described by Jabra as a development that instils a huge degree of pride, the complex based in the emerging Grozavesti area of Bucharest has required a workforce of 8,000 people to build so far, the first phase beginning in February 2016.
Once finished in mid-2020, it will span 117,000 square metres, the four-and-a-half-year turnaround a considerable achievement and testament to all parties involved.
Jabra adds: “The project incorporates interesting and contemporary design with a high-quality level of finish including all Class A characteristics and the most recent trends in energy efficiency – it is LEED Platinum certified.
“We have been comforted to know that all of our technical decisions have more than matched the needs of our local and international tenants, so much so that they have expanded and grown with us in our expansion. We are particularly proud of the community that we have established there and its positive impact on the Bucharest urban landscape, which we consider to be the most important aspect of them all.”
Maintaining the competitive edge
Central to the success of these completed and ongoing project delivery is, in the eyes of Jabra, an esteemed network of contractors and suppliers that Forte works with on a daily basis.
Indeed, surrounding itself with reliable and experienced partners provides the company with a competitive edge, something the Co-founder breaks down into three key components.
The first is mobilisation speed, a trait gained thanks to Forte’s already established communication flows and administrative procedures that allows it to react faster than competitors. Second is quality, demonstrated by the track record of its partners and a fact which allows the firm the confidence to make bold promises to clients. The third factor is time, and how Forte trusts its contractors to deliver projects on schedule.
“We explore potential partners carefully, focusing on their brand recognition and specifications, in-house quality procedures, financial strength and project team to ensure we have the same targets,” Jabra explains.
“We start with smaller tasks with new partners and enlarge once we are satisfied that we can count on our partner for the quality, price and timing that we need.”
Forte is equally reliant on its own cohort of staff, the company in a position to adopt a careful recruitment policy to ensure the right personnel are welcomed into the team.
“Right now, it’s not a challenge to us to find skills, as we believe in the in-house development of our people,” Jabra continues.
“Each of our team members is carefully chosen before joining Forte Partners and after they join the company, we encourage them to stand out within their work expertise. We concentrate on training our people to be entrepreneurs within our organisation.”
This will stand Forte in good stead as it looks ahead to the next chapter of its relatively young story.
With five years of developing in Bucharest under its belt, Jabra reveals that the company is ready to shift its focus onto regional cities in Romania alongside its continuing work in the capital, as well explore new ways of growing the business.
Looking ahead to 2020, he concludes: “The first priority is to deliver the projects set for completion next year within the announced timeframe and standards.
“Another ambition is to put more dedication into building quality environments that are beneficial for all the people who come in contact with them, not only the main recipients.
“A building can turn a simple area into a blossoming one – we’ve personally seen this happening in the case of Nova Building or The Bridge, and now we strive to achieve and go above this self-set code with every one of our future projects.”