Interview with Jean-François Couëc at Idealista Portugal
Translation of the article published on the Idealista/news site.
It was in April 2021, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, that we learned that the French group Kardham had "landed" in Portugal, after opening a branch in Lisbon. Expectations around the national operation are high, because "Portugal is a land of growth and opportunities", as revealed by Jean-François Couëc, Managing Partner of the Kardham group, in an interview with idealista/news.
In a conversation held during SIL 2021, in which David Habrias, General Director of the Kardham group, and the Portuguese-French architect Frédéric Fernandes, director of Kardham Portugal, also participated, Jean-François Couëc praises Portugal and talks about the plans that the company has for the country, namely for the office segment: “The global trend is that, after the pandemic crisis, people work more remotely, so the space used in offices is changing very quickly, and we are experts at this. We are implementing flexible offices for our customers”.
Without opening the veil on future projects in the country, for reasons of confidentiality, the official added, however, that Kardham Portugal already has a business in mind. It is a residential project located in the south of the country. We tell you everything about the operation of the Kardham group on national soil. And his ambitions don't stop there: "We've been in the French Champions League for a few years now and we want to be in the European Champions League", says the official.
David Habrias, Frédéric Fernandes and Jean-François Couëc (dfrom left to right), during the SIL event 2021
Tell us a little about the activity of the Kardham group and its entry into Portugal.
Kardham's goal is to provide clients with global real estate solutions, with one obsession: it is that the users, the people who are in the buildings we design or remodel, live in a better place than in the past or elsewhere. This is how we started almost 30 years ago in France, in Strasbourg.
The goal has always been to design and build offices that meet the needs of users. The obsession is the users, the people who work in the buildings. We started in the office segment, which represents the majority of our projects, around 70% or 80%. But we also designed stadiums, prisons, hospitals, universities, airports, etc., especially in France.
What specifically does the Kardham group do?
We provide integrated consulting services, architecture and engineering, and digital and design services. We are not builders. We work on the design of projects, we manage works and we are also consultants. We have 50 consultants who work before the project exists, on planning issues, on the masterplan, etc. We have 100 architects and in France we are in the top 10 of the best architecture firms. Frédéric Fernandes, who is our director in Portugal, is an architect by profession and worked in France for approximately 10 years in our office.
We also have the 'fit-out' business, building design, especially for the office segment: there are 200 people. There are still engineers, around 30 people, and in the digital business there are 50 people. We are about 400 in total.
“We've been in the French Champions League for a few years now and we want to be in the European Champions League. This takes time, and in Europe you have to go from country to country“
In France, we are in the top 3 in this sector and we are the only independent company, but our French clients want us to work in Europe for them, and there are also international clients who need us to work in France. It means that we are internationalizing. We've been in the French Champions League for a few years now and we want to be in the European Champions League. This takes time, and in Europe you have to go from country to country.
Is Portugal the first "adventure" of the Kardham group outside France?
Our first international project was in Morocco in 2016. We have 10 people working on our projects. We are now building a network of partners in Europe, which will allow us to carry out/develop our projects in the European market. In Portugal we will have our second base away and I think we will have a third, at least, elsewhere in Europe by the end of the year. We are buying a company in another country.
Why did you choose Portugal to start your international expansion plan?
As a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kardham group, Portugal is the second country. We believe this is a land of growth and opportunity for all of our businesses. Secondly, there is a strong sentimental and emotional connection between France and Portugal. And now that it's back to being a growing country, the Portuguese are coming back. That's exactly what happened with Frédéric.
But there are more things to consider: Portugal is a land of innovation, just like France. In digital, Portugal is at the top of Europe, as well as France.
There is still another important detail, although the country is catching up with other European countries in recent decades, there is still a lot to do in Portugal. The service industry does not represent as much in GDP compared to other European countries, which means that Lisbon and Porto will need more offices and services, that is, there will be growth. And the companies that will lead the growth will be international groups, including French groups, and many of them are our customers. In other words, we are here to help these customers, we respond to sophisticated needs in terms of office design and project management.
There is room for growth for Kardham in Portugal. And not just in the office market. Portugal is also investing in infrastructure and in the digital segment, and Kardham has many qualifications to help not only in the office segment, but also in other areas, such as residential, hospitality, education, etc.
Currently, in a post-pandemic scenario (hopefully), is the demand for the office market in Portugal likely to increase?
The global trend is that, after the pandemic crisis, people work more and more remotely, so the space of use of offices is changing very quickly, and we are experts in that. We are implementing flexible offices for our customers.
"The global trend is that after the pandemic crisis, people work more and more remotely, so office space is changing very quickly, and we are experts in that. We are implementing flexible offices for our customers"
In France, we have been implementing flexible office solutions on a large scale for over 10 years. One of our biggest projects is the headquarters of Capgemini [a French multinational that is among the largest providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services in the world] in Paris: there are 35,000 square meters (m2) of fully flexible offices. And now, with the pandemic, even Capgemini wants to 'update' and make the office space more attractive for people to come back to, but with more collaborative spaces.
Do you already have a project in mind in Portugal?
We started in Portugal at the beginning of the year. We appointed a director, Frédéric, and hired some architects. We have an office in Lisbon and Kardham Portugal is underway. We have already received an assignment, not for the office segment, but for the residential segment. It was an opportunity that came and we took it, because we also work on residential projects. It is a Portuguese customer. It's very early on and we can't reveal details. We can only say that we are accompanying our customers and that it will be in the south of Portugal.
How much do you expect to invest this year and in the future in Portugal?
We hope to have, in the next four years, about 10 people in Portugal. And I would say about a million euros in turnover, just as architectural design and project management services. What is also important for us is that, with the bet in Portugal, we will be able to go beyond borders.
"The history of Portugal is incredible and we are currently witnessing a rebirth of Portugal. And Portugal and the French work well together, so this is a great opportunity for us. Despite being a small country, we have a big ambition for the country"
The history of Portugal is incredible and we are currently witnessing a rebirth of Portugal. And Portugal and the French work well together, so this is a great opportunity for us. Despite being a small country, we have great ambition.
We have three people in the Lisbon office and we should have five by the end of the year. If we are 10 people in the next three, four years I can say it will have been a success. This is because these people will work closely with the French team. Although we are “serving” the Portuguese market, the Kardham group is, in a way, a large family, with qualifications that can be shared.
Isn't it a little risky to invest now, in times of a pandemic, in Portugal?
You can't be an entrepreneur if you don't take risks. If you have a strong conviction that the game is worth playing, then you play the game.
Which customers will be able to invest in Portugal in the near future with the support of the Kardham group?
Confidentiality is very important, especially when starting a business, but I can give an example or tell a story. Capgemini, which merged with Altran [the purchase took place this year], is implementing a new masterplan for the whole of Europe. And we are close partners with Capgemini. I'm not saying that Capgemini has a project for Portugal, and even if I knew I had, I couldn't reveal it, but this is the typical example of the type of client that will “call” for Kardham.
And I'll tell you another story, related to Natixis [French bank], which is already in Portugal. We are the designers of the new headquarters in Paris: there are 100,000 m2 and 7,000 people working there. The construction works have now started. Natixis called me three years ago to say they had a big project in Porto. I said of course we could help, but they said it wouldn't be Kardham, because we weren't in Portugal yet. This is the kind of opportunity that we're going to have, because we've had it in the past.
What message would you like to leave to readers and, specifically, to the various real estate market players operating in Portugal?
It is interesting to communicate and convey the message that Kardham is a set of small companies. If a Portuguese company wants to join the Kardham group we would be happy to work with them. And if they want to join Frédéric as a subsidiary, or assistant company, the Kardham group will be happy. We want to facilitate the consolidation of this industry. Many of the companies we've acquired have chosen Kardham because they know they'll incorporate an entrepreneurial, agile group with a familiar frame of mind. This is important because companies that join us know right away that they can continue to be themselves, even if they are part of a large group.