There can be no doubt that Jean Marie-Tritant – the global Chief Executive of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) – possesses the operational know-how required to run one of real estate’s most recognisable names. During his 25-year career at the company Jean-Marie has filled several roles that have been vital to its success. Before becoming CEO he spent twoyears and a half leading the newly merged Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield business in the USA, and prior to that he was the company’s Group COO when it was simply the European-focused Unibail-Rodamco, as well as earlier in his career there had led its offices division. This ability to run vital business lines during periods of change and expansion made him a natural choice to run the company, and the board appointed him to the top job starting in January 2021.
While the real estate industry isn’t short of chief executives who are also excellent operators, what makes Mr. Tritant stand out is his evangelical appreciation of both the moment of transformation within the industry, and the power of branding, marketing, and innovation. Hearing him talk about these subjects – and how they are central to URW’s philosophy and strategy – is perhaps more akin to talking to a young San Francisco tech executive than a seasoned veteran of the real estate industry. Jean-Marie explains that “everyone is talking about innovation, but too often they are just focused on operational excellence. We are excellent operators, but have been able to differentiate ourselves through or focus on our brand and our customers”.
Jean-Marie articulates how creating a strong brand identity has been at the heart of URW’s strategy, and how this differentiates the company from its competitors. “Only one company in the world has a recognisable brand for retail real estate, and that is Westfield” he explains. The acquisition of the instantly-recognisable global brand was part of Unibail-Rodamco’s decision to purchase the Australian headquartered retail giant in 2018, which had operations across the US and in London.
Mr. Tritant goes on to explain that “a huge element of our future growth opportunity lies in our brand name and having the ability it provides us to act as a pan-European or global platform for retailers and brands”.
He describes how the Westfield brand name provides URW with the opportunity to think about its offering as an aggregate, digitally connected platform of assets, which enables it to approach its engagement with customers an entirely unique way while also growing new revenues in areas like media, advertising, brand experience and data.
One example of this was its Lady Gaga album launch event which took place in October 2021. This saw the performer broadcast a 45-minute show for audiences at over twenty different URW assets in ten different countries, along with a digital platform for live viewing from home, and streaming on Lady Gaga and Westfield’s social channels – all under the Westfield brand.
As it looks to the future, this focus on leveraging the brand along with the audiences that exist because of the company’s platform of assets isn’t just limited to URW’s physical assets, either. Jean-Marie explains that “we are always asking ourselves where do we need to be to grow both our brand and our audience as a function of serving both our retailers and our growing brand experience business, which is extremely important in an omnichannel world. We are already looking to the Metaverse.”
Central to URW’s capitalisation on its brand identity and increasing revenues via advertising and brand experience has been the appointment of a Chief Customer Officer, Caroline Puechoultres. Previously, Mr. Tritant explains, marketing and digital strategy had fallen under the Chief Operating Officer’s remit. “However, for URW it is vital to have someone at the highest echelon of the business who is completely dedicated to customers, marketing, and data” he explains.
This core tenet of URW’s customer philosophy is based on the principal that its business is both local and global; and is therefore about understanding its customers in a specific place while leveraging its global reach. “It’s about the customer’s character, and that manifests itself in how we design and manage our assets. In Spain, for example, people go to dinner very late which moulds how we approach the management of our Spanish assets” he continues.
That local and global perspective allows it to tactically understand its customers in some of the world’s top markets, reaching affluent consumers throughout Europe and the U.S., while helping its retailers and brand experience clients leverage that audience in new ways. With this clientcentric mindset, the company aligned its teams working on media, advertising and brand experience into a centralized commercial partnership division this year, with a target to reach €200 million or more of revenues by 2030.
A focus on brand and innovation alone have not been responsible for Jean-Marie and URW’s successes, however. Their ability to embrace new trends is underpinned by acquiring excellent assets and running them well. Jean-Marie says that fundamental to the continued success of URW is “the quality of the assets and the quality of the teams”.
In practice, this means paying close attention to geography and where the company can have the most impact. “When it comes to our markets we are not a country player, we are a city player. We are not in the UK we are in London, and we are not in Austria we are in Vienna. Our primary focus is on serving key cities and their surrounding areas allowing us to reach a global audience vs just a hyper-local one.”
You would be hard pressed to find a chief executive who has helped shape and define the URW approach more than Mr. Tritant. In 2002 he became the Managing Director of the offices division, becoming a member of the executive committee, in 2007 on the back of the merger with Rodamco he has been appointed Managing Director of the French business by former CEO Guillaume Poitrinal.
This diverse background has served him well as the company also looks to establish itself as a leader in the urbanization and regeneration of its assets – with an eye to becoming the preferred partner to cities on their environmental transition. He shares “URW has a critical opportunity ahead of itself, where we look at the impact we can have with our assets, how we unlock value in our portfolio through mixed-use development and how we work with communities to lead sustainable change.”
The company to some degree is already there: it recently announced plans for its Lightwell office regeneration project in Paris, which has a host of sustainable bonafides; in 2021 it opened its Westfield Mall of the Netherlands, a comprehensive redevelopment of an existing shopping centre that welcomed over 13 million visits in its first year of operation; and is looking towards it 2024 opening of Westfield Hamburg-Überseequartier – a former waterfront industrial site that will become the centre of a bustling new district in the German city.
Seeing and seeking
Reflecting on his time leading the newly merged Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield business in the USA in the two years and a half before he became global CEO, Jean-Marie explains that “this was a very important formative experience for me for two reasons. Firstly, it provided me with an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and experience something new. Secondly, I became the only person in the business with a clear understanding of our operations in the USA and Europe.”
That insight combined with his lengthy career has provided Jean-Marie with a tremendous capacity to manage the impact that global consumer and economic trends are having on the real estate industry. He believes that physical retail is in a stronger position than it has been for some time, saying that “even before Covid there was a question around physical retail. Everyone thought that everything would be done online eventually, yet Covid has actually proved that this will not be the case. The store has re-emerged as vital to retailers’ profitability – and their recovery.”
Mr. Tritant also believes that his business is in robust shape when it comes to the inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. “We have yet to see the impact of inflation on the volume of consumption in our locations. Rather than a stabilisation, we are continuing to see sales rise back towards the level they were in 2019.”
Jean-Marie explains that this is partly due to the company’s customer profile. He says that “we are obviously helped by our strategy to focus on strong urban locations, which are nearly always in areas where the average income is higher. This isn’t the case everywhere, but it does provide us with some degree of protection”.
With the challenges ahead, Jean-Marie and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s focus on combining solid business fundamentals, the right assets in the right locations and an innovative and customer-led approach ensure that they are meeting the future head-on. He concludes “we don’t have all the answers today, which is the exciting part, but we have the right team, right assets and right strategy to succeed.”