Balfin Group is present in Albania, Austria, Montenegro, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Netherlands and Macedonia, where the group is known for its investment in Skopje East Gate (www.eastgate.mk).
The group is active in 4 key sectors: Retail (Spar, Neptun and Jumbo amongst others), Mining (AlbChrome and Ferronikeli), Real Estate (TEG & QTU shopping centers, Tirana Logistic Park) and Banking (Tirana Bank).
Balfin Group’s current real estate projects span more than one million square meters for a total value of €1.4 billion. With an annual turnover of around €500 million, the group has a workforce of over 5,000 people.
Notwithstanding its size, the group has conserved an entrepreneurial spirit which is one of the reasons behind its success. By combining the best local managers with highly experienced international leaders, Balfin is always keeping an eye on potential investments.
A native of Canada, Martin Roussel has 25 years of global banking experience gained while working in Canada, Eastern Europe and the United Arab Emirates. He joined Balfin Group at the end of 2018 as Vice President, International Businesses to oversee the expansion of the group outside the Balkan region. In a recent interview, he expressed his views on current investments and the group’s plan for the future, especially Macedonia. Together with Mr. Arsim Papraniku, Balfin Group’s partner in Macedonia and Mr. Steven Grunerud, the Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions, they bring their international experience to the Group’s Management Board.
- Martin, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your experience before joining Balfin Group as Vice President for International Business?
- Yes of course. I was born in Canada, a city called Rouyn-Noranda. It is over 600 km away from Montreal in the province of Quebec. It is a beautiful part of the country with lots of natural landscapes, lakes and good people. In 1988, I left my hometown for Quebec City where three years later I graduated from University Laval with an actuarial science degree. I worked in that field for a while but did not like it so I enrolled in the M.Sc. (Finance) program at HEC Montréal. My first banking job was with the Business Development Bank of Canada in 1998 and in 2006 Raiffeisen Bank International headhunted me for their SME Banking team in Vienna. That gave me the chance to revisit Eastern Europe and get acquainted with its history and culture. In 2014, I moved to the United Arab Emirates and joined the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB). The 3rd biggest bank in the country gave me the helm of its Business Banking team. A massive 300 people operation with lots of cross-culture challenges. I really loved it! It gave me a different view of the world, especially for a Canadian. 5 years later, here I am back in Europe, Eastern Europe, Albania working for Balfin Group.
- Why did you choose to join Balfin Group?
- When you get to a certain point in your career, you want to make an impact on people, on your environment, on the society. Samir has a great vision for his company and wants to build a better tomorrow. Could not miss this opportunity!
- As the responsible for international Business, you are in charge of overseeing the investments in the countries where the group operates with Macedonia being one of them. Can you tell us more about the investments of Balfin Group in the Balkans?
- As a group we have been historically active in Retail, Mining, Real Estate and Tourism. Lately, we have been looking into Technology, alternative energy and water since we believe these represent growth potential in the future. Regarding the Balkans, we just acquired FerroNickelli, a nickel producer in Kosovo and closed the acquisition of Tirana Bank from Piraeus in Albania. Besides that, we have the Spar, Neptun and Jumbo brands operating in various Balkan countries.
- What is the investment in Macedonia?
- We acquired the Skopje Fair Lands in 2017 with the goal of developing a mixed-use real estate project over the next 5-7 years. Three parts are planned: in the short-term, the Skopje East Gate Mall (around 45,000 sqm of Gross Leasable Area) to be open year-end 2020, 10 residential towers in the mid-term and in the longer horizon 5 office buildings. The country is moving forward so we want to make sure Skopje East Gate is part of that trend. That is why we are so keen on attracting brands that don’t have yet a presence in Macedonia. We really want to make a difference so we hope the population will like what we have created for them. We are present with Neptun in North Macedonia from more than 20 years. We have developed a network in 21 cities with 25 shopping locations, with some of the most know international brands.
- What are some of the challenges that your group’s business face in Macedonia?
- Before going any further, it is a massive investment that needs a lot the coordination from various organizations, departments and people in order to go forward. To answer your question about challenges, like every investor we would like things to go faster but we understand that there are processes to be followed in order to make sure the project is a success.
- Could you tell us about the future plans of Balfin in Macedonia? Is Balfin planning to invest in other countries in 2019? Can you shed some more light?
- Besides the Mall, as of now we have a lot of work ahead of us in Macedonia since the Residences and Offices towers are still being developed. Our €180 million investment should happen over the next years. If you talk about other projects in Macedonia, we are always on the lookout for investments so you never know what the future holds Neptun Macedonia plans to continue expansion with new shops, improve and offer the best services to our customers. Regarding 2019, Balfin is currently expanding its current portfolio of brands in the Balkans (incl. Moldova) while actively looking at opportunities in Western Europe. I have been tasked by the Group to research Africa’s potential as a region and reach out to potential partners that can help us enter the market. Besides that, we remain opportunistic whenever a potential partner shows up at our door with a project showing long-term potential growth!