The passionate sailor who steers the busiest mall in Bucharest

As a child, he wanted to be a matador, but he was born in the wrong country, he says. But that childhood dream never left Greek serial executive Georgios Argentopoulos, a passionate sailor, who looks for the challenge in every new job. As CEO of the largest shopping area in Bucharest, his current challenge is to give people positive feelings and make them want come back, over and over, to the mall he runs.

Now in his late 40s, but looking like his late-30s, Argentopoulos, an engineer and finance man by training, has not always been a mall manager. “I don’t have an industry identity. I’ve been in construction, I’ve been in telecommunications, now I’m in real estate. I’ve been in textiles, I was in plastics. I exercise management.”

And what a mall manager does most of his day is to interact with people. “I spend no more than 10 percent of my average day with things such as signing contracts, approving, getting into the systems. A good 30 percent I’m working with my people which includes a lot of individual interaction and another 30 percent is reserved for tenants and business relations. The rest is either reflection time or meetings with shareholders.”

It’s not about the industry he’s working in, he says, but rather about the challenge of the mission. “If the challenge is big, I take it.” He became CEO of Baneasa Developments in 2011, after he had been with the company for the previous four years as non-executive director.

From his office inside the Baneasa Shopping City mall, every day he follows the main driver in his career – implementing his philosophy of being able to take more by giving more. “You cannot continue just to take more and more and more,” he says. “This is my big challenge. I want to prove this works.”

He equally speaks about people, clients and employees, and about business goals and results. He tries to look beyond the things that are usually included in company reports, at those elements which are actually meaningful for people. He says he often reflects on the changes in economic conditions and in consumer trends, which have a large impact on the business he runs.

Argentopoulos  is not that much interested in official statistics, but he rather has his own indicators he monitors. He looks at the ratio of spending for loans for individuals as compared to their total income. “And that has decreased significantly, therefore this will be rooted to consumption, but 6 to 12 months later. However, it will first go to savings and then to consumption.” Still, good news for retail business.

Meanwhile, it’s never a dull moment running a shopping mall. And this fits Argentopoulos’ belief that it’s dynamic companies and markets that bring out the best in a manager. In any business, but especially in the mall business, the main goal is customer satisfaction. In order to get that, a company and its management always need to adapt to the market, and give consumers what they expect to get.

“The effort is to be continuously relevant to those coming and visiting, and to generate positive feelings. And as they change, new generations, new habits, we have to change as well, in terms of brands, in terms of behavior, in terms of approach and communication,” Argentopoulos explains.

His approach helped Baneasa Shopping City keep a steady growth in number of visitors of 15-20 percent a year, up to a total of 22 million visitors in 2013. That means more than 60,000 people come to the mall, the Feeria gallery and the Grand Cinema Digiplex every day. It also means Argentopoulos runs the most visited mall in Bucharest.

It’s not just keeping visitors happy that’s on his big to do list. Tenants too need attention, both existing ones, and new retailers who want it. Baneasa Shopping City is one of the few malls in Romania that is not just fully occupied, but also with a waiting list of retailers who want to get in. “We do have a waiting list. I would say that we have at least 15 to 20 relevant brands which, if we had the location, we would be extremely happy to host tomorrow,” the manager says.

The rent they will pay is not the only thing that matters, it’s what new tenants bring to the table. Every year, 8 to 10 new brands join the mall. But the “Let’s fill the place with as many as bigger as possible rent” strategy is not a winning one any more. “I wouldn’t be interested in the tenant that gives me the highest rent but I would be interested in the tenant that will have a brand or brands that will be relevant to the visitors therefore he will be successful and then we will be successful.”

Every five years, it’s big reshuffling time for the mall, when most lease contracts expire and need to be renewed. That means new brands can enter, and existing ones can be relocated. The latest large reshuffle was last year. It was the first such reshuffle under Argentopoulos’ helm, and, once done, it opened up the path to his next challenges.

One of them is the expansion of the mall, a EUR 27 million investment ready to begin, but temporarily postponed due to external factors. This expansion would add some 30,000 square meters of retail space and entertainment area to the current 80,000 square meters of the mall.

The Greek executive, who has been living in Romania for 13 years, speaks about business with confidence. One of his favorite topics is the cinema and the entertainment business, which has been one of the engines for the company’s financial results in recent years, Argentopoulos  proudly adds.

Last year, the Grand Cinema Digiplex brought some EUR 6 million in revenues of the EUR 41.6 million the company made during the year. This year, he expects the recently opened entertainment area to also contribute to the company’s revenue. This year, the whole company should made some EUR 48 million in revenues.

Between budgets, team meetings, client meetings, Argentopoulos finds time to think about his own path and about his next personal challenge. “I’ll stick to where I can bring more value. Now is a time of maturity, it’s not the time to create another name for me. It’s time for me to add value to the business and the organization. If I can’t find this, then I will create my own.”

After 13 years, Romania can still offer him such new opportunities, rather than searching for them in other countries. “I’ve been living in Romania for 13 years. That’s half of my adult life. I think there are plenty of opportunities to add value here.”

With home country Greece just an hour and a half away by plane, and New York always there for yearly trips to see theaters and basketball games, what Argentopoulos misses most are his family, his boat, and his sea. “I don’t like the sea in Romania, if you ask me, and I’m a sea guy. That’s not a sea, that’s a party booth.”

By Andrei Chirileasa, [email protected]

Romania Insider
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