FORWARD THINKING

Spain 2020 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | INTERVIEW

Vía Célere is focused on doing things differently from what the industry has done in the past.

José I. Morales
BIOGRAPHY

José I. Morales has more than 20 years of professional experience in the fields of strategy, finance, and business development. Currently, he serves as CEO of Vía Célere, the largest homebuilder in Spain and Portugal. Prior to this, he was the company's CFO. He has held different financial positions in Spain, Switzerland, and the US in sectors such as renewable energy, engineering and construction, aerospace, and pharmaceuticals. He holds a BA in economics, an MBA from IESE Business School, and a PhD cum laude in renewable energy asset valuation. He has more than a decade of experience serving on boards of directors and is a professor of finance in some of the best business schools in Europe.

What are the activities of Vía Célere, what is the origin of the company, and how has it evolved in recent years?
Vía Célere was founded in 2007 by Juan Antonio Gómez Pintado alongside four people with the vision of growing internationally. The first operations were in Brazil and Bulgaria, followed by Poland. The economic crisis hit Spain dramatically, and the real estate sector sunk, though several opportunities emerged. Some financial entities were identifying experienced operators and servicers to develop the number of assets they were recovering from defaulting clients. In 2010 and 2011, Vía Célere reached an agreement with some of these financial entities, and that marked the return of our activities to Spain. In 2011, Vía Célere reached an agreement with Bankia, Banco Sabadell, and Catalunya Caixa. Vía Célere has been, since its early days, a fully owned construction company that today executes between 30-40% of its projects. In 2017, different international funds approached the founder in order to acquire Spanish operations. Vía Célere was eventually sold to a group of funds led by Värde Partners.

Vía Célere has a strong commitment to innovation and industrialization. How do you embody this in your projects?
We have more than 10 internationally recognized innovations in our business operations. Our philosophy is to do something different from what the industry has done in the past in order to develop better designs, more efficient construction techniques, and more comfortable homes. We have many challenges ahead, though the one we especially care about is the environment. Our sector has had a significant negative impact on the environment, which is why today we have transformed all our projects into eco-friendly ones. We have been building homes almost the same way in the last 50 years, so we need significant efforts in terms of innovation and industrialization. These two factors automatically imply cheaper and better homes and, therefore, better access for young people. Society needs to ensure people between 24 and 35 can afford homes. This must be a priority for any given country, including Spain.

Vía Célere has several offices throughout Spain. Does Madrid have the potential to develop its real estate?
Madrid is a dynamic city and has its own growth drivers compared to other mid-size cities in Spain. It can be considered a mature market since there are few land plots to be developed in the downtown area, though new neighborhoods outside the core of the city are emerging in an extremely dynamic and vivid way. Madrid was the first city to recover from the crisis and became a focus of attraction for all players in the sector. That implied an increase in construction costs, but also in retail prices. Going forward, one of the big problems of Madrid is the availability of fully permitted land plots.

Why is Spain such an attractive country for foreign investment in real estate?
Spain is perhaps one of the fundamental real estate markets in the world. We are extremely privileged in terms of weather. We have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and we live in a safe country. Prices are extremely reasonable for international customers, and that creates an attractive business case for second residences. If we talk about first residences in big cities, we are now in a sweet moment of the cycle. Spain was hit heavily by the last crisis, and that forced families, corporations, and the public sector to reduce expenditure significantly. But now, many of the customers are in a healthy financial situation to acquire a house with savings and have the capacity to deal with big mortgages.