Windows on the West

Small talk
Czech warehouse investor Accolade has been busy for a few years with building up its portfolio in Western Poland. Now it is looking to expand in the east of the country, despite (or because) of the war over the border – as Jarek Wnuk, the new managing director for Poland of Accolade, tells us

You were appointed managing director for Poland of Accolade at the end of last year. What do you think the company needs right now and what priorities and challenges lie ahead of you?

Jarek Wnuk, the managing director of Accolade for Poland: Accolade’s strategy is to maintain stable growth. Poland is an important market for us, so we want to strengthen our position in the locations where we are already present while considering new ones. We want to be prepared for any market turbulence. I’m not worried about this, because Accolade’s team comprises professionals who know how to deal with various problems. The biggest challenge of the last year was the instability on the financial markets and the fluctuating prices of building materials. Inflation, as well as the rising prices for gas and energy, all made the investment process less predictable. Last year, we were faced with a situation where our partners had already begun construction on projects and in the middle of the work prices went up. This led to some difficult conversations. We are watching what is happening and believe that we are not going to see such rapid price changes for materials this year. In addition to that, energy prices now seem to have stabilised a little. We can’t predict everything, especially over the longer term, but this year should definitely be better for the property market than the previous one.

Accolade is a European player. How does the warehouse market in Poland compare with other EU countries?

Over the last few years, we have started to invest in Western European countries, such as Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. In Poland, a large number of our logistics parks are in the west of the country, but I’m not talking about centres that are intended to serve Szczecin, Zielona Góra or Legnica. I mean warehouses for countries like Germany and Austria. Poland has a strategic location with easy access to Western Europe. Moreover, the labour costs are significantly lower and land is much more available. You have to also bear in mind the potential of the Ukrainian market – Poland is the obvious hub to serve this market once the war ends. Accolade is already present on the eastern side of the country and we are actively exploring this direction and considering new developments. We have not been put off by the situation in Ukraine and, if a good investment opportunity arises, we will take it.

The warehouse market has enjoyed record results over the last few years. Is such space still a good investment?

It is definitely still worthwhile investing in warehouses. This commercial real estate sector was the only one to come out unscathed from the pandemic and has proven to be immune to the different types of change, but of course, not completely. After all, the macroeconomic changes and the war in Ukraine last year at first caused huge turbulence.

ESG awareness has been growing on the warehousing market. Can you feel its impact, for example, on the financing available for projects?

Yes, because on the capital markets a greater number of institutions are now focusing on whether projects comply with these ideas. At the end of last year, we signed a refinancing agreement with Bank Helaba for EUR 129 mln and one of the most important points of the talks was the issue of ESG and certification. We are committed to our centres being green. For example, our development in Szczecin was our first warehouse to be BREEAM certified with the highest rating of ‘Outstanding’. We already have such a centre in the Czech Republic and are now preparing more. All of our developments are certified, but we are now going to raise the bar. At Accolade, we want all of our new centres to be certified with a rating of at least ‘Excellent’. One other important challenge is to create friendly workplaces. In Poland, around 11,000 people work in buildings owned by the Accolade group, a vast army of employees. And so, we support local communities by, for example, helping hospitals and children’s homes in the locations where we operate. We are a long-term investor and for us paying attention to workplaces and the surroundings of our centres is very important to us. We don’t want our centres just to be regarded as traffic generators for lorries.

What do you do in your free time? I hear you like spending your holidays in an interesting way – on wheels, but under a roof.

I try to spend time with my family and I also like sporting activities. Health is the most important issue for people who face a wide range of challenges and have to make quick decisions. Exercise and sleep are two things that many people neglect. When it comes to holidaying, we have a camper van, which we as a family use to visit interesting places. We often make the decision about where to go on an hour-by-hour basis and sometimes we even set off before we have settled on where we are heading. In business, operating like that doesn’t work, but when you’re going on holiday it’s great.

Interview: Magda Rachwald