New team in Vienna
Vienna is the home of Union Investment’s newest real estate subsidiary. A new management team in Austria is tasked with continuing to drive growth of the company’s property business. Words by Elke Hildebrandt, photos by Andreas Jakwerth
Union Investment’s Austrian subsidiary was added to the Group in December 2015. Expansion into Austria was preceded by the acquisition of two companies in the country. Alongside gaining access to local expertise and knowledge of the national market, an existing real estate fund specifically for Austrian customers was incorporated into the Union Investment portfolio.
In the meantime, the two business areas, represented by Union Investment Austria GmbH with responsibility for sales and Union Investment Real Estate Austria AG for the fund and real estate business, have been tightly integrated into the Group’s existing units. A new management team in Austria now has the mission of leading Union Investment Real Estate Austria AG into the future.
Three-member leadership team with strategic allocation of responsibilities
The new management trio comprising Petia Zeiringer (47), Jenni Wenkel (48) and Stefan Süschetz (41) took up their roles at the end of last year. Union Investment Real Estate Austria AG’s new senior management team is tasked with driving growth and creating a stable foundation for the company’s activities in Austria.
Petia Zeiringer was appointed to the management board on 1 January 2021. She is the fund manager of open-ended real estate fund immofonds 1 and also in overall charge of fund management and asset management in Austria. Alongside running what is currently Union Investment’s only Austrian retail fund, she thus has formal responsibility for managing the portfolio of around 30 properties held by Union Investment in the Alpine republic.
Jenni Wenkel joined the management board on 1 September 2021. As Chief Investment Officer, she is in charge of investment management at Union Investment Real Estate Austria AG and responsible for property acquisitions and sales in Austria across all Union Investment funds.
Stefan Süschetz became the third member of the leadership team on 1 November 2021. As Chief Risk Officer and Chief Operating Officer, he is responsible together with his management board colleagues for strategic and operational management. He oversees middle office operations and risk management, as well as legal, compliance, sustainability and fund accounting. Süschetz is involved in all immofonds 1 real estate deals.
Compelling blend of experience, knowledge and personalities
Petia Zeiringer remembers the first full management board meetings well: “As soon as the new board was complete, our first priority was to discuss the allocation of business areas. Assigning responsibilities based on experience, knowledge and personal skills has proved to be highly effective. With our different strengths and professional expertise, we complement each other very well.”
Jenni Wenkel highlights the similarities. “We all have the same mindset, and it has been great to be on the same wavelength from the start,” she says. “Our balanced team will enable us to contribute towards the Group’s growth strategy,” says Süschetz.
The Vienna-based investment management company’s tasks include managing real estate funds in accordance with the Austrian Real Estate Investment Funds Act. “Our aim now is to deliver profitable growth of assets under management and boost our market share,” explains Zeiringer. Fund assets in immofonds 1 currently exceed €1.2 billion. The intention is to drive forward and accelerate the fund’s growth of recent years.
At the same time, more Austrian properties are to be acquired for Union Investment funds marketed in Germany, in line with the strategy of the individual fund managers.
Targeting strong growth and increased market share
Diversification into Austria is part of the wider growth strategy being pursued by the company. “We want to take the Union Investment Group forward,” says Süschetz, “and the best way to do that is for the management team to support one another and maintain a strong focus on sustainability and digital transformation, which are both of key importance for the future.” Jenni Wenkel likewise has a clear sense of purpose: “We want to leverage the energy of our young team to raise Union Investment’s profile in Austria.”
Within the parent group, Union Investment Real Estate Austria AG in Vienna is the counterpart of Union Investment Real Estate GmbH in Hamburg. Collaboration between the two specialist real estate businesses is correspondingly close – and cordial.
“We share synergies and local knowledge to achieve the best possible results,” says Zeiringer. “Additionally, we work very closely with the holding company in Frankfurt.” Whether colleagues are based in Hamburg or Frankfurt, “they are all incredibly helpful and supportive. I’ve rarely had such a positive experience in a large company,” says Süschetz.
Sustainability is a key priority for the coming years and for the ongoing development of immofonds 1, and set to be an integral part of the business at both product and company level. “Last year, our fund became an Article 8 fund under the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation. That underlines its sustainability, which is something we intend to develop further,” comments Süschetz, adding: “Sustainability is an important component of our corporate DNA.”
Location in old stock exchange combines tradition and modernity
A total of 23 people work at Union Investment Real Estate Austria AG in Vienna. “We’re a small team so we all need to pull together,” stresses Zeiringer. “Each person has an important and indispensable contribution to make to our overall performance, which motivates everyone and boosts commitment.” The Vienna-based company benefits from its short chain of command, with communication and information sharing being second nature for everyone. “We all enjoy working in this beautiful, centrally located old stock exchange building, operating out of modern, well-equipped offices,” says Zeiringer.
Jenni Wenkel has over two decades of experience in the Austrian real estate sector. As Chair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Austria, she continues to expand her strong network and has acquired valuable in-depth insights into the market. “Compared with other European countries, Austria is a very small market with a limited number of players. You need to have good contacts to find the right kind of properties,” she says.
Vienna real estate market makes the “Big Seven” the “Big Eight”
The Austrian office property market offers only limited potential for growth: “Vienna is traditionally a market dominated by a small number of companies,” says Wenkel, who has been monitoring market conditions for many years. “We target core, core plus and very good secondary locations, and also consider new usage concepts that will enable us to achieve profitable growth.” Vienna is still regarded as the gateway to the East. The German-speaking world should really be described as having a “Big Eight”, rather than the traditional “Big Seven”, notes Wenkel. She firmly believes that Vienna belongs in this top grouping. With more than 1.9 million inhabitants, Austria’s capital actually has a slightly larger population than Hamburg. Vienna is also in a stronger position as regards office property yields, which Wenkel puts at around 3.5 percent at present.
As such, this relatively new real estate company has a clear mission and objective in Vienna: “We’re here for the long haul.” Petia Zeiringer and Jenni Wenkel can second that from their own experience, having made Vienna their new home many years ago.
Words by Elke Hildebrandt, photos by Andreas Jakwerth