John Stevens, the Managing Director of Asteco
Usually, a meeting with a Managing Director would require an exchange of business cards, settling down with a formal chat about the weather and sundry and then proceed to the interview. But, that was not the case with John Stevens, the Managing Director of Asteco. Stevens brings in a certain vibe of camaraderie from the get-go. Be it when he ensures he has the right ‘background’ for the ‘new-normal’ form of an interview (we explored a couple of options), to opening up about his journey in the Property Management industry that 'accidentally fell into his lap’.
And one thing that truly stands out when you speak to him is the fact that despite all these years, his passion for the industry hasn’t died down. Although his interest during University days was real estate, he got his first big break in Singapore in the transactional sector. “It was in 1995 when the opportunity to work in Thailand for CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) came about. It was a role of a Condominium Manager (the name given to Community Managers in Thailand) for a new development that was recently handed over in Bangkok. I took it up as I had the knowledge in real estate and since then there was no looking back,” said Stevens.
Moving to Dubai
In 2004, Stevens got the opportunity to come to Dubai. The booming real estate market back then was ‘the’ place to be in for any 30-year-old waiting to explore the industry. While CBRE set his foundation in the industry, it was at Asteco where Stevens saw many proud moments in his career. “I was working on an exciting opportunity of opening an office for CBRE in Phuket when the Asteco offer came along.
The project that I was working on back then was a real highlight for me since I was looking into every aspect of it - be it the business plan, office space, recruiting the staff, etc. But before I got to see it through, the opportunity at Asteco opened up and it was one I couldn’t refuse,” he added. While he went on to open many offices for Asteco, Stevens says that he enjoyed creating new business lines within Asset Management as well. “The concept of the Owner’s Association was very new when I first arrived in Dubai. So creating that division for Asteco was another proud and enjoyable moment for me,” he said.
The Pandemic and its challenges
The pandemic took many off-guard, but it also saw many in the industry quickly change and adapt to the situation. What helped Asteco was the plan that they had in place before the lockdown. While the OA section was able to go to a 90 percent work-from-home structure within 2 to 3 weeks before the lockdown, the Property Management sector needed another week at least. “However, we continued to seamlessly provide all our services to our Clients during the lockdown.
What we truly saw during the pandemic was the opening of a remote working system. It wasn’t something I was completely comfortable with at the time, but the lockdown showed how we can work remotely and need not be in the same office to be efficient,” he explained. A lot of things changed post the pandemic. Stevens says that certain policies and procedures had to change to cater to their Tenants better. Originally tracking a contractual performance and collections had to be eased to understand each case individually for Lease renewals or rent collections. “We are still learning from the pandemic; we are not necessarily out of the woods as yet! But, Asteco as a business has been able to quickly adapt and react to these changes and continue with a profitable business,” he explained.
Moving forward with Tech
When asked how they plan to re-architect their current tech-strategy to manage portfolio-wide operations and attract new customers, Stevens promptly explains how Asteco has been different from the others. Having their proprietary software platform has helped Asteco accelerate some of the investments in technology that they had already planned. “Thanks to the software, we were able to put the remote desktop system in place much sooner so that people were able to log-in from anywhere in the world and respond a lot quicker to the Client requests,” he added.
In terms of attracting new customers, Stevens observes how the real estate market has been in flux and is unsure of where it is going at the moment. “Having said that, I am happy to see an increase in the proposals in the last couple of months. Landlords and investors are turning to professional real estate management companies to assist them in these trying times. We attract customers based on our name and experience, and once we do get new customers we don’t lose them as they see the value we bring to them,” he said. How the industry changes post the pandemic is something Stevens predicts one will get to witness in Q4. “Landlords will then analyze how the business has changed and what they can do to their properties if this were to happen again, which we hope we never experience again,” he added.
Touch-free services, pro-active services, and other technological advances have become an integral pillar in the way forward for properties. Stevens has observed certain behavioral changes in Tenants as well. “The pandemic has made a huge impact on the way people are looking at their living situations. During the lockdown, people living in apartments couldn’t go anywhere or do anything outdoors. But, now we see a lot of them move to villas that can provide them with space indoors and outdoors like a garden for them to move around safely,” he added. And in the future, he feels it will be interesting to see how architects and designers will be able to incorporate these communal challenges to the properties.