In his 13 years at the helm as President and CEO of Sponda, Kari Inkinen was involved in three of the largest property transactions in the history of the Finnish property sector.
After 13 years of service as Sponda’s President and CEO, Kari Inkinen stepped down in April to take on a new role as Senior Advisor to the company and a member of the Board of Directors. We asked him to look back on the highlights of his long career as well as share his thoughts on the future of the industry.
How would you characterise the key changes in the industry, and at Sponda, during your career?
“I joined the company in 2005. At the turn of the century, the market was still fairly closed and most of the investments in the Finnish property market came from domestic foundations and pension funds. The operations were carried out with light documentation and in-house methods.
Today, there are 50–100 international investors in the industry. This evolution towards a higher level of professionalism has brought in more discipline and expertise, and there is a growing need for various kinds of competencies."
"Sponda has grown from just over a billion euros to a company with four billion euros in property assets."
"Sponda has achieved significant growth over the course of my career. It has grown from just over a billion euros to a company with four billion euros in property assets.
We have moved forward in line with our strategy and we are still the same owner and developer of premium properties and an organisation that operates at a high level of quality. Of course, the journey has also included experimentation with different paths to growth, and we have had to eliminate certain aspects of our earlier vision for the company.”
How do you see the future of the industry?
“The future looks bright. There are many players in the field, which makes for a liquid market. The current situation also presents opportunities for the further development of the industry. Renewal is something that is also expected by customers. It is no longer enough simply to provide premises. You also have to provide content.
The structure of the retail sector is being changed by the digital transformation and e-commerce. The role of shopping centres as a replacement for brick-and-mortar shops is becoming increasingly important, and they are evolving into places where people spend time and enjoy entertainment."
"It is no longer enough simply to provide premises."
"Going forward, I think Sponda’s key strengths will continue to be our ability to anticipate what will happen, our active development efforts and our local knowledge. We know the market, local market conditions and authorities relevant to the property sector. We are able to respond to customer needs even before they become fully evident.
Our new international owner brings new practices and processes that will help us continue the development of our operations and the industry as a whole. Technological progress also helps us serve our customers in new ways. We will continue to be a provider of business premises, but the content of our services will develop to a significant degree.”
What have you learned from your long career and what things have particularly stuck in your mind?
“Whether you are developing a customer relationship, a property portfolio or an urban environment, it all comes down to having a long-term approach. In property investment, you have to accept that things happen slowly. On the other hand, your strategy must allow you to be prepared for the fact that everything changes. Your products and plans must be flexible."
"In property investment, you have to accept that things happen slowly."
"The time we spent as a listed company was both challenging and rewarding. While investors on the stock exchange value growth, they are critical towards increasing capital – which is particularly important in property investment. At the same time, being a listed company taught us to justify and carefully consider our decisions, and it encouraged us to be responsible.
During my time at the helm, Sponda was involved in many of the biggest property transactions and arrangements in Finnish history. While these deals and the extensive share issues and financing arrangements they entailed were rather challenging, it’s nice to look back on them now. Our big successes were built on many smaller successes and, of course, a great deal of hard work.”