Building should (also) be taken in its literally sense here. This Hungarian company with HUF 34 billion in turnover is one of the biggest private real-estate development and investment companies on the business property market, i.e. in the office, industrial, logistics, retail, and hotel industries. Two years ago, they completed their portfolio by entering the residential property market on which they are now completing and selling their fourth housing estate development.
The story of the leader and co-founder of WING Zrt. started shortly after the political changes in 1989-1990. A recent graduate from Vienna, but born in New York, Noah M. Steinberg is a pleasant-mannered, highly professional, determined and downright decent businessman, who incidentally also has an excellent command of the Hungarian language. Originally planning a diplomatic career, he graduated from Princeton University’s prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs. After this, life took him to Central Europe, where major changes were taking place. The young Noah M. Steinberg befriended Tibor Veres, the founder of the Wallis Group, through a roommate in the dormitory of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and their friendship would have a significant impact on his future career. He soon moved to Hungary and joined Wallis where he became a successful manager in several areas. Later, by the mid-1990s, he had become the sales and marketing director of Pannon GSM, the predecessor of Telenor Magyarország.
As the millennium drew nearer, they recognised that a real estate boom was also approaching, and the increasingly strong group moved to another field and established WING. The Wallis real estate portfolio along Váci út, one of Budapest’s main arteries, where new buildings were springing up one after another at the time, was their initial capital. This was the time when the real estate market in the modern sense was born. Although Budapest had some modern office buildings, there were few international companies that had the courage to enter its immature market. But this meant that WING, which was in its initial growth phase, had all the more big clients to win over. Their background represented a great advantage in hiring the best professionals right from the beginning. This professional team was the foundation on which they built up today’s market-leading office development company in Hungarian ownership.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It was still around the millennium when WING found itself in “deep water” because it had to meet big-company needs not only in its office buildings along Váci út, but also in the first serious, large modern logistics centre of Hungary: Harbor Park. This was expanded to a total area over 100,000 m2 after 2000 and won several awards. Eventually, in 2005, it was bought by ProLogis. Another similarly major milestone in the history of WING was the construction of the two office buildings of the Danubius Ház (Danubius Estate) across the street from the newly opened Duna Pláza (one of Budapest’s first shopping centres).
They have since then delivered many development projects—ranging from small to huge—covering a total area of over 1,000,000 m2, including a total of 580,000 m2 in office space. Moreover, these days, they have no less than 325,000 m2 in new investment projects in the pipeline. This Hungarian-owned company has always aimed at creating the highest possible value over the past 20 years. As their president and chief executive officer puts it, this has always been a priority, and it includes architectural, functional, and social values. Client feedback make the leader especially proud of their fair and honest company culture, which they upheld even during hard times as well, and also of the fact that WING remained a prudent customer all throughout the 2008 financial crisis.
This required a well-founded, considerate, and conservative investment policy from the early 2000s onwards, even for pre-2008 development projects such as the Agria Park shopping centre built in the place of the former tobacco factory in Eger (a city in northeastern Hungary), Átrium Park or the new building of the Corvinus University of Budapest.“This investment policy meant that we only started to implement a project when we had already secured tenants for one-third or half of the future building. We did not do speculative property development projects, i.e. for which we had not secured tenants in advance”, emphasised the leader.
This conservative and cautious attitude helped WING survive and overcome the difficulties of the 2008 crisis. “Diversification is key for keeping our company’s stability in any economic circumstance”, stressed Noah M. Steinberg. He added that when their real estate development business unit was stagnating, they could not only prepare projects for the good times, but real estate renting and facility management also ensured continual and sufficient revenues. Keeping the share of loans cautiously low, and the lack of speculative development projects also helped, besides the fact that Hungary did not experience a market bubble as Spain did.
All in all, external difficulties only made this real estate company stronger, so that they were able to build the E.ON Headquarters. Being a stable company, having the permits and designs for this building was a huge advantage. And this was not their only big project during those difficult times. In 2012, they completed the Hegyvidék Shopping Centre at a great location in the 12th District of Budapest, and soon afterwards, they joined forces with the investment company of Morgan Stanley and CC Real to take part in the MOM Park shopping centre as well. They have recently sold the latter at a considerable profit in order to fund for their next development projects. There were times when they came across new opportunities in quite exceptional ways. The previous owners of today’s Skylight City office building tried everything during the 2008 financial crisis. For example, they had a go-cart course in the basement of the Material Center, a home decoration plaza which was almost empty at the time. Once Noah’s son was driving go-carts at a children’s party there, and as Noah took the opportunity to look around the building, he recognised its hidden potential. WING acquired the building after the owner’s “umpteenth liquidation proceedings”. They renovated and repurposed it into the 100% occupied office building it is today.
The most important, milestone development project of the past few years is Hungary’s largest single-building office complex: the iconic new headquarters of Magyar Telekom and T-Systems. Another prominent and much needed investment project was the Ibis Styles Budapest Airport Hotel, the first airport hotel in Hungary. They have also built several business and logistics centres in and around Budapest, like the South Pest Business Park, the East Gate Business Park, and they have recently also bought the Login Business Park. In parallel, they are also intensifying their investment activities and have recently added several office buildings to their real estate portfolio. A notable example is the Infopark, whose B, C, D, and I buildings now belong to WING. An important development of the past years has been that they entered the residential real estate development market with their umbrella brand, LIVING, and are now selling their fourth housing estate project. International expansion is an important direction and the next big milestone in their activities, but they have remained conservative in this regard as well. Last year, they bought two office buildings in Sofia, and are looking for opportunities in other Bulgarian regions. But their priority region is still Budapest and its surroundings. Their capital consists of not only their strong ownership background, but also highly-developed understanding of the capital markets. They were the first real estate company to launch a bond programme, the success of which is well illustrated by the fact that they have had a bond swap and another issuing since then.
Future development projects worth mentioning are the Liberty office building with a total floor area of 42,000 m2 next to the Telekom Headquarters, as well as Budapest’s City Park (Városliget). The renovation of this public park and its many cultural facilities will further increase the value of this neighbourhood, says the president and CEO, which is also why they have purchased two major buildings in the area. One of these is the Liget Center on Dózsa György út, a major artery, while the other, the Siemens office building, is a bit farther away but offers further development opportunities.“As a Hungarian company, our aim is to represent world-class real estate development. We are proud to have played a significant role in shaping the image of Budapest over the past 20 years, and we plan to have use this expertise to continue to do so in the future”, summarised Noah M. Steinberg.
WING focuses on the needy as well as on long-term value creation when it comes to CSR endeavours. They have been donors to the Madarász Street’s Children’s Hospital, the Jövőbarát Alapítvány (Foundation for the Future), and WING was also one of the major funders of SOS Children’s Villages. The company used to support the children’s programmes at Budapest’s Millenáris Park as well as the renovation of the “Green Peter” playground at the same location. This year, they are the gold-level sponsor of the engineering and ceramics sections organised by the Budapest University of Technology and Economics within the scope of the 34th National Scientific Students’ Associations Conference.