I am never afraid to work, I always set my goal high and choose the more difficult path
Lukas Repal has more than 9 years of multi-disciplined managerial experience in residential and commercial real estate including asset management, property and facility management, development, brokerage, acquisitions and investments. Lukas obtained his Master’s Degree at the Business and Law at the University of Economics in Prague. Since then, he has held several roles in real estate companies in Prague, successfully managing property portfolios and leading various teams. Since 2013, Lukas has been living and working in Dubai, UAE; he worked as Manager of Operations and FM at the Dubai Mall and is now back in Czech Republic.
How did you begin your career in real estate?
While I was studying law and business at the University of Economics in Prague, I was looking for a part-time job to get some practical work experience and make my study time more productive. I started working in a law firm where I was providing admin support as well as other assistance to the team. I was approached by one of our clients who was running a Real Estate Company offering me to join his team. I was always passionate about real estate and with my specialty at the university, I saw this as a good opportunity for me.
What was your first job like?
I started my career in real estate as a sales and leasing broker. At the time, the introduction to the property world was given to me by my manager, who is my dearest friend today, and who found out very shortly after I joined his company that I was capable of more and willing to work hard. I sold my first apartment in 2007 to a foreign investor who then asked me to manage their new apartment after the purchase. A few months later, I was recommended to manage more apartments within the same compound and by the end of the year, I was managing the whole complex. I extended my portfolio of properties and two years later, I was approached by an international US-based property management company, and asked to look after their portfolio of properties. There I provided both property and facility management services. As a result of being successful in this role, a year later I was promoted to head up property management services, where I supervised a team of managers looking after various properties across the Czech Republic.
Who was your mentor while growing up?
When growing up, my parents influenced me most. As a child I was taught that you get only what you really need, but if you want something more or better you have to work to get it. And when I turned 15, I started working in my dad’s grocery store. I have to say that I was not always happy about them being quite tough, but looking back, this was what made me who I am today. I am very lucky to have such a great family who has been supporting me in every step of my life.
What triggered your interest in this industry?
When I was at the high school, I was preparing myself to go to a medical school afterwards as I wanted to become a dentist. Last year at the high school I was attending weekend courses for pre-med students. That year helped me realise that this is not the right field for me and that I am more business oriented. Real estate and property management itself is a very interesting industry as you’re working with people, which I really enjoy. Commercial or residential, it really doesn’t matter, it is still just a building which in our business we are making alive and that is what I like doing. Making sure that the old or new building will be here for decades and people will be enjoying working or living there.
What made you decide to move to the Middle East and specifically to Dubai?
Having acquired my experience in the Czech Republic, one day I woke up and decided to try a life abroad and gain more experience in real estate. I didn’t have any preference where to move but I knew that I don’t want to move anywhere in Europe. I wanted to go somewhere further but at the same time, I didn’t feel like moving too far, for example to the Far East, so staying in the middle (Middle East) was the right option. I always heard about Dubai - how fascinating the city is, etc., and had a chance to visit Dubai in 2010. During that visit, when I was standing by the dancing fountain next to The Dubai Mall, I told myself, ”One day I want to live here”. And a few years later I am actually managing the Mall itself. Through my life I was always saying: “Everything is possible” and yes, there are certain circumstances and if we approach them from the right side or angle, things will move the way we want.
I was directly recruited by Emaar for the position of Property Manager to manage their biggest residential community - a small city, actually - with its 10,000 villas and other retail areas on 11.5 million square meters which is called the green city – Emirates Living. While I was going through the rounds of interviews, I was finding out more information about the role and the property which I was supposed to manage and I wanted this role more and more. Within 2 years I was approached by the Emaar Malls Group management with the offer to manage their flagship between their malls and I have gladly accepted this new challenge.
How challenging is it to handle the Operations & FM in such a property like The Dubai Mall? (Main challenges in managing property 24/7/365)
In my role I manage the teams who look after day-to-day operations and FM services, and who make sure the mall, which operates 365 days a year, most of the time 16 hours a day, is always up to the highest standards. The total area of The Dubai Mall is 1.5 million square meters, which is a challenge itself. However, the main challenge here is the time - we have a very short time to ensure everything is maintained up to the very highest standard, but if you organise things properly, it is manageable. I am generally a well-organised person, which is crucial for this type of business. The other factor is human resources. You must be able to rely on people otherwise you’ll fail. I always work on the assumption that people will want to work for you and not that they have to or are forced to - that makes a difference every time. It is challenging to work in the Middle East where you deal with people from all over the world but in the end we are all humans and we need to find a way to cooperate. We have around 80 million visitors annually in the mall, during holidays and events up to 600,000 visitors every day, which would be over half of Prague population coming to shop and entertain themselves.
What was the most challenging situation you have faced professionally?
I believe it has been the move to Dubai. Moving to an unknown place and completely different culture has been very challenging for me, but I have to say that it didn’t take me long to get used to it. Life is one big learning process we are going through, from the day 1 till the end, and that is what makes it interesting. Specifically in a professional life; I can’t say I have been in difficult or challenging situations - if everything is well planned, challenges are eliminated.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? (Describe your main success as FM)
I am never afraid to work, I always set my goal high and choose the more difficult path just to make myself a stronger and better person. I consider my main success in my career that I have proved myself in 2 years working for Emaar and have been selected as manager for The Dubai Mall. Managing a mall with 80 million visitors a year is like managing the whole population of Germany, which I am very proud of.
As a leader, do you ever have bad days on the job? And how do you handle them?
Of course, I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t have bad days, but it all depends on how well you can manage yourself. Even if I have the worst day, I never let anyone in my work life feel it. I usually go and look at our dancing fountain and those 5 minutes help me calm down. When I am about to say something, I count to 10 to process it one more time and this has been a very helpful tool which saved me from unpleasant situations quite a few times.
If you weren’t working in this field, where would you be?
I don’t like to say “I do not know”, so I am always learning something new and have a wide open mind. This is a very difficult question since I am very happy in this field and can’t imagine working anywhere else. However, if I have to say something, I would be an entrepreneur in various businesses, just like my father.
Do you get enough “me” time?
Well, working in a 24/7 environment in the busiest mall in the world doesn’t give you much “me” time but every free time I have I enjoy on maximum. I love travelling and exploring new places, and I like doing sports, so active relaxation. I feel something is wrong if there is even 1 hour when I have nothing to do.
Would you have any advice for beginners who are just starting their career?
Hold on to your dreams and don’t forget that life is like a boomerang: you throw it out and it will come back to you, and most of the time when you least expect it.
DubaiConnect.ae in cooperation with Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine - Prague, 15.05.2016