This is my 20th Mipim and it may be my last. Provence is still as beautiful: sunlit lavender bays and hypnotic azure sky. But everything else has changed. When I first saw the Croisette, my eldest son was in a baby-grow and I could cradle him in one arm.
Now he’s a goliath and makes me look like a toddler. Apart from the fact that Mipim makes you old, what have I learned over these 20 years?
Style is 90% geography
Along the Croisette, you often see women with Pomeranians in designer bags. Every so often, they slip the pampered furballs scraps from their plates. In Cannes, this seems chic. In Skegness, not so much.
Don’t always buy the hype
Real estate is a cyclical business. There will be bubbles and bears, as inevitably as toast falling butter-side down. Pre-crash Mipims usually display Champagne froth symptoms: surging, hubris-ridden crowds and a Stepford consensus that bull markets last forever. Take the most frenetic and Wild West Mipim ever – 2007. That year, I remember one pair of billionaire brothers ferrying their entourage around in 50 giant SUVs. Everyone told me: “This subprime thing. Local US issue. Won’t affect the global market.” How did that go?
Political risk is the biggest risk
Until Mipim 2016, the industry was complacent about political risk. History had supposedly ended, but History wasn’t listening. Since 1990, 29 new countries have been created, mostly crammed together in the Balkans and the old USSR. To adapt Churchill, these countries have more history than they can eat. The latest tragic example of this is the heart-rending war in Ukraine. It is part of an arc of political risk running from the South China Sea to Sub-Saharan Africa. We must never ignore it again.
Housing is the eternal human need
Residential was a key theme of my first Mipim – and this year Cannes is buzzing again with talk of BTR. For example, Redevco, under managing director Adam Starr, is repurposing its retail schemes to BTR all across Europe. In the UK, the government is no longer the housebuilder of last resort and house-price inequality means that this is the century of rent. Cue institutions and investors with imaginative living solutions from BTR to social housing. Legal & General is to the fore here, with Bill Hughes charismatically ubiquitous on this year’s panels.
Proptech and sustainability are central
When I first came to Mipim, my phone was a tiny Nokia brick. Now my phone is a multimedia extension of my mind (why remember things, says my brain, when we can Google them?). The same thing is happening to buildings. The focus at Mipim this year is on smart cities, digitised warehouses and offices that are basically living internet things in constant conversation with occupiers.
These buildings must all be sustainable. Sustainability is still our industry’s central existential issue: there is no property industry without a planet. We need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but with a sensible transitional policy and heavy government investment to help us create the green and nuclear infrastructure we urgently need – and which private industry cannot finance alone.
You get more vision face to face
The ancient Greeks said the best ideas always come from face-to-face conversations. They were right. You can connect electronically over a video conference, but not with deal-making emotion. So conferences like Mipim will change, but they will never die out. This year there were fewer people at Mipim, and they were different people: younger, more tech oriented and harder working – more into policy than parties. That’s why it was so exciting to see more tehan 200 people mingling and chatting at our Martinez brunch. It’s a delightful contrast to lockdown, when it was just me and our two guinea pigs in the conservatory. Strong markets are made by people mixing together.
New people improve things
The younger crowd are taking over. We sent a next-generation delegation to Mipim this year with our new head of London real estate, Tom Goldsmith, and partners Angus Ford, Clare Rudd, Lucy Chadwick and Dave Emberson, among others. I flew in briefly as Eversheds Sutherland chair-elect, a bit like young Mr Grace in Are You Being Served? Everywhere, the Mipim faces are more diverse, more youthful and brim-full of enthusiasm. Mipim has changed – it was time.
Never give up
Remember – whatever happens – real estate always endures. Everything that ever happens to you happens in real estate. Your first breath, your first kiss, your happiest and saddest moments. That’s why real estate is the foundational industry. It builds the stage on which all human life unfolds. That’s not a bad industry to have worked in for 30 years, and to have seen develop and change over a quarter of a century of Mipims.
Bruce Dear is chair-elect of Eversheds Sutherland