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Diaspo #149: Mehdi Guennouni, real estate investment with an abiding passion

He is an ambitious and hardworking man. When Mehdi Guennouni talks about his projects, it is difficult not to feel the passion he has for his work. The real estate investor never chose the shortest path in his life. This risk-taker often alternated between rational choices and daring decisions.

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Mehdi Guennouni, a Moroccan real estate investor. / DR

He is a man who is passionate about life. A man who believes in hard work and would even tell you that talent is a fallacy. Mehdi Guennouni serves as the General Manager of real estate company Volta and also operates as a real estate investor.

Mehdi lived in Morocco until the end of his secondary studies. Born to a Moroccan father and a French mother, he grew up in a bilingual environment. His teachers and family saw something special in him. Aside from being a bright student, Mehdi has always been curious about everything, hardworking and ahead of his age. As he was the oldest of four siblings, he had become, unknowingly, a role model for others.

«Mehdi has always been a protective and caring big brother. His spirit of independence and his stance compelled admiration. He always went for the difficult things, in his choice of books, in the debates that he initiated. Both independent and unifying. He has always been a pillar of the family, a model to follow in my eyes», his young brother, Karim, told Yabiladi.

It is no surprise that he therefore graduated high school with honors. But instead of going for the classic preparatory classes path, he chose a French engineering school, INSA in Lyon. During college years, he was fascinated by associative work.

He spent his senior year at Trinity College Dublin, where he took history and religion classes. Hence, Mehdi was a curious man, who even after choosing a scientific field, enjoyed spending hours reading at the emblematic library of the prestigious University of Dublin.

The start of a career

With his engineering diploma in hand, he went for the world of consulting in Paris. He spent five years working for two firms, rubbing shoulders with the field’s leaders at Andersen Consulting and PwC. The key to success, he says, is always having a vision in life. And for him, being a consultant was only one step forward in building his career.

«The idea of doing an MBA was already there because I wanted to go for investing at a certain point in my professional life, with the dream of setting up an investment fund».

Mehdi Guennouni

After Paris, the next destination was therefore obvious. He joined the Wharton Business School (in Philadelphia, USA). Thanks to his excellent profile, he benefited from a Fulbright scholarship granted to the most deserving applicants.

«I have not drawn anything for the future of Mehdi but I always knew that he would go as far as he wants because he has always had the capacity of doing so. When he joined Wharton, I was happy for him. He sees things that I don't see, he takes risks that I would not take, but over time, I saw that he was doing pretty well. So even if I don't say it often, I am very proud of him», Dafir Guennouni, Mehdi's father, said.

In search of a purpose

The two years spent at Wharton were a turning point in Mehdi's life. He discovered the American entrepreneurial world, and benefited from an exchange program in Asia, joining the school of management INSEAD in Singapore.

At the time, Mehdi had another dream in mind : joining the world’s leading investment bank Goldman Sachs. The opportunity came to him in the form of an internship. In 2006, he headed for London to join the Mergers & Acquisition teams of Goldman Sachs.

«At that time in my life, my desire to be free began to take shape. I wanted something that made sense, not just climbing the corporate ladder and making money», Mehdi said.

His profile was quickly spotted by a new investment fund, emanating from Goldman Sachs and Cerberus Capital, specializing in restructuring and turning over ailing companies. The event led him back to Paris eventually. One of the first companies taken over by the investment fund which had just recruited him was BUT, one of France's leading retailers.

Investing with a passion

The excellent work he did at the French brand, made its CEO at the time, Régis Schultz, offer him the possibility of joining the executive committee of BUT and participate in relaunching the then-sinking business. He was thence appointed Managing Director in charge of Strategy, Development and Real Estate.

The challenge was daunting. In 2 years, the young manager opened hundreds of stores and sold more than €400 million worth of real estate property to reduce the company's debt.

«When I arrived in 2013, I met a pragmatic man, who likes challenges and who is not afraid of new projects. Mehdi played a key role in the relaunching of BUT and in the success of the sales project later thereafter. He was also perceived by his co-workers as someone human», Frank Maassen, CEO of BUT between 2013 and 2018, said.

It was precisely during his visit to BUT and following transactions made on behalf of the French brand that Mehdi fell in love with real estate investment. A passion that he will pursue when he joined in 2017, the «Family Office» of the Lutz Group, which represented €9 billion in turnover with 3 million m2 of property. He was a Managing Director, developing their portfolio in France, Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.

In 6 months, €200 million were invested under his leadership. At the same time, he embarked on new real estate investment projects on his own account. Three years later, thousands of meters squared had been put back on the Paris market thanks to investments initiated by Mehdi and his partners.

Off the beaten track

The real estate investor's name has become associated with complex situations with properties that require an in-depth restructuring or that are the subject of asset repositioning. «I like to embark on projects that are out of the ordinary. Those that conventional investment funds avoid and that conventional dealers do not venture into either», he explained.

Mehdi, who a few years ago was doing corporate restructuring, is now moving towards asset restructuring. He often says that a building has a soul and when he chooses a property, his objective is not just to succeed in an operation with high added value, but to give a new life to this property.

«I dream of rehabilitating buildings in the old city of Casablanca, or Art Deco buildings. Real estate development does not interest me. Old real estate means a lot to me and that's what I love about what I do».

Mehdi Guennouni

Today, it is within the Volta real estate company that he has been exercising his talents as a real estate investor for a year. Mehdi Guennouni has already invested a hundred million euros on behalf of the property company. He keeps transforming, rehabilitating and writing new stories every day. 

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