Who is Manuel Barreiro Castañeda?
I am a Mexican private equity and real estate investor that is fully committed to positively making an impact on our planet through sustainable projects.
Coming from humble beginnings, working hard to earn scholarships and build a career of over 20 years of experience has allowed me to firsthand experience the importance of using technology for the benefit of vulnerable groups and ensure that all my real estate projects are aimed at benefitting the local community by improving quality of life, reducing inequality gaps, and making a positive impact on the environment. Therefore, it has been my professional mission to work toward creating better cities for the future, starting with my hometown, Mexico.
When asked why did he decide to become an entrepeneur, Manuel mentioned that he always wanted to work for himself.
His first job was at Hines, a company in real estate, who was a great environment to be in and also supported him through sponsoring his graduate business school degree. There he gained insights in finance, marketing and ended up becoming a director and partner in the firm. However, Manuel was passionate about creating work opportunities for others to be employed and he could do this only through taking the road of entrepreneurship. He tried his hand by opening a series of small companies that constructed what was known as “Tortilleria” or a tortilla shop. This was followed by the expansion in the world of tiny houses, which is now quite a big worldwide movement. Given his business acumen, Manuel managed to generate great revenues and create more businesses in the real estate sector.
At the young age of 31 years old, he started his own company and dedicated his time there fully. He managed to get two of his colleagues Humberto and Rocio who were with him at Hines to join him. Despite the company being new and Manuel not being able to pay salaries for more than three months in the beginning, the two gentlemen took the gamble which paid off, as today they are still with him and loyal even 15 years later.
Manuel started what is today known as the Aston Group with only 10 000 USD. Aston Group focused on the clients rather than the financial returns. Some international developers like Hines and other development funds lost a lot of money and many of their employees in the 2008 crisis which were taken on by Manuel’s company. The core difference was client focus versus profit only. It may sound cliche today, but it was a game changer at the time, especially in developing countries like Mexico.
Manuel did not stop there. He raised more than 50 million USD from institutional investors in the United States and successfully completed all the deliverables that his company had committed to in less than half of the original program. Then he continued expanding and doing business in Europe as he saw new opportunities arising until he reached a total investment of more than 1 billion USD. Real estate is more than just a job for Manuel, is within his DNA. However, he also knew that diversification is key and therefore today the group is focused on technology, natural resources, and green energies to name a few. Real estate is one part of it but technology and green energies is another fundamental part of the organization’s work, given that Manuel puts not only people first but also the planet.
When asked his opinion on the growing consciousness of green investing and ESG and the mounting pressure not only on investors but also on stakeholders to get themselves involved, in real estate to what extent is ESG just greenwashing versus actual change, Manuel responded firmly that ESG is real and the pressure will continue to increase.
Manuel believes in green investing and he also acts on it. Aston Group has co-invested with one of Mexico’s largest solar energy producers as the company strives to provide their clients with green energy on all industrial buildings, as they work towards achieving self- sustainable industrial parks. In addition, they have clients in the automotive sector who will not be allowed to sell their products to the large OEMs by 2025 unless a portion of their energy comes from green. This is definitely just the beginning, as such pressure will continue to be pushed down to smaller suppliers in the chain. “We must commit to our environment, says Manuel, as the consequences of greenwashing are real, and they will eventually show. “At Aston Group they are committed to ESG and given their track record the results of honoring such commitment are already showing.
When asked on what he perceives as the main challenges to improving sustainability in the real estate market, Manuel responded with two key ones.
The first challenge is definitely the lack of “green culture” in the industry. The majority of mid-size developers are missing the bigger picture and focusing on short-term returns. They are not willing to invest the additional finances in their projects to ensure that they are greener, especially when it comes to emerging markets. This short-term thinking may be beneficial to their financial returns today, but the consequences will be coming. The consumer has become more demanding and soon real estate will be another category where consumers will demand green and sustainable only products and services.
The second challenge that comes to mind is the cost of technology. Technology is rapidly advancing, but standardization of it is not. Therefore, this makes tech costs quite high when it comes to countries outside Europe or the United States. Due to such high costs, there is a push back and/or resistance on green initiatives from many governments. They do not have the financials to back such expensive changes for the environment. This is why it is up
to groups such as Aston Group to take action and ensure that we are building for tomorrow and not only for today.
When asked what the biggest challenges cities face in terms of efficient mobility solutions and some examples on techniques adopted for smart mobility Manuel pointed out that we must first keep in mind that the automotive industry still produces over 70 million cars annually.
Even though today we look for mobility solutions, we cannot ignore the fact that today’s cars will be there for many years to come. For this reason, many governments continue to focus on building “car lanes” instead of public transportation planning to decrease mobility problems, especially when it comes to medium and large cities, with dense populations.
Two examples that must be pointed out are in the below pictures where congested cities can be observed:
When asked how Manuel would definite Aston Group’s approach to ESG, and the big issues facing the industry he reiterated the importance of being human-centric when doing business.
By putting the client first, Aston Group has easily adapted ESG as part of their core principles, their DNA. The group continues to invest in the space, also on behalf of large institutions, which requires strong governance not only in terms of monetary audits but also social end environmental ones. A great example is a push we did 15 years ago to build parking spaces in Mexico. Very few individual workers were lucky enough to have cars at the time, and no one believed it was a good idea to invest in building parking spaces. We were the first ones, and this paid off as the years moved on. I knew people would start buying cars as the tech would become cheaper and the vehicles more affordable. This is why it was a no-brainer to build parking spaces. However, today we are the first ones to change and suggest new mobility ways to allow for greener areas, public transportation, and biking roads as we strongly believe the future is not cars driven. Aston Group is always adapting to the benefit of the consumer and the planet and this is why we always build less than 50% of the land to allow for the creation of those green areas when other developers are doing the opposite.
Lastly, when asked on Aston Groups’ social purpose and approach to gender equality in the workplace Manuel responded that the group considers the benefits of the communities and not the projects.
Our projects are community projects and are built around the people in those communities. We ensure at Aston that all projects we undertake positively impact the individuals that are involved regardless of their gender, always having in mind the human-centric approach. Our latest project in the beautiful city of Queretaro is focused on urban regeneration. The project aims to pedestrianize the old central district and make it greener and more social and gender inclusive by making this space safer, creating equal job opportunities for all, and raising an environmental conscience. This is a 10-year program that will require time and effort and inter-stakeholder collaboration but will provide excellent results for the next generation and our planet.