Always be straightforward and honest.
Roger Lips has a long-held appreciation for complexity. A veteran real estate investor and entrepreneur, Lips has spent over thirty years navigating complex deals and innovative opportunities. He is well-versed in the unique challenges of property development and enjoys finding new ways to bring projects from ideation to implementation. While Lips is currently active in the UAE, he has worked across the globe and left his mark in cities across Europe and, more recently, the Middle East. Today, he dedicates the brunt of his efforts to furthering disruptive initiatives and projects in Dubai’s high-potential real estate market.
Roger Lips’ passion for real estate first took root during his last year at the University of Tilburg. At the time, he had been working towards a Master’s Degree in Business Economics with a concentration in Corporate Finance and Marketing and had recently taken on one of his program’s final requirements: an internship program. The placement gave Lips his first opportunity to enter the real estate investing landscape and established a foundation for what would become a lifelong interest in the industry. The sheer complexity of the work appealed to Roger; even as an intern, he recognized the intricate challenge that executing a deal posed. Each project was like a delicate machine with countless parts — legal, construction, development, marketing — operating in tandem. If even one cog failed, the entire project could be in jeopardy. To Roger, the high-knowledge and delicate nature of the field stood as a welcome challenge.
From then on, Roger Lips thrived in the real estate sector. He took on several corporate roles following his internship, but found himself chafing under the restrictions that working under company leadership presented. As a detail-oriented innovator, Lips could see countless possibilities and opportunities to breathe new life into tired industry conventions — but faced rejection and dismissal from above. After a few years, Roger realized that he couldn’t spend his entire career working for others; he needed to work independently if he wanted to engineer ingenuity and pursue the investment opportunities that others overlooked.
After a few years, Roger Lips decided to strike out on his own. His time in corporate roles had given him the industry skills he needed to thrive as an independent investor in the high-risk, high-complexity landscape of real estate investment. Working in collaboration with other like-minded professionals, Lips began buying investment assets and making a name for himself in the industry. His first major project focused on a massive stone building which, before his intervention, had been an ill-suited office for the local municipality. After researching the area, Lips recognized that the building was ideally-located for residential and commercial offerings. He redeveloped the space into a joint shopping center and apartment building, both of which met with resounding success. Those achievements empowered Roger Lips to pursue a series of similarly lucrative projects that spanned the gamut from retail to commercial to residential development.
Today, Roger Lips applies his skills as a savvy investor in UAE’s high-potential real estate landscape. Outside of work, he enjoys boating, golfing, and spending time with his family in Dubai.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
My first encounter with the real estate industry happened when I was in college. My university’s internship program placed me with a private company in the field and, in doing so, set me on the career path I walk today. During that time, I realized how complicated real estate investment could be — like a well-made watch; it requires countless parts to function effectively, all working in tandem. If one part erodes, the overarching project might fail; but if everything aligns, the result can be remarkable in its ingenuity. It’s a challenge to see how those disparate cogs fit together into a unified whole, but one I find incredibly fulfilling.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day, I get up at around five AM and start my day with an hour-long walk with my dog. My morning walk is important to me; it gives me a chance to process my thoughts and decide on which actions I should plan on taking that day. It’s also a time for me to work through intricate deal structures or approach complex situations or contracts. A few days a week, I’ll follow those six kilometers with a workout session at my gym. My family wakes up a little after that — at around seven — and the day starts in earnest.
After breakfast, I start executing the actions I decided upon during my morning walk, delegating whenever possible. I usually have several meetings before and after lunch. These meetings vary in their purpose and form; they might be regarding companies or projects at hand, new opportunities, or simply maintaining business relationships.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Before I take any concrete steps, I assess the feasibility of a given idea. It sounds obvious, but if an idea is impractical or ill-suited to the market in which its proponents want to execute it, it will inevitably fail, wasting time and money in the process. Innovators have to be confident — but that confidence can quickly turn into fatal arrogance if left unchecked by due diligence.
Once I decide that the idea or plan has merit, I gather all of the resources I need and execute it. I’ve found that many professionals spend far too much time dithering over how to accomplish the task at hand; their uncertainty can lead to inefficiency and poor results. Once you have an effective plan in place, you need to execute it. Do it. Get it done — or it will never be done.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Disruption. A lot of previously untouchable industries have toppled under innovation. Need an example? Look at what startups like Uber and Airbnb have done to transportation and hospitality. I believe that dinosaurs like banks will also eventually fall to disruption. In part, it’s already happening — just look at what fintech is doing to break up monopoly control in the UK. Conventions in the real estate industry will be similarly disrupted by new, social-media-driven technologies; however, the process will take longer because real estate is both less flexible and more capital-intensive than banking giants.
But, in the long term, change is inevitable. Companies that make it easy to invest or divest real estate will eventually form; development will be driven by data and have an ever-shorter life cycle. Again, this is already happening — in Toronto, Google offshoot Sidewalk Labs is working to create a high-tech community that uses real-time urban data to inform housing development and traffic design. The plans are still undergoing review and approval, but even the idea stands as a herald for what “smart design” in urban cities will look like in the future. Newer generations care more about accessibility and less about ownership than those in the past. Those in the real estate sphere must find a way to adapt to these new preferences and demands quickly, or else fall short of their consumers’ needs. I find the challenge this needed disruption poses fascinating.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Focus and persistence. When I need to achieve or do something, I don’t back down until the job is done. In my opinion, if you put down a task halfway through, you might as well have never started it in the first place.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The business world is a cutthroat place. Be open to new ideas, but always be vigilant — never put blind trust in anyone, no matter how compelling they might seem. Most of all, never give up.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I wouldn’t say that nobody agrees with me on this, but international investors need to better support and fund innovative measures in the UAE. As matters stand, the region is in a prime position to welcome out-of-the-box ideas that could disrupt and redefine the real estate industry. As of now, Western investors have remained focused on executing those innovations at home — and facing more difficulties as a result. Take Sidewalk Toronto for example; the project could redefine the future of real estate, but has faced a continual wave of criticism from its Canadian audience. Had the plan and its Western investors set down roots in Dubai, I believe matters would be quite different.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Always be straightforward and honest. If you don’t, you lose your self-respect and jump on a sliding scale.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I rapidly assess deal opportunities by using knowledge and verifiable information, then develop an appropriate implementation strategy and approach. It is critical to make the necessary agreements and arrangements early on, and to execute plans quickly. In my experience, time wasted is money lost.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I visited McDonald’s with my youngest son. We had just spent hours running errands, and being able to enjoy the company and conversation while eating junk food was priceless.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I tend to read books for pleasure, rather than for business. I would recommend both Harry Mulisch’s The Discovery of Heaven and Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.
What is your favorite quote?
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. — Winston Churchill
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.