Europe's largest shopping mall gets Olympics boost

Europe's largest shopping mall
Europe's largest shopping mall

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Story highlights

  • Westfield's Stratford center opened in September last year
  • The company has total assets under management of $57 billion
  • It has 110 shopping centers around the world and employs over 4,000 people
  • Westfield was founded in 1960 in Australia by WWII refugee Frank Lowy

Stratford, in east London, is the gateway to London's 2012 Olympics. And those taking public transport to the Games are likely to wander through Westfield Stratford City.

Westfield expects 35 million visitors a year to its Stratford mall, which it opened last September. But with the Games on its doorstep, that figure is getting a huge boost. During the Olympics over 200,000 spectators and workers are expected to walk through its doors.

"In one sense the Games is an interruption to that normal footfall, in another sense it is a massive opportunity in exposing new people to the building who ordinarily would not come here on a regular basis," said Steven Lowy, co-chief executive of the Westfield Group.

The mall houses more than 250 shops with 70 spots to eat and drink, making it Europe's largest urban shopping center. It opened its doors during the height of the recession but Lowy believes it can withstand the downturn.

"Many parts of the world are suffering lack of consumer confidence, a lack of spending, and countries are doing what they can to manoeuvre through that," he said. "But the UK is a country of more than 60 million people; London is one of the world's greatest cities so we are confident that in time this will work itself out," he said.

Stephen Lowy is the son of Westfield's founder and chairman Frank Lowy, who fled post-war Europe to set up shop in Sydney in the early 1950s. He floated his now billion dollar retail emporium on the Australian stock market in 1960.

Westfield's portfolio is now valued at $57 billion. The company has traditionally focused its business on the English-speaking market -- it has over 100 shopping centers in Australia, New Zealand, UK and the U.S. -- but last year extended its global reach into the fast growing Brazilian market.

"The first developing market that we really entered into was Brazil, and that was last year," Lowy said. "We put a modest but important sum of money there to understand the market and over time I think a company like ours will be able to understand how to operate and be successful in those type of markets," he added.

For Westfield, location is everything. "We are looking for cities that are important from a world context, cities that are important in robust economies, and robust political markets that give you some sort of certainty," Lowy said.

"There is no certainty in life but you can mitigate the risk by investing in certain locations," he added. Cities like London, Milan, New York and Sydney have proven their ability to withstand the shocks of the world's financial crisis, he said.

Shopping not only "makes us all happy and smile," it is also a major economic force, Lowy noted. In countries like Australia, America between 50% and 70% of the economies are driven by retail.

"Governments focus on consumer behavior, it is hugely important for any country from an economic perspective, and so we are at the fulcrum of that and we do our best to make sure that our buildings produce enormous economic activity," Lowy said.

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