The whole world may speak English, but Simon Global chairman Hans Mautner wants to learn the local languages as he explores international markets. “Even a basic understanding does not help much with the nuances which are so important,” he says. “It is important to be able to deal in some fashion in the language of the host country — if for no other reason than good manners.”

Mautner speaks English and German, and is also trying to learn French. At age 66, however, it's not easy to reshape the brain to learn another one, says Mautner, who has had years of experience in the real estate industry. As chairman and CEO of Corporate Property Investors, he helped to shape the private REIT into one of the best portfolios of shopping centers in the U.S.

He is now overseeing Simon's international efforts at a time when overseas markets are assuming a greater importance. “There are a multitude of opportunities over there [in Europe], because they haven't seen the type of retail or commercial development we have in the U.S.,” says Richard Muhlebach, senior managing director of Kennedy Wilson Properties.

In 1999, Mautner moved to London to head Simon Global. “Our strategy to date has been to proceed with experienced and able local partners,” he says. “We have done this through investing in existing organizations where we are able to provide some complementary skills and to exert some influence.”

First, Simon Global bought a 49 percent share in Gallerie Commerciali Italia, a subsidiary of Italian firm Rinascente Group. GRI currently owns 39 shopping centers in Italy and has an active development pipeline, says Mautner. Simon also bought a 35 percent share in European Retail Enterprises, which owns shopping centers in Poland and France. It also serves as property and lease managers for several centers in Turkey and is looking at center sites around Budapest, Hungary.

“It is important…to focus one's efforts on countries where there is ultimately the opportunity to do a lot so as to benefit from scale — rather than just the pursuit of one-off opportunities,” Mautner says.