Managing Director of Buffagni, a construction company based in Monaco since the mid-1980s which specialises in structural work, masonry and cladding, Antoine Rey, a regular member of the Junior Chamber International Monaco, spoke about Monaco’s current economic situation and health.

Originating from the region, where he settled age six in Villeneuve-Loubet, Antoine Rey (30) has held the position of Managing Director of the Buffagni company, created in 1988, for nearly a year now. After a career in the world of yachting, the Parisian-born MD developed a knack for the construction business, so much so that he has now climbed the ladder of a recognised and reputed company in the Principality, involved in large-scale projects for almost fifteen years. Gucci, Jimmy’ z, renovating the VIP boxes at Stade Louis-II, building a school and college in Nice, renovating the Nice Lingostière shopping centre, Buffagni has been one of the region’s construction giants for several years.

We put health before business.

Antoine, how has Buffagni adapted to this unprecedented crisis?

Quite honestly, we were all very surprised by this lockdown. No one expected it, obviously, even in our industry. We followed government announcements on a day-to-day basis, whether they were from Monaco or France since we cover both areas. It was really like old daily news updates, minute by minute. Once the general lockdown had been announced, with the shutdown of all building sites in the Principality, we entered a second phase, asking ourselves the right questions — how to close down a site, make it safe, while avoiding the slightest incident. We then had to announce to all our employees that they would have to stay at home. We have a great work culture in our company, so it wasn’t easy for the guys to accept this decision. We took care to check in with everyone during the lockdown, especially on their mental health. At this point, France hadn’t decided to stop work yet, encouraging companies working on French land to keep construction sites open. However, given concerns over ethics and adequately protecting our employees, we stopped everyone and told the French project leaders that the situation wouldn’t allow for us to continue our work safely. We had enormous difficulties in obtaining supplies of masks, wipes and antibacterial gel to ensure each worker was protected. But on the whole, all the leaders were understanding and got that it was not the company’s bad will, but the logical choice. We put health before business.

Under what conditions were you able to get back to business as usual?

At first, we asked ourselves the right questions. How could we restart our business and under what conditions? We then settled our supply problems with our service providers, and we were then able to resume working according to all the government’s safety measures. In the first phase of coming out of lockdown, we reassured our workers by putting quite drastic measures in place to protect them. It was necessary for them to feel safe when they came back. Everyone said yes to coming back, and we were able to have a fresh start in the right conditions, respecting the health measures.

Has the economic impact of this sudden stoppage of activity already had repercussions on the company’s finances?

All of the health measures generate an additional cost for the company, which may or may not be absorbed by our clients. Some of our clients bear the cost of these measures, others do not. But overall, we have been able to resume a good number of projects. We’re a family of builders, and that’s good enough. We’re finally building safely again, we’re operational. But we are entering a second phase, a financial one, where we have to find solutions to make a profit. To do that, we have to work all while earning money at the same time. The government decrees have introduced social distancing between workers, which lengthens the working day, which in turn leads to higher costs as well. We’re working to optimise all of that so that our guys can keep their distance while still being productive, to improve our margins again.

Construction in Monaco is going well, so when building goes, everything goes.

How do you see the future?

I’m quite confident. We feel that there is already some recovery happening, that the architects, who are our business contributors, are working hard on new projects. The only small fear I have is that lockdown activity has been postponed now. File processing upstream, between the client and the architects, has not really been able to progress these last few weeks. By the time the building permits have been submitted and examined, the appeals have been processed, the architects have been able to carry out consultations and then start work; I fear that these three months of delay will be experienced more in September and that we will have a renewed gap between September and November. But I know that the Principality has a strong backbone and will help us thrive. Construction in Monaco is going well, so when building goes, everything goes. Monaco’s appeal is still there, so I have no fears about the Principality’s ability to continue investing, whether through private or public funds, to develop the territory.

Have any major projects been jeopardised by the crisis?

As far as my company is concerned, no. I have not had any projects postponed either. On the other hand, in some luxury shops, the crisis having affected these large multinational groups, clients came back to us to tell us that they had lost a lot of money during this crisis period and that the project had to be revised, with a 30% cut in costs. When a client announces that we must find savings on a project that has already started, everything has to be reset to zero, in particular by reducing the extras. Floors, walls, decorations, we have to review everything.

Our generation is asking itself a lot of questions

Has the crisis forced you to lay off some of your employees?

Absolutely not. However, I have had two somewhat unusual cases. Two young admin employees resigned. During the lockdown, they asked themselves lots of questions about their place in society and the world they live in. They decided to change their lives and quit. I found that astonishing. It proves that our generation is asking itself a lot of questions and is not sure what it is doing today in the place it occupies. I think it is very brave of them to throw it all away at the age of thirty. It’s an anecdote that made me wonder a lot. This generational gap and crisis are interesting to analyse while I’m in my thirties. I’ve now got to consider this notion of the thirty-something-year-old employee who will question everything in their life at one time or another.