SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian billionaire Frank Lowy, co-founder of global property group Westfield Corp ( WFD.AX ), said on Tuesday he expects to be an investor instead of an executive, almost six decades after the opening of a small shopping center on the outskirts of Sydney.
Lowy, 87, a tycoon of the Holocaust survivor property turned gentleman, will retire from Westfield, and his sons Steven and Peter will retire as co-CEO, marking a dynastic end to his Westfield government after the proposed sale of $ 24.7 billion to Unibail-Rodamco of France.
"It's more of a life I've put in this company, it's time, from a personal point of view, to move on," Lowy told reporters via a video link in London. "We want to change our roles, we would prefer to be investors than executives."
The Lowy family owns 9 percent of Westfield and, if the cash and exchange agreement is finalized, it will end up with a 2.8 percent stake in Unibail-Rodamco.
The proposed agreement is the latest in a reorganization of the retail sector, with online giants like Amazon.com Inc ( AMZN.O ) putting the squeeze on the operators of shopping centers.
Westfield merged the traditional stores of the shopping centers with exclusive food courts, restaurants, bars, cinemas and fashion boutiques to keep people buying in physical stores.
"Westfield has assets in the United Kingdom and the United States that are in mature Amazon markets," said Morningstar REIT analyst Tony Sherlock. "They are already at 50 percent through that online retail change."
In his adopted land, born in what is now Slovakia, Lowy is seen as a success story for immigrants and an intelligent developer. that survived the onslaught fueled by the Internet in the retail sector.
In his early years, Lowy lived in a ghetto in Hungary during World War II and was frequently moved before being interned in a British detention camp in Cyprus. He said he later learned that his father had been beaten to death in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Lowy came to Australia in the 1950s and met the surviving members of his family. He continued to found Westfield Development Corp with a friend, John Saunders, by developing a shopping center in the western suburbs of Sydney.
Westfield was listed on the Australian stock exchange in 1960.
Lowy said the Unibail-Rodamco agreement was the second most important day in Westfield's history. "The most important was (in) September 1960, when Westfield was born," he said.
Since then, Australian shopping centers have been separated from American and European companies in Westfield, and are not part of the proposed sale.
Lowy spent the last decade near the rich lists of Australia, with an estimated wealth this year of A $ 8.26 billion ($ 6.23 billion) and retaining a high public profile in sports administration as former president of the Federation of Soccer of Australia. .
He is often credited with establishing football as a leading sport in a country where he has had to compete with the traditionally more popular rugby league, the rugby union and Australian football.
But Lowy said selling Westfield would not necessarily give him more free time.
"I'm not looking for too much time, but the workload will be totally different, it's real to invest instead of administer."
($ 1 = 1.3259 Australian dollars)
Report of Swati Pandey and Byron Kaye on SYDNEY; Written by Jonathan Barrett; Edition by Ian Geoghegan