Que sera, sera: CBRE buys advisory firm, looks to the future

In November 2021, the leader of what was then described as a ‘challenger’ advisory firm sat down with PropertyEU to explain the background to Sera Global. Fast forward exactly two years, and now CBRE owns it.

Leo Van den Thillart, global managing partner, has been elevated to global head of investment banking at CBRE as a result of the transaction – investment banking being the vertical that the Sera business unit now sits in at the giant property services firm.

It is early days, but Sera staff who are based in New York and London will be looking to see how the "culture" of CBRE’s investment banking unit will be. No doubt, Sera professionals have already received a warm welcome, and the weeks and months to come will put to the test any initial impressions of the collegiate nature that CBRE’s investment banking division is reputed to have.

The full history to Sera was set out in that November 2021 interview (a pdf of which is attached). Sera has been operating as a portfolio company of Canadian giant, Brookfield. In February 2021, it changed its name to Sera from BFIN and the company went on a recruitment drive with serious ambitions to become a global force. In Europe, hires included the likes of former UBS man, Eoin Bastible, along with other well-known names, who remain with the company.

As Van den Thillart said two years ago, the mission as a challenger advisory firm was to compete against the likes of Evercore, PJT Park Hill, Lazard, and Rothschild & Co. Now it is CBRE who will be looking to strengthen its investment banking division against rivals by adding this firm that specialises in varous services under an investment banking umbrella such as fundraising, m&a, strategic options, secondaries, and private wealth services across real estate, infrastructure, and renewables.

Sera will provide CBRE with a private funds advisory service in a capacity that CBRE has not had in the past, as well as an elevated investment banking/asset manager m&a business that is into real assets.

For Sera staff, they have just received third-party validation from a major real estate business of what they have been trying to build. Under CBRE’s ownership, it also now gets access to resources and the reach of a Global Fortune 400 real estate firm that it did not previous possess. In theory, this should even better position it to provide services to its client relationships.

For its part, Brookfield was ready to sell. Sera sat in Brookfield’s private equity vehicle, and just like any other portfolio company, it had to be exited at some point.

It was always the idea to build Sera into a world class real assets advisory business and then be moved on to pastures newl. CBRE recognised that what had been built was a high-quality team that has managed to attract some high calibre fund manager clients and mandates. Rather than attempt to build something from scratch, CBRE saw something that was ready made.

It should be noted that under Brookfield’s ownership, Sera apparently did not receive any privilege of working on any Brookfield deals – it just received working capital. So, from that perspective, Sera will believe what it has managed as a three-year-old firm is extraordinary so far. 

The pipeline of work looks healthy. The vibe will be different compared to being a portfolio company. Now all it needs is for the market to fully open up.



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