YEAR IN REVIEW: Top people moves of 2019

An overview of the year’s biggest movers and shakers, and what their job switches tell us about trends in the European real estate market.

A review of the year’s most eye-catching people moves always provides a fascinating window onto the twists and turns of the real estate market. Do people follow the business or does the business follow people? Although individual recruitment announcements are often interesting enough in themselves, it is only when one takes stock at the end of the year that patterns emerge.

This year’s harvest is no different in that it reflects a number of clear trends: the ongoing internationalisation of the real estate sector; the advance of technology and rise of new sectors such as co-working and co-living; and the growing importance of environmental and social governance.

Unexpected departures
Not surprisingly, it is resignations which invariably gain most attention, particularly when there is a hint of conflict underlying the departure. One of the most talked-about resignations this year was that of Adam Neumann as CEO of flexible office giant WeWork after questions were raised about his role and influence at the firm he co-founded in 2010.

Neumann’s position came under scrutiny due to the staggering losses at the company coupled with a decadent lifestyle and numerous conflicts of interest. He is believed to have ceded majority control of WeWork under pressure from leading creditor SoftBank, in a move to appease investors after plans for a September IPO were shelved.

Much less controversial, but in the same space, CEO Jamie Hopkins of Workspace stepped down in May after seven years in the post due to ‘personal reasons’. He was later replaced by insider Graham Clemett, who had assumed the role on an interim basis.

Other eye-catching resignations during the year included the departure of Barbara Knoflach at BNP Paribas Real Estate after a three-and-a-half-year stint as global head of investment management. As reason for her departure, Knoflach said her mission to create a sizeable European player with a strong international management team had been ‘accomplished’ and that it was ‘time to move on’. Knoflach’s next move is being keenly awaited, although sources say she is in no rush to return.

As one of the few women in a top-level position in European real estate, her track record spans two decades including a 10-year spell as CEO of SEB Asset Management. Knoflach handed over the reins to another prominent female executive, Nathalie Charles, who joined from rival French group AXA IMRA where she was head of development and European country teams.

Also raising eyebrows was the announcement in September that David Paine and Pertti Vanhanen were stepping down as global co-heads of real estate at Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI), just two years after the investment management giant was formed and the pair assumed the joint role. The news came as ASI launched a collective private markets franchise, headed by Peter McKellar with Neil Slater as deputy. The new franchise brings real estate under one roof with private markets, a growing space where ASI manages over €67 bn and sees a role for itself as a full-service provider.

The news of Paine and Vanhanen stepping aside even surprised those within the firm, sources told PropertyEU, which had just weeks earlier sat down with Vanhanen to discuss the progress made at ASI since the mega-merger.

Changing of the guard
The year saw its usual share of retirements, while multiple hires within one company were also a recurring theme. Moves in the first category included Reinhard Kutscher stepping down as management board chairman of German fund manager Union Investment Real Estate after 20 years with the company. He made way for Jörn Stobbe who has been a member of the management team and the company’s chief operating officer since February 2017.

In the UK, Grosvenor Group announced a leadership reshuffle as part of succession planning, while Robert Noel, CEO of the country’s largest listed property firm, Land Securities, said he would in 2020 after eight years in the post. Noel is being replaced by Mark Allan, who joins from regeneration specialist St Modwen Properties where he is currently CEO.

Proof that lifelong careers still exist in real estate – despite evidence among younger generations of much shorter tenures - was provided by the announcement that Stephen Hubbard was retiring as chairman of CBRE UK following a 40-year career with the firm. Meanwhile, at UBS, Thomas Wels announced he was leaving as group managing director of the asset management business after 14 years.

Another familiar face to step aside on the Continent was Georg Allendorf, head of real estate in Europe at Deutsche Bank’s real estate arm DWS (Deutsche Asset Management). He has been replaced by DWS’ chief investment officer, Clemens Schaefer. Under Allendorf’s leadership, real estate assets under management grew from over €16 bn in 2014 to more than €28 bn by end-2018.

In CEE, a wellknown figure to move out of the spotlight was Arpad Török, CEO of TriGranit. After 18 years with the CEE-focused developer-investor, he said he was leaving to ‘pursue new opportunities’. Török handed over the role to Tom Lisiecki, who ironically spent 13 years at TriGranit before taking on his most recent post as chief development officer of Nordic shopping centre landlord Citycon.

Canadian institutional investor Ivanhoé Cambridge, which invested heavily across Europe this year, also reported a changing of the guard with CEO Daniel Fournier handing the baton to Nathalie Palladitcheff. Previously a senior executive at French REIT Icade, Palladitcheff joined the Montreal-headquartered company in 2015 and was promoted to president in 2018.

Multiple appointments
Her elevation to the top job was not the only appointment last year at Ivanhoé Cambridge, which carried out a number of key hires in Europe as part of its expansion in the region. Ajay Phull was named as head of investments in the UK, while Christian Daumann was recruited as investment head for Germany, leading the firm’s new office in Berlin. The European push follows on from Karim Habra being installed as head of Europe in 2018.

Meanwhile, Habra’s previous employer, LaSalle Investment Management, was another serial hirer in 2019. It relocated its head of US separate accounts, Karen Brennan, to London to oversee its $22 bn (€20 bn) pan-European business and join the firm’s nine-person global management committee.

The company also appointed Richard Craddock to its debt team as managing director of the €600 mln whole loan programme, and Petra Blazkova as senior strategist within its European Research & Strategy team. At the same time, it lost Mahdi Mokrane as head of investment strategy and research, a role he held for six years, to Patrizia Immobilien where he took on the same position.

Other companies on the multiple hiring trail included CBRE Global Investors (Marco Rampin as head of its new European debt investment venture, Jeroen de Grunt as new portfolio manager for flagship Pan-European Core Fund); Allianz Real Estate (new global head of research, two key hires for its new London office and head of a new Stockholm office); Hines (new CIO for Europe and new head of development for the UK); and Dutch asset manager Bouwinvest (new director of European investment, new finance and risk officer as well as an entirely new supervisory board).

New sectors
Like co-working, co-living – also described as ‘blended living’ – was another fledgling sector to see hiring activity last year. Medici Living, founded by proptech entrepreneur Gunther Schmidt to ‘revolutionise 21st Century housing’, hired a string of new directors in Warsaw, Barcelona and London to roll out its strategy of developing innovative and tech-enabled rental housing for students and young professionals.

The booming hotel sector prompted a search for extra resources to handle the growth in investments. Union Investment, with a €5.6 bn hotel portfolio across Europe and the US, added three to its now eight-strong investment management hospitality team headed by Andreas L?cher to help drive its expansion. Catella even poached an entire team from hotel investment and management specialist Algonquin to help it launch a new hospitality arm called Catella Hospitality Europe.

Technology appointments were also in vogue as companies moved to beef up their capabilities to deal with digital disruption. JLL appointed Matthew Cohan as chief digital product officer for the EMEA region, to help the firm devise a strategy at a time when 'technology, data and digital disruption are at the apex of redefining the real estate industry'. The broker also hired a digital transformation lead for its cloud-based facilities management (FM) services across EMEA. US firm Heitman recruited Peeyush Shukla from Nuveen Investments as its chief information and technology officer.

And at Oxford Properties, the global real estate arm of the OMERS pension fund, a new COO with a strong tech background was brought in to enable the firm to adopt ‘a digital-first strategy in its approach to property, facility and asset management’. Dean Hopkins previously served as the CEO of scale-up innovation hub, OneEleven, after 12 years leading global transformation programmes for Thomson Reuters.



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