More Consolidation if DTZ Makes a Bid for C&W?

The consolidation in the CRE property services sector could be speeding up if reports that DTZ is looking to acquire Cushman & Wakefield for $2 billion are true.
Brett White

Brett White, DTZ

The consolidation in the CRE property services sector could be speeding up if reports that DTZ, which just acquired DTZ (formerly Cassidy Turley) in January, is looking to acquire Cushman & Wakefield for $2 billion are true.

Two months after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Agnelli family and its investment arm, Exor SpA, had hired Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley to seek a buyer for Cushman & Wakefield, DTZ seems to have risen to the top of the list of potential bidders. If the deal goes through, it would make DTZ the world’s second largest real estate services firm behind CBRE Group and ahead of JLL. Cushman & Wakefield is the largest privately-held property services firm.

“There is a consolidation taking place in the real estate services sector and it is driving up EBITDA multiples and encouraging transactions,” Jahn Brodwin, senior managing director of FTI Real Estate Solutions, told Commercial Property Executive. “The goal appears to be the creation of mega international real estate service providers that can be one-stop shops to their clients.”

Brandon Dobell, an analyst with William Blair & Co., agreed noting that, “the only way you get those multi-line contracts is if you can walk into a CFO’s office and say it doesn’t matter what region, it doesn’t matter what service, we can do it.”

He added, “It certainly shakes up the lead tables. It puts something else in the conversations besides CBRE or JLL.”

Dobell said he was a “little surprised” that DTZ and its owners, the consortium led by private equity giant TPG Capital, seemed to be making another move so quickly.

It was less than a year ago that TPG teamed up with PAG Asia Capital and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to buy DTZ from Australia-based UGL Ltd. for $1.14 billion. Several months later, the consortium acquired Cassidy Turley, which has since been rebranded as DTZ. The combined company is the third largest global CRE services firm with $2.9 billion in annual revenues and more than 28,000 employees across more than 260 offices in more than 50 countries.

“Making three big acquisitions in a short amount of time is not easy,” Dobell added.  “But Brett (White) has shown the ability to take some risks and make it work.”

Dobell was referring to Brett White, DTZ’s new executive chairman and former CBRE CEO, who is also an investor in the TPG consortium. White, who resigned from CBRE in 2012, helped CBRE through several major milestones, including a shift to public ownership in 2004 and then three large acquisitions: Insignia/ESG Inc. in 2003, Trammell Crow Co. in 2006 and ING REIM in 2011.

An article in The Australian Financial Review stated that White was meeting with lenders in New York this week to seek support for a plan to raise $1.3 billion in the U.S. Term Loan B market toward a possible purchase of Cushman & Wakefield. The Australian newspaper reported that would be in addition to an existing $1 billion it has available in facilities and equity supplied by DTZ’s owner, the TPG consortium.

When contacted by CPE, a DTZ spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

Cushman & Wakefield did not respond to a request for a statement.

The Agnelli family owns 81 percent of the New York-based firm, while its employees own the remainder. To date, Cushman & Wakefield has issued only a brief statement concerning a possible sale, telling CPE in late February, “As is the normal course of business, both Cushman & Wakefield and Exor continually seek ways to further enhance the businesses, create value and further accelerate their plans.”

Bids are reportedly due soon and DTZ is only the second name that has been widely discussed as a potential bidder. Bloomberg reported in March that Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang’s Fosun International Ltd., a Shanghai-based investment firm, was also considering making a bid. Analysts, including Dobell, had previously told CPE that private equity might play a role in a Cushman & Wakefield sale, including a firm like Brookfield Asset Management or a private equity group like the TPG consortium.

Exor reportedly didn’t want to sell to a rival and it’s unclear how much overlap there might be between Cushman & Wakefield, DTZ and the former Cassidy Turley. DTZ was strong in Europe and Asia but had less presence in the U.S. before the merger with Cassidy Turley, which was known in the U.S. mainly as a tenant rep and property manager. Dobell noted that Cushman & Wakefield had acquired Massey Knakel Realty Services, a New York boutique brokerage, in December. While Cushman and Wakefield is also a global firm with offices around the world, they have a bigger presence in the U.S. than the newly rebranded DTZ, Dobell said.

The key to making a major acquisition in the property services sector work, Dobell and Brodwin said, is keeping the best people.

“If these new behemoth organizations are able to successfully retain and continue to motivate the talent that made them what they are today, then the ventures will succeed in keeping the client base intact,” Brodwin concluded.