Market Leaders: CPE’s Executive of the Year Awards

For 15 years, CPE and its predecessor, Commercial Property News, have honored the commercial real estate industry’s most accomplished leaders through the Executive of the Year Awards.

December 1, 2011
By Paul Rosta, Senior Editor

For 15 years, CPE and its predecessor, Commercial Property News, have honored the commercial real estate industry’s most accomplished leaders through the Executive of the Year Awards. Determined by vote of an invited group of fellow executives, the awards recognize those who have responded to challenges with extraordinary creativity, persistence and skill.The vision shown by this year’s winners takes a striking variety of forms. After rescuing a struggling seniors housing and healthcare REIT from the brink of collapse, a former corporate lawyer builds an industry powerhouse by orchestrating a string of huge acquisitions. Forward-thinking developers relentlessly raise the bar for sustainability and find promise in emerging global markets. Capital-markets veterans determine ingenious ways to add value for their clients. And a decade after a terrorist atrocity seared the heart of a nation, the indomitable dean of Manhattan developers can point proudly to the career-capping achievement rising at Ground Zero.CPE’s executive awards carry a special cachet in that they are voted on by peers. The months-long selection process begins with an invitation to our readers to submit nominations. Those suggestions are then carefully weighed and augmented by the CPE staff. The final ballot is submitted for a secret vote to the CPE 100, an invited group of industry leaders. Most categories recognize both a first-place winner and one or two additional achievers whose recent work merits honorable mention. As the following pages make clear, these executives are writing the next chapter in the industry’s future.

Executive of the Year/Investor of the Year

Jonathan Gray, Senior Managing Director & Co-Head of Real Estate, The Blackstone Group L.P.

The $39 billion acquisition of Equity Office Properties is a tough act to follow, but since orchestrating that landmark 2007 deal, the Blackstone Group’s Jonathan Gray has continued to place his stamp on commercial real estate investment through a series of bold moves anticipating the next cycle. That influence has earned Gray his peers’ designation as Executive of the Year and Investor of the Year, awards he also received in 2007. A major part of the giant hedge fund’s strategy is to selectively reap the proceeds of portfolio sales. In July, a joint venture of Blackstone and Slate Properties Inc. sold a 29-property Canadian office portfolio to Dundee REIT for $832 million.

Yet Gray is making his biggest impact as a buyer, as Blackstone finds opportunity in investors who want to recapitalize or divest of their assets. The giant hedge fund frequently finds opportunity in assets owned by investors who are looking to recapitalize. In one of the biggest investment transactions of 2011, Gray led the $9.4 billion acquisition of a 588-property, 96 million-square-foot retail portfolio from Centro Properties Group, the debt-laden Australian shopping owner and developer. A smaller-scale but significant retail trade involved 36 centers comprising 3.9 million square feet in seven states, primarily in the Southeast. Blackstone bought the properties from Equity One Inc. for $473 million.

Blackstone Group has been active in the industrial space, acquiring a $1 billion group of 23 properties from Prologis in November 2010, seven months before the industrial REIT completed its merger with AMB Property Corp. This month, Blackstone is expected to close on the $1.1 billion acquisition of an 82-building suburban office portfolio from Duke Realty Corp. One industry veteran described the deal as ”a very, very, very big bet that is cutting a little bit against the grain.” That comment might serve to sum up Gray’s willingness to take a contrarian view.

Developer of the Year

Larry Silverstein, President, Silverstein Properties Inc.

It seems safe to say that no real estate developer has a closer acquaintance with both tragedy and triumph than Larry Silverstein. Thrust unwillingly into the global spotlight by the destruction of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the indomitable 80-year-old has made the rebirth of the site his professional and personal crusade for a decade. To do so has demanded perseverance on an epic scale. Silverstein has faced disagreements with his public-sector partner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; won a long court battle to recover billions of dollars in compensation from a group of insurance carriers; and responded to skepticism by championing the civic and economic value of rebuilding the space.

Those tireless efforts are now bearing fruit in the form of three trophy towers, which are being developed under a complex financing agreement hammered out last year. First to be completed will be 4 World Trade Center, a 2.3 million-square-foot, 72-story tower designed by Tokyo-based Maki and Associates that is scheduled for completion in 2013. Silverstein is laying the foundations for the 2.3 million-square-foot 2 World Trade Center and the 2.8 million-square-foot 3 World Trade Center so he can launch construction as soon as market conditions allow. Given the volatility of the economy, a more detailed timetable is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, Silverstein predicted in June, “By 2016, this should all be done.” All told, Silverstein has a $10 billion development pipeline, which also includes the Four Seasons Hotel Downtown and Private Residences at 30 Park Place.

Financial Services Executive of the Year

David Brown, Head of Global Private Markets, TIAA-CREF Global Real Estate

For the second consecutive year, TIAA-CREF head of global private markets David Brown is recognized as the industry’s top financier. Brown oversees the institutional investment giant’s $17 billion in real estate holdings.

A pair of complex transactions completed this fall in rapid succession illustrate Brown’s adept approach to the capital markets. In early October, TIAA-CREF closed on a $1.1 billion joint venture with CBL & Associates Properties Inc. to acquire a stake in four super-regional shopping malls located in St. Louis, Nashville, Pearland, Texas, and Kansas City, Kan.  That turned out to be the prelude to an even larger deal. On Oct. 17, TIAA-CREF disclosed that it had formed a $1.5 billion partnership with APG, a financial services provider, to acquire interests in a five-property retail portfolio that includes the four properties involved in the TIAA-CREF/CBL venture plus Westfield Montgomery, a 1.2 million-square-foot property owned by Westfield Group in Bethesda, Md.

In the office sector, TIAA-CREF’s strategy of pursuing best-in-market properties led to the acquisition of 33 Arch St., a 33-story Class A office tower in Boston’s financial district. TIAA-CREF said in March that it would team with the Future Fund, a $71 billion Australian sovereign wealth fund, to invest in core and core-plus office properties in major U.S. metropolitan markets. In March, TIAA-CREF confirmed that the Future Fund had acquired a 49 percent stake in 685 Third Ave., a vacant 600,000-square-foot Midtown Manhattan office building acquired by TIAA-CREF last year in a $190 million deal.

Service Executive of the Year

Roy March, CEO, Eastdil Secured

As head of Eastdil Secured, Roy March oversees an investment banking powerhouse that advises institutional clients on many of the industry’s highest-profile investment transactions. During the first half of 2011, the company ranked first in office investment sales volume with $4 billion worth of investments, according to “Real Estate Alert.” Eastdil Secured took the No. 1 spot in both 2009 and 2010, as well. Among its premier recent deals, the firm arranged Google Inc.’s nearly $2 billion purchase of 111 Eighth Ave., a 2.9 million-square-foot Midtown Manhattan office building, from a joint venture of Jamestown Properties, Taconic Investment Partners and the New York State Common Retirement Fund. That deal recently took top honors as Best Sale in CPE’s inaugural Distinguished Achievement Awards.

Eastdil also maintained a presence in the retail sector, brokering a $1.1 billion joint venture between TIAA-CREF and CBL & Associates Properties Inc. that invested in four shopping malls. In March, Eastdil represented an affiliate of Beacon Capital Partners L.L.C. in one of Washington, D.C.’s largest office sales of the year: the $615 million sale of Market Square, a two-building 680,000-square-foot office complex, to Wells Real Estate Investment Trust II.

Innovator of the Year

Michael Berman, President & CEO, CWCapital L.L.C.

During two decades with CWCapital L.L.C., Michael Berman has overseen the growth of the multi-family and commercial property lender’s annual production from $100 million to $3.5 billion. In that time, CWCapital has also built a $13 billion loan-servicing portfolio that encompasses 48 states. As liquidity has steadily improved in 2011, Berman has taken aggressive new steps to further broaden the firm’s reach into new areas.

In October, the firm recruited Justin Weil, Michael Ginsberg and Peter Nichol from Centerline Capital Group to inaugurate CWCapital’s affordable housing platform. The team will pursue affordable financing through the government-sponsored enterprises, create new financing products for developers and investors, and raise low-income-housing tax-credit institutional equity funds for investment. Berman is also directing new platforms in several other areas, including life-company lending, bridge lending and conduit finance.

A board member of several national industry groups, Berman is immediate past chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association and chairs the organization’s task force on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Sustainability Executive of the Year

Honorable Mention: Office Property Executive of the Year

Jeff Hines, CEO, Hines

For Jeff Hines, the repeat winner in the sustainability executive category, 2011 has been another year of milestones. In October, 101 California, a 48-story office tower in San Francisco’s Financial District, earned a score of 94 in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program for existing buildings. That achievement by the 1.3 million-square-foot office tower, developed by Hines in 1982, represents the highest-ever score in the USGBC’s Existing Building program. And for the past three years, Hines has received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR award for sustained excellence. In October, BG Group Place, a 46-story, 972,000-square-foot trophy tower in Downtown Houston, became only the third building ever to earn Platinum-level LEED certification. Hines also developed the second building to be so recognized—717 Texas, a Houston tower that received certification in December 2010. All told, 81 Hines projects accounting for 47 million square feet have earned LEED certification. An additional 114 projects encompassing 52 million square feet are candidates for the designation.

Diversity Executive of the Year

Kenneth Bacon, Executive Vice President-Multifamily Mortgage Business, Fannie Mae

An 18-year Fannie Mae veteran, Ken Bacon joined the government-sponsored enterprise from the Resolution Trust Corp., where he served as director of the office of securitization. Since 2005, he has served as executive vice president of Fannie Mae’s multi-family mortgage business, overseeing a $189 billion guaranty book of business.

During his tenure at Fannie Mae, Bacon has been instrumental in promoting the GSE’s acclaimed diversity efforts. Its tactics encompass talent recruitment, education, management training, career development and team building through 10 employee resource groups. In 2011, Black Enterprise named Fannie Mae one of the 40 best companies for diversity in the country. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation awarded Fannie Mae a 100 percent rating in its corporate equality index. In addition, the GSE was ranked by Diversity MBA among the top 50 places for diverse managers to work, and by Latina Style as one of the 50 best places for Latinas to work in the United States.

Female Leader of the Year

Honorable Mention: Investor of the Year/Innovator of the Year

Debra Cafaro, Chairman & CEO, Ventas Inc.

In her decade at the helm of Ventas Inc., Debra Cafaro has led the company from the brink of collapse to its current status as the nation’s most powerful seniors housing and healthcare REIT. Cafaro has emerged as the prime consolidator in the specialty, completing seven major mergers in the past seven years. Since July 2010 alone, Cafaro has guided Ventas through three blockbuster deals valued at a total of $10 billion: acquisitions of Lillibridge Healthcare Services Inc., Atria Senior Living Group and Nationwide Healthcare Properties.

Ventas was rated the best-performing public financial services company of the previous decade by Morningstar Inc. and REIT Zone Publications L.L.C., producing a more than 2,000 percent return for its shareholders. A board member of Weyerhaeuser Co. since 2007, Cafaro chairs its finance and compensation committees and advised it on making the transition to REIT status, which took effect in January. She is the immediate past chair of the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Honorable Mention: Developer of the Year

Charles Ratner, Chairman, Forest City Enterprises Inc.

During his 16-year tenure as president & CEO of Forest City Enterprises Inc., Charles Ratner oversaw projects that made their mark on the urban landscape from coast to coast. Under Ratner’s leadership, the diversified family-led REIT has had a hand in all major commercial real estate sectors. Ratner, who became chairman in June, expanded Forest City’s enterprise value from $2.4 billion to $11.8 billion and boosted its market capitalization tenfold, to more than $3 billion.

Re-inventing challenging locations is a Forest City specialty. In 1998, the company was selected as the master developer of the former Stapleton International Airport in Denver, which is being transformed into a planned, self-contained mixed-use community. Forest City also won plaudits for such innovative projects as Westfield San Francisco Centre, a century-old structure near Union Square transformed into a 1.5 million-square-foot retail mall incorporating 200 stores. The company’s Forest City Ratner Cos. affiliate developed the New York Times headquarters building in Manhattan and the $685 million Ridge Hill retail and office development, which opened this fall in Yonkers, N.Y.

The $5 billion Atlantic Yards project, a Forest City Ratner project in Brooklyn, will debut in fall 2012 with a new sports and entertainment facility designed by Frank Gehry. Sustainability also became a major push during Ratner’s time at the helm, as the company has frequently pursued LEED certification for its new development platform. The Yards, a mixed-use project in Washington, D.C., is among the pilot participants in the U.S. Green Building Council’s new LEED certification program for neighborhoods.

Retail Property Executive of the Year

Honorable Mention: Executive of the Year

David Simon, Chairman & CEO, Simon Property Group Inc.

Under David Simon’s leadership, the nation’s largest retail REIT continues to push forward on multiple fronts. In August, Simon Property Group Inc. attained a 96 percent ownership stake in the King of Prussia retail center complex in King of Prussia, Pa. The 2.4 million-square-foot property, one of the nation’s largest retail centers, is undergoing a redevelopment that will convert a former Strawbridge’s anchor building to a multi-tenant specialty store format. A 900,000-square-foot development pipeline of anchors and big-box stores is planned for 2012 and 2013. Those projects will be the follow-up to a busy 2011 that will include a projected 1.7 million square feet of leasing activity distributed among 39 new anchors and big boxes.

The company is also continuing its outlet center development program. A June 2012 opening is scheduled for Merrimack Premium Outlets, a 409,000-square-foot upscale outlet center in Merrimack, N.H. SPG has a 50 percent interest in Tanger Outlets-Texas City, a 350,000-square-foot property located 30 miles south of Houston in Texas City, Texas. The company’s renovation and expansion program encompasses 22 properties and features projects like Opry Mills in Nashville, which sustained serious damage in an historic May 2010 flood.

Multi-Family Property Executive of the Year

David Neithercut, President & CEO, Equity Residential

Equity Residential’s David Neithercut is a back-to-back winner in the multi-family executive category, having earned the same honor in 2010. A 16-year veteran of the multi-family REIT, Neithercut has served as its president since 2005 and added the CEO title a year later. Equity Residential has interests in 417 properties encompassing 117,000 units in 15 states and Washington, D.C. During the past year, the firm has pursued a steady stream of acquisitions and dispositions.

Through September, the company acquired 10 properties with 2,529 units, for an aggregate price of $701.7 million. The REIT has been an even more active seller. During the first three quarters of 2011, Neithercut sold 45 properties with more than 13,500 units. The transactions garnered an aggregate price tag of $1.4 billion. Equity Residential is showing strong results to investors, as well. Funds from operations improved 9 percent year-over-year from 2010 to 2011. The company also improved its financing capacity, entering into a $1.3 billion unsecured revolving credit agreement with a 23-lender syndicate.

Rising Leader

Elysia Tse, Vice President, BlackRock Inc.

In the 10 short years since she earned her masters in real estate from Cornell University, BlackRock Inc. vice president Elysia Tse has already made lasting contributions to thought leadership and its practical applications. While serving in LaSalle Investment Management Inc.’s research and strategy group from 2002 to 2005, she was the first to adapt the analytical method known as Value at Risk to real estate. After developing her ideas during her off hours, she presented them to her boss at the time, LaSalle global investment strategist Jacques Gordon, who subsequently collaborated with her on a paper about the topic. The approach pioneered by Tse is now used regularly to analyze leverage-related risk.

While at LaSalle, Tse was also an integral member of the team that developed the most recent version of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.’s Global Real Estate Transparency Index, which has become a standard reference for assessing the business, regulatory and political issues that shape real estate industry conditions worldwide. Among other advances, Tse expanded the index from 20 to 50 markets.

In her current role, she develops investment strategies and conducts risk assessment research, and has played a significant role in formulating the firm’s Asia-Pacific regional strategy. She is also in demand as a conference speaker and has taught as a guest lecturer at Cornell and New York University as well as in China. Able to bridge the gap between research and practical application, she was a 2011 CPE Star to Watch, and in 2010 she was honored as a CREW Network 20 Under 40 award winner.

Office Property Executive of the Year

Michael Fascitelli, President & CEO, Vornado Realty Trust

This year, the multi-market office and retail REIT has continued to focus on fine-tuning its strategies and properties and further strengthening its positions in major markets. Last month, Vornado struck a $228 million deal to sell the 1.2 million-square-foot 350 West Mart Center office building in Chicago. In March, Vornado acquired a 95 percent stake in One Park Ave., recapitalizing the 86-yearold building for a reported $180 million.

The company also teamed with SL Green Realty Corp. in joint ventures involving a pair of Manhattan office properties. In March, the firms combined their aggregate $400 million mezzanine debt positions at 280 Park Ave., a two-building Midtown Manhattan office complex, and followed that deal two months later with a recapitalization and redevelopment deal that brought the total capitalization of the building to an estimated $1.4 billion.

In addition, Fascitelli devoted attention to the nation’s capital. One major deal there involved the $127 million sale of two buildings to Washington Real Estate Investment Trust: 1140 Connecticut Ave., N.W., a 186,000-square-foot property, and the 135,000-square-foot building at 1227 25th St.

Industrial Property Executive of the Year

Honorable Mention: Executive of the Year

Hamid Moghadam, Co-CEO, Prologis Inc.

Hamid Moghadam is an influential figure in the shaping of the industrial real estate landscape. On June 1, AMB Property Corp., the REIT founded and led by Moghadam, completed its merger with industrial giant ProLogis. The combined companies, newly rebranded Prologis Inc., constitute a dominant force in distribution centers on three continents. At most recent report, the new Prologis’ portfolio encompasses 600 million square feet under management in 22 countries, valued at a total of $42.3 billion. In partnership with co-CEO Walter Rakowich, who had been ProLogis’ CEO, Moghadam has directed a fast-paced disposition strategy. Through the end of the third quarter, the new Prologis had sold some $844 million worth of assets, for which its share of the proceeds was $745 million. The firm is also continuing to build its development portfolio, which includes 12.7 million square feet.

Hospitality Property Executive of the Year

Christopher Nassetta, CEO, Hilton Worldwide Inc.

Christopher Nassetta joined Hilton Worldwide in December 2007 after seven years as president & CEO of Host Hotels & Resorts Inc. In that time, he has navigated Hilton through economic challenges, revamped the firm’s leadership structure and is credited with overseeing the renaissance of one of the world’s most familiar hospitality flags. Global growth, especially in emerging markets, has been a signature element of his stewardship. In recent months the firm has revealed plans to make its initial forays into Sierra Leone, Northwest China and Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan. Another emerging market for Hilton is India, where the company has a 50-property pipeline. By the end of 2013, Hilton will bring its Latin American portfolio from 45 to 60 properties, raising its profile in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

Net Lease Property Executive of the Year

Richard Ader, Chairman & Managing Partner, U.S. Realty Advisors L.L.C.

A longtime leader and innovator in single-tenant investment, Richard Ader has overseen the acquisition and management of assets valued at $19 billion during his 43-year career in the net lease industry. He has also acquired and operated upwards of 20 million square feet of commercial assets and 32,000 residential units.

U.S. Realty Advisors L.L.C., which Ader founded in 1989, has acquired more than $6 billion worth of assets. He is also a pioneer in corporate sale-leaseback transactions and devised such structures as the sandwich lease, stepped rents and accrual leases.

Recently, U.S. Realty Advisors has taken steps to further strengthen its financial muscle, closing a new $400 million fund. The foundation of Ader’s broad-based strategy is investment in multiple geographic markets and a variety of assets in the three major net-lease property categories. The firm is active in Class A and Class B office assets both in central business districts and in suburban markets.

Industrial specialties include single-tenant bulk warehouse and distribution facilities. U.S. Realty Advisors’ retail holdings range from freestanding supermarkets and big-box properties to niches like convenience stores, automotive retailers and limited-service hotels.