Bryant returns to his debt roots

It may be under very different circumstances, but Mike Bryant is returning to the debt arena to help GE capitalize on opportunities in Europe and Asia.

Mike Bryant and GE Real Estate both knew his debt skills would come in handy one day.

In the run-up to joining the US conglomerate in the summer of 2003, Bryant was busy originating loans at Europe's HVB Real Estate Capital (now Hypo International) for investors looking at participating in the booming UK property market.

But in the knowledge that the real estate market would one day reverse, GE Real Estate poached him. For the next four years he concentrated on investing equity in real estate in Europe. Now Bryant has been given a chance to return to his debt roots in a newly created position as managing director of international debt.

While remaining in London, Bryant will oversee teams operating across Europe and Asia to invest in performing commercial loans.

Commenting on the role, Bryant told PERE: “GE sees fantastic opportunity to grow the property lending book.”

He explains that in North America, GE has always had a substantial property lending business because it has found opportunities to match its return thresholds. For the past decade in Europe and Asia, that has not been the case. “We have not liked the pricing of the market,” he said. “But the world has changed.”

On the same day that Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (September 15), Bryant said GE saw “fantastic opportunity” for growth at a time when a lot of the competition wasn't currently operative in the market.” He argued: “Either we will have the chance to buy loan books from them or step in to write new direct loans.”

GE recently restructured its Europe and Asia real estate operations by combining them under GE Real Estate International. Operating within that business, Bryant is leading a “central debt office” of around 10 professionals to “sit above” other debt professionals at the company's network of offices throughout Europe and Asia. Bryant says he will be co-ordinating strategy and oversee large investments as well as building out the platform. Members of the debt operation will be based in each of the countries GE operates in, which consists of offices in the UK, France, the Nordics, Germany, Iberia, Central Europe and Italy. In Asia, GE has a presence in Japan, Singapore, Korea and Australia.

Over the past year, Bryant says Japan has been a big market. It has made $1 billion worth of performing loan investments in Japanese assets. But in Europe it has been even more active. In November 2007, GE acquired €2.7 billion ($4.1 billion) of loans from UK mortgage company Bradford and Bingley, followed up in April with a €1.3 billion package from Capmark Europe and then a €642 million loan book in July from Credit Suisse. Bryant, it seems, will be very much at home in his new role.

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