CEO O’Connor departs Savills Investment Management  – Exclusive

Having led the investment management unit of the London-listed property services company for 12 years, his duties have been handed to CIO Kiran Patel and deputy chairman Nick Cooper.

Justin O’Connor, the chief executive officer and chairman of Savills Investment Management, has left the real estate investment management business after 12 years at the helm, PERE can reveal.

It is understood he left the 300-strong unit of London-listed property services business Savills in the last quarter by mutual consent.

O’Connor: moving on after 12 years at the helm

Kiran Patel, Savills IM’s chief investment officer, has assumed O’Connor’s chief executive responsibilities on an interim basis. The firm’s chairmanship duties have been assumed by Nick Cooper, who initially joined in 2017 as a senior advisor.

Cooper was made deputy chairman in January when the firm announced O’Connor would be relocating to Hong Kong to become Asia CEO too with the objective of driving its growth in the region.

The relocation never materialized, however, with O’Connor choosing to leave the business instead and that precipitated the increase in responsibilities for Patel and Cooper.

“After 15 years at the company, with 12 of those as CEO, Justin decided that it was time to step down in the best long-term interests of the business. Having a strong senior management team in place, he was confident of leaving the business in good hands,” said Patel. “We thank him for his substantial contribution and wish him well for the future.”

“We’ve already started the process of trying to recruit for a global CEO,” he added. Indeed, according to Patel, a succession plan discussion was instigated 18 months ago with O’Connor’s approval, including the appointment of a recruitment consultancy earlier this year.

Patel said Savills IM’s ambition to grow its business in Asia remains a priority and he, Cooper and the firm’s senior management in the region would continue to pursue the work previously intended for O’Connor.

Patel: taken on CEO duties on an interim basis

During his time in charge of Savills Investment Management, O’Connor had overseen its expansion from a Europe-only management business to include Asian investing too. In 2013, the firm acquired Merchant Capital, a Tokyo-based firm, to extend its reach in Japan.

Two years later, the firm made a more significant investment in SEB Asset Management, the investment management business of Swedish banking group, SEB, in a deal valued at €21.5 million.

The latter transaction saw Savills IM inherit a business with 148 staff in Frankfurt and Singapore, and acquire about €10 billion of real estate, more than doubling its asset base. Approximately €6 billion of these assets, however, were held in German open-ended funds and were subject to a formal liquidation process enforced by BaFin, the German regulatory body.

Today, Savills Investment Management operates more than 25 funds and accounts comprising north of €17 billion of assets, meaning the firm got some way to achieving a target O’Connor shared with PERE in an interview shortly after the SEB deal was announced. “I’d like to say that in the next five years, we’d be over €20 billion of assets under management,” he said then.

In that interview, O’Connor said the firm was aiming for further growth in Asia and then to enter the US market, most likely via acquisition. While the former strategy remains a near term proposition, however, no expansion stateside has yet materialized.