LaSalle taps Karen Brennan as next European CEO

The 20-year veteran puts investors and flexibility at the forefront as she prepares to enter the firm’s largest investment market.

Karen Brennan has been named the next chief executive for LaSalle Investment Management’s European business.

A 20-year veteran at the Chicago-based investment firm, Brennan will succeed Simon Marrison, who has helmed LaSalle’s European operation for the past 12 years. Starting June 30, she will oversee 233 employees in London, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Luxembourg and Milan. She will also join the firm’s nine-person global management committee.

Europe represents the third regional market where Brennan will take on a key leadership role for LaSalle. Currently, she leads the firm’s US separate account platform in a role she has held since 2013. Before taking that role, she spent five years in Singapore and Hong Kong where she managed the firm’s Asian opportunity funds.

Brennan began her career at LaSalle in 1999 as an analyst in its US acquisitions team. She has held acquisitions and asset management positions in various parts of the firm’s North American operations, including its US value-add fund series.

In an interview with PERE, Brennan said she plans to pick up where her predecessor left off. Marrison operated six funds, launched a continental separate accounts business and grew LaSalle’s pan-European portfolio into the company’s largest regional holdings with $22 billion in assets under management. LaSalle has roughly $65 billion in AUM, including more than $21 billion in North America, $8.6 billion in Asia-Pacific and roughly $8 billion a piece in indirect investments and listed real estate.

“The European business has been a major part of our operational focus since the beginning and will continue to be so,” Brennan said. “I’m excited to build off the momentum that Simon Marrison has created there under his tenure there…he’s done a fantastic job growing the business and we continue to expect it to play a major, central role in our strategy going forward.”

Marrison will stay on as chairman of LaSalle’s European business, an advisory role in which he will help Brennan transition into her new position.

Careful not to prescribe policy changes before becoming entrenched in the European market, Brennan told PERE she plans to learn the preferred strategies and risk profiles of investors in that market and then tailor LaSalle’s offerings to meet their needs.

“It’s about identifying what products and ways are best for our clients to access private equity real estate,” she said. “Those might be open-end vehicles, they might be closed-end vehicles; shorter-term hold versus longer-term hold; it will ebb and flow depending on what the market opportunities are.”

Brennan will pull from her experience transitioning from the US to Asia in 2008 as she adapts to her third major investment market. After her previous relocation, she leaned on LaSalle’s collaborative culture to build new relationships on the ground.

Her last move came with the added complication of the global financial crisis. As she prepares to enter a new market amidst a current growth cycle stretching beyond the decade mark, Brennan said she is reminded to stay vigilant.

“It really goes back to: do you have good portfolio diversification? Do you have enough in your portfolio in your fund or in your separate account portfolio that you can weather the storm?” Brennan said. “It’s always a reminder to keep that focused and not reach or take risks that your investors are not expecting.”