Lee launches First Growth Real Estate Capital

Former Lehman Brothers, UBS and ING REIM man Wilson Lee sets up his own platform targeting real estate debt and direct investments in Western Europe. First Growth Real Estate Capital will operate from London and Paris.

Wilson Lee, a 25-year veteran of the real estate industry in the US and Europe, has launched his own investment platform aimed at investing in real estate debt and direct real estate opportunities, three months after leaving ING Real Estate Investment Management where he was a managing director.

Lee will officially register the business, named First Growth Real Estate Capital, this week.  The firm has leased an office in London’s west end and is opening an office in Paris. Lee is joined by three as yet unnamed former colleagues. The firm will make further additions to the team over the next six months.

Lee made his name buying distressed debt and real estate and providing junior debt.  He was involved in a number of landmark debt restructuring portfolios in the US in the early 90’s and started his European career by buying distressed French loans.

Lee told PERE:  “The market is now becoming ripe for investors who understand how to unlock real estate value through knowledge of asset fundamentals and debt capital restructuring.  Experience and know-how from the last cycle are key.” He said he was setting up First Growth Real Estate Capital in response to the amount of interest from investors for a “flexible and highly experienced independent platform in the debt space”.

Lee said the firm’s core focus will be in deploying capital to purchase existing debt in need of restructuring, providing junior debt and preferred equity for new transactions as well as restructuring existing loans on behalf of both borrowers and lenders.

“We have access to co-investment capital and are already looking at investment opportunities,” he told PERE, “We are already in discussions with lenders to help maximise value in their loan portfolios,” he added.

Lee would not divulge the firm’s initial spending power, but said the firm would co-invest with its partners assuming majority stakes. Target equity investments per deal undertaken by the firm and its partners would be up to €50 million for each deal.

Lee’s decision to set up his own platform comes after his departure from ING REIM three months ago following the Dutch firm’s decision to cancel a $1.5 billion global opportunity fund, a vehicle he was initially hired to help manage. ING REIM decided to shelve the fund to focus its activities more towards asset managing real estate from its existing vehicles.

Before a brief stint at ING REIM, Lee was at UBS Investment Bank where he was managing director and head of real estate principal finance for Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as Asia Pacific. Prior to that role, he spent 18 years with Lehman Brothers, where he established and built its European real estate principal investment platform before leaving in 2004.