EUROPE NEWS: Free agent

Chris Papachristophorou, as many people who have worked with him will attest, is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. However, after a 15-year career at RREEF Real Estate, the current global head of opportunistic investments will have to take that passion for investing outside the organisation.

As PERE revealed last month, Papachristophorou has decided to leave the firm at the end of the year for a new challenge. His decision comes after a turbulent year, in which the future direction of RREEF became clouded by politics as its parent, Deutsche Bank, mulled a sale of the firm.

Deutsche Bank currently is in the middle of restructuring REEEF, with most observers expecting the firm to return to its roots of core investing. Such a move would sideline the opportunistic business, which partly has precipitated the departure of Papachristophorou.

Peers in European private equity real estate, however, expect Papachristophorou to resurface soon enough. In the meantime, the pregnant pause created as he hands over the reigns to someone else within the organisation has allowed fellow professionals to reflect on his career to date.

So what is RREEF losing? “One of the most talented and experienced UK principals in pan-European deals,” is how one professional described him. According to others, he is one of the sharpest and smartest of dealmakers, with a playbook that often includes complex deals.

Early in his career, Papachristophorou worked as a managing director at a medium-scale company operating in the textile and real estate sectors before joining Bankers Trust in 1998, which was bought by Deutsche Bank and subsequently expanded by swallowing up RREEF.  

One of his tasks at Deutsche Bank was to build the business in Italy – the location of several blockbuster deals. In 2004, he led a €1.4 billion sale-leaseback deal in which Enel, Italy’s largest utility company, agreed to offload 887 properties to Deutsche Bank’s DB Real Estate and French-bank owned CDC Ixis. In 2005, he added a deal whereby RREEF acquired Italian department store group La Rinascente through a joint venture with private equity firm Investitori Associati, Pirelli Real Estate and the Borletti family, which originally founded the store but sold it to Fiat in 1970.

Since then, Papachristophorou has led RREEF to complex deals in France and Germany as well. In 2006, he led a deal to buy France Printemps through a €1 billion transaction with the Borletti family. Then, there was the €1.36 billion takeover of Germany residential property company Baubecon from New York’s Cerberus Capital Management in 2007. RREEF struck up a 60:40 joint venture with Pirelli for that deal, although not even Papachristophorou could foresee the financial crash 12 months later and the havoc it would wreak on the equity RREEF and its partner put into that deal.

In more recent times, Papachristophorou has been busy stabilising and improving asset value, like many others in European private equity real estate, and his stock seems high. “Although like everybody he obviously has one or two deals that have not gone to plan, he is top quartile in terms of track record and depth of experience,” said one real estate professional that knows him.

By the end of the year, Papachristophorou will be a free agent. Chances are he is not done yet.