The private equity real estate world was blindsided by news of Susan Hudson-Wilson's sudden death last month at age 60. The real estate entrepreneur from Chebeague Island, Maine succumbed to a cerebral aneurysm on 5 October while on safari with her husband in Nairobi, Kenya. Indeed, when many industry leaders expressed their condolences to her family and personal sadness of her passing, many could hardly believe it.
“She asked the tough questions and challenged us all to think deeper and smarter,” said Patrick Phillips, chief executive officer of Urban Land Institute (ULI), about the founder of real estate research firm Property & Portfolio Research (PPR).
John Wilson, her husband of 41 years, wrote a letter to the members of ULI, of which Hudson-Wilson was a trustee. In his letter, he wrote: “When you live with someone for over 40 years, you'd think that you'd not only know their views, but that you'd also know how others viewed them. In the wake (and she certainly left a big one) of Susan's untimely death, I was overwhelmed not only by a powerful flood of my own emotions but also an emotional and most wondrous outpouring of sympathy, support, praise, war stories and love from her colleagues in the real estate industry.”
Wilson added: “Susan's dedication to real estate, economics and her colleagues was not simply part of her job; it grew to be part of the very essence of her life. She remained engaged even after she had sold PPR and had absolutely no intention of fading away. People here on Chebeague Island would laugh when Susan called herself 'retired'.”
The medical team who investigated Hudson-Wilson's death said the aneurysm could have occurred at any time or place and only coincidentally happened at the end of a successful African safari. Her husband wanted to remind her friends and colleagues that she did indeed end her life doing exactly what she wanted to be doing.
“Susan died as she lived, curious and constantly seeking new experiences and adventure,” Wilson added. “She went out on a very high note after 17 days we spent together, deeply enjoying every moment.”
Still, Hudson-Wilson's death remains a sad shock to those who knew her, and many who worked with her have admitted that they're sure the industry will feel her impact upon it for a long, long time.
Jon Willis was among dozens that benefitted professionally from her research and thought leadership. The former real estate investment officer at the University of California and current principal of Property Strategies summed up the sentiment of everyone that knew her. “She was an extraordinary talent and a much-loved and much-admired professional colleague,” he said.
After writing his own column about her passing on his “On the Road” blog, consultant Steve Felix (who was a long-time friend of Hudson-Wilson's) received a myriad of notes and statements from industry veterans who knew the PPR founder personally and worked with her throughout her varied and illustrious career.
“She was an inspiration,” said Jon Lekander, global head of the property multi-manager arm of Aberdeen Asset Management, through Felix's column.
“I am beyond devastated about Susan,” added Stephen Coyle, chief investment officer of Cohen & Steers and a former employee of PPR. “She not only was a great mentor to me, she was a life force that no one in her grip could quite escape.”
Hudson-Wilson formed PPR, a property and portfolio research firm, in 1994, growing it to a firm with more than 40 employees and a global client base. She sold the firm to the Daily Mail and General Information in 2002 and 'retired'.
For Hudson-Wilson, being 'retired' apparently meant continuing to serve on the board of PPR from 2002 to 2009 and serving on the boards of Austin-based private equity real estate firm Hawkeye Partners, Natick, Massachusetts-based fund manager Market Shield Capital and Portland, Maine-based Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Company (which she helped form) until her death.
Hawkeye founding partner Scott McArtor issued the following statement about the loss of Hudson-Wilson: “Our most sincere condolences go out to her husband and their three children. She shared a passion for what is new and innovative. We will be forever grateful for all that she has done to make Hawkeye a success.”
“I'm still stunned,” added Wylie Greig, advisory board member for real estate investment firm Granite Peak Partners and former head of global real estate research at RREEF. “Susan had a huge impact on moving our industry forward at a critical time in its evolution. She leaves a big gap in the real estate research ranks.”
“I will miss Susan. She was always a lot of fun to be around,” said Jacques Gordon, global investment strategist at LaSalle Investment Management. “Having co-authored four articles with her, I can tell you that [she] was absolutely never shy about offering up a provocative thought, a catchy phrase or a creative approach to data analysis.”
Hudson-Wilson was cremated in Nairobi. She is survived by her husband John and their three children: Connor, Lehan and Grace. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her memory to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, PO Box 336, Westbrook, Maine 04098.