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ASIA NEWS: Follow the leader

When Pramerica Real Estate Investors hired Morgan Laughlin from Grosvenor Fund Management as its head of Asia in March, it seems the writing was on the wall for a number of the platform’s senior executives.

As can be the case when a new head is appointed, Laughlin’s succession from previous long-term Asia head Victoria Sharpe saw various personnel changes. The closure of the platform’s Beijing office and release of 10 staff, including managing director and head of greater China Jason Chew, has been the main change so far.

Indeed, it was the departure of Chew that caught the attention of Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which moved quickly to secure him for the new post of head of Asia real estate. Based in Qatar’s capital of Doha, Chew will work closely with global head Navid Chamdia, who is expected to now focus his attention towards the $115 billion sovereign wealth fund’s real estate investments outside the region.

According to one source familiar with the situation, there was an expectation at Pramerica that one of either Chew, Singapore-based Benett Theseira, who joined in 2011 from Pacific Star, or Broderick Storie, formerly chief risk and investment officer for Europe and Asia-Pacific, would succeed Sharpe as head of Asia. However, when the international real estate investment arm of Parsippany, New Jersey-based Prudential Financial opted for Laughlin, predictions of personnel change arose.

Neither QIA nor Chew would comment when contacted. Nevertheless, his hire is being compared with the manner in which the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority built out a real estate team during the leadership of former chief investment officer Mark Burton. Some in the region believe QIA will operate with a small team, like ADIA did under Burton, rather than create a large platform of up to 100 professionals as has been the case under ex-JPMorgan executive Bill Schwab, who replaced Burton in 2009.

“QIA is where ADIA was 10 years ago,” one source said. “Like them, I think QIA will operate conservatively. They aren’t going to build out a giant bench. I see them being the ADIA that ADIA was under Mark Burton.”

In a departure from Burton’s tenure at ADIA, however, the source said he believes QIA’s approximately 10-strong real estate team would not entertain many traditional private equity real estate fund commitments. Instead, it is likely to opt for club deals and joint ventures.

According to a report by CNBC, Chew’s hire comes as part of a wider hiring spree by QIA to diversify its portfolio and lessen the sovereign wealth fund’s exposure to Europe, which currently stands at about 80 percent. The sovereign fund currently is led by chief executive Ahmed Al-Sayed, who was appointed in July by the country’s newly-crowned emir, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamed al-Thani, following his father’s abdication.

One source of CNBC echoed PERE’s source, stating: “Knowing Al-Sayed, he must be thinking about taking the fund to the next level, to the likes of Abu Dhabi’s ADIA or Singapore’s GIC.”