TRIBUTE: Remembering a titan

When Anne Pfeiffer retired from JPMorgan Asset Management in October, it marked the end of a 34-year career in the private equity real estate industry. Pfeiffer told friends and colleagues that she was ready to begin the next chapter of her life, which would be devoted to traveling and spending time with her family. Sadly, just three months later, the industry is mourning Pfeiffer, who died in Manhattan at the age of 61, succumbing to pancreatic cancer after a 20-month battle with the illness. 
The news of Pfeiffer’s passing came as a shock to virtually everyone in the industry. “She kept her illness very private,” said Stacy Gaskins, chief operating officer at the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF), where Pfeiffer was a board member from 2003 to 2010. “She didn’t want anyone to know.”
Pfeiffer’s low-key manner also extended to her career, serving as head of JPMorgan’s US real estate commingled funds and portfolio manager of the firm’s flagship fund, the JPMorgan Strategic Property Fund. “This woman had the ability to invest $2 billion or $3 billion a year,” said Kevin Faxon, head of Americas real estate at the New York-based firm.  “And she was going about it in a quiet and unassuming manner.” 
Clients comprised some of the largest US pension plans, including the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas. In an email, TRS investment officers Brian Baumhover, Mike Pia and Eric Lang said: “Anne was a titan in the institutional real estate community. She was a true professional, and we were all better off being a part of her inner circle.”
Pfeiffer began her long career as an accountant at Coopers & Lybrand, now part of PwC, before joining JPMorgan as a senior finance officer in 1979. She went on to serve in several different roles at the firm, including head of the finance group, a senior asset manager and an acquisitions officer, before becoming portfolio manager for the Strategic Property Fund in 1998.
Faxon had known Pfeiffer since joining JPMorgan in 1988 as an analyst. Later, while working as an acquisitions officer, he often would pitch deals to Pfeiffer. “It was a senior-subordinate relationship,” he said. “I was the new kid on the block. In 2007, I took over the leadership of the Americas business, but Anne always thought of me as an analyst.”
Pfeiffer wasn’t someone who was easily impressed, thanks to her own formidable track record. When she began managing the Strategic Property Fund, the vehicle held about $2 billion in assets. By the time she retired some 15 years later, the fund had grown to more than $20 billion and become the largest US core real estate fund. “It was Anne’s philosophy in the fund that built the following,” Faxon said. “It was a combination of trust from the client, discipline in executing strategy and being prudent in the way she thought about decision-making.”
As portfolio manager, Pfeiffer was perhaps best-known for the Strategic Property Fund’s investment in Century Park in Los Angeles, which involved the acquisition of the 44-story Century Plaza Towers and repositioning of an adjacent retail building into 2000 Avenue of the Stars, an 800,000-square-foot office property, during the late 1990s. “She knew when to be aggressive,” said Faxon. “Anne knew what she wanted, knew what it could be and was instrumental in getting it done.”
NCREIF’s Gaskins saw Pfeiffer’s determination in action multiple times over the years.  For example, during the early 2000s, Pfeiffer came up with the idea of releasing preliminary quarterly results for the Open-End Diversified Core Equity (ODCE) index, which allowed for the release of the numbers 30 days earlier than in the past. “She challenged the other portfolio managers to get their numbers out more quickly,” said Gaskins. “She wouldn’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. She said, ‘If I can do it, you can do it’.”
Pfeiffer also was an early adopter of technology and encouraged others to revamp and modernize their practices. In her last 10 months as NCREIF president, Pfeiffer charged the organization with the task of updating their website and checked in with the staff monthly on the progress of the project. At Pfeiffer’s last meeting as president, NCREIF unveiled its new website. “She would challenge you, but you never resented her,” Gaskins said. “She did things in a very nice way.”
It was this propensity to challenge others that also made Pfeiffer a strong mentor. Gaskins recalled how Pfeiffer, attending her last NCREIF meeting in March, was saying her good-byes and offering words of wisdom to many of the attendees. Then, after Pfeiffer retired in October, “she sent me a very nice email, giving me another laundry list of things that she knows that I can accomplish,” she said.
Arguably, Pfeiffer had an even greater impact in leading by example. “It’s a testament to Anne’s quiet leadership and influence how many women took inspiration from Anne,” said Faxon. “She was running the biggest fund of them all.”
Pfeiffer is survived by her mother, Elizabeth Shultz; her husband Paul; her children Christof and Kirsten; and granddaughter Lily. In lieu of flowers, Pfeiffer’s family requested that donations be made to the New York Common Pantry, The Susan B. Anthony Project or Women for Women International.