Robert: stepping aside to ensure ‘stability’ at JER

The founder of JE Robert Companies, who has undergone treatment for brain tumours, appointed former Starwood exec Barden Gale as CEO so there would be ‘no questions’ about his health and the leadership of the firm. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. I just have a new and very exciting job supporting [Gale] and his team,” he told PERE.

Joseph Robert is stepping aside from the day-to-day running of his real estate investment firm to prevent questions from being raised about his health and the leadership of the company.

The founder of JE Robert Companies, who formed the McLean, Virginia-based firm in 1981, told PERE the appointment of Barden Gale as chief executive officer was “first and foremost” a response to his recent treatment for brain tumours.

Robert underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment in February after growths were discovered. He was back working full-time at the firm within three days of his surgery – and sending his first email within six hours of his operation. In May, Robert’s clinical team said he had made an “absolutely outstanding response to treatment thus far”.

However, speaking as Gale’s appointment was announced, Robert said his illness was “very serious” and the need for regular hospital treatments was a “distraction” the firm should avoid. “After 28 years, it’s time for new leadership,” he said. Robert will become executive chairman.

JE Robert Companies, the parent company of private equity real estate firm JER Partners and the real estate investment trust JER Investors Trust, has experienced a raft of personnel changes over the past six months including the departure of president and global chief operating officer Michael Pralle after an 18-month tenure and the loss of European president Malcolm Le May in February.

Robert said he decided in early March to “replace” himself as chief executive officer, just as Pralle was departing the firm for personal reasons.

“I have a very serious illness. It was important that we send a message to the investment community that has supported us all these years that there should be no questions about my health with regard to the relationship between them as investors and us as custodians of the assets that are invested on their behalf.

“I didn’t want anyone to worry that I would not be in as good a shape as I needed to be or be here. It was also critically important for the employees and partners of the firm that there be a stability factor.”

Gale, former vice chairman of real estate at Starwood Capital, will take over the day-to-day running of JE Robert Companies, while Robert will support him as executive chairman helping set “corporate strategy and structure and in building relationships with investors and business partners”, according to a statement.

“I don’t plan on going anywhere. [Gale] will run the company and I will be here to support him and has team in any way they see fit,” Robert added.

JE Robert Companies is currently focused on managing its assets – something Robert said every responsible firm had to do. “If you are in the investment business and have been investing money in the last few years that means you have challenges. We are no different and we are very focused on those challenges today as every other responsible firm is.”

Under Pralle’s direction, JE Robert Companies had expanded into emerging markets, particularly Latin America. Robert said though when the global financial and real estate markets “came crashing down we had whole new view on expanding in [them]”. He added the company was now looking to “maximize the recovery and returns” on existing investments, and to look to “opportunities as they come down the line”.

Gale will start at JE Robert Companies on July 15. Robert said he was concentrating on his own “new and very exciting job” as executive chairman, supporting Gale and his team, “wherever they decide to take the firm”.

Read more on Gale's appointment by clicking here.