Savills IM names new CEO to drive global expansion

Alex Jeffrey will replace Justin O’Connor, who departed last year, as head of the real estate investment manager.

Savills Investment Management has appointed a new chief executive after a nearly year-long search, PERE has learned.

Alex Jeffrey will join Savills IM, the London-based real estate investment management business of Savills Group, in late 2019 and be based in Singapore. In addition to CEO of Savills IM, he will also become a member of Savills Group’s executive board.

Jeffrey replaces Justin O’Connor, who left Savills IM last year. Nick Cooper will remain chairman of the firm, a role he assumed in January 2018, while Kiran Patel, who has been acting CEO since mid-2018, will continue in his role as chief investment officer and become deputy CEO after Jeffrey joins.

Mark Ridley, CEO of Savills Group, said the search process for a new CEO took about 10 months and had homed in on six internal and external candidates. “We wanted somebody who had the experience in the UK, European and pan-Asian markets,” he said. “They would have been in a leadership position as well. You can see that therefore you will end up with a defined pool.”

Mark Ridley

He added: “The ability to ensure the growth on a worldwide scale for Savills IM was very much part of the attraction and skillset we were needing.”

Ridley said Jeffrey fit the bill on multiple fronts and has had a longstanding relationship with Savills over his career. Jeffrey previously served as head of M&G Investments, and prior to that, CEO of M&G Real Estate. In the latter role, he oversaw the doubling of assets under management of the business from approximately £15 billion in 2012 to more than £30 billion ($38.8 billion; €34.6 billion) in 2018. Before M&G, he was chief investment officer and CEO of Europe for Singapore-based private equity real estate firm MGPA.

In his new role, he will similarly be charged with leading the next stage of Savills IM’s global expansion, after a dramatic growth period in which it saw its AUM surge from £5.6 billion in 2015 to more than £16 billion currently. That expansion has been a combination of both organic growth and selective acquisitions, according to Ridley.

In particular, the Asia-Pacific region “is one of the biggest growth areas and the engine for a lot of future growth for us,” Ridley said.

Nick Cooper

With Savills IM specifically, the platform has three offices in the region – in Japan, Singapore and Australia – and intends to build upon that footprint. “Having someone of Alex’s standing locally, we think that helps demonstrate the commitment that we have to these clients in this region as well,” said Cooper, Savills IM’s chairman.

He added that the manager has also continued to grow its European platform, most recently with the acquisition of a minority stake in real estate debt fund manager DRC Capital last year. “That really added something we weren’t doing – it added a different scope, or an arrow in our quiver – that really gave us something that we could talk to a wider cross-section of people,” Cooper said.  “Now we’re using the DRC business to cross-sell to our Asian clients. We see that as a very important piece of the next stage.”

However, Savills IM has a “fledging business [in the US] at this point in time,” Cooper said. “At the end of the day, we proceed with a bit of caution. The US is quite a difficult place for investment managers. We will certainly do something there, I think it’s one of timing… we have looked and continue to look.”

Savills IM said it does not break down its AUM regionally.