Martin Seol, the head of Asia at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Real Estate Principal Investments, has resigned from his position, bringing an end to his three-year term in charge of the regional platform.
The 18-year real estate veteran is to officially leave at the end of July but will take a non- compete period of time away from the firm from the end of this month, he told contacts and associates. After that, he will look to make a return to the real estate sector.
Seol told PERE: “I want to continue down that road but I’m not in an extreme rush and I’m also watching how the Asia market is evolving right now.”
He was appointed head in early 2009 following the resignation of predecessor Tim Grady shortly after Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch and shortly after Merrill Lynch closed its $2.65 Merrill Lynch Asian Real Estate Opportunities Fund.
He led the platform during a turbulent period for it, the fund and its investors. In the wake of the merger, the platform was put up for sale, a process than lasted the best part of a year. The bank was also accused by the fund’s investors of performing actions related to the fund that were considered non-fiduciary.
That episode ultimately resulted in Bank of America Merrill Lynch agreeing a $650 million settlement with the investors and the transfer of its general partner and management responsibilities of the fund to The Blackstone Group. Through all of that, Seol and his team focussed on stabilising its 100-plus property portfolio against a backdrop of falling valuations brought about by the global financial crisis, a process Seol said took the best part of two years.
During that time, Seol reported to Doug Sesler, formerly global head of Real Estate Principal Investments, before Sesler left in April 2011. From then on, he reported directly to Jim Forbes, head of the bank’s Global Principal Investments business which includes private equity and lending divisions.
Having taken on the leadership of the troubled fund prior to the handover to Blackstone, Seol helped oversee the transition to Blackstone and sat on an advisory committee for the fund as it sought to recapture value and sell assets. Many of the assets in China, Korea and India have since been sold although the fund is understood to still have investments to divest in Japan.
He was also overseeing Merrill Lynch’s original equity investment into the fund of approximately $800 million in addition to the divestment of approximately $1.5 billion of core and core-plus real estate investments that were deemed not opportunistic enough to be transferred into the fund. It is understood that approximately $1 billion of those assets have been sold to date.
Seol would not comment on speculation that the fund was today on course to return between 70 cents and 80 cents on the dollar but he said: “Compared to other 2007 vintage opportunity funds, this fund will likely be above average in its ultimate recovery due to profits made in the China and Korea portfolios. However, anything less than 1x [equity] should never be considered good no matter what happens in the market. From LPs perspective, we are paid to foresee macro-events and navigate through the market.”
He added: “The past three years have been most troublesome but also the best learning experience for me and I’m hoping to utilise that experience wisely down the road. I’m glad I stuck around and dealt with everything that was thrown at me. It was the right thing to do for the LPs.”
To read prior PERE coverage on the saga of the Merrill Lynch Asian Real Estate Opportunities Fund and its platform, click here.