Starwood Europe COO leaves, forms own firm

Desmond Taljaard, who has been with Starwood Capital for six and a half years and once served as global head of real estate at Hilton International, is branching out with a company of his own called Mildmay Capital to invest in hotel assets across northern Europe.

Starwood Capital Group’s European chief operating officer and head of asset management has called time on his career at the Greenwich, Connecticut-based private equity real estate shop in order to start his own platform, PERE has learned.

Desmond Taljaard, who joined the firm led by Barry Sternlicht in 2006, left last Friday under amicable circumstances following months of working on plans to launch his own investment vehicle.

The spin-off is called Mildmay Capital and will concentrate on making hotel investments across Northern Europe, he said. In the first place, the plan is to raise capital from a small number of family offices that he has established contacts with over a 20-year career.

Taljaard is particularly well-known in European hotel investment circles having served as global head of real estate at Hilton International for eight years between 1995 and 2003. He left the hotel group in order to become property director at UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s where he stayed until 2004 before joining UK listed leisure company, Whitbread, as merger and acquisition development director.

When he joined Starwood, he was one of two heads of Europe. The other was Sean Arnold, head of European acquisitions, who left in 2011 in order to start Crosstree Real Estate Partners with The Blackstone Group’s UK investment head, Nick Lyle.  

Since joining, Starwood has grown its team in Europe considerably amid an increased focus with Jeffrey Dishner, the company’s senior managing director and global head of real estate acquisitions and debt investments, relocating to London in 2011.

In recent times, Starwood has raised a European debt fund under a new platform called Starwood European Real Estate Finance (StarFin), which is publically traded. It also recently took over LNR Property for $1 billion in cash on behalf of its latest opportunistic real estate fund, Starwood Distressed Opportunity Fund IX. LNR is a US distressed debt manager that has a European operation, thus boosting Starwood’s chances of successfully bidding on loan portfolios in the region.

Taljaard had been looking to exit the company for many months but had chosen to leave only after Starwood’s completion of the £360 million (€421 million; $547 million) acquisition of UK-based hotel, conference and training centre company, Principal Hayley Group, from majority owner Lloyds Banking Group. Completion of the deal took place on February 27.