The bright lights of the global institutional real estate community are not shining as brightly. I received news late today (Thursday) that Erwin Stouthamer, founder and CEO of Composition Capital has died. Erwin and I were friends so this is particularly upsetting.
In 2004, when I first started traveling to Europe, to scope out whether it made sense to launch The Institutional Real Estate Letter in Europe, I met Erwin He was then Director of International Real Estate with MN Services (Dutch Metalworkers Union) in The Hague. He was also chairman of INREV, the European Association of Non-listed Real Estate Vehicles. If you read Erwin's biography on the Composition Capital website, it talks about his business accomplishments.
In 2005, Erwin struck out on his own and formed Composition, a global real estate fund of funds. I remember seeing him shortly after he launched the company. He told me that he had just rented a one-room office space and was having trouble getting the phone hooked up. Sometimes it's the simple things that we take for granted. Over the years, Composition grew to manage a €2 billion global equity portfolio managed for several institutional clients – not bad right?
But more than his professional accomplishments, Erwin was a sincere and thoughtful friend. When you saw him, chances are he had a big smile on his face. That's the way he was. Over the years, as my career and life evolved, when he asked me: “How are you doing?”, I knew he really meant it.
Erwin was a very involved and well-respected member of the industry. He continued being active in INREV as a member of the Management Board. At one point he was chairman of AFIRE (Association of Foreign Investors in (US) Real Estate.
Erwin Stouthamer was also a fun guy, to hang out with at events, to share a meal with and to talk, which he loved to do, about the real estate industry.
In 2006, IREI (Institutional Real Estate Inc.) held it's first Editorial Advisory Board Meeting in Europe. There were 12 pension funds/fund of funds consultants and 12 managers. After having spent two years getting sponsors for the publication I knew we had this one chance to prove that IREI offered a worthwhile proposition. The trademark of the Editorial Advisory Board Meeting is it's privacy and it's openness. But, as I had learned, many Europeans are shy about talking about things in a formal setting. I was concerned.
Then, the night before the start of the meeting, I had an idea. The next morning, just before the start of the event, I pulled Erwin aside.
“I need your help, Erwin. When we ask the first question for general discussion, would you 'volunteer' to be the first one to speak?”
“Of course,” he said without a moment of hesitation. And that's how it went. He spoke first which opened up the dialogue and made everyone else feel comfortable. It was a very special moment – and I always told Erwin how grateful I was to him. Erwin was a humble man. Yes, he proved to himself that he had that entrepreneurial spirit but he never took the success of Composition Capital for granted and never had a big ego about it.
I'm feeling very sad now and needed to share this with you. I know it's been more than a month since I last published, and I have been working on a column to be published tomorrow. But, this was special. Erwin was a special guy. There's one less light shining in The Netherlands tonight. So long Erwin. I was glad to know you.
Steve Felix is co-founder of Felix/Weiner Consulting Group, a behavioral presentation coaching specialist and former a investment professional at Aviva Investors, the investment management business of UK insurer Aviva.