Michael Zerda, head of US investment firm Blackstone’s European real estate debt business, is to rejoin his former employer LaSalle Investment Management to lead its European debt and special situations platform, Real Estate Capital can reveal.
He will work closely with Amy Klein Aznar, who currently leads the platform and who will take on the newly created role of executive chair of the business.
Zerda will make his return to LaSalle’s debt business during the fourth quarter of the year. He left LaSalle to join Blackstone Real Estate Debt Strategies in 2016 after having worked alongside Klein Aznar on the build-up of the debt and special situations business since 2009. The two have a long-term working relationship, having also worked together from 2005 to 2008 at the London-based global principal investments division of the US investment bank Merrill Lynch, now Bank of America.
Zerda will take on Klein Aznar’s current role as LaSalle’s head of debt investments and special situations. When he rejoins the company, Klein Aznar will transition to the newly created role of executive chair for the same unit.
According to Klein Aznar, her decision to change roles was driven by the personal desire to make time to devote to her family’s business interests. “I really enjoyed the whole creation of this exciting business, which has grown hugely over the years but, at this point in my career, I took the decision to move to the executive chair role to reduce my day-to-day operational responsibilities and free up some time for some family business interests that I would like to get involved in,” she told Real Estate Capital.
“I am very fortunate that, together with LaSalle, we were able to create this new role where I can maintain my involvement in the business and, as part of that, bring back Michael Zerda to step into my shoes as the head of the debt and special situations business, which is also coming full circle because he was there creating the business with me back in the beginning,” she added.
Klein Aznar said that, as executive chair for the debt division, she will remain closely involved in investment strategy and decision making, client relationships and communication. She will also serve on the debt and special situations investment committee and continue to meaningfully co-invest in current and future investment vehicles.
Working closely with her, Zerda will be responsible for overseeing the manager’s existing multi-strategy debt business of more than 30 professionals. The business spans senior debt, mezzanine and high-yield lending strategies. He will also grow its special situations and value-add equity strategies, the company said in a statement seen by this publication.
This particular focus on further expanding LaSalle’s special situations and value-add equity strategies is, according to Klein Aznar, related to the current market environment. “Since we successfully launched our first special situations fund in 2010, we have heavily focused on our debt business,” she said. “We want now to focus on expanding our special situations and value-add equity strategies because we think this is the correct time in the market.”
The appointment of Zerda comes at a time of growth for the platform. Over the past decade, LaSalle’s multi-strategy debt business has grown significantly with total investor commitments totalling nearly €6 billion, including more than €2 billion of dry powder for investment across its active mandates, which include LaSalle Real Estate Debt Strategies, LaSalle Residential Finance, LaSalle Whole Loans Strategies and Special Situations.
The firm’s fourth fund in its flagship European real estate mezzanine series, LREDS IV, is expected to hold its next closing later in the year at around €900 million.