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Cushman & Wakefield’s Dennis Yeo set to play in the ‘premier league’

Having joined Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) in mid-December last year as chief executive for Singapore and Southeast Asia, Dennis Yeo believes the firm is ready to compete in the “premier league” and become the top real estate services firm in the region.

For now, C&W ranks third among the global real estate advisory firms. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in August 2018, it had a market capitalisation of US$3.86 billion ($5.27 billion) as at June 11, with FY2018 annual revenue of US$8.22 billion.

The world’s biggest and second biggest corporate real estate advisory firms today are CBRE and JLL respectively. The NYSE-listed CBRE had a market cap of US$16.71 billion at June 11, with annual revenue of US$21.34 billion as at end-FY2018. The NYSE-listed JLL, on the other hand, had a market cap of US$6.10 billion at June 11, with annual revenue of US$16.32 billion as at end-FY2018.

Yeo: We are ready to compete in the premier league and become the top real estate services firm in the region (Credit: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

In 1Q2019, CBRE’s total fee revenue made up US$2.43 billion. Meanwhile, at JLL, fee revenue for 1Q2019 was US$1.32 billion. Over the same three-month period from January to March, C&W’s total fee revenue was US$1.37 billion.

The biggest contributor to fee revenue for C&W in 1Q2019 was property and facility management at US$707 million or 51.5% of the total. Leasing contributed US$373 million (27.2%), followed by capital markets with US$191 million (13.9%).

The Asia-Pacific region accounted for US$251 million (18.3%) of C&W’s fee revenue in 1Q2019, and was second only to the Americas, which contributed US$937 million (68.3%). EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) generated US$184 million or 13.4% of total fees in 1Q2019.

‘Untapped potential’

At C&W, Yeo’s focus is on growing the transactional business, namely leasing and capital markets, both in Singapore and Southeast Asia. He intends to position Singapore as “the centre of excellence” for the region in terms of leasing, sales and capital markets.

He is also looking at extending the scope and strengths of C&W Services’ integrated facility services, engineering solutions and energy management to a wider client base across multiple sectors.

Prior to joining C&W, Yeo was the managing director for industrial and logistics at CBRE since September 2015. Before that, he had spent 22 years at Colliers International, where he occupied a number of key positions, from country head for Singapore to executive committee member of Colliers Asia leadership and head of Asia for capital markets, investment services and industrial services.

“I thought I would probably retire in Colliers as I had spent 22 years there,” says Yeo, who is in his mid-50s. “But I found my way to CBRE, where I was looking after the industrial and logistics business for Asia.”

At C&W, what excites him is “the untapped potential”. Says Yeo: “As a full-service real estate company with a regional and global platform, we are well-positioned to offer services and solutions at every point of the real estate cycle.”

He sees opportunity in competing across the entire real estate services platform – be it in brokerage, project and development services or facilities management. “The growth trajectory for our business is strong,” adds Yeo.

Significant capital market deals brokered by C&W included the sale of Ascott Raffles Place Singapore for $353.3 million in January 2019  

Capital market deals

In Singapore, significant capital market deals brokered by C&W included the sale of Ascott Raffles Place Singapore for $353.3 million in January 2019. C&W’s capital markets team led by executive director Shaun Poh acted on behalf of the seller, Ascott Residence Trust Management.

The buyer of Ascott Raffles Place was Cheong Sim Lam or SL Cheong, the developer of several residential projects, including Robinson Suites on Robinson Road. He previously owned 137 and 139 Cecil Street.

C&W also brokered the sale of the office development at 7 and 9 Tampines Grande to a joint venture between Evia Real Estate and Metro Holdings for $395 million in mid-April, followed by the sale of Realty Centre for $148 million a few days later. Realty Centre marked the first commercial collective sale in 2019, and the property was sold to Singapore-listed The Place Holdings.

“If we can harness the capabilities of our Singapore capital markets team with our regional and global infrastructure, it will be very powerful because Singapore is a huge base for outbound capital,” says Yeo.

He points to the likes of ARA Asset Management, Ascendas-Singbridge and CapitaLand, Frasers Property, GIC and Temasek Holdings as Singapore-based entities which have been aggressively acquiring real estate assets and portfolios around the world. “These are some of our clients and it’s a great opportunity for our capital markets team,” Yeo adds.

Market consolidation

Consolidation has been taking place in the real estate services industry, with 12 major merger and acquisition (M&A) deals across the globe in the span of 16 years from 2002 to 2018. (See chart below.)

M&A deals over the years: 2002-2018

Credit: 2019 CBRE Investor Day Presentation, April 2019

Even the C&W of today is the result of an M&A between the firm and DTZ in a deal completed in September 2015.

With consolidation, movement of top executives among the real estate advisory firms has been rampant. Yeo, for instance, replaced former C&W managing director for Singapore, Stephen Saul, who left in 2018 and has since retired. He assumed the position in February 2016. Saul is said to have over 30 years’ experience in the real estate industry, and was previously with JLL, where he was managing director for Korea and New Zealand.

Saul in turn had replaced Toby Dodd, the previous managing director for C&W Singapore, following the latter’s appointment as C&W’s executive managing director of account management for the Tri-State and East Regions in the Americas for Global Occupier Services (GOS).

The GOS business at C&W, whose Asia-Pacific team is based in Singapore, provides advice and solutions to global and regional MNCs across the entire real estate spectrum including transaction management, facilities management and workplace strategy.

In May, C&W announced the appointment of Cameron Ahrens as head of integrated facilities management (IFM) for Asia-Pacific. Prior to joining C&W, Ahrens was with Brookfield Global Integrated Services (BGIS) where he was head of facilities management for Asia. Before that, Ahrens had held senior positions in the occupier business at CBRE and JLL respectively.

“Our regional GOS team partners with MNC occupier clients where C&W is the preferred or sole provider for their real estate needs across multiple markets, whether it’s integrated portfolio management or providing advice on their relocation or expansion on a regional or global platform,” says Yeo. “These global and regional accounts provide downstream business for C&W’s local offices, such as the leasing of commercial or industrial space as well as sale of these spaces.”

Realty Centre marked the first commercial collective sale in 2019, and the property was sold to Singapore-listed The Place Holdings (Credit: C&W)

Developing the ‘hunter instinct’

Beyond relying on GOS to push business to the Singapore and other regional offices, Yeo believes it is important to “hunt for business ourselves” in order to grow the transaction business. He is interested in growing the cross-border business, particularly from Chinese manufacturing companies looking to relocate their factories in Vietnam or other markets in Southeast Asia. “That’s my passion,” says Yeo.

During his tenure at Colliers, he turned the international firm into a leading consultancy in the industrial sector in Singapore. In July 2015, CBRE recruited five of Colliers’ industrial services team, including Brenda Ong who is now CBRE’s executive director for advisory and transaction services – industrial and logistics. In February 2015, a group of three from Colliers’ office tenant representation team led by Marcus Loo left for Savills. Loo was appointed CEO of Savills Singapore in January this year.

Yeo is proud of the talent that he has groomed during his career as a real estate professional. “The business is all about hunting, pitching and winning, and ensuring our clients receive the best service and solution,” he says. He wants to develop and sharpen that “hunter instinct” in the transaction business teams in C&W in Singapore and the region.

Research and analysis have also become an important competitive tool in the industry. C&W beefed up its Asia-Pacific research team with two new appointments announced on June 11. James Shepherd, previously C&W’s managing director – research, for Greater China, will take on the role of head of research for Asia-Pacific. Meanwhile, Dominic Brown will assume the role of head of insight and analysis for Asia-Pacific.

Having been in the industry for close to 30 years, Yeo believes in “looking after our people - the key pillars of our business”. He adds: “We are a service business and it is critical that we continue to provide a conducive and engaging environment so our people stay passionate and committed to delivering their best, which then translates into better outcomes for them, our clients and our business.”

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