Jotham Sederstrom Jan. 26, 2010, 7:55 p.m.
Long before hedge funds were the household names they are today-or the pariahs they’ve become in some quarters-Cynthia Wasserberger was carving a promising if unintended niche in an unfamiliar market.
Fifteen years after her first series of deals for the so-called Tiger Cub spinoffs of the once powerful Tiger Fund, Ms. Wasserberger has emerged as one of the most reliable brokers to the hedge fund industry, both in good times, bad times and, certainly, right now.
With 10 hedge fund deals inked last year alone-including, nostalgically, a series of spinoff groups-the Jones Lang LaSalle managing director insisted that the demise of the hedge had been greatly exaggerated. “Last year, we saw a lot of people leave the bigger shops,” said Ms. Wasserberger of the ever-changing hedge fund market. “Those sort of rainmakers were leaving and spinning off, and taking very good track records with them, but trying to hang their own shingle and start anew. So that’s a big part of what we saw in 2009.”
But for Ms. Wasserberger, 2009 didn’t simply mark the return of the hedge. It was also a year in which the broker inked corporate-headquarters deals despite economic uncertainty, boundless competition and a demanding roster of clients. In short, said the broker, it was a typical year.
“It was a year for providing a lot more research and information when sometimes that information was scarce,” recalled Ms. Wasserberger. “Our community thrives on deals completed and market velocity, and without that to back up a lot of questions, it was difficult at times to be able to advise tenants as to where the market might be or was headed. It was challenging-but it always is.”
Even so, such obstacles did little to stop Ms. Wasserberger. Among her most notable deals of last year was the 64,788-square-foot lease with the engineering firm Syska Hennessy Group at Astor Plaza on Broadway. The firm’s headquarters, which had been located at 11 West 42nd Street since the early 1980s, will now boast LEED certification.
“They’re building the space, and that’s something that was important to them,” said Ms. Wasserberger, 38, who has netted an estimated 400 deals and 4 million square feet in commercial transactions since joining JLL in 2002. “We tried to give them all of their goals, including the economic ones, which were very, very pressing.”
Not one to waste time, Ms. Wasserberger also started 2010 with a bang. Earlier this month, in fact, she and members of her team inked a 15-year lease on behalf of property owners at 777 Third Avenue, where cosmetics company Avon intends to relocate its corporate headquarters. The company, which currently occupies space at 1251 Avenue of the Americas, signed a spacious deal for 246,500 square feet.
As praiseworthy as the transaction is, it represents one in a long line of deals Ms. Wasserberger has done involving large corporate-headquarters moves. To be sure, in 2005, her success at closing complicated headquarters deals caught the attention of colleagues at JLL, who named her the “Local Tenant Leasing Professional of the Year.” A typically modest Ms. Wasserberger was caught off guard when a reporter asked about the coveted in-house award.
“Local Leasing Transaction … Uhh … Uhh. Tenant rep …” said Ms. Wasserberger, before adding, “I’ll get the full name of the award for you.”
Local Tenant Leasing Professional of the Year?
“Yep,” she confirmed, and laughed. “That’s it.”
Armed with a degree in business administration, Ms. Wasserberger bid farewell to her central Florida home in 1993 and headed to New York. After a brief stint at Cantor Fitzgerald, where she worked within a group that assisted banks in their efforts to dispose of problematic loans during the crippling S&L crises, the uprooted ingénue entered the real estate industry in 1995, when she took a job as an analyst at Colliers ABR.
In what could fairly be measured as a New York minute, Ms. Wasserberger quickly turned heads as a result of her role in signing several high-profile headquarters deals on behalf of Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and the M.T.A. Among real estate watchers, all three deals are still considered among the largest lease signings of the time.
“It was actually some of those first deals I ever worked on that paved the way for the work I do now with hedge funds,” said Ms. Wasserberger, who, at that time in her career, represented some of the prime brokerage groups at several major investment banks.
But for all of Ms. Wasserberger’s early achievements, a benchmark that may have been missed by hedge funders-but not by colleagues-was her marriage in 2001 to then Tishman Speyer standout Simon Wasserberger. Their worlds collided, she said, during a prospective transaction that, in the end, fared less successfully than her ensuing relationship with Simon, who currently works at CB Richard Ellis.
“The deal fell through,” recalled the former Cynthia Perry, now a mother of two toddlers. “It was a development deal that didn’t really go anywhere.”
Clearly dust in the wind, the failed deal held little sway a year later when Ms. Wasserberger and a team of more than 10 Colliers colleagues jumped ship and took jobs at Jones Lang LaSalle. Prompted by Peter Riguardi, now head of New York operations for the firm, the poaching was considered a coup by industry watchers. Ms. Wasserberger, however, is modest in discussing what transpired. “In theory, it was all pretty exciting,” said Ms. Wasserberger of the jump. “It was exciting to us, at least. But, again, it turned out to be a very good fit. And I’ve really been happy ever since.”
As for the industry as a whole, Ms. Wasserberger said she wouldn’t change professions for the world.
“It’s a great firm and a great industry because you make it what you put into it,” she said. “If you want to work hard and be dedicated, more often than not it will translate into success, and that’s why I think it’s more or less a limitless career.”