Q&A: Brian Ward, CEO of Trimont Real Estate, at CREFC Miami
Keynote speakers on the first two days of the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council’s January conference in Miami opined pointedly about the industry’s relentless pace of change—both speakers were real estate outsiders, for what it’s worth. But for Brian Ward, the consummate insider who runs giant management and advisory firm Trimont Real Estate Advisors, it’s steady as she goes. In a chat with Commercial Observer Monday morning, the Atlanta-based CEO pointed out that by choosing business partners carefully, Trimont has steered clear of any potential trouble across turbulent assets classes, from retail to office to multifamily. All it takes to successfully represent properties in more than 20 countries at once, Ward said, is just thinking a little bit ahead of the curve.
Commercial Observer: How have you seen the playing field evolve lately on the investor side?
Brian Ward: We’re seeing a diverse set of global capital providers in the debt and equity space. Our clients tend to be in the nonregulated capital sector: private debt, private equity. We represent a lot of large private equity funds, as well as some banks.
How does the experience of working with a bank differ from working with an alternative lender?
Banks, we believe, will focus more on borrower-oriented [analysis.] Banks tend to lend to a person, not to a deal. But the growing emergence globally of alternate capital sources is playing out everywhere. For Trimont, we’re known to do the harder stuff. There isn’t a fact pattern we haven’t seen before. We’ve run over 22,000 investments in 62 countries, up and down the capital stack.
What are you priorities for the coming year?
A continued focus on people, process, and…technology systems. It is my belief as a real estate services firm that we are less in the real estate business and more in the information business. A critical piece of what we do is helping our clients always get an independent, nonbiased, nonconflicted source of information and analytics that helps them make better decisions.
How is your work split among asset classes?
For us, multifamily is probably our largest, and it seems to be clicking along very well. I would guess that our sub-performing or nonperforming assets in multifamily is less than one-half of 1 percent.
A lot of speakers here have commented on the pace of change this year, in retail and shared office space, for example. How do you stay ahead of the curve?
We’re trying to help our clients with the unknown unknowns. It varies from client to client. You’re bound to get information being the largest construction manager in the world [that will be helpful to other clients]. We do that without ever sharing confidences. But there’s always too much information. As the CEO, my job is first and foremost to be constantly defining the vision and continually clarifying that and messaging that and figuring out ways to empower our people to execute on that.