Meridian Capital’s Drew Anderman Never Bet That He’d Be Arranging Debt

Drew Anderman traveled a long and winding path to Meridian Capital Group. It all started with the formation of a Tex-Mex eatery.

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“Baja” was the name of Drew Anderman’s high-end take on a Tex-Mex eatery.

SEE ALSO: Lightstone Nabs $155M Refi for Moxy Chelsea

It was the late 1980s. 

Anderman, 53, now a senior managing director at Meridian Capital Group, was in his early 20s and on his way to earning a Bachelor of Science in industrial management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Like many college students, he was eager and aspirational. 

He grew up in New York’s Upper West Side and returned home routinely while studying. During his trips back, he noticed an appetite among his fellow New Yorkers for high-end Tex-Mex-style food, mixed with an energetic and lively bar and nightlife scene. He also knew young people in Pittsburgh were looking for alternatives to the Steel City’s nightlife offerings. 

Anderman set out with two Norwegian partners—one a Carnegie classmate, the other a close friend of said classmate but a student at West Virginia University—to deploy the concept in Pittsburgh. (No, the menu wasn’t Scandi-Mex, or anything that married Northern European to Central American cuisines. Just a diverse trio of owners.)

“Maybe it was us being crazy and young, but we had this idea and we decided to roll the dice,” he said. 

He and his two partners arranged a few hundred thousand dollars for their endeavor; it was a harbinger to his current role at one of the country’s most dominant mortgage brokerage houses. 

The restaurant opened in the spring and enjoyed success early on, but it didn’t make it through the first year. 

“We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, so for a while it was great, and then, like a lot of restaurateurs who don’t know what they’re doing, we hit a wall,” he said with a laugh. 

Sure, it was one of those youthful learning experiences. But it also set the stage for Anderman’s approach to risk-taking in the coming decades. When he found something intriguing and exciting, he’d seize on the opportunity and tally the payoff in terms of knowledge gained. All this would lead to his ascendance to one of Meridian’s debt and equity heavyweights. 

Anderman, who joined Meridian in 2014, shares an office with a few senior members of his team of seven debt and equity professionals. He sits facing a pane of glass, looking out over a bullpen where a couple of junior members sit, working hurriedly. 

His general demeanor is that he appears rushed, that is, until he sits down with you on dedicated, reserved time. To him, time is money, and it’s the most valuable commodity. 

“He tells you the good, the bad and the ugly and he doesn’t want to waste your time,” said LoanCore Capital’s head of originations, Brett Kaplan. “[Working with him], you know that there’s a high probability you’ll get the deal closed, and he’s good at getting a client to the table, bringing both sides together to negotiate.”  

While you may not find Anderman’s name trumpeted on Meridian’s website—and he may not even be the first brokerage name that comes to mind when you think of the most flamboyant and extravagant personalities in New York—the “charming but aggressive” Anderman and his team quietly surpassed $3.5 billion in deal volume last year. 

Where you will find Anderman is in his element: his work, and everything that comes with it—from client lunches and dinners to celebratory team outings. No surprise, one of his favorite activities is eating out, finding the next best venue to enjoy with his wife and two kids or to share with a client. 

He’s the son of two Austrian-born parents; his dad owned and operated a pharmacy in Manhattan and his mom worked at the Metropolitan Opera. Anderman grew up skiing in Austria and across the U.S. and remains an avid skier today. He also tries to get in a few matches of tennis in his free time. 

RAL Development Managing Director Stuart Taft met Anderman about six or seven years ago and said he was “introduced to me as one of the more talented debt brokers [in the city] by mutual friends,” Taft said. In April, Anderman and his team lined up about $120 million in construction debt from Bank OZK for RAL’s planned 22-story Union Square Tech Training Development Center at 124 East 14th Street. 

Anderman and his team are known for being versatile, for having experience working in several lending disciplines, and operating across “many different food groups,” Taft said. 

“He’s surrounded himself with very capable people and that allows him to focus on what he needs to do; [Meridian has] a strong platform and he’s able to leverage that,” Kaplan said. In March, LoanCore, teaming with KSL Capital, worked with Drew and his team in arranging $155 million to refinance Lightstone Group’s newly-built Moxy Chelsea hotel at 105 West 28th Street. 

Anderman’s senior team includes senior vice presidents Ben Nevid, who brings development experience from Muss Development; Alan Blank, who’s worked alongside Anderman since around 2005, Blank said; and Josh Berman, who said Anderman has a “memory that is unparalleled in my 13 years of working…He can recall details at the drop of a hat, and he’s hands off. But, when in the life cycle of a deal, when it’s important that he asserts himself, he brings a reassuring and calming voice.” 

Fairstead Capital’s Jeff Goldberg said, “Drew looks beyond [the typical playbook], bringing in insurance companies or lenders you might not have heard of, like regional savings banks that for one reason or another want exposure…They really customize the terms well for deals.” 

Goldberg raved about the execution Fairstead, with partner Blackstone, received in 2015 from Anderman’s team on its $690 million acquisition of a 24-property multifamily portfolio in Manhattan. The joint venture locked in a five-year $592 million loan from Annaly Capital Management for its purchase. 

“We view them as part of our team,” Goldberg said, adding that he now calls on Anderman for things like FHA executions, where he normally wouldn’t use a broker. “Drew’s background gives his team a different level of credibility compared to other brokers. We rely on them heavily. He was recommended to us for [FHA executions], so even there he’s able to add value. Debt is such an important part of your execution that their ability to source and negotiate really sets [Fairstead] apart as a company,” he said. 

Anderman is “a no bullshit guy,” said Square Mile Capital Management CEO Craig Solomon. “He doesn’t “delegate to others…he’s right in the mix.”

Anderman and his team recently brought in Square Mile as an equity capital partner on an over-$200 million position for the bidder in the auction sale of 2.5 million square feet of vacant industrial fulfillment centers coming out of the Toys ‘R’ Us bankruptcy. 

“It was a bankruptcy auction and a complicated deal, transpiring over a two-day period,” Solomon said. “[Drew] did what he does, putting two parties together. This time it was the recapping of the equity. [We] could handle the twists and turns and can be reliable [in a deal like that one]. Drew has a tendency to identify the best fit under the circumstances.”

De Baja a Alta 

It took some time for Anderman to become an ace.

Humbled by the experience with his failed restaurant venture, Anderman returned to New York. It was the early 1990s, and he said he had to “settle back into reality.” 

“I didn’t know what to do at the time,” he said. The economy was unstable, twisting in the throes of the savings and loan crisis that dominated the late 80s and early 1990s, and he said New York City was “upside down…and the political climate, overall, was rocky.”

He turned to Wall Street, thinking that “something” there would prove interesting. He interviewed with a handful of companies and ended up working on the floor of the American Stock Exchange for a short time. 

“I quickly realized it wasn’t for me, working in the trading environment or in the stock brokerage environment,” he said. He made his way into commercial real estate finance by happenstance after meeting “someone who knew someone who was starting something.” 

In his late 20s, he landed a junior position at Transatlantic Capital where he analyzed CMBS deals, learned the fundamentals of real estate finance and every step along the line in turning a mortgage request into an actual loan.

Transatlantic, at the time, was the evolution of the small loan conduit business of Nomura Direct and became the in-house conduit operation of Deutsche Bank. 

After a couple years there, a former Transatlantic Capital coworker introduced Anderman to the founder of a startup, Capital Thinking, and he seized on the opportunity to start their lending group. This was just about a year and a half before the dotcom crash. “The internet was riding high and there were a lot of big ideas and it seemed worthwhile and interesting to try, so I did,” he said.

The startup aimed to streamline the loan origination process for commercial business. “In hindsight, [it] was never going to happen because the commercial business is very different from the residential online mortgage business,” he said. 

After the tech bubble bust, Anderman returned to familiar ground. “I went back to what I knew, which was being a lender,” he said. 

That brought him to CIBC in the beginning of 2001, where he spent just under four years, before moving on to Credit Suisse. At the latter, where he said he “knew a variety of the senior people from previous lives,” the bank was “on the verge of becoming the most dominant force in commercial real estate finance.”

His tenure there was during a peak for the bank, just before the financial crisis, and before “the end, when the market shut down and the group was disbanded, and then over time, we all got weeded out.” 

One deal he was involved with at Credit Suisse helped propel him to his next stop: The bank financed the acquisition of an almost billion-dollar portfolio of mid-Atlantic multifamily assets for Larry Gluck’s Stellar Management. 

“The CMBS market dried up literally as we were closing the loan, but we still got it done,” Anderman recalled. “And to be able to exit the loan, we had arranged the sale of a very senior piece of the loan to Fannie Mae.” 

That deal was Anderman’s first exposure to agency lending. 

As Credit Suisse’s commercial real estate business was being unwound, one of its investments, Column Guaranteed, merged with lenders Green Park Financial and Walker & Dunlop (W&D), forming what is now, together, the renowned multifamily behemoth, W&D. 

With the industry still reeling from the early blows of the crisis, Anderman helped open W&D’s New York office in the first few months of 2009. 

“I went from the CMBS market, which had dried up, to the agency market, which I knew nothing about…but I made a calculated bet that the agencies would keep lending and the multifamily market would remain liquid,” Anderman said. He learned the business and its nuances, but after a few years at W&D, he grew tired of the agency world. 

“I felt that, where I was in my career, I wanted to expand and continue to grow and be more creative,” he said. “I thought I did as much as I could do in that role.” 

Anderman wanted to be part of a dominant entity in New York City, where he felt his range of experience would prosper. He was exploring a move back to Wall Street via a position at Cantor Fitzgerald, he said, driven by notions from his previous connections at Credit Suisse. 

But he suddenly woke up one night and was checking emails when he came across a routine message from Meridian. He got an urge to reach out to the firm’s co-founder, Aaron Birnbaum, who he’d known for around 15 years but hadn’t seen in several months. 

“It sounds like something out of make believe,” Anderman said. “So, I sent him a quick [message]: ‘How’s it going, do you want to meet for coffee and catch up?’ ”

Birnbaum wrote back almost immediately and agreed to meet for a coffee the next day. 

They met at the Four Seasons Hotel and it was “like we had seen each other an hour ago,” Anderman said. To his surprise, Birnbaum already knew that he was considering a change and recommended a place at Meridian. 

“I asked him what he thought about it,” Anderman said. “He said something along the lines of, ‘You’re making a big mistake, going back to being a lender.’ ”

Just a few minutes after his declaration, Birnbaum ended the 20-minute chat to head off for another meeting. “I just couldn’t get that thought out of my head,” Drew said. “So, a day or so later, I emailed him to get together. He emailed me an hour later, saying, ‘I want you to come down and have lunch with Ralph [Herzka] and me.’”

It was just a few days before Thanksgiving 2013. Herzka, Meridian’s chairman and CEO, gave Anderman his take on the brokerage and its growth, and reiterated Birnbaum’s earlier assertion that Drew would be making a mistake by not joining. 

“Ralph is a convincing individual…he said a number of things that resonated with me,” Anderman said.

Anderman was pondering the move as he boarded a flight at JFK on his way to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. He said he was being hounded with messages from both Meridian and Cantor and decided to shut down his phone. 

“When we landed at LAX,” Drew said. “I turned my phone back on and decided at that moment that I was going to join Meridian; we hadn’t even worked out any terms.”

“I was petrified,” he said, with a laugh. “I thought I was crazy to become a mortgage broker and I was going to piss away my entire life.” He resigned from his previous post and started at Meridian in early January 2014, he said. 

Anderman’s first recruit at Meridian was none other than Alan Blank, who he had worked with in his early days at Credit Suisse and who worked alongside him in establishing W&D’s New York presence.

Since joining, Drew and his team have arranged over $14 billion in debt and equity. 

La “Baja” is clearly far behind him.