CREFC 2022: Trimont’s New CEO Bill Sexton On Sunnier Days Ahead

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Trimont Global Real Estate Advisors appointed Bill Sexton CEO in November 2021, replacing Brian Ward, who had led the company since 2016.

Sexton was promoted after spending three years as president and head of Trimont’s European operations. Commercial Observer caught up with Sexton at the CRE Finance Council annual conference in Miami to learn more about his new role, his move across the pond from England to Atlanta and how the industry is approaching the year ahead. 

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His comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

What is the general sentiment at CREFC’s first in-person annual conference in two years?

I just think generally the industry wants to demonstrate that we can get back to some sense of normality, and it’s nice to see. It’s nice to see people out and about. It’s nice to see people being sensible, but also demonstrating that we are hopefully moving beyond this hiatus we’ve had for the last two years. It’s important for all of us. It’s important for me and it’s important for the people that we work with that we can demonstrate that the world is moving on. And hopefully it is; we just don’t know what is around the corner.

How has the transition to Trimont CEO been for you? 

I feel that it’s still ongoing, in that until I physically make the move to Atlanta to head the office, it’s still a transition. It’s been relatively smooth because I’ve been in this role of running the European business for the last three years. I’ve been sitting in the senior leadership group, so it’s not like coming in as a fresh face. It’s nice to be closer to our people, particularly on the American side of our business, which is important for me. But, it’s an ongoing adventure. 

What is your main goal attending this conference?

I think to demonstrate that Trimont is open for business, and I think that’s true of everybody that is here [with respect to their individual firms]. Everybody that has made it [to Miami] is demonstrating that we want to look beyond what’s happened in the last 21 months and look to the future. I think we want to demonstrate that we are here to serve our clients, and we are looking to the post-COVID world. 

As a service provider, it’s important for us to be seen to be looking to the next 21 months, rather than the last 21 months. We are going to have to move on from what’s happened in the last year and half and look at what’s going to happen as we move into an environment where I think our clients are going to need as much, if not more, help than they ever have ever needed. Commercial real estate credit is getting more complex in terms of how we’re doing things. We’re going into a higher-interest-rate environment and inflation is going to be a challenge for us all wherever you are in the world for the next few years. And so I’d like to sit here with our market counterparts and work out how we’re going to navigate the next two or three years together.

Trimont has a very large commercial mortgage-backed securities special servicing business, which has certainly taken on a more important focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you see the CMBS sector shaping up in 2022? 

I remember for the first six months of COVID, generally, we were trying to navigate what was going to happen because the world was an uncertain place and we were looking at a very changed market. We all thought we were heading into a really distressed market and the truth is that it wasn’t as distressed as we thought it was going to be, and a lot of real estate actually held up pretty well under a lot of global challenges. It wasn’t a financial crisis, it was a medical one and so we ended up in a world where special servicing — which is an important part of our business —didn’t really define who and what we are as an industry to the extent I think we all thought it was going to. 

When I look at credit at the moment, I’d say it’s fundamentally still performing. To be honest with you, I think the crisis —the full fallout of COVID — is yet to happen. We are going to find in the next two or three years that there’s a price to pay for what the policy setters and central banks have done in terms of fixing this problem. They’ve all reacted very swiftly to try and preserve the economic well-being of the globe, but there’s going to be a price to pay at some point..We’ve got challenges ahead and a few changes to come in the next 24 to 36 months. 

In your eyes, what is the biggest concern for the CRE industry entering 2022?

I think from a commercial real estate perspective, the opportunity for investors and lenders is enormous. What we are going to go through in the next five years, it’s going to be the most dynamic [experience] I think I’ve ever seen in 30 years of doing this. And then on top of that you’ve got the financial landscape to navigate in terms of inflation and interest rates rising whilst they’re trying to redefine the built environment. It’s going to be very interesting. I say to my son, who is 25, that he is coming into this industry at a fascinating time, so I tell him to just keep his eyes open and learn.

Andrew Coen can be reached at ACoen@commercialobserver.com