Head of Real Estate Private Credit at Cerberus
Last year's rank: 41
For Neha Santiago, the upheavals of the first quarter of 2022 — notably Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the end of quantitative easing — allowed her to apply an investment expertise that straddles both private market and public market credit opportunities, notably in the single-asset, single-borrower (SASB) space.
“What was pivotal for us is that we had the ability to see the mispricing in the private credit markets through the lens of our investing on the public market side,” Santiago explained. “So we were able to pivot and shift our strategy to focusing on public market securities opportunities where we thought the risk premium had been appropriately priced in, and patiently sit out the private credit markets until we thought they were more appropriately priced.”
The pivot proved fruitful. Santiago’s real estate debt platform at Cerberus closed more than $800 million of whole loan originations in 2022, of which 80 percent served as senior transitional financings, favoring markets that spanned the 50 states — but also international arenas like London — and recession-resilient asset classes such as industrial, multifamily and new student housing developments.
Student housing “tends to be a very
recession-resilient asset class,” Santiago said. “Oftentimes, people find it more compelling in a recession to attend school rather than enter a weak labor market … and there’s often enhanced credit support through parental guarantees of student leases.”
Santiago also placed capital into New York City’s popular residential landscape. Her team originated a $60 million loan for a local sponsor to acquire and redevelop a multifamily project in Manhattan’s East Village. The redevelopment of the site includes upgrading all units in the building, adding a gym, and turning the top floor into a luxury penthouse.
“We really like some of the fundamentals of New York City residential, which continues to be a supply-constrained market,” she noted. “But New York City has been driven by record employment, where we’ve seen a full rebound back to, if not having exceeding, pre-COVID levels [of employment].”
Another highlight has been Cerberus’ diversity initiatives. The firm sponsors the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, a four-week summer course teaching commercial real estate to local high school students; Women @ Cerberus, a professional development and networking platform to support women working at the firm; a women’s golf tournament and gala; and Street Smarts, a series of seminars that explore different pathways into the industry for diverse college students living in California. —B.P.