Asia continues to lag other regions for integrating ESG principles with investing; better data and stronger regulatory requirements will help institutional investors, market observers say.
The firm helps its clients optimise the use of their assets from inception, acquisition or construction right through the life cycle. These assets include commercial buildings, hotels, airports, ports, and railways, to name a few.
It serves both in a professional capacity and as a so-called integrator. In its professional capacity, the firmÆs work includes conducting due diligence and serving as project managers and cost managers. As an integrator, the firm brings the stakeholders of the assets together and these include investors, lenders, owners, and other consultants.
ôOur focus, particularly from an investment perspective, is to drive the certainty of returns,ö says Berney, who assumed his post as regional leader for Asia on May 1.
Previously, the business in Asia was led by Alan Brooks, who was a member of the firmÆs board, from his base in London. Berney brings into this new role nearly 20 years of experience within property, construction and business. Most recently, he was the group head of corporate real estate at EC Harris in London.
EC HarrisÆ work involves four key clusters: the public, infrastructure, property and industrial sectors. The expertise of the consultants is varied. ôWe have made sure we have a very strong sector expertise,ö says Berney.
In dealing with hotel-related assets, for example, the firm draws from a pool of professionals who are experts in that line of business, who have worked in the hotel industry, and have run hotels.
In Asia, EC Harris focuses on two areas. One is working with investors who are acquiring assets or a portfolio of assets; typically these are private equity firms or corporates. Another is working with corporates that hold significant property portfolios. The firm works with them in managing their assets, both in terms of capital expenditure and the operational expenditure, and in developing the strategy behind owning those assets.
Hong Kong, where Berney is based, serves as the firmÆs hub in Asia. It also has offices in Singapore, Shanghai, Jakarta and Taiwan.
The firm has been actively doing business in Asia for more than 25 years, particularly in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, where the main opportunities have been coming from. Hong Kong was selected as the firmÆs hub four years ago. It has around 350 staff in Asia and 3,000 worldwide.
ôFrom a strategic perspective, EC Harris is very committed to Asia,ö Berney says. ôWe see it as a growth market and a growth opportunity in the internationalisation of our business.ö
The firm is looking at opportunities in India, where it will likely set up a local presence once it has worked out a strategy for that market, and Vietnam. Sector-wise, there are opportunities in oil and gas exploration, Berney says.
AsiaÆs potential contribution to the firmÆs overall bottom line is expected to be very significant.
ôWe are looking at multiples of profit growth in Asia, more than twice the profit we have now, in about three to four years,ö says Berney.
At the moment, Asia makes up only around 10% of the firmÆs overall bottom line.
BerneyÆs mandate in his newly created role is to ensure growth û particularly in profitability û and establish the brand as a leader in Asia. Having the head of Asia based in the region is certainly expected to improve the firmÆs relationship with existing clients and help it build new ones.
Among the key challenges Berney faces in his role is penetrating new markets and sectors, as well as bringing new skills into the business.
ôFocus is certainly a challenge, itÆs absolutely critical,ö Berney says. ôWhat IÆve outlined is a pretty big agenda.ö
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