US property investment firm Heitman has hired John White as Melbourne-based lead portfolio manager for its Asia-Pacific real-estate securities business. The property veteran joined in late June to round out the $23 billion manager's plan to have a comprehensive global business.

Chicago-based Heitman has ended its joint venture with Challenger Financial Services, where White was co-head of real-estate securities and helped oversee the Asia-Pacific part of the global portfolio. The firm ended the alliance because it felt it was more appropriate to run the portfolios on a single platform, he says.

This follows a global trend whereby property-investment JVs have been making similar moves to centralise their platforms. Others include Henderson's now-defunct alliance with AMP, AEW Capital Management's with BT Financial Group, and Macquarie ending several of its property-investment JVs to bring operations in-house.

"We recognised that having a single platform was appropriate," White tells AsianInvestor. "Five years ago, when we started looking at managing real-estate securities, there was no real convention to the way global real estate was managed, because the market was evolving. But now firms are taking more of a one-platform approach -- that's where the money is being raised, and my hire is reflective of that trend."

White is the only employee to move from Challenger and he will lead a team of investment professionals in Melbourne, working with Chicago-based Tim Pire, who leads the North American portfolio-management team and London-based Mark Abramson, lead portfolio manager in Europe. 

White is looking to hire three more investment professionals and plans to have them in place by the end of the year. "We've made some progress [on hiring], but there's nothing to announce yet," he says, adding that the imminent priority is also to obtain licensing and regulatory approvals.

Heitman's focus in terms of investment is above all on Japan, Hong Kong/China, Singapore and Australia, but also includes Asia's emerging listed-property markets, such as India and Malaysia, says White.

He did not want to reveal his target in terms of AUM, and would only say that his initial aim is to ensure a successful transition of portfolios from Challenger. "Fund flows will hopefully come from maintaining strong performance," adds White.

Heitman's assets are largely in institutional accounts, says White, with the bulk of Asian assets sourced from Japan. The firm has a marketing and client-servicing office in Tokyo run by Taka Kiura with Skip Schwartz, who also looks after the private real-estate business for the region.

While Japan is likely to remain the primary source of client assets for Asia, White also sees interest emerging in South Korea and Taiwan. "North Asia is pretty active at the moment," he says. "There's a possibility to raise capital within China, but that's very embryonic."

Other offices in the region for both private and public property assets are also envisaged under Heitman's long-term plan.

Most ($16.6 billion) of Heitman's assets are in private real-estate equity, $4.8 billion is in public securities, and the remaining $1.5 billion is in real-estate debt. The bulk of these assets are in North America.