Cohen & Steers, a New York-based specialist manager of real-estate investment trusts, has hired Stephen Kenneally in Hong Kong as executive director, responsible for the firm's Asia business outside of investment and research.

Kenneally, a native of Australia, has been in Hong Kong for five years, most recently running North Asia business development for First State Investments, where he helped that firm forge a China joint venture with Cinda Asset Management.

He left First State in December 2005 amid a reshuffle to pursue new interests, with a view to stay in Hong Kong's investment community but move to a boutique environment. He has been working in an unofficial capacity for Cohen & Steers since then and has now come on board full time to drive its regional business.

Cohen & Steers was founded in 1986 by two partners, Martin Cohen and Robert Steers, as specialist managers with a focus on real estate securities. In two decades the firm has emerged as a NYSE-listed boutique with $33.6 billion of assets under management.

Its clientele is largely from the US and Japan, so Kenneally will be responsible for building a base of institutional clients in Asia ex-Japan. He reports directly to Martin Cohen and Robert Steers.

"Many institutions in the US consider real estate as an asset class," Kenneally says. "In Asia, most institutions are too small to make segregated accounts in direct property exposure, so a Reit portfolio would suit this need."

The firm opened doors in Hong Kong in 2005 under Derek Cheung, formerly of HSBC Securities, who is also titled executive director. Cheung oversees reseach and investments with a five-strong team of professionals - a team that is slated to grow further this year. Today the Hong Kong team manages over $2 billion of assets.