Richard Johnson quits Standard Chartered real estate

In the wake of IstithmarÆs pulling out of a joint venture property fund, Standard CharteredÆs private-equity property investment team loses its CEO.

Richard Johnson has resigned from Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, where he had run its Asian private-equity property fund.

Until recently, that fund had been co-owned and seeded by Istithmar World Real Estate, the investment arm of Dubai World. The venture had been born in late-2006 when Istithmar took a 2.7% stake in Standard Chartered's share capital for $1 billion.

The partnership appears to have broken down, now that the credit crunch has caught up with the Emirati developer. Istithmar has pulled out of the real estate funds JV with Standard Chartered, leaving Standard Chartered to rebrand it as its wholly owned project.

Johnson had been CEO of the real estate investment JV and found himself a direct employee of Standard Chartered about two or three months ago, according to third-party sources. Having been hired to a run a fund whose backers fell out, and with fund raising in stasis, he apparently decided there wasn't a point to staying.

Johnson is not a StanChart veteran; he had previously served as managing director at Istithmar, where he had been responsible for all real estate transactions, financing, strategy and research on a global basis. He moved from Dubai to Singapore in 2007 to head the real estate JV. He has also served as managing director for Asian capital markets at Jones Lang LaSalle.

Another reason for his departure may be that the real estate fund, which covers Asia including Japan, has not been able to raise significant amounts beyond its initial seeding.

Both StanChart and Istithmar had put in over $100 million each, with the aim of scaling up to $1-2 billion -- but not only has fund raising proved difficult in this environment, but Istithmar has reportedly pulled out its seeding as well.

The fund is more opportunistic than core, which may explain why it is struggling to raise money. According to StanChart's website, the fund's managers will "acquire, manage, develop, re-develop, re-position and sell real estate properties and investments throughout Asia, with primary focus on China, India, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore. We seek to invest in both income-producing as well as high-quality development projects across our target markets...

"The fund focuses on investing in mispriced assets, mezzanine loans, and preferred equity deals, ground-up development (urban infill locations), mismanaged assets which require capital investment and repositioning, as well as opportunities in the overlooked sector of medium-sized deals."

The bank's real estate investment team remains otherwise intact, with offices in China, India and Singapore.

Joe Stevens, Singapore-based head of private equity investments at Standard Chartered, did not return calls seeking comment. Calls and emails to the division were not answered.

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