In conversation with... Simon Garing
Simon Garing joined Cromwell in December 2017 as Chief Capital Officer. He started his career as an accountant with IBM, then jumped into financial markets with Citibank, becoming an investment manager in the burgeoning LPT (Listed Property Trust) sector in the early 1990s.
Simon’s career has taken him through some of the more storied names in real estate investment banking including BZW, Merrill Lynch and UBS where he was Global Coordinator of REIT Research. He returned to Merrill Lynch in 2010, spending the last four years in Hong Kong as Deputy Director of APAC Research, with oversight of coverage of 1,200 companies. We sat down with Simon to delve into his background, career to date at Cromwell and passions outside of work.
I guess property is in the blood. It was the family business. My grandfather was the first person to import foamed concrete for high rise buildings from Denmark to Australia in the 1950s, and we have always been around property for as long as I can remember. It has always been a focus, and no matter where we go, my wife complains I spend too much time staring into the window of the local real estate agency.
I started as a traditional accountant, crunching numbers at IBM. That was a great grounding but I decided I didn’t want to do another 40 years there. Financial markets seemed the logical step, and LPTs were starting to take off at the time. The combination of markets, numbers and property was the perfect mix.
You moved to Hong Kong in 2013. Why?
I’ve been travelling to Asia for 20 years, and I love the different cultures and how busy and industrious it all is. Hong Kong
is obviously a major financial centre, but it’s also the gateway to a wider Asia. From a professional point of view, the sheer breadth of opportunity is fantastic.
I was also fortunate to see the start of the rise of ‘Asian capital’ firsthand, which is now having such a prominent role in real estate markets around the world. From a personal perspective, spending time in a place like Hong Kong can’t help but broaden your world view. I really enjoyed it.
What attracted you to Cromwell?
I’ve known Cromwell since about 2009 when it was a ‘stock’ our team covered. That’s when I first met Paul [Cromwell CEO Paul Weightman]. Our paths have crossed at different times, and in different countries, since then. I’ve watched with interest as the business has developed and grown.
I like how Paul has always been very clear about putting investors’ interests first, and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. As an Australian, I appreciate that.
I was also attracted to the global orientation, focus on Asian capital and the European platform. It is a clear point of differentiation from all of our local peers. It took courage and conviction to stand out from the crowd and buy a platform in Europe in the first place, but Cromwell has often gone against trend.
When the opportunity arose, it was a conversation I was happy to have. I love that Cromwell is not institutional. It still has the essence of an entrepreneurial business - one that gets things done.
What does a Chief Capital Officer do?
In a nutshell, I am here to help connect our investors, who provide capital, to real estate opportunities across our Australian and European platforms.
With the successful IPO of the Cromwell European REIT late last year, and also the investment in Cromwell by ARA Asset Management, we are really starting to get noticed in Asia. We have a unique ability to connect Asian capital to some compelling investment opportunities.
I’ve also spent a lot of time in bigger businesses with substantial international operations. I know how they work and what they require. I’m working with Paul and the rest of the Executive team to help Cromwell get ready for the next stage of its growth.
Finally, MiFID II, which stands for the second Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, is a bit of arcane legislation, but is already beginning to have a huge impact on financial markets, particularly the provision of investment research. As intermediaries are unable to subsidise research, and clients have to pay for it upfront, the number of stocks being covered is falling.
This is both an opportunity and a challenge. Companies like Cromwell have to work harder to sell their story, but they can also take this story direct to investors, and effectively hold their future in their own hands. I’m really excited about the opportunity that this presents.
What do you do outside of work?
Not enough! I have four fantastic kids, three boys and one girl - aged from 23 to 14 - all of whom I’m really proud of. I love getting on to the water, and racing J/80 sportsboats is a passion. I also cycle, and like most middle-aged men, wear lycra.
I travel a lot, both for work and for pleasure. My mum was born in Denmark and we still have family there, as well as Portugal, Spain, the UK and obviously Australia. We try and do family get togethers reasonably regularly, generally in Europe.
Do you have a favourite destination?
Yes. Northern Italy. When I was with UBS I spent a lot of time in Zurich, and Milan was only a short trip away. The lakes around Como in Northern Italy are fantastic. Great food, wine, beautiful countryside and a great lifestyle. La Dolce Vita!
Lake Como, near George Clooney’s villa? Do you have any stories?
Just one. But it would require at least a bottle of good Italian red for me to tell it.
Thanks for your time, Simon.