Robert Ginsberg treads lightly on international affairs. Ginsberg, who heads the debt restructuring practice at real estate investment bank Eyzenberg & Company, is wary of lost in translation mishaps.
“(In) large transactions with foreign capital sources, we’d have people on the phone who we thought understood basic components of what we’re describing about properties and the prospects of capitalization. Later on, we realized they did not understand that. It’s remarkable how people often assume that the person they’re speaking with understands what they’re saying. But it turns out, particularly when there’s a language difference or there’s a translator involved, those can be missed,” he said.
“Language can be a problem if not properly managed. So you have to communicate very clearly so that you keep your interests understood and you don’t head into a mistaken direction. That’s an important part of managing foreign capital investments in the US.”
Ginsberg, who’s worked all sides of a real estate transaction, from loan workouts to development, sees the enduring appeal of New York City to foreign investors.
“I’m fairly active in trying to find foreign capital for real estate deals. What I see is, Korean capital seems to be the lowest cost capital that has an appetite for core types of transactions, both in primary locations in trophy properties and, in some cases, even in tertiary properties. There’s a little bit of a tolerance for less than core trophy properties,” he said.
“I also see Chinese investors continue to come in large volumes with much more attraction to either trophy properties, because there’s great pride in owning those properties, or risky transactions where there’s an appetite for higher returns. There’s definitely foreign capital availability.”
Ginsberg’s work as an emissary to foreign capital is just the latest segment of a career with many titles and areas of expertise.
In a previous life, Ginsberg was an investment banker on Wall Street. Later, he morphed into a bankruptcy lender for general corporate bankruptcies. He then started a real estate career by accident.
“I had not planned to go into real estate. I was working for Republic National Bank. Then, Edmond Safra, a very well-known multi-billionaire, who was the major shareholder of Republic National Bank, called me into his office one day and asked me if I could work on a very small real estate transaction. I wasn’t even in the real estate group. It turns out, that small real estate transaction he wanted me to work on was Canary Wharf,” he said.
Ginsberg was involved in Canadian real estate developer Paul Reichmann’s return to Canary Wharf in London in 1995. Reichmann, who passed away in 2013, built Canary Wharf in the 1980s. He lost it to lenders in 1992 as his firm, Olympia & York, plunged into bankruptcy. He bought back the property with partners such as Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, Laurence Tisch’s Loew’s Corporation and Safra.
“My introduction to real estate was a billion dollar acquisition that was happening at breakneck speed,” he said.
“My role was helping understand the economic (details) of the transaction and helping structure it. Actually, at the last minute, one of the lenders who helped finance the acquisition fell away and I had to put together a quick $300 million loan with another lender to fund the acquisition that was taking place in two or three weeks. It was really trial by fire.”
Almost 22 years afterwards, he hasn’t budged. He’s sampled the variants of the real estate business. Yet, he’s stayed within its confines.
Before joining Eyzenberg last September, he worked as the director of acquisitions for Chicago firm Kaufman Jacobs. Prior to that, he had stints with Torchlight Investors and NGKF.
He also worked as a developer and real estate investor, which gave him the lesson of working out his own distressed loans in 2009 and 2010. All of this, he said, has given him a unique insight on the debt restructuring business.
“All contributed to my understanding of the business world, which is crucial. Not just understanding real estate, but how deals are structured,” he said.