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Real estate opportunities, risks focus of alumnus visit

Published: 2014-01-23

Fisher alumnus Bob Zerbst

Speaking to students studying real estate, alumnus Robert Zerbst shared his wealth of global expertise while also updating one of the industry’s most often heard and quoted phrases.

“We used to say the three most important things were ‘location, location, location’ -- that’s still important, but today it’s ‘timing, timing, timing,’ ” said Zerbst, chairman emeritus of CBRE Global Investors, one of the world’s largest real estate investment management firms.

Zerbst, who earned an MBA and PhD from Fisher, recently returned from a trip to China to discuss investment opportunities in the United States. He shared with students his insights on the nation’s recovering economy and improving housing market, saying risks in the investment world are largely external -- “pretty much geopolitical” -- during a lunch-and-learn session inside Gerlach Hall.

Zerbst knows something about risks and opportunity in the real estate market, becoming president of what is now CBRE Global Investors in 1997. He served as CEO from 1998-2007 and chairman from 2007-2008, helping to grow the company from a domestic pension fund advisor with $3.7 billion of assets under management to a multi-strategy, worldwide investment organization with a portfolio of more than $42 billion.

“Any real estate strategy has to meet a market need, there has to be some gap in capital or some opportunity in the marketplace you’re trying to capture,” Zerbst said. “Then you have to look at your investors. Investors switch between being exuberant and wanting to take risks to being very conservative . . . so you have to match up the opportunities in the market with what your investors want.”

He currently serves as an independent director and chairman of the compensation committee of Digital Realty Trust; independent director of HF2 Financial Management, Inc. and a member of the company’s audit committee; and chairman of Overseas Investor Services, a firm focusing on supporting the rapidly growing demand of offshore investors for U.S. real estate.

Zerbst was introduced to the full classroom of students by Fisher associate professor and Neil Klatskin Chair in Finance and Real Estate Itzhak (Zahi) Ben-David. Later in the day, Zerbst served as a guest lecturer in Ben-David’s real estate finance class, met with a group of area alumni and with Dean Christine A. Poon and other faculty members about the Center for Real Estate Education and Research.