He doesn’t have to think long when asked to name his favourite cities: New York City, Tokyo, and Mexico City, which appeal to him as both a property professional and a tourist. Precisely in that order. Ulrich Dischler lived in the Big Apple for nearly four years, in Zurich for almost two years, and in Singapore for another three years. However, the southeast Asian city state didn’t make it into his top three. “Cities have more than functions; they also have a look. The aesthetic of buildings in a cityscape is important to me,” says Dischler, Head of Asset Management International at Union Investment Real Estate GmbH, adding that even an international property investor who handles billions in a fiduciary capacity for his clients shouldn’t neglect this aspect. “Property should also be a feast for the eyes,” emphasises Dischler, who heads the nine-person international asset management team in Hamburg with two branches in Singapore and Madrid. Dischler was born in Hamburg in 1968, and with no early indications he would become a globe-trotting property professional responsible for filling current 34 commercial properties valued at €5.3 billion in eight countries in the Americas and Asia and on the Iberian Peninsula. He began his professional life in Hamburg as a graduate in banking and business administration. After that came an international MBA in New York City, London, and Paris. Ulrich Dischler, who is active in the trade association RICS, says that random chance early in his career – when he joined the commercial real estate financing department at his first employer – turned out to be good luck for him: “I immediately liked working in real estate. Because it can be experienced physically and represents something permanent in an increasingly fast-changing world.”
Ulrich Dischler, Bankkaufmann, Betriebswirt, TRIUM Global Executive MBA (New York City, London, Paris). Mitglied der Branchenverbände RICS und ULI. Mehr als 20 Jahre Erfahrung als Topmanager in führenden Unternehmen der Real-Estate- und Finanzindustrie. Seit 2009 Leiter Asset Management International bei der Union Investment Real Estate GmbH.
Intensive cultural training as a basis
Dischler worked in management positions as a fund initiator in Hamburg and as head of transaction management for core properties in Zurich and New York City until 2009. By the time the Lehman bankruptcy gave rise to the property and financial crisis, he had many years of experience with the US property market. Dischler, as a conservative property professional, had always kept his eye firmly on the long-term potential for increasing value and on future uses for properties. That philosophy made it easy for him to move to Union Investment in 2009 – even if the market sentiment at the time was “more than cautious”. Dischler points out that “at that time Union Investment already had a good, broadly positioned business in the Americas – not just in the USA, but also in Canada, Mexico, and Chile. For me, being asked to head the Americas asset management unit offered a good opportunity for further development with a larger team.” But just ten days after he joined the company, Union Investment offered him a new challenge to tempt him to the other side of the world: the same position with similar duties but with responsibility for Asia instead of the two American continents. Dischler was fascinated by the idea that from one day to the next he was being transferred so he could manage a portfolio of properties worth billions in Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, and later also Australia. Union Investment had already established a small but top-notch asset management team in Singapore, so Dischler was able to get right to work in 2009. Before moving to his new post, he completed intensive cultural training to establish a basis of knowledge. There are great cultural differences within Asia. The Japanese like to ensure that all formal requirements are fulfilled, while Malaysians are much more pragmatic. “Politeness and respect are extremely important everywhere,” explains Dischler, who considerably enhanced his feel for cultural subtleties during his three years in Asia. Dischler is now an expert in getting along well in different cultural, legal, and linguistic areas and can often intuit the proverbial wishes of his tenants – since he knows what makes users in different countries and cultures tick.
Major tenants have an opportunity for direct discussion with him at least once a year. External local property managers collect suggestions, requests for changes, or complaints during the year. “Our tenants’ business is changing very fast, along with requirements for the spaces. Therefore, communication directly with us or the property managers on site is very important in allowing us to be proactive,” says Dischler.
Impressive track record in letting office space
The mixture of internal asset management units, which operate from Hamburg and the international branches, and local external experts has proven to be a model for success. The result is an impressive track record in letting office space: international asset management, teamed with the external partner Metzler North America, let some 17,300 square metres of office space in the USA and Mexico between January and August of this year alone. Seventeen of the total of 22 leases were for terms of more than five years. The longest terms – in some cases up to 2028 – were for new tenants at the property at 140 Broadway in New York City. Where the choice category of extensions is concerned, Dischler has also racked up a respectable score for the portfolio in the USA and Mexico: “Fourteen companies leasing a total of 15,600 square metres of office space decided between January and August 2016 to stay where they were and extended their leases, five of them well beyond 2021.”
How do office tenants in Seattle and Sydney differ? “Almost all tenants want new office spaces with a modern design. The requirements are similar for international tenants like PwC or Deloitte, whom we serve at multiple locations. The loft style with high, open ceilings is increasingly popular – in all sectors, not just with IT firms,” says Dischler. He adds that there are strong regional differences where criteria for location and extras are concerned. For example, easy access. In Tokyo, an office without a mass transit connection would be a non-starter, while that factor is almost completely irrelevant in Mexico City. Opinions also differ concerning the question of what the building must offer tenants besides office spaces. Asian companies consider an individual company cafeteria to be a sufficient additional service, while premium buildings in the USA must also offer at least individual conference and fitness centres. “Service and lifestyle are far more important in the eyes of our US tenants. We therefore see those markets as a trendsetter for many things that will later become standard in other places,” explains Dischler, well aware that not every local trend will become an international megatrend.
For example, the increased numbers of dogs in American homes. The fact that employees increasingly want to take their pets with them to the office – and are allowed to do so – requires creative solutions: “Our tenant Amazon in Seattle issued guidelines on dogs for its employees, and they even apply to meetings. For that reason, dog walking areas have been installed on the roofs and terraces of some Amazon buildings.”
The range of duties involved in international asset management at Union Investment is very diverse and includes active management of overseas properties along with tenant management. The spectrum extends from modernisation to restructuring in order to maintain value. An example of the latter is the repositioning of the office property at 600 13th Street in Washington D. C., which was successfully relet following a complete refurbishment. “Our five-year plan includes everything that is important for maintaining the value of a property. We are constantly examining the possibility of improving our properties from the viewpoint of sustainability or forming communities of users at the properties.” Positive feedback from tenants is reflected in some impressive numbers: “We currently have 96 percent capacity utilisation worldwide, and over 97 percent in the USA. An excellent result for which our teams in Hamburg and Seattle love to develop creative ideas and take advantage of every type of leverage.” Only then is Dischler satisfied with what has been achieved.