June 26th, 2012
By Paul Rosta
Commercial real estate becomes more global every year. Even in an unsettled world economic climate, a broad spectrum of development, investment, consulting and advisory firms are on constant lookout for fresh opportunities. As one of the oldest China hands in the U.S. real estate industry, Portman Holdings L.L.C. has perspective on the strategies required to successfully launch an office in a rewarding but complex market.
One of the first real estate companies to enter China when the country relaxed restrictions in 1979, the diversified Atlanta-based company chose Hong Kong as its first location in Asia. From there, it led the development of landmarks like Shanghai Centre, a 2 million-square-foot mixed-use project completed in 1990.
Three years later, the firm closed its longtime office in Hong Kong and moved its operations to Shanghai in order to be closer to its projects. Today, Portman fields a team of about 30 in Shanghai. The lessons learned from operating in China have helped guide the approach to establishing additional outposts in Asia. Portman opened an office in Mumbai in 1996, and in 2006, the firm established a location in Seoul in order to oversee Songdu Landmark, a master-planned 1,500-acre development.
Late last year, Portman staged a homecoming of sorts and hung out its shingle in Hong Kong for the first time in nearly two decades. The company decided to return to Hong Kong for multiple reasons. A major consideration was that Hong Kong serves as the headquarters for many of its capital partners. Even though it is only a two-hour flight from Shanghai, the company’s leadership wanted its team to have easier and more frequent interaction with those partners.
There is no substitute for more personal contact, observed CEO Ambrish Baisiwala.