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August 12, 2016  

CREFC Taps Pendergast as Executive Director

Four months after ousting its top administrative officer, the CRE Finance Council is turning over the reins to Lisa Pendergast, a well-respected industry veteran.

Pendergast, a Jefferies managing director and a longtime active member of CREFC, was chosen this week after a wide-ranging search that attracted applications from almost three dozen candidates. Her selection completes the association’s new management team, following the early April hiring of lobbyist Mike Flood for the No. 2 position.

The duo is replacing chief executive and president Stephen Renna and executive vice president Stacy Stathopoulos, who were abruptly dismissed in late March. The replacements have different titles, which are more in line with the traditional nomenclature of trade associations. Pendergast, who starts next month, will be executive director. Flood is deputy executive director. As full-time association employees, they will implement strategies determined by the industry executives on the group’s board of governors.

The search for an executive director, run by Ferguson Partners, considered both real estate executives and trade-association professionals. The field was initially narrowed to about 10 candidates and then to about five finalists. Candidates who made it to the later stages included Rick Coppola, the former head of real estate transactions at TIAA; Kim Diamond, who formerly held top structured-finance posts at S&P and Kroll; and George Miller, the former head of the American Securitization Forum.

The trade group didn’t specify a reason for the departures of Renna and Stathopoulos, but people familiar with the matter cited complaints from staffers and members about Renna’s management style. Stathopoulos was viewed as his close ally.

Renna’s background was trade-group management, rather than real estate. In its search, the association’s eight-member transition committee concluded that Flood, who previously worked at multiple trade groups, provided enough expertise in that arena. It then turned its focus to a pro with hands-on real estate experience and enough knowledge of the issues to testify on Capitol Hill and interact with regulators effectively. “It was an industry person’s job to lose,” said one insider.

For the transition committee, another prerequisite was strong “people skills,” given the need to bridge differences that frequently arise in a group whose membership includes buy-side and sell-side operations with conflicting goals.

On both scores, Pendergast rated high. She has a lengthy background in the industry, including stints at RBS and Prudential Securities, and developed a reputation for collegiality while playing an active role in the association over the years. “She’s respected enough that she can handle the tough situations, and people will still respect her,” the insider said.

Greg Michaud, chairman of CREFC and head of real estate finance at Voya Investment, said: “I am happy that we are bringing on someone with institutional knowledge of CREFC and deep understanding of the commercial real estate debt markets. I believe that we now have in place someone who can effectively communicate to regulators and the many constituents that make up CREFC.”

Pendergast has spent about 10 years on CREFC’s board of governors. In mid-2010, she was elected to a one-year term as president of the executive committee — then the group’s top non-administrative post. That position, now called chairman, is filled on a one-year basis by senior industry executives.

Pendergast resigned this week as the New York-based head of commercial MBS strategy and risk at Jefferies, where she worked for seven years. In that position, she provided analysis and commentary on commercial real estate credit fundamentals and relative values in the structured-product markets.

From 2001 to 2009, Pendergast worked at RBS, where she was a managing director and head of CMBS strategy in the fixed-income strategies group, based in Greenwich, Conn. From 1987 to late 2000, she was a research analyst at Prudential in New York, eventually becoming head of CMBS research.

Pendergast will be based in CREFC’s New York office, but plans to frequently work at the association’s Washington headquarters.

In an interview yesterday, Pendergast said one of her top goals is to help the group fully integrate the new members it has added over the past few years. The group has made a concerted effort to expand its membership beyond its traditional CMBS focus to reflect the broader commercial real estate debt market, including portfolio lenders and fund shops.

“Now that the tent has grown, the goal is to make sure that we serve all of our members in their focus areas, while also ensuring each of those groups of members is aware of what’s going on in other sectors,” she said. “The focus will change to the extent that we will be more reflective of the membership than we have been in the past.”

She added that she would seek to increase the distribution of analyses, reports and information to members about changes in the industry. “I want CREFC to be a key resource of information for our members, be it on regulatory issues, commercial real estate and multi-family fundamentals, or macro market developments that impact real estate values and the availability of debt capital,” she said.