If anyone knows the meaning of a 'fixer-upper', it is Gaw Capital Partners. The Hong Kong-based team of siblings Goodwin, Kenneth and Christina Gaw carry on a mission that began in 1995 when eldest brother Goodwin purchased Hollywood’s once-glamorous Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, which had fallen into severe disrepair.
The 26-year-old Mr Gaw’s renovation of the property revived the entire community around it, and the real estate private equity firm went on to expand in US, Asia-Pacific and UK markets, officially taking the name Gaw Capital Partners (GCP) in 2005. Ms Gaw, the youngest of the three, joined the company in 2008 as managing principal and head of capital markets, bringing with her 16 years of investment banking expertise at Goldman Sachs and UBS.
The trio have long been seen as transporters of Asian capital westward, but their funds in Asia are now bringing billions in investment from the US eastward. The firm’s stated mission to add strategic value to under-utilised real estate through redesign and repositioning covers the full spectrum of property sectors: residential, commercial, office, retail hotels, logistics and more.
Since 2005, GCP has raised $8.6bn in equity and commands $13bn of assets under management. Ms Gaw oversees fundraising and investor relations, constantly pursuing how best to meet investors’ needs. “I think we've been able to play the role of East and West – a sort of meeting point – because we have local presence in Asia in terms of investing,” she says. “So Western investors seeking that on-the-ground information flow and regulatory knowledge, we can get.” This local expertise has enabled GCP to manage four rapidly growing real estate funds targeting the Greater China and Asia-Pacific region, 80% of which is Western investors’ money.
“Bringing Asian capital westward, meanwhile, is more about understand the Asian-based investor’s thinking because we're Asians ourselves and have experience investing in Western markets,” says Ms Gaw. “So we understand the key things Asian investors care most about when they go offshore.”
One of those things is trust, she says. “If you don't have the trust, and you want to put everything solely on paper, there is basically no point in doing business together. It’s better if there is a mediation in between.”
GCP’s ability to act as a mediator between markets and cultures has reaped tremendous benefits, evident not least in its 99 portfolio projects internationally. In 2016, the firm was named Asia Firm of the Year in the Global PERE Awards and in 2017 APAC Insider’s Best for Property Investments and Development Funds. In 2016, it won Single Asset Transaction of the Year for its purchase of the InterContinental Hong Kong for $938m.
China’s growing middle class and tech-focused youth are transforming opportunities for GCP. “The younger generation enjoy shopping online, so this gives the logistics sector good growth prospects,” says Ms Gaw. “We’re always targeting the next evolution of change and how technology disruption will affect the way people live. We then implement strategies tailored to that evolution, be it offices or retail outlets.”
The growing disposable income in China has also fuelled GCP’s development of European-themed luxury shopping centres such as the Florentia Village outlet malls in Wuqing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chengdu.
In the US, where GCP has 30 projects, from warehouses in Denver to hotels in Miami to offices in Cupertino, Ms Gaw’s guiding wisdom is “follow the millennials”. She adds: “We try to look at lower cost cities in proximity to big hubs – Portland in relation to San Francisco, for instance.
“Smart young people want to live in a place that is considerably cheaper. Companies place offices in these alternative cities and we then go around those types of areas. That’s what we look for: tech, global, lifestyle change, disruption.”