Hong Kong-listed real estate developer Country Garden Holdings has reportedly appointed a veteran advisor on hotel development to serve as the company’s chief representative in the US. The move is significant as it seems to portend expansion by Guangdong-based Country Garden into the North American market.
According to an Internet posting by Patrick Zhu, formerly based in China as a Vice President with real estate consultancy JLL (until recently known as Jones Lang LaSalle), the hotel investment specialist has recently taken on the role of US Chief Representative with Country Garden.
In late February the developer, which is among the five largest real estate companies in Guangdong, made its first move into the Australian market by acquiring a development site in Sydney for US$65.76 million. Country Garden is also active in the southeast Asian market, and in 2013 launched sales for a giant-scale residential project in Malaysia’s Johor Bahru, just across the border from Singapore.
Country Garden Joins China Outbound Investment Wave
In his profile, Zhu describes as among his responsibilities, “Lead the creation of U.S. office and overall expansion of Country Garden in the U.S,” as well as “Source and evaluate high-profile development opportunities and JV partnerships,” and “Assist to establish the global development division of Country Garden to penetrate and grow in other international markets.”
All of these duties appear to point to a search for investment opportunities for Country Garden in the US.
By adding Zhu as chief representative, Country Garden is certain to fuel speculation that the China top 100 developer is joining the rush by Chinese real estate firms to invest in the US. The company has not previously made any announcements concerning the US market.
The company’s vice-chairman, Yang Huiyan is ranked by Forbes as the wealthiest woman in China, with personal assets of $6.9 billion. Yang owes her fortune to her father, Yeung Kwok Keung, who transferred a majority of his shares in the company to her several years ago.
In the past two years, several of China’s leading real estate developers have launched US projects, with the country’s leading property firm, China Vanke, breaking ground for a 61-storey Manhattan project during February.
Adding a Hotel Specialist
At JLL, Zhu headed up the consultancy’s Hotels and Hospitality Group’s Beijing office and oversaw the practice for Greater China practice. Before joining JLL, the graduate of Rutgers University’s real estate program had served as Senior Associate for Global Acquisition & Development with hotel developer and operator, Dolce Hotels & Resorts.
Hotels are one of the five market segments that Country Garden currently invests in, along with property development, construction, fitting and decoration, and property management. The company also develops and manages hotels within some of development projects.
Following the move to Country Garden, Zhu now lists New York as his home base, having apparently relocated from Beijing.