30 November 2018

Michael T. Smith

Michael T. Smith

Regional CEO, Europe and USA, Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd
Bachelor of Business in Property and Real Estate

When asked what sparked his interest in real estate and property development, Michael Smith highlights a conversation he had by chance while purchasing a van to start up a part-time courier business. Fast-forward two decades, Michael has firmly established himself in the real estate and investment industry, with a firm hold on the Asian property market, where he has made a name for himself.

“It was quite serendipitous that I ended up enrolling in the UniSA real estate course as I did not have any friends or family in the industry,” says Michael, who now leads the European and USA interests of multi-billion dollar investment company Mapletree Investments.

“Truth be known, I left school to do a Bachelor of Arts, which I began to lose interest in halfway through. I started a courier business on the side and whilst purchasing a van, the seller told me about the real estate degree that he was completing at UniSA – this conversation resulted in me transferring to UniSA.

“From my first day I was drawn to the industry and the huge potential it offered on multiple fronts.”

He says he may be biased but believes UniSA’s property and real estate program are some of the best in

Australia, having immensely informed his career, and planted the seed for his giving back philosophy.

“I particularly liked the breadth of subjects that we were taught such as Property Finance, which became an increasingly important part of my career. I also enjoyed the hands-on practicality that the course provided through field trips to country South Australia and Sydney in our final year.”

These experiences at UniSA, and a year in Shanghai working with a developer, set the tone for the beginning of a successful 21-year investment banking career which sent Michael all over the world.

“The course also provided me with a better understanding of the cliché ‘it is not what you know but who you know’ as I met people that have been incredibly influential in my career.

“This included Mark Steinert, the current CEO of Stockland who shepherded me firstly to Sydney, then Hong Kong and then back to Sydney again to join him at UBS in 1996 with Andrew Pridham, John Carter, Darren Rehn, Phil Redmond and Chris Monaghan – all of whom were UniSA alumni,” explains Michael.

Michael made waves firstly at UBS Investment Bank for 10 years, working his way up to Managing Director, then at Goldman Sachs for another 11 years as Head of South East Asian Investment Banking and Head of Asia Pacific Real Estate Investment Banking, eventually making partner, before departing early 2017 for Mapletree, based in Singapore.

Image: The US$2.3bn Hong Kong-based shopping mall, Festival Walk, acquired by Mapletree
Image: The US$2.3bn Hong Kong-based shopping mall, Festival Walk, acquired by Mapletree

Now as Regional CEO of Europe and the USA (EUSA) for Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd – valued to have S$46.3bn assets under management as at 31 March 2018 – Michael manages 17.5% of Mapletree’s holdings, in “a role that is quite unique, given the breadth and scope of the real estate markets” he now oversees. “Since joining Mapletree, we have opened offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Amsterdam and Warsaw, and we will soon open in Atlanta and Dallas. Much of my work as a member of the senior management team is in the execution of our business model, based on five-year plans, across 12 economies,” he says.

Michael says he is also fortunate to have had the opportunity to act as lead advisor on significant real estate transactions in his career, including Swire Properties sale of their US$2.3bn Hong Kong-based shopping mall (subsequently purchased by Mapletree) and the challenges such acquisitions and responsibilities pose.

“Across my career, I cherish the human interactions that have enabled me to meet and work with some of the most influential people in the real estate industry across multiple jurisdictions.”

“I also enjoyed the creative side of the business too, particularly the convergence of the physical real estate markets with the financial markets. Above all, I enjoyed and embraced the challenges that come my way - this is something you can only truly understand if you are passionate about your craft,” he says.

After Michael left UBS to join Goldman Sachs, taking up the role of Head of South East Asia, he quickly made partner, where a portion of compensation is placed in a ‘GS Gives’ account.

This initiative helps provide more than US$1.3bn in grants to 6,000 non-profits across 80 countries, and Michael’s old colleague – and fellow UniSA property graduate – Andrew Pridham inspired him to use this funding to support property students at the University.

“When Andrew Pridham invited me to attend the hard-hat opening of Pridham Hall, his generosity inspired me to give back to UniSA, and after thinking about my own experiences, we devised the Asian Experience Travel Grant.”

Michael Smith
Image: Michael Smith with Arya Loodin this July in

Recalling how influential winning the Jones Lang Wootton scholarship was in his final year at UniSA, and how the subsequent travel had opened up the world to him, the Asian Experience Travel Grant was established with a generous donation to support high-performing students who have enrolled in the Bachelor of Business (Property) degree.

The grant allows students to undertake an intensive Asian study tour that incorporates six of the most important regional cities in Asia – Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, which in many cases, may otherwise be beyond their financial means.

For the first time this year, the grant was awarded to Arya Loodin, a current Bachelor of Business double degree student in Finance and Property, which took him on a life-changing journey throughout Asia this past July.

“Facilitating access to opportunities similar to the experiences I was fortunate enough to achieve in the early 1990s will give students like Arya the chance to forge a deeper understanding of the Asian real estate market,” says Michael.

“My desire to give back and foster the next generation of UniSA graduates stems from my gratefulness for all the opportunities that I have experienced on the back of the time I spent at UniSA. Not just the education, but also for the contacts and connections that have helped sustain my career.”

Arya’s ‘Asian Experience’

Arya Loodin cannot describe his experience on his intensive property study tour which took him to six of the most important cities in the industry as anything short of “life-changing”.

Funded by the generosity of fellow UniSA property graduate and CEO of EUSA for Mapletree, Michael Smith, Arya was able to experience a variety of industry-based workshops, site visits and seminars to gain insight into some of the world’s most exciting leading property projects and developments, thanks to the ‘Asian Experience Travel Grant’ he was awarded.

“You can’t really quantify how valuable the trip was – it’s hard to put into words,” Arya says. “You’ll never get to see and experience the things we did on the trip, and in Asia particularly, especially compared to a market like Adelaide. It was an eye-opening first-hand experience.

The trip was so influential Arya has even rethought his career pathway, from banking to a specialised property firm, after a chance meeting with Michael Smith – much like a serendipitous conversation Michael himself had years earlier that set him on his successful path.

“Mapletree was not originally part of the plan, but Michael fit in a talk to all the students about what Mapletree does and what his job entails. He’s obviously very busy, and hardly in Singapore living on a plane, so I was incredibly lucky that we were able to go for a coffee the next day as well.”

“We ended up talking for almost an hour, and for someone in his position – very busy and always having somewhere to be – I was very grateful he gave me the time out of his day.

“He gave me sound advice I keep very close to me. Basically repositioning what I want to do postuniversity, and gave me guidance on how he did it, and how if you want to advance you career sometimes you have to go interstate or overseas to get where you want to be.”

With highlights including a visit to the Great Wall of China, the “exciting and fast-paced lifestyles” of Tokyo and Hong Kong – and even an “expensive missed flight lesson learned” – Arya maintains the real pinnacle of the tour was the precious time he had with Michael one-on-one, and how they have stayed in contact.

In fact, the experience is already reaping rewards with Arya landing a job as an Assistant Commercial Valuer at Knight Frank Valuations, shortly after he returned as a result.

“Knight Frank knew about Asian experience, so I had the interview, and got it.”

“It’s a great job to land while I’m still at university – I believe I wouldn’t have got the opportunities I’ve got now without the Asia experience and Michael’s donation, which made me go on the trip to begin with.”

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