CSFB Hire Marks Death Knell
for Andy Stone's Real Estate Gunslingers
You might call it the end of an era of real estate gunslinging. For certain, you could call it the formal end for what was once a deep-pocketed resource for high-risk real estate development:
It now seems clear that they've pretty much cleaned out Andy Stone's old gang at Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB at www.csfb.com). After months of rumblings, CSFB recently announced the hiring of Edison ("Ted") C. Buchanan as managing director and head of real estate investment banking.
The hiring of Buchanan -- who joins CSFB from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, where he was managing director and a senior member of the Real Estate Group for the past 10 years - looks like the final step in dismantling the real estate machine that Andy Stone created. Stone joined what was then First Boston in late 1994 to set up a real estate group. Soon, he became a darling in some real estate investment circles, a high-energy high flyer who soared to the kind of high-risk perches where others wouldn't go.
And Stone and his CSFB crew of some 140 employees mostly landed on their feet - at least for a while. On Wall Street, CSFB real estate stood out like a motor-mouthed courtesan at a debutantes' ball. It was one of the Street's most aggressive sources of debt for highly leveraged deals.
Some of those deals were the stuff of fleeting legend.
Consider Southern California developer Robert Maguire's stalled efforts to buy MGM Studios. Conventional financing sources treated the deal like a psychotic aunt with an Uzi. But Stone, feeling the studio's purchase option was sorely undervalued, lent the entire purchase price in a complicated, three-piece loan.
And CSFB's Family Stone pulled off the entire MGM deal in the scant space of one week.
Was it a little nutty? Of course it looks that way in retrospect. But everything's 20-20 hindsight in real estate. Everyone sagely knows when the cycles are going to flip - that is, everyone says they know after the cycles have flipped. Before reality gives them that wisdom, though, most of them are simply like you and me -- one of the head-scratching masses.
For certain, though, real estate is a far different world than it was in Stone's heyday. Land holdings just don't have that endearing little jing-a-ling-a-ling anymore, particularly within most corporations. With non-cyclical change now an ongoing economic fact of life, most banks, too, have substantially pulled in their horns.
Stone, though, kept rolling the dice; and he kept winning. In 1997, he reportedly received a $50 million pay package from his employers.
But the era of fast-lane living in high, high cotton for Stone's real estate group began to unravel in late 1998.
That was when credit market turmoil sent investors scurrying away from the commercial-mortgage-backed securities that had made Stone's name. Instead, investors huddled in safer havens, going for the likes of Treasury bonds - not exactly the kind of fodder on which high flyers flourish.
By late 1999, Stone and CSFB came irrevocably undone. In what must surely rank as one of the world's most pithy major announcements, CSFB's press release read, in its entirety:
"Credit Suisse First Boston announced today that the Firm and Andrew Stone, founder and Head of the Principal Transactions Group, CSFB's real estate group, have mutually agreed that he will relinquish his responsibilities and leave the Firm, effective November 15. A CSFB spokesman said, 'Andy Stone has made an important and innovative contribution to CSFB and we wish him well in his future endeavors.' "
"A spokesman" - Stone didn't even rate a kiss-off quote that could be attributed to an actual living being at CSFB.
The statement had the substance of ether. In light of the events that have followed, though, it was probably the beginning the end for Stone's group of gunslingers.
The next shoe dropped earlier this year, when CSFB announced that it was devising plans to break up its real estate group. The unit's 140 employees would be reassigned to the company's fixed-income and investment-banking units, company officials said. Beyond that, corporate spokesmen said that Credit Suisse First Boston had no official statement on the restructuring.
But one of Stone's fastest guns soon after made his own statement. Bill Adamski, who worked on securitizations and loan originations, left CSFB. The employees who worked under Adamski were assigned to report to Jack DiMaio, CSFB managing director and co-head of the bank's credit products unit. Many industry observers regarded Adamski as an ace in one of the trademarks of Stone's modus operandi: complicated deals done at very high speeds.
Now, with the recent hiring of Buchanan as managing director and head of CSFB's real estate investment banking, the transition seems to be at the end of its convulsive loop. In another piece of the transition pie, CSFB has also hired a new director in real estate investment banking, David Genovese, who arrives after 10 years at Deutsche Banc.
Charles G. Ward III, CSFB managing director and global head of investment banking, welcomed Buchanan by saying, at "Ted is a seasoned banker with a broad range of client relationships and transaction experience."
It was the sort of bland statement for which banks are famous. And, at least in this case, the subtext seemed to be: "This guy is a lot safer than what we've just been through."
That's undoubtedly true. We found it irresistible, though, to contrast Ward's quote with an excerpt from a freewheeling interview that Andy Stone gave only a few months before the roof came falling down on his empire at CSFB.
"Our focus is on originating interesting deals," Stone told "National Real Estate Investor" (NREI www.nreimag.com). "Our focus is not to turnover and sell, though. That's a big difference. Most of Wall Street wants to originate and sell. I have a large balance sheet. I want to originate and hold. When my balance sheet is full, I sell down a certain portion, until I have room to originate more.
"But I want to be fully invested," Stone continued. "Right now I have $10 billion in assets on my books. I could probably securitize that tomorrow, but then what am I going to do with my cash? So I'm going to sell out this $2.5 billion and now I'll have some powder in my keg and I'll be able to originate more.
"By the nature of our business, we try to be a debt provider and sometimes an equity investor where there are shortages of capital -- situations that are out of favor, misunderstood, unique, complex that other institutions don't want to be involved in," Stone told NREI. "Internally, they would describe us as a real estate merchant bank rather than a real estate investment bank. There is a true distinction there. The difference is that we are not driven to originate internally, and we are not driven by market share, and we're not driven to satisfy key clients that we're servicing them."
They don't make 'em like that anymore.
And maybe they shouldn't -- particularly considering how dangerously archaic that last quote from Stone sounds today. After all, real estate's current clean-and-sober mindset seems a lot closer to both sanity and strategic thinking. Sometimes, though, one can get a bit nostalgic for the gunslinger types now mired so deep in disrepute.
Yes, they may have been hazardously off-kilter. For good or ill, though, they were also interesting.
©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.