Nia named new CEO of Mack-Cali; Jones to take over as board chair

Nia, who has been director at firm since last June, has extensive experience — and record of success — in Europe

Mahbod Nia.

Mahbod Nia has been named the new CEO of Mack-Cali Realty Corp., the real estate investment trust announced Wednesday morning.

Nia, who has been serving as a director for the REIT since last June, has decades of experience in the industry, much of it in Europe. He most recently served as CEO of NorthStar Realty Europe Corp., from June 2015 to October 2019 — when the firm was sold to AXA Investment Managers.

During his tenure at NRE, Nia oversaw a strategic transformation that drove per-share net asset value growth of over 40% through a series of value enhancing property level and corporate initiatives, according to the news release from Mack-Cali.

Mack-Cali said these initiatives included a major simplification of the business, a reduction in leverage from 58% to 40% loan to value, realization of significant G&A expense savings and substantial leasing activity across the portfolio, which culminated in the sale to AXA, realizing a 16% IRR, or internal rate of return.

Prior to NRE, Nia served as managing director, head of European investments at NorthStar Asset Management Group, where he established and rapidly grew the company’s European investment platform to $2.6 billion in assets under management across nine countries and five asset classes. He subsequently oversaw the platform’s spinoff to create NRE in 2015, as well as the sale of the company.

MaryAnne Gilmartin. (File photo)

With the selection of a permanent CEO, and to allow for the election of an independent board chair in accordance with the applicable New York Stock Exchange independence guidelines, Mack-Cali announced interim CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin has stepped down as chair and will not run for reelection to the board at the company’s 2021 annual meeting of shareholders.

Gilmartin, who said publicly she did not have interest in the permanent role, will serve as a special adviser to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities. She will remain a director through the annual meeting and return to her full-time role as CEO of MAG Partners.

The Mack-Cali board has appointed its lead independent director, Tammy Jones, as board chair, effective March 2.

Jones has served as the lead independent director of Mack-Cali since June 2020. She is the co-founder and CEO of Basis Investment Group, a multistrategy commercial real estate investment manager that deploys capital on behalf of some of the largest public pension plans, sovereigns and family offices in the country.

Jones has over 25 years of real estate experience investing and lending across the capital stack and all property types, with a focus on multifamily and office. Jones is currently an independent director of Crown Castle International Corp. Jones formerly served as an independent director for Monogram Residential Trust Inc., which was acquired by an affiliate of Greystar Growth, an income fund, yielding a premium of 22% over the share price.

Jones is an independent director of KKR Real Estate Select Trust Inc. and also chairs the Real Estate Executive Council, a trade organization dedicated to creating a pipeline of diversity in commercial real estate.

Jones praised the selection of Nia.

“The powerful combination of Mahbod’s experience as a successful CEO of a public REIT and deep familiarity with Mack-Cali, having served on the board, will enable him to hit the ground running,” she said. “His proven management expertise and track record of creating shareholder value — most recently as CEO of NRE, through repositioning, leasing and transacting in the sector — make him the ideal executive to lead Mack-Cali forward.”

Jones thanked Gilmartin for her efforts as interim CEO. Gilmartin assumed the role July 27 of last year — right as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold.

“On behalf of the board, I would like to thank MaryAnne for her steady leadership, navigating Mack-Cali through one of the most uncertain times in history,” she said. “I am honored that the board has entrusted me to follow in her footsteps and will ensure Mack-Cali continues to make thoughtful, strategic decisions grounded in strong corporate governance and designed to prioritize the needs of its shareholders.”

In connection with his appointment as CEO, Nia will be granted 950,000 stock options within five days after his start date that will have an exercise price equal to the closing price of the company’s common stock on the date of grant. The stock options will vest in one-third increments on each of the first three anniversaries of the date of grant, subject to earlier vesting on certain termination events.

Mack Cali said the award is an employment “inducement award” that is intended to comply with New York Stock Exchange Rule 303A.08.

Nia previously has held roles at Colony Capital Inc., Goldman Sachs and Citigroup Inc./Salomon Brothers. He holds a first-class honors degree in economics for business from the University of Westminster and a master’s degree in economics and finance from Warwick Business School.

Nia said he was thrilled for the opportunity.

“Having worked with the company in my capacity as a board member, it is clear to me that there are numerous parallels between the situation at Mack-Cali and the one we encountered at NRE,” he said. “I believe there is substantial value embedded within Mack-Cali, and, together with the Board, we are well-positioned to navigate the path to unlocking that value for shareholders over time.”

Gilmartin also applauded the hire.

“I joined Mack-Cali to drive change in an organization with great potential, and we have done that, meaningfully improving leadership and governance to enhance shareholder value,” she said. “The achievements of the past year are among the highlights of my career, empowering the company’s talented team to execute the board’s strategy in a safe and productive manner during an unprecedented pandemic.

“I am pleased to pass the baton to Mahbod and Tammy, and I am confident they will build on this foundation to maximize value for all Mack-Cali stakeholders. I look forward to helping ensure a smooth transition and then returning my full focus to MAG Partners.”

Akiva Katz, a director on the board and managing partner of Bow Street LLC, said Gilmartin’s efforts cannot be overstated.

“In her capacity as director, chair and — when called upon — interim CEO, MaryAnne has been a tireless advocate for Mack-Cali shareholders,” she said. “She has created value through strategic dispositions, restructured and redesigned Mack-Cali’s leasing strategy, and remained steadfast in her commitment to the company and its stakeholders over the past two years.

“Shareholders have been fortunate to have MaryAnne in their corner and could not ask for individuals better suited than Mahbod and Tammy to chart Mack-Cali’s path forward.”