Prop­erty-slump tips fromtheleisurek­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - BUSINESS - BY CANDICE KRIEGER

CON­FI­DENCE IN the prop­erty mar­ket is at its low­est in more than 30 years, and ex­perts warn that the sit­u­a­tion will get worse. But David Cof­fer, a vet­eran player in leisure prop­erty, is up for the chal­lenge.

With a ca­reer span­ning more than four decades, Mr Cof­fer — known in the in­dus­try as “Mr Leisure” — is the chair­man of Cof­fer Cor­po­rate Leisure, where he has han­dled over £1bn worth of trans­ac­tions. He is the for­mer chair­man of Earls Court and Olympia, in which he still owns a 10 per cent stake.

“There is no doubt that, as ever, cash will be king in th­ese mar­kets,” says a re­laxed and well-groomed Mr Cof­fer, 60, talk­ing to JC Busi­ness in his Re­gent’s Park home. “There is a whole swathe of in­vestors wait­ing for the po­ten­tial of op­por­tu­nity to go in and get the bar­gains. The gen­eral con­sen­sus is that it is six months off be­fore that hap­pens. The prop­erty mar­ket has ad­justed but we have not got to the level where we can say there are true bar­gains.

“The re­ces­sion is an op­por­tu­nity not just to ac­quire as­sets, but also to ac­quire hu­man re­sources and to get your act to­gether, pre­pare for when the re­ces­sion turns.”

And Mr Cof­fer is well-po­si­tioned to pounce. In Fe­bru­ary, he launched The Cof­fer Group, com­pris­ing his leisure agency, Davis Cof­fer Lyons, and the M&A ad­vi­sory busi­ness, Cof­fer Cor­po­rate Leisure, which has ad­vised on more than £2.5bn-worth of trans­ac­tions. Re­cent deals in­clude the £70m sale and lease­back of Or­chard Care Homes and the £60m sale and lease­back of the Lit­tle Chef UK port­fo­lio to Is­raeli prop­erty com­pany Arazim In­vest­ments. He also sold Caprice Hold­ings (The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey) to rag-trade en­tre­pre­neur Richard Car­ing. Mr Cof­fer is now pre­par­ing to open Cof­fer Ho­tels and is eye­ing up in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in New York. He is also a backer of CG Restau­rants (for­merly Lon­don Brasseries), where his son Daniel is an ex­ec­u­tive. The com­pany owns sev­eral restau­rants, in­clud­ing pizza chain Fire and Stone — a con­cept which Mr Cof­fer plans to roll out across Lon­don. He notes: “We have two other ma­jor ac­qui­si­tions in the pipe­line.”

But even “Mr Leisure” him­self — a new en­try in this year’s Sun­day Times Rich List, worth an es­ti­mated £170 mil­lion — ad­mits the re­ces­sion­ary state of the cur­rent prop­erty mar­ket is wor­ry­ing, “un­prece­dented” and po­ten­tially “cat­a­strophic”.

“I don’t think I have ever seen the cir­cum­stances of a re­ces­sion of this na­ture in my ca­reer,” says Mr Cof­fer, who has been hold­ing a se­ries of prop­erty din­ners for clients and friends. “We have never had so many vari­a­tions of so many cap­i­tal mar­kets in the world, which are so quick to re­act. There has never been a mar­ket where the me­dia has had such a part to play in con­vey­ing it all and there has never been a mar­ket in the last 20 years where there has been such liq­uid­ity from the banks — which are now very pre­cious about lend­ing.

“I’ve never seen a re­ces­sion so far­reach­ing in ma­jor parts of the world. The im­pact of the in­ter­fac­ing of th­ese mar­kets could be cat­a­strophic. We also haven’t yet seen the banks of­fer­ing propo­si­tions to trusted cash-rich clients, whereby they clean up their bal­ance sheets. And that has hap­pened in all of the last re­ces­sions. But that mo­ment will come no doubt.

He ob­serves: “Many sec­tors are in de­nial and there is worse to come at the bank­ing sec­tor. There is cer­tainly worse to come out the prop­erty sec­tor. The whole thing is one enor­mous es­ca­la­tion of re­ces­sion.”

Yet the vet­eran is re­silient: “Part of the group has been hurt but I have con­sol­i­dated and am ready for op­por­tu­ni­ties. One has to con­cen­trate on ex­cel­lence of prod­uct to an in­creas­ingly price-con­scious pub­lic. Keep your own coun­sel, deal with what you know and know for cer­tain that it will change,” ad­vises Mr Cof­fer, who has sur­vived four re­ces­sions.

He grew up in the East End, leav­ing school at age 16. He started his ca­reer at a North Lon­don es­tate agency but fed up with, as he puts it, “show­ing bored Jewish house­wives semi-de­tached houses in Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb”, he joined re­tail agency Dud­ley Samuel and Har­ri­son. Dud­ley Samuel was the un­cle of John Rit­blat, now Sir John. “He [Dud­ley Samuel] took me un­der his wing and taught me a lot about re­tail,” re­calls Mr Cof­fer, who did his first deal — the sale of a site in Ken­tish Town for £40,000 profit— at aged 19. But told he could not have 10 per cent, just the equiv­a­lent of the agency fee — about £80 — he “walked out and told him where to stick his cheque.”

His first big break came in 1972, when he formed Davis Cof­fer As­so­ciates, to­gether with Lewis Davis. The pair won a £6,000-a-year man­date from Piz­za­land to im­ple­ment the con­cept. By 1980, there were more than 200 Piz­za­lands and Mr Cof­fer has spe­cialised in leisure ever since. Davis Cof­fer was later re­named Davis Cof­fer Lyons, when An­thony Lyons (now CEO of Earls Court and Olympia) joined the firm. They bought Earls Court and Olympia in 2004 for £245m. Asked if Chelsea foot­ball club owner Abramovich ever in­quired about buy­ing the site for the club, he con­fesses: “His rep­re­sen­ta­tives came to look round, but noth­ing ever re­ally hap­pened.”

But the Earls Court and Olympia deal was not his most no­table trans­ac­tion. That, he says, was “the ac­qui­si­tion of a Max Lieber­mann paint­ing, which is now worth about 30 times more than I bought it for.”

A keen art and glass col­lec­tor, Mr Cof­fer owns a 29-piece Lalique col­lec­tion of car mas­cots and seven paint­ings by Bri­tish artist Adam Dant. Other ex­trav­a­gances in­clude own­ing eight cars and homes in Florida and Spain. Last Oc­to­ber, he hired jazz mu­si­cian Jamie Cul­lum to play at his 60th birth­day bash.

A de­voted char­ity fundraiser, Mr Cof­fer, sup­ports a variety of Jewish and nonJewish causes, both in the UK and over­seas, through his Cof­fer Foun­da­tion. Other pas­sions in­clude his part­ner­ship in Matt Roberts’ Per­sonal Train­ing em­pire, which re­cently ac­quired the Jack Straw’s Cas­tle site in Hamp­stead.

How does he feel about be­ing on the Rich List? “It’s all bol­locks. How do they know what I’m worth? The real money is in the bank. It’s not as­sets — they can go down the pan.”

Mar­ried to Ruth, the cou­ple have three chil­dren and five grand­chil­dren and are mem­bers of West­ern Mar­ble Arch Syn­a­gogue in Lon­don’s West End.

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

David Cof­fer: “Con­cen­trate on ex­cel­lence of prod­uct”

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