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It may not have been the recent world’s largest merger, but the $54-million acquisition of New York City-based Granite Partners by Savills in London is noteworthy for two reasons. Not only does the deal, which closed on Aug. 1, underscore the increasingly global base of CRE business, but it simultaneously proscribes the ever-growing presence of foreign capital stateside. Granite, of course, is the investment bank that brought you the Lightstone Group’s $889-million acquisition of Prime Group Realty Trust and the sale of Enron’s HQ in Houston. Granite CEO, president and co-founder John D. Lyons sat down with GlobeSt.com recently for an chat about the genealogy of the deal–and it’s implications not only for Granite but or the industry as a whole.

GlobeSt.com: Was Granite on the market?

Lyons: No, Granite was not on the market, unlike many other firms of our genre. A number of potential prospects had approached us over the past couple of years, looking to enter our niche. We didn’t explore possibilities with many of these entities, feeling they weren’t the right fit, either culturally or professionally. Savills, obviously, was the exception.

GlobeSt.com: Were those suitors foreign or domestic?

Lyons: Most were domestic.

GlobeSt.com: And you found a better fit across the pond?

Lyons: The reason is that they aren’t a commissioned shop. We truly have an investment banking format, and Savills works on the same premise. Most entities in our area of expertise tend to be more commission-oriented. We work in an environment of “we” and “us.” Many of our competitors work in an environment of “me” and “I,” and that’s a fundamental difference.

GlobeSt.com: When did they approach you?

Lyons: Very late fall. Savills had retained PricewaterhouseCoopers to do a search, and we were one of the entities identified in that search. We were contacted and had a preliminary meeting. Then there was a period of time during which I assume they interviewed other entities and narrowed the search down. We got into serious conversations in the winter.

GlobeSt.com: The base price is $54 million, but there’s a performance bump-up to nearly $85 million. Tell me about that.

Lyons: Savills is acquiring the entire Granite entity. That was structured with a 75% payout with 25% being retained for the working partners. We will be entitled over a five-year period to step back into that 25% ownership piece of Savills Granite, and we expect that the value of that piece will grow exponentially based on our expected growth of Ebitda.

GlobeSt.com: And if you don’t?

Lyons: We will meet them and exceed them, we hope. Also, there’s a floor in that number.

GlobeSt.com: Can we talk about that?Lyons: Not really.GlobeSt.com: It’s great you’re so confident about the performance, but it’s been a rocky market. So, what if . . . ?

Lyons: Without doubt, our industry is subject to ebbs and flows based on the economy and the world markets. The way to build a longstanding and strongly based business is to make sure you have the right talent and the right complement of professionals and the right business plan. We have the right talent, and we’ll be expanding by finding the additional complement of talent we need to implement our business plan. And that business plan, over time, will result in Savills Granite emerging as an important player in the world of real estate investment banking.

GlobeSt.com: What does the merger do for you?

Lyons: Savills is a dominant player in the European and Asian markets. As we’ve all seen, the world is getting smaller and flatter, and as such it was imperative that their clients be well-represented in North America. Granite is the foundation on which Savills will service its worldwide clients. And we’ll be taking our domestic base of clients as well as our international contacts and servicing them in a larger and better-rounded capacity now that were part of the Savills team. The industry did approximately $700 billion last year in transactions and almost a third of that involved cross-border capitalizations. And it’s a growing part of our business as well; we’ve been involved in a number of cross-border capital deals. It’s a trend we’ve been excited about, so the union was a natural progression.

GlobeSt.com: What’s it say about the direction the industry is going?

Lyons: On both a domestic and a worldwide basis, the industry has been maturing–both in terms of the quality of deals and the sophistication of practicing professionals. These have to grow to keep pace with client demand and services. One of the attractions of Savills is that, on a global basis, we found a consistency of quality. We were pleased to find that in many cases although we spoke different languages, we spoke the same financial language.

GlobeSt.com: How hands-off will they be?

Lyons: Savills spent considerable time investigating and scrutinizing management before our conversations went to the next level. They were looking first to acquire the right people and then the right platform and name, and hopefully Granite provides all of that to them.

GlobeSt.com: I assume we’ll see new product types and new business areas rolling out.

Lyons: Without getting into specifics, our business plan will incorporate the expansion of our New York office. In fact we’re looking at new space, and we hope to be in that space by next summer. We’re also looking to open up on the West Coast as soon as we find the right people. We’re not going to compromise here. People are the fundamental driver of our success.

GlobeSt.com: And the new product areas?

Lyons: Without doubt. We’ll be expanding to service the international clientele Savills is already working with and to take into consideration those new clients we’ll share jointly.

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