Benn Zemek is the Chief Financial Officer of the Battersea Power Station project. Benn joined the project in early 2013, shortly after acquisition by the Malaysian consortium (SP Setia, Sime Darby Property and EPF). He has since played a key role in the successful transformation of the £9bn regeneration site, with a specific focus on leading the key funding and capital transactions and ongoing investment and financial management.
Benn has over 15 years of experience as a real estate finance specialist working as a principle investor, developer and advisor across the spectrum of real estate sectors and in multiple global jurisdictions. After completing a dual degree in Civil Engineering and Finance, Benn began his career at a national property company in Australia (now Lendlease) focusing on commercial development. Benn subsequently shifted his focus to real estate investment management and advisory with a number of investment banking and real estate private equity firms within Australia and the UK, including Macquarie Bank.
Benn’s specific experience has involved substantial exposure to the investment and financial management, transaction management and capital raising for development and investment assets across nearly all real estate sectors, including most recently, some of the largest and most complex capital transactions in the UK.
Q-What was your first job and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?
Those that know me well will chuckle at this! My parents instilled a strong work ethic at home so I was always working part time throughout school and university, resulting in me experiencing numerous less desirable part time jobs – starting out as a cleaner at decrepit local service station, then climbing the social ladder doing everything from a marshal / dog-poo patrol at a dog racing track, tying steel on site as a labourer, banging in for-sale signs for an estate agency, lifeguarding….and the list goes on! The positive side of doing a lot of tough part time work was it made me hugely appreciative of sitting in air-conditioned lecture theatres and as a result I didn’t take Uni (and everything thereafter) for granted.
Q-Was finance your first career choice and what were you doing before?
I have always been in the real estate finance sector but across an array of roles from principle investing in RE PE funds to corporate finance advisory. This background is certainly not your traditional finance career path and I am not a traditional CFO. But it marries well with my focus on strategic capital transactions and optimising project performance / ROE.
Q-Why did you choose a career in the real estate sector?
I have always had a strong interest in finance and real estate, which is why I paired my engineering degree with a finance degree – but without being certain which direction it would take me. Whilst I was in my final years at Uni, I was lucky enough to get a scholarship/internship with what is now Lendlease, which was a fantastic programme enabling me to work in the holidays / non contact hours (my less desirable part-time jobs came to an end!) in various departments. It was during this programme I really came to appreciate my interest in the ‘deal-making / structuring / financing / capital transaction’ side of real estate.
Q-Why do you enjoy the sector?
Real estate as an asset class is unique from a financier perspective as it allows you to be part of a tangible process and product – which is hugely satisfying when you see the physical manifestation of a deal / transaction. This ‘romance’ that the sector can provide also allows you to be a bit more multi-dimensional as a finance professional. I.e. you don’t have to be just ‘the finance guy’ but someone who has a real interest / opinion / passion for the underlying asset class.
Q-What’s a typical day like?