Chelsea Mandel Podcast Transcript

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Headshot of Founder Chelsea Mandel

Chelsea Mandel Podcast Transcript

Chelsea Mandel joins host Brian Thomas on The Digital Executive Podcast.

Welcome to Coruzant Technologies, Home of The Digital Executive Podcast.

Brian Thomas: Welcome to The Digital Executive. Today’s guest is Chelsea Mandel, founder and Managing Director of Ascension Advisory, Chelsea oversees all sale leaseback transactions and corporate real estate advisory assignments, partnering with business owners, private equity firms, and other financial sponsors in structuring innovative solutions for their corporate real estate globally.

In less than a decade, Chelsea has established herself as a pioneering force in corporate real estate finance due to her relentless work ethic and unparalleled transaction volume across real estate asset classes and global markets. Upon graduating magna cum laude from Dartmouth College with a degree in economics, Chelsea joined the acquisitions team at a Starwood Capital Group.

She quickly thrived as the sole woman in her acquisitions team of 52 investment professionals, gaining expertise in underwriting and deal negotiations. Based on this success, Chelsea was recruited to join New York city’s based new mountain capital to build out its sale lease back platform. One of the first net lease funds of its kind among middle market, private equity firm’s 533 million of capital for the platform’s first fund. Acquiring 5 plus million square feet of industrial and office space and closing 450 million in transactions. Following her sale leaseback investment experience, Chelsea made the transition to the advisory side of the sale leaseback world. And to date, she has closed over 2 billion in sale leaseback transactions.

Well, good afternoon, Chelsea. Welcome to the show!

Chelsea Mandel: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Brian Thomas: Absolutely. Love doing these things. Appreciate you making the time. And I know through busy schedules, you’re able to hop on at this time of the evening. I know you’re hailing out of the East Coast there. So, I appreciate that. And Chelsea, let’s jump right into your 1st question here.

Can you describe your journey from working at Starwood Capital Group and New Mountain Capital to founding Ascension Advisory? What motivated you to take this entrepreneurial leap?

Chelsea Mandel: Yeah, so Starwood Capital Group was really, I would say, instrumental for me in terms of, you know, first of all, getting me into real estate.

You know, starting on the investment side, but really just like establishing the foundation of, you know, real estate investing. So, Starwood had a tremendous training program, you know, developed a really intense work ethic being there. So, I think for me, that’s really, you know, I think the most important aspects of having worked at Starwood when I moved to New Mountain Capital.

This was totally different. This for me was really more of like, you know, my first taste of entrepreneurship. So, I was the first employee hire on to a brand-new Sally’s back fund as part of the broader private equity platform. And so, it was my first experience of really, like, building something new.

It was also where I learned about Sally’s box to begin with, which obviously I’ve made a career out of sin. So that’s pretty important as well. But I really loved, you know, the ability to be a part of something from the ground up and build a platform that, you know, would go on to ultimately have a pretty successful and established track record and legacy.

And so, you know, I was still obviously from a sale, leaseback perspective, building, you know, the foundations, the materials, methodologies, processes, you know, thesis of the strategy. But for me, it was really more about having that autonomy. You know, I was reporting directly to the portfolio manager, and it was just giving me that sense of, you know, entrepreneurship and being kind of a self-starter, you know, builder, if you will.

So that’s really what I got out of, you know, I think, New mountain in terms of what led me to ultimately starting ascension, you know, obviously after leaving new mountain on the investment side, I decided to make the move to the advisory side. So I really wanted to be more in, you know, what I would say like an eat what you kill role where, you know, based on how hard, hard I worked, that would kind of determine, you know, how much I was compensated, you know, it was kind of a very you know, you do this and you see that immediate reward, you work harder, you make more money, you know, you kind of.

Get excited about that, you know, reward you know, program or process if you will. And so, I kind of found immediate success, you know, with that model. And after closing about, you know, a billion dollars in sales SPACs at that firm in my first three years, I was outperforming a lot of my peers, you know, I was even doubling down on that very intense work ethic.

And at some point, you know, I just felt like it was time to go out on my own. And in April of 2022. We launched ascension advisory, so here we are

Brian Thomas: Amazing story. Really do appreciate that, Chelsea. And you know, the, the fact that sometimes you get put in a position that makes you rethink some things. And I know the autonomy that you had at new mountain capital, obviously kind of gave you that, Hey, you know, I might be able to do this on my own.

And I really love these stories. We have a lot of entrepreneurs on the podcast, so I appreciate that.

Chelsea Mandel: Yeah.

Brian Thomas: Chelsea, you’re known for structuring innovative solutions for corporate real estate. Can you share some examples of these creative strategies and their impact on your clients?

Chelsea Mandel: Yeah, I mean, I think in terms of like the creative piece of, you know, of sale leasebacks, we’ve had a lot of success in, I would say, two main areas.

One being the ability to creatively structure sale e SPACs as acquisition financing for entrepreneurs and financial sponsors, private equity firms, you know, whoever, in terms of their acquisitions of operating companies. So, when they’re buying businesses that are more asset intensive and have company owned real estate, SPACs really as part of the cap stack.

And that’s kind of a newer, you know, model, especially you know, in areas outside of the United States, like it’s still not really something that, you know, we’re able to do in, you know, Canada or Mexico or Europe. So, I do think it’s early days in terms of utilizing the sale lease back as, you know, MNA financing, but it’s really unique because it involves a lot of moving parts.

There’s a ton of. You know, different pieces that have to kind of fit perfectly in terms of timeline and mechanics and, you know, parties speaking with one another and collaborating to make sure that everything comes together perfectly and in a timely fashion so that day of closing, you know, everything is ready to go.

And that has been, you know, about 50 percent of our business in terms of sales back volume. So, it’s definitely a key component of our offering, you know, in terms of the services that we offer for clients. And I think from a creativity standpoint, it’s certainly the area where I feel like we’re exercising, you know, the most creativity in being able to structure these deals, because a lot of the time you just have to think of.

You know, different ways to make things happen when it may not be as straightforward as just structuring a sale-back of existing on property. You know, the other example, I would say, and something that we’ve been doing, I would say a lot more recently, has been the ability to monetize purchase options in lease agreements.

To generate spread for our clients through sale lease-backs. And so, we have two recent examples where we worked with businesses and one of them was just acquired by a private equity firm. And as part of that acquisition, the acquirer set up a lease agreement with the former owner and in that lease, the agreement built in a purchase option.

And what we were able to do was we called on, you know, this business owner and he knew he had the purchase option, but, you know, wasn’t aware really of the sale east back strategy. And so, we brought the idea of, hey, let’s go out and exercise your purchase option. And during that diligence period that you have to close the deal, let’s run a sale east back process and let’s see, you know, based on your ability to sign a long-term lease and the runs that you’re willing to agree to.

Let’s see if we can create some spread in setting up a sale lease back so that the day you go to close the purchase option, you’re actually never buying the property in the first place. You’re just assigning it to the sale lease back buyer and taking advantage of the spread between the sale lease back price and the option price.

And we did another deal very similar to that recently for an existing business where they already had a lease in place from, you know, 2018 that had an option we were able to make them a couple million dollars just by signing a longer lease when they knew this was a mission critical facility that they were going to be in for the long term, but the lease was coming up, you know, on renewal in the next couple of years.

And we saw significant value in putting in place a fresh 20-year lease agreement, and we were able to monetize that value for the client and they made like almost 4,000,000 just by signing a longer lease, executing an option and simultaneously executing a sale lease back.

Brian Thomas: Thank you. And I appreciate you highlighting your impact quite a few examples there, but I like the fact that you are highlight highlighting the fact you’re the creativity that you put in for your clients.

That’s so important. And nowadays. People just want to get something across the finish line. I know timeliness is always, you know, of high importance to clients, but you’re actually looking at the issue and seeing where you might be able to make them a better return or a better business decision.

So, I appreciate that.

Chelsea Mandel: Yeah. And a lot of the time for those, like, it’s not even like they come to us. Like we’ve gone to them and said, Hey, do you have an option in your lease? If so, here’s a way to monetize it. Because a lot of people, if they’ve never heard of a sale lease back, like they’re not going to be thinking of.

You know, a way to do a sale-back to, you know, monetize the situation that they’re already in. So, a lot of the time it is just like kind of lucky that we reach out to the right people who have, you know, these circumstances that could allow us to actually add value in that way.

Brian Thomas: Thank you, Chelsea. What distinguishes Ascension Advisory from other corporate real estate advisory firms?

And how do you ensure your team delivers unparalleled service and expertise to your clients?

Chelsea Mandel: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question because I really do think that the differentiators From our competitors, you know, of our company does have to do with like the service and the expertise that we provide our clients in terms of that client experience.

You know, it’s not like we’re doing Sally’s backs, you know, drastically different than our competitors or that we’re doing them and different asset types or, you know. Something else like it really is just down to the service that we provide our clients and why that is so differentiated and how I think it comes down to two things for us.

You know, it’s really important and has been really important since we started the company in 2022 was the structure of our company and the structure of our team. So we have, you know, very strong belief that what goes on internally carries out externally to our clients. So, if you have really happy people that are collaborative, that work together where everybody is, you know, rowing in the same direction, your clients are going to feel that.

And it’s not like, you know, the warm and fuzzies necessarily, but they’re going to feel it in terms of the timeline, you know, the productivity, how quickly your team can move and get things done and how streamlined your processes and how streamlined your systems are. And so, the way, you know, we are set up internally, it’s really more of like an investment bank where we’re all one team, everybody on the team touches every deal.

You have collaboration, you know, between the team members and we’re really run like an assembly line where, you know, you have constant connectivity with the client throughout the entire process from A to Z, but at different points in the process, there’s different, you know, team leaders essentially running that.

Part of, you know, the alphabet, whether it’s a to B, and then someone takes on from, you know, C to P, you know, whatever it is, everybody kind of runs a different part of the process, but is involved in every single deal, which is very different from. Our competitors really have, for the most part, a model where everybody internally is kind of doing the same thing.

It’s sort of, you know, every broker for their own. And then the brokerage firm, the house just takes a cut off of what everybody brings in. But what that kind of, you know, results in is a lot of internal competition, a lot of sort of blurred lines between. You know, who you’re able to target, who you’re able to prospect, who your clients are, and the client can feel it because it’s just clunky.

Your process is not streamlined. You know, you’re not as productive. You can’t get things done as quickly. You can’t get out of your own way and compliments that we’ve received from our clients versus, you know, a lot of our competitors under that model. Is that you can feel the collaboration between the members of our team, and it’s palpable in terms of, you know, the ability to move things forward and the ability to quarterback, you know, something from A to Z and get to that closing quicker, more seamlessly for the client, and it’s just a better, you know, client experience.

So that’s really the first piece is just that structure of how we’re all set up, and that’s really a big differentiator from a lot of our competitors. The second thing I would say is really just about implementation and proactivity around technology. So, the way we think about, you know, data, outsourcing, automation, AI, you know, I just feel like we’re levels above our competitors in terms of, you know, what they’re prioritizing, where they’re investing in the cap stack and, you know, in their resources at the company.

Real estate is a sleepy old industry. And so, you know, you literally have some of our competitors where the brokers are using like Excel sheets and Outlook for their CRM. You know, they have no tools. They’re not investing in technology. They’re not investing in software. And it’s important because even though it’s, again, something that’s internal, it affects the external because if you’re, you know, team members are bogged down in, you know, the nitty gritty of inputting data or updating spreadsheets or, you know, doing administrative things when these things can be streamlined and improved.

You know, you’re not able to deliver the best client experience for your, your clients because you’re bogged down on other things that don’t really require, you know, your attention the way your clients do. And so what we’re really able to do is kind of cut through the noise, outsource, streamline, automate all the stuff that we really don’t need to be doing and focus on the things that we do need to be doing, like interacting with our clients, pushing things forward from, you know, start to finish.

Brian Thomas: Great, thank you and highlighted 2 key things for me is obviously your teams aligned on the mission, which is huge when it comes to efficient and effectiveness of getting the deal through the door. But also, you’re looking at leveraging, leveraging some of the newer emerging tech to streamline your business even further.

So I really appreciate highlighting those 2 things. And Chelsea, last question of the day, looking ahead, what are your long-term goals for Ascension Advisory and how do you plan to continue evolving the company to meet the changing needs of the corporate realistic market?

Chelsea Mandel: Yeah, I mean, our mission is simple and it’s clear, you know, our goal is to be the best daily SPAC advisory firm globally, period.

Like that’s it. We want to be the go-to firm for private equity firms and middle market companies when they own real estate that they want to monetize through sale lease-backs and through these other creative strategies that ultimately lead to sale lease-backs like purchase option execution and built to suits and things like that.

And we have a really nice business set up in North America and Europe. The next few years are really about scaling, you know, the European operations even further. And then looking to get into other, you know, major global markets like Australia and at some point, you know, seeing how we can make our way into Asia and other, you know, more institutional markets for us, what’s really most important is to never lose sight of that vision.

You know, we don’t want to fall prey to what a lot of our competitors end up falling for, like getting too outside of their zone, going too broad, you know, with their service offerings, just trying to do too much that they end up. Really not being an expert in anything, you know, we’re happy to stay in our lane and to be proud to be, you know, a specialist in a very niche industry because we’re an industry expert and that’s fine.

We don’t need to do everything. There’s a big enough market in what we do, and we want to infiltrate that and penetrate that as much as possible on a global geographic scale versus going horizontal and going wider into. Areas where we don’t have that same expertise, and we really can’t build that same, you know, track record by going so broad that we’re just falling out of, you know, our lane.

And so that’s really, you know, for us, we want to be the best Delhi SPAC advisory firm and we want to do it globally.

Brian Thomas: That’s awesome. And thank you for highlighting that. That’s so important. Obviously, you can be really efficient and be really good at what you do. Being very limited in that space versus trying to go while, as you mentioned previously.

So, I appreciate that. And Chelsea, it was such a pleasure having you on this evening and I look forward to speaking with you real soon.

Chelsea Mandel: Thank you. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Brian Thomas: Bye for now.

Chelsea Mandel Podcast Transcript. Listen to the audio on the guest’s podcast page.

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