Marshall Stocker, MBA ’99: On the Egyptian Real Estate Frontier
By Mark Rader, MFA ’02
This past January, as footage of the protests in Cairo, Egypt was beamed all over the world, Marshall Stocker watched the action from a friend’s balcony, five minutes’ walk from Tahrir Square. Stocker says he knew some sort of change could sweep through the country, but had assumed it would be a military coup, or a shift to Islamic theocracy. “I did not expect it would start as a progressive, liberal sort of revolution.”
In 2009, Stocker founded Emergent Property Advisors, a private equity management company, and moved to Cairo in 2010 intent on buying some of the country’s many belle époque rent-controlled properties, rehabbing them, and then selling them to higher-end clients. For years, as an investor manager living in Boston, Stocker had successfully invested in emerging markets like Indonesia and Portugal. But he craved more direct involvement. “I wanted to be the first guy off the plane with a suitcase full of money when a country’s economy was opening to investors, as was the case in Egypt,” Stocker says. “I wanted to be in it.”
The project thus far has been “very personally rewarding,” says Stocker, but “very hard work.” Even before the uprising, the bureaucratic challenges were daunting. Now that Mubarak has been ousted, the country’s near future is uncertain. The Egyptian stock market plummeted as a result of the revolution, yet Stocker relishes his position as the only buyer in the urban real estate market. The upside to the economic slow-down and revolutionary uncertainties, of course, is that some properties can be bought at highly discounted prices. Whether there will be a market for the rehabbed properties a few years down the road remains to be seen.
As debates over election protocol and the institution of a national Constitution drag on, Stocker says he hopes for a “civil, pluralistic, fairly elected government that reflects the will of the people,” and an economic system that respects private property rights and a legal system that facilitates the enforcement of contracts — staples of the Western system. He remains hopeful that his business model will take hold soon, and, in the meantime, keeps one eye on other high-risk, high-reward emerging markets, like Venezuela, should it undergo a change in leadership.
“As long as the potential rewards outweigh the risks,” Stocker says, “I’m going to keep at this.”