In a surprise move, Cushman & Wakefield has named Carlo Barel di Sant’Albano as interim CEO replacing Glenn Rufrano.

Sant’Albano will continue to serve as Chairman of C&W’s Board of Directors and CEO of the EMEA operations in addition to taking on these additional responsibilities until a new CEO is appointed.

Rufrano has been CEO of the company since early 2010 and will remain with the company for a transitional period to assist the board and the senior management team in ensuring a smooth transition. His departure had not been discussed prior to the announcement.

 “In recent years, Cushman & Wakefield has made great strides in reorganizing its business operations, and is now well positioned to capture the opportunities presented by a recovering market. Substantial investment has been made in the business over the last few years both to strengthen the teams and the infrastructure. We remain committed to supporting C&W’s growth, enabling it to achieve its full potential. With the leadership of Carlo and the senior management, we have the right team in place to accelerate on that path while we identify a new leader for this next chapter in the firm’s development. I wish to thank Glenn for his valuable contribution in stabilizing the company following the recession, providing a platform to launch this exciting new phase,”  John Elkann, chairman and CEO of EXOR, C&W’s majority shareholder, said in a statement. 

Sant’Albano has been a member of the board of directors of C&W since 2007 and chairman since March 2011. During this time he has been responsible for the strategic oversight and stewardship of the firm on a global basis.Sant’Albano joined C&W from EXOR, where he was instrumental in the acquisition of a majority stake in C&W in March 2007.

Sant’Albano previously had a 20-year career in investment banking, most recently with Credit Suisse. He is a graduate of Brown University and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

NREI had a brief conversation with Sant’Albano about the leadership changes coming to the commercial real estate services firm. An edited transcript follows:

NREI: The changes in Cushman & Wakefield’s top ranks come as somewhat as a surprise. Can you tell us what’s behind the leadership switch?

Carlo Barel di Sant’Albano: First of all, I’ve been involved with Cushman & Wakefield since 2007, when I was at EXOR, which became Cushman & Wakefield’s largest shareholder. I hired Glenn in 2010 to join the firm and the mandate for him was to stabilize the company on the back of a very difficult financial crisis, define a strategic plan and execute it. In 2011, I came on board as chairman of the board to help [with those objectives] and ended up running Europe. There has been a number of changes as we strengthen our business.

NREI: Why is the transition taking place right now?

Carlo Barel di Sant’Albano: Glenn has done an outstanding job in stabilizing the business, developing the strategic plan and executing it. After three and a half, four years, a lot has been accomplished. For example, we had very good financial results this year. The timing was right for him to leave the company and it’s very amicable. He’s been very supportive of me and the company. Frankly, it’s a surprise from the press’ standpoint, but this is something Glenn and we have monitored and worked on very cautiously.

NREI: Are there any major changes or transactions that the company plans to execute in the near term?

Carlo Barel di Sant’Albano: [We have] the desire to continue growing the company and accelerating the execution of the strategic plan. We continuously hire talent around the globe and we may find specific transactions that we want [to participate] in. We are planning to announce a transaction in not too distant future. We are in a very good position, especially in those regions of the world where there’s still growth. There is tremendous opportunity for us to continue strengthening our business.

NREI: As you look for a permanent replacement for Mr. Rufrano, is there anyone specific you have in mind? What qualifications are you looking for?

Carlo Barel di Sant’Albano: We do not have anyone in mind right now. Our objective is to continue doing business as usual. I do believe it’s important to have a separation between chairman and CEO, but there is no rush in terms of timeline. As a board, we are going to start looking for that individual. The reality is that individual has to have a tremendous amount of experience, including global experience, and understand that this is an international business, and have strong people skills. There is a lot more, but it comes down to [evaluating] each individual person.