Anbang’s head of real estate is out

Theo Cheng is leaving at a tumultuous time for the insurer

Theo Cheng
Theo Cheng

Anbang Insurance Group’s head of real estate, Theo Cheng, is leaving amid uncertainty over the company’s leadership.

Cheng oversaw Anbang’s real estate division and real estate-related activities, especially overseas investments, according to the trade publication PERE. According to his LinkedIn profile, Cheng began working at the insurance company in February 2015, a few months after Anbang bought the Waldorf Astoria for just under $2 billion. Anbang is currently embarking on a plan to convert about 1,100 rooms at the Waldorf into condominiums, which will cost an estimated $1 billion.

Under Cheng’s watch, Anbang also paid $6.5 billion to acquire 16 Strategic Hotels and Resorts properties, including the Essex House, from Blackstone Group. Days later, Anbang bid around $14 billion to acquire Starwood Hotels and Resorts before suddenly pulling its offer. Some speculated it was due to regulatory scrutiny.

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Anbang, which also pulled out of negotiations to redevelop Kushner Companies’ 666 Fifth Avenue, suspended chairman Wu Xiaohui in June, following reports that he’d been detained by Chinese authorities. At the time, Xiaohui said he turned over his duties for personal reasons. Since his departure, the China Banking Regulatory Commission has effectively run the company.

In June, the Wall Street Journal reported that Anbang, along with HNA Group and Fosun International, was among five international dealmakers that China’s banking regulator is investigating. The regulatory commission was looking into the firms in order to “examine those companies’ leverage situations and risks,” according to the report.

Cheng is on gardening leave, meaning that he’s no longer working but remains on the payroll until he officially leaves the company. [PERE] — Kathryn Brenzel