Christine Battist Brings Ambition, Experience As Avison Young's New CFO
Christine Battist's résumé over the past 25 years includes running two REITs, spearheading an IPO and spinning a Fortune 500 company off from its primary shareholder. Now, Battist has landed at Avison Young as its chief financial officer, the latest move for a company on a near decade-long growth pattern.
Battist will lead AY’s finance and accounting organization and participate in the development and execution of the company’s long-term growth strategy and profit goals. She joins Avison Young in the middle of a boom time. The company has expanded from a Canadian firm to a global brand with 82 offices employing over 2,600 people across North America and Europe. Battist is up for the challenge.
"I've been opportunistic at every step in my career," Battist said.
Battist is joining Avison Young at an important point in the post-recession recovery. She said the market dynamics are poised to change in the coming year, as the investment cycle reaches its latter stages. The real estate sector continues to contend with differing property fundamentals across asset types, markets and regions. Occupier behavior, innovation and technology are the primary disruptors, and Battist said Avison Young is investing in staff and technology in its enterprise solutions business, which was established to address the needs of end users, once the transition from her predecessor, Gary Hubbard, is complete.
Battist also wants to invest more manpower and technology in AY's capital markets business, which is a growth engine for the firm. Battist said capital markets cooled off slightly in the U.S. last year, with transaction volume down from 2016 in most major markets. Battist sees growth as real estate continues to provide attractive risk-adjusted returns, relative to other asset classes. Interest rates are rising slightly and, as a result, cap rates have stabilized across asset classes and, in the case of hospitality, risen slightly. Battist said the interest rate environment may have an effect on broader financial markets but commercial real estate, bolstered by a strong appetite for industrial product, appears somewhat insulated.
Battist said Avison Young is conservatively leveraged, giving the firm significant financial flexibility in the event of a downturn.
A Winding Road To Real Estate
After graduating from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, with an accounting degree, Battist wanted to develop her business skills and believed the best way to start was through public finance, though she kept her eye out for new career challenges.
“My finance skills and ability to develop objective business strategies are transferable across sectors,” Battist said.
She began as an associate in 1993 in the Dallas office of what is now PwC. She spent a decade at PwC’s Dallas office, gained experience in mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, risk management and financial audits, and rose up the ranks to senior manager.
She moved to Tuesday Morning Corp., a discount retailer specializing in decorative home accessories, as its director of internal audits. There, she established the company's inaugural internal audit function. In 2005, Battist joined Mosaic Co. — the world’s leading producer of concentrated phosphate and potash crop nutrients — as its director of financial compliance. In 2007, Battist was promoted to director of investor relations at Mosaic and led investor relations during the company’s recapitalization and spinoff from its largest shareholder, Cargill.
Then real estate beckoned. In 2011, Battist joined a Pine River Capital Management affiliate, Two Harbors Investment Corp., a REIT focused on investing, financing and managing residential mortgage-backed securities and related investments. She led investor and media relations during a fourfold market cap growth to $3B. A year later, Battist was named chief financial officer and treasurer of another Pine River REIT, Silver Bay Realty Trust, which acquired, renovated, leased and managed single-family properties in 13 markets, across nine states. Battist was a key leader during Silver Bay’s formation and IPO, and Silver Bay wound up with $1.2B in assets, annual revenues of $125M and a market cap of $650M before it was sold to Tricon Capital Group in May.
Battist said her experience guiding companies smoothly through changes is a skill that is agnostic to industry type and dovetails with Avison Young’s rapid growth. Her experience with Silver Bay gave her perspective into the service-oriented, client-based nature of the real estate sector and broadened her understanding of local, regional, national and global real estate market dynamics.
"I have jumped at the chance to be involved in transformative projects. Bringing together the right team and executing a comprehensive strategy is exciting in any sector," Battist said.
A Commitment To Family And Mentoring
Battist has a strong commitment to mentoring and fostering education opportunities for women and children wherever she has lived, and believes education is a path to independence and self-worth. This commitment began in her 20s, when she mentored a young woman in Dallas and helped her obtain her GED and her first job. Battist continued these pursuits through the United Way and the Girl Scouts.
Battist is married; her husband, Robb, is a software engineer. They have two sons, Alex and Harrison. Alex is a strong basketball player and Battist has been visiting potential colleges with him, while Harrison also plays basketball and is active in music.
“Between the two, I probably watch 100 games a year,” Battist said.
The family is very active and enjoys being outdoors. They spend a lot of time in northern Minnesota and recently spent time in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Battist sees parallels between raising her sons and mentoring young employees at Avison Young.
“It’s all about helping them find their vision and giving them the tools to achieve it,” Battist said.