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Pioneering Sale Leaseback Transactions: An Interview with Chelsea Mandel, Founder of Ascension Advisory

Pioneering Sale Leaseback Transactions: An Interview with Chelsea Mandel, Founder of Ascension Advisory

In the competitive world of corporate real estate, finding a unique niche and excelling in it is no small feat. Chelsea Mandel, Founder and Managing Director of Ascension Advisory has carved out a distinguished place in the industry by focusing exclusively on sale leaseback transactions. With a career that began in traditional real estate private equity and evolved through key roles at Starwood Capital Group and New Mountain Capital, Chelsea has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise. Her journey from executing significant sale leaseback deals to founding her own advisory firm reflects her professional prowess and her innovative approach to client service and technology integration. In this interview with TechBullion, Chelsea shares insights into her career, the evolution of the sale leaseback market, and her vision for the future of Ascension Advisory.

Q. Can you share with us your professional background and what inspired you to start Ascension Advisory?

I started my career in traditional real estate private equity at Starwood Capital Group. New Mountain Capital then poached me to join their new sale-leaseback fund as the first member hired under the portfolio manager. At New Mountain Capital, I helped raise a half-billion-dollar sale-leaseback fund and executed approximately $400 million in industrial sale-leasebacks, primarily working with other middle-market private equity firms. After deciding to move to the advisory side, I joined a brokerage firm based in Chicago and opened their New York office. During my three years there, I closed around $1 billion in sale-leasebacks and became the top producer at the firm. Wanting to strike out on my own, I founded Ascension Advisory with the goal of continuing the niche business I had developed but with a different approach to client experience, technology implementation, internal structure, and overall strategy.

Q. What drew you specifically to the niche of sale leaseback transactions in the corporate real estate sector?

What drew me specifically to the niche of sale-leaseback transactions in the corporate real estate sector is the unique intersection of real estate and credit, combining the dynamics of buildings and operating companies. This niche allows me to leverage expertise in both areas, creating innovative financial solutions that benefit our clients.

Q. Ascension Advisory specializes exclusively in sale leaseback transactions. What unique value do you bring to your clients in this area?

At Ascension Advisory, our laser focus sets us apart from competitors who try to be “jack of all trades.” We stay in our lane and excel in our niche because this is all we do. Our dedication to this specialization allows us to provide a better, more streamlined client experience. Additionally, our internal structure fosters a more collaborative environment, ultimately leading to superior client outcomes.

Q. How do you identify and assess potential sale leaseback opportunities for your clients?

About half of our business comes from inbound inquiries, while the other half is generated outbound. Our clients include existing business owners and financial sponsors who are acquiring or owning businesses with owned properties. This balanced approach allows us to effectively serve a diverse range of needs.

Q. How has the corporate real estate market evolved since you started Ascension Advisory, and what trends do you foresee in the near future?

Since early 2022, the interest rate environment and the M&A market have changed significantly. Specifically, sale-leasebacks have become much more mainstream, especially as a source of acquisition financing for M&A. This strategy gained popularity over the last few years as many owner-operators and private equity firms faced challenges in the traditional debt capital markets and turned to sale-leasebacks as an attractive financing alternative. Consequently, this shift brought many new players into the space, who have grown comfortable with sale-leasebacks as a traditional, mainstream financing option rather than a bespoke product.

Q. As a female entrepreneur in a predominantly male industry, what unique challenges have you encountered, and how have you addressed them?

I have sometimes faced challenges in being perceived as young or not being taken as seriously as my male competitors when meeting someone for the first time. However, these perceptions quickly dissipate once I start talking and can highlight our track record, experience, and expertise.

Q. What advice would you give to other women who are looking to break into the corporate real estate field or start their own business?

My advice to women looking to break into the corporate real estate field or start their own business is to get into a position of power and decision-making by any means possible. This is why I transitioned to the advisory side, where the “eat what you kill” model means there’s essentially no ceiling. In a 100% commission-based business, there is no wage gap, allowing you to control your earning potential and career trajectory fully.

Q. How do you envision the role of technology evolving in the sale leaseback market and within your firm?

Technology is crucial in our operations, influencing every aspect of our operations, from our sourcing models and business development to CRM, team organization, and task management. We utilize data scraping and advanced internal processes and systems, all of which enhance the experience and service we provide for our clients.

Q. What legacy do you hope to leave in the corporate real estate industry through Ascension Advisory?

We want to be the clear #1 sale leaseback advisory firm in North America and Europe.

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