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Jonathan Gray is Blackstone's Premier Dealmaker

Jonathan Gray, senior managing director at New York-based private equity giant The Blackstone Group, has built a reputation for his bold growth strategy as co-head of the company's real estate group.

Gray has guided some of Blackstone's biggest transactions of the past decade. He headed the privatization of 11 public real estate companies valued at more than $100 billion, including Extended Stay America, Carr America, Equity Office Properties and Hilton Hotels.

By selling a large number of assets before the economic downturn, the equity group was able to limit its losses and free up more than $12 billion in capital to invest globally.

Blackstone reportedly is holding talks with mall operator Simon Property Group, a real estate investment trust (REIT) based in Indianapolis, to consider a joint offer for troubled mall rival General Growth Properties, a REIT based in Chicago. In February, Simon offered $10 billion for General Growth, but that bid was rejected as too low.

“Blackstone can either acquire some of the properties that General Growth has, or they could provide other kinds of financing,” says Ralph Block, REIT historian and author, in Westlake Village, Calif.

“I knew for a fact that Blackstone was involved with Simon,” says Barry Vinocur, editor of the newsletter REIT Wrap, based in Novato, Calif. “It makes sense. Blackstone has owned malls; they have an interest in this area. It's not a deal that Blackstone would do on its own, but you could see them teaming up.”

A final decision on whether to proceed with a joint venture would involve Blackstone's real estate group and Gray, says Vinocur. “I don't think that anything happens in the real estate space at Blackstone that Jon isn't involved with.”

Blackstone took Hilton Hotels Corp. private in 2007 by taking on $20 billion in debt. Hilton is the world's largest hospitality chain. The private equity group has been negotiating with creditors to reduce its debt load by 20%.

Gray joined Blackstone in 1992. He earned a degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as well as a degree in English. He graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

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