NETHERLANDS/AUSTRALIA - David Blight, chief executive of ING Real Estate Investment Management is leaving the company to return to his native Australia, the firm has announced.

Citing "family reasons" for his departure, the decision is understood to have come as a surprise to the firm and will also come as a blow from a leader credited with engineering the firm's global geographic expansion.

Under Blight, ING REIM has more than doubled its assets under management while he also pioneered the firm's expansion into new asset classes, including infrastructure, senior accommodation, leisure and logistics

"Strategically speaking, he has been excellent," said Wieger Sietsma,  spokesman at ING REIM. "Originally, we were in office and retail. Now we're in all asset classes."

The firm may have identified a potential internal candidate to take over when Blight leaves in August, though Sietsma has so far refused to confirm it.

"We'll have to wait and see. We have strong succession planning but we'll look at candidates inside and outside the company. We want a seasoned real estate professional like David - someone who knows the ropes," he added.

The firm will expect the new CEO to continue the strategy of his or her predecessor.

"The strategy's in place, it was updated only last year, and we have no reason to change it," said Sietsma.