Lisette van Doorn is moving on to new challenges after four and a half action packed years. She looks back with Martin Hurst on her substantial achievements at INREV

After four and a half years as CEO of INREV, Lisette van Doorn is returning to her former employer, ING Real Estate Investment Management, where she will be taking on the role of country head of the company's Italian business in December. "My reason for leaving is to a large extent personal," she says. "I always wanted to work abroad for a while and this is a very nice opportunity. The kids are still very small so the timing at the moment is good."

Van Doorn can be very happy with her achievements at INREV since she took over from Judy Hill in July 2005. "A lot has been done in a short space of time," she says. "The industry was very opaque but has developed very rapidly; it is not fully transparent today but considering where we started we have achieved a lot."

Take-up of INREV initiatives has been very positive. "The guidelines have been very important and if we look at the percentage of managers now working with them we can be very satisfied," van Doorn says. "The same applies to the INREV index. There is still a long way to go but our position today is very good. If you launch something as significant as a performance index and get a good response from the industry it's a massive achievement."

Van Doorn's enthusiasm and optimism is all-pervading so it is hard for her to come up with any regrets. "One maybe is that it might have been better to work on one integrated set of guidelines from the outset. That said, by working on them one by one we have been able to progress more quickly than by trying to get agreement on one set. Fortunately this situation is now solved!"

Van Doorn's departure comes at a time when concerns have been expressed about the non-listed property funds model. However, she is quick to dispel any lack of confidence. "I don't believe in the broken model because I see it in the long-term perspective," she argues. "Non-listed real estate funds basically just exist for nearly 10 years; in comparison with other asset classes the sector is still in its early days of development. And any product develops with ups and downs. We should use the lessons we have learnt from this crisis to further improve the product."

Relationship management has been a key part of van Doorn's remit and its importance is increasing. "We are seeing much more vertical integration, where not only fund managers and consultants are becoming fund of funds managers; we are even seeing investors becoming fund of funds managers. INREV is now a big organisation with over 300 members; while it is important for different groups to discuss issues sometimes it is difficult to distinguish who is in which group. We need to keep everyone happy and that requires very high quality relationship management in which we acknowledge the individual needs of the different groups and bring them together."

An example of INREV's focus on relationship management is the fund manager forum that it established recently. "By doing this we acknowledge that fund managers are a very important group for INREV," van Doorn says. "Of course we have always aimed to meet their needs but we have only recently started to communicate this explicitly. Our main aim is to communicate better to all the different groups in the industry what INREV does and how it can benefit them in particular.

"At the same time one of our most important priorities is to keep the investors on board and increase their involvement not only in terms of numbers and how active they are."

And of course there is still a lot to be done. Van Doorn explains that INREV's research effort still needs to be fine-tuned and developed. "We do our best to accommodate the needs of members as well as possible by concentrating on those topics where they have a particular interest or are struggling with," she says. "And these needs continuously change; in two years' time the research needs of our members might be different, or they may need new guidelines.

"Training is also an important topic for INREV. We need a training entity that can quickly react to changing circumstances. The basic elements such as research, professional standards and training will always remain at the core of what we do."

Building up the network has been a huge benefit for van Doorn. "It's not just knowing people but understanding how very differently everyone works and operates and how challenges can be met in very different ways," she says. "Working in a very small team with a very big and very, very diverse membership has made the job multi-dimensional. I have learnt different perspectives about how funds can be managed; that of the fund manager, the investor, as well the research perspective and the bank's perspective. This has been very useful."

But multi-dimensional goes beyond different professional perspectives. "Before INREV I had only worked in a big organisation where you get used to things happening without realising how," van Doorn recalls. "For example, you never wonder who pays your salary into your bank account. At INREV I dealt with absolutely everything from top to bottom, such as the finances. And at the beginning I had to execute payments, including the salaries.

"I have also enormously enjoyed raising new ideas, thinking about how to implement them, presenting them to the board, getting agreement… then when the board and members see the results and show their appreciation for our new initiatives - and training is a good example of that."

So with so much satisfaction to look back on is there a special moment that stands out? "I have really enjoyed all the time I spent with INREV," van Doorn says. Maybe the greatest challenge we overcame was the publication of the integrated INREV guidelines. The annual conference in Istanbul which was INREV's fifth anniversary conference is one that I really remember. And of course I was really pleased to win the IPE Real Estate Award for outstanding industry contribution in 2007!"

Van Doorn's parting message for the industry is simply a continuation of INREV's core mission to the industry. "In terms of where we are now, transparency still has many issues we need to work on. But the good news is they are not unsolvable."

The delivery of data to INREV is an issue that has tested relationship management skills. "Sometimes it seems people feel they are doing me a favour when they deliver their data but I believe it will be an absolute prerequisite going forward - not only to deliver data to INREV but also being transparent generally," van Doorn says. "More and more investors will just demand the same level of transparency for listed as for unlisted. That goes not only for real estate but also for private equity versus listed equity. A listed company never questions whether it wants to deliver the information or not - it's a fact of life. In the non-listed world it sometimes seems as if some people feel they still have a choice.

"I think that transparency is the absolute prerequisite to continue being in business otherwise some investors will not want to invest with you any more."