The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has a new governor, the third in its seven-year history. If his reputation is anything to go by, he will bring a new style of management to the emirate's financial hub.
Abdullah Mohammed Saleh was appointed to Dubai's premier financial post this week. It is the pinnacle of a career in banking and finance going back 50 years, during which he has given service to three Dubai Rulers.
He has been at the heart of the creation of a modern banking and financial services sector in the emirate, even before the formation of the UAE in 1972. "He virtually wrote the banking rule book from the beginning," says a DIFC insider.
His appointment is unlikely to change DIFC strategy, which since the financial crisis has been focused on a "back-to-basics" approach. But his personal style will be different from his predecessors.
He replaced Ahmed Humaid Al Tayer, who had the status of one of the emirate's oldest business dynasties and the gravitas of high positions of state, well able to steady the DIFC ship in stormy times; before that Dr Omar bin Sulaiman's adventurist style typified boom-time Dubai, before the financial crisis dealt a blow to its fortunes.
If Mr Saleh's career until now, and his personal management style, can be used as indicators, he will be decidedly lower profile than either of his predecessors.
"He is a background man, quiet and dignified. He thinks before he speaks and when he does speak, he is very knowledgeable about the financial business. He is a hard-working technocrat, a bankers' banker par excellence," says Anthony Harris, a former British ambassador to the UAE who has known Mr Saleh for 20 years.
Mr Saleh's family's distant origins lie in the Arab merchant community of southern Iran, which plied a regular trade with Dubai in the 19th century.
Many of the more ambitious traders saw better opportunities on the other side of the Gulf, and moved to Dubai and Sharjah in the early decades of the last century. Their descendants still form a circle of expertise within Dubai's financial and commercial communities.
The young Mr Saleh was schooled in Sharjah and the UK, and rounded off his vocational training at the Chartered Institute of Bankers.
This grounding in financial matters was put to use when Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum sought his help, along with British advisers, to set up the first indigenous bank for the emirate. Until then financial affairs had been dominated by foreign banks, especially the British Bank of the Middle East (now owned by HSBC). The outcome was the foundation of the National Bank of Dubai (NBD) in 1963.
Mr Saleh has retained an association with NBD ever since. He was managing director from 1982 until 2004, and chairman when NBD merged with Emirates Bank to form Emirates NBD, Dubai's banking "champion" in 2007.
He added further international experience to his portfolio with a long stint as arbitrator on the board of the Euro-Arab Arbitration Centre in Paris, and with a directorship of the Qatar Fuel Additives Company.
Mr Saleh's "global" frame of mind extends to his attire. "He is one of the few Emiratis I know in senior business positions who seldom wears a dishdasha; he always works in a business suit," Mr Harris says.
Outside the banking sector, he is a major shareholder and director of Dubai Transport Company, a conglomerate run by the Al Baker family with interests in logistics, transport and contracting, and which also runs the Jebel Ali golf resort and other hospitality outlets in the emirate.
With that background in the emirate's business community, it was no surprise when Mr Saleh was appointed a director of the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), the regulator set up to oversee the business of DIFC-registered companies in 2004. He moved on to become DFSA chairman in 2007.
He comes to the top job at DIFC just as the centre is beginning to recover from the financial crisis of 2008-09, and implementing a strategy to take it to the next stage as the platform for Dubai's financial services industry.
With this strategy the DIFC will focus on its main purpose: the consolidation and growth of the free zone's position as the leading financial centre of the Gulf. This involves attracting more global financial services groups to base their regional operations in the centre.
The financial crisis has not resulted in the exodus of global players from Dubai predicted by some; in fact, the DIFC recently announced a record number of companies, 813, registered at the centre, as Western and Asian financial firms contrasted the attraction of Dubai with the instability of some other regional centres. The DIFC now accounts for 3.6 per cent of the emirate's GDP.
However, Mr Saleh will find challenges in his new in-tray. Supply and demand for property in the DIFC's self-governing precincts still requires fine-tuning; the business of DIFC Investments, the unit that went on an extravagant spending spree before the crisis and which cost the DIFC millions of dollars in write-offs, must be further rationalised.
He also finds himself governor at a time of flux in global financial markets, during an unprecedented wave of mergers and tie-ups between stock exchanges, in which Dubai has an interest.
"One of his priorities must be to encourage consolidation of financial markets in the UAE," says an exchange executive. "The DIFC, like any financial hub, needs a functioning and efficient securities market as its foundation, and the world around it is changing fast."