There was a time, in pre-Dubai days, when Michael Hewitt had an abiding resentment for the son of the deep-sea diver Jacques Cousteau.
Mr Hewitt, originally from Boston in the United States, had just qualified with a degree in marine biology - a passion since childhood.
"But when I looked around, I realised Mr Cousteau's son had the only job I would have wanted. It was time to think again about my future."
That rethink led, ultimately and via a number of diversionary paths, to the chief executive's job at Saffar Capital, one of the Arabian Gulf region's more successful private-equity houses.
Saffar recently pulled off a coup with the sale of its 60 per cent stake in the business information firm Zawya, for a sum north of US$30 million (Dh110.1m), according to market estimates. The figure has never been made public but Saffar says the exit was on a multiple of 10 times its original investment, on an internal rate of return of 25 per cent over the 11-year period of its involvement.
It was Saffar's first exit from a private-equity investment and the first in the GCC for some time.
Saffar investors had been with Zawya since very early on.
"We believe in pioneering early-stage investments over the long term, which is pretty unique in this part of the world," Mr Hewitt says of the philosophy behind his firm's approach.
"In the boom times, investors want a return as quick as possible and then it was a challenge in comparison with the equity and real estate markets. And we don't do leverage, so straight equity has sometimes been a challenge. But in the new climate we have come into our own," he says.
The firm's origins owe much to one of the biggest shifts in investor psychology over recent decades, Mr Hewitt says.
After the dot-com bubble and the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001, there was for a while a great uncertainty about the region and the welcome GCC investors would get in the West.
So regional funds tended to stay put for a while. This triggered the boom in equity markets and property as the new century unfolded.
"But they needed information on which to make investment decisions and this was the beauty of Zawya. Our investors saw it as a part of the financial infrastructure, and it also helped them invest in that infrastructure," Mr Hewitt says.
Saffar investors were well clued-up on the region anyway. Although he declines to reveal their precise identities, Mr Hewitt says the firm's backers include some of the biggest investor families from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with some western involvement, too.
"The firm's other major achievement since it opened in the Dubai International Financial Centre was its part in the creation of Saudi Swiss Securities, one of the first firms to get a brokerage licence from the Saudi regulator. It is now called Credit Suisse Saudi Arabia."
The firm's style is to seek entrepreneurs with vision and to partner them with capital.
"We are hands-on, in that we help provide operation support and advise on a corporate governance structure but we are also patient and attentive to their needs," says Mr Hewitt.
Saffar's current interests lie in projects in the Arabian Gulf region and in Turkey, Africa, Russia and Ukraine, in sectors such as energy and telecommunications.
"Transaction size has come down, so we have to concentrate on those niches we've identified," he says. "We're always looking for exits, of course, but it's been difficult to do initial public offerings in the region for some time.
"Exits are more likely going to be trade sales or sales to other financial groups."
Going back to his earlier fascination with marine biology, once Mr Hewitt realised the role of Cousteau heir was taken, he looked around for another string to his bow and found it in another early interest: Russian history.
He did a course in it as part of his final degree and then went off to teach English to Russians in a small village outside St Petersburg in the mid-1990s. This whetted his appetite enough for him to do another course, in Russian and business studies, which paved the way for his return to Russia between 2002 and 2005 at the sharp end of the post-Soviet era: first in the Moscow office of Deutschebank; then as the man in charge of nuclear non-proliferation issues in the Nato office in Moscow.
"It was a tough time there, after the Kosovo crisis and when Nato was still distrusted. But I think we made some progress," he says.
His role at Saffar seems less of a challenge than such momentous issues but Mr Hewitt takes them just as seriously.
"We believe in being hands-on," he repeats with determination.
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