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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Former DIFC governor tries Marka for size with investment stake

Investment vehicle plans big things in Arabian Gulf retail, luxury and restaurant businesses.

Welcome back, Omar bin Sulaiman. The former governor of the Dubai International Financial Centre, who left that position at the height of the financial crisis as the Dubai authorities purged some of the top jobs in the Emirates, is back in the public eye, having kept a low profile for the past few years.

Mr bin Sulaiman appears in the prospectus for Marka, the investment vehicle that plans big things in the retail, luxury and restaurant business in the Arabian Gulf region. Marka recently got away with a hugely successful initial public offering, attracting some US$2.7 billion worth of interest for $75 million of shares on offer, or around 36 times oversubscribed.

He is one of some 150 founders of Marka, in a roll-call of names that reads like a Who’s Who of the UAE’s leading business brains. Mr bin Sulaiman comes in at number nine on the list of founding investors, with 5 million shares equal to 2.22 per cent of the company.

We will see how well his initial investment does when Marka shares start trading on the Dubai Financial Market early next month.

“And the winner is …”. Those very words send a shiver of anticipation down my spine, not because of genuine excitement at finding out who has won the latest gong on offer, but because they usually precede the granting of another meaningless title in the fast-growing awards industry.

The awards season spikes twice a year in Dubai: round about now, and in the autumn. Next week, at the Arabian Travel Market bash, you can expect examples of such trivia in the midst of “glittering” ceremonies at some of the emirate’s best hotels.

You might forgive the tourism industry for such exhibitionism, because that’s what the business is all about: glitz, bling and ostentation.

But should the more conservative world of banking give in to the same awards temptation? There are increasing numbers of such ceremonies in the financial world these days and you have to question whether they are appropriate.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for a good “glittering” night out and there’s nothing wrong with commending somebody for a job well done.

But a pal of mine in the financial industry makes a good point. “We take part in these things reluctantly, because the clients like to hear that their bank or broker has done a good job. It actually brings in business sometimes. So if the awards process is part of the normal business of banking, shouldn’t it be regulated?”

I haven’t tried this on the Dubai Financial Services Authority yet, but perhaps it might have a view on whether awards should be regulated and audited, perhaps overseen by a special team of awards observers, such as United Nations election observers, to ensure everything has been done upright and proper.

There might even be an awards ceremony for the best awards regulator.

Bizarre experience: I get an email to my work address from my own private email account informing me that my family and I have been robbed and are stranded in Ukraine with a big hotel bill to pay and no cash, credit cards or anything else to meet the US$3,000 cost of settling with the hotelier.

Of course, it is an email scam. But I was surprised at how many friends and contacts actually believed that I’d take my wife and child to Ukraine at this particular time, and that I’d pass around the begging bowl to help get me out.

To all who responded, many thanks for the offer, but I’m fine. I’m grateful to learn about myself and family that at least we weren’t injured.

Now to fix the email.

fkane@thenational.ae

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