x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sheikh Ahmed: A career shaping Abu Dhabi's investments

As the leader of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Sheikh Ahmed oversaw steady returns for the emirate's sovereign wealth fund.

Sheikh Ahmed  started his career at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority as an analyst covering European stocks.
Sheikh Ahmed started his career at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority as an analyst covering European stocks.

With the death of Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has lost a leader who delivered steady returns on hundreds of billions of dollars in savings from the emirate's oil surpluses and engineered a move towards greater transparency.

One of his most important contributions was to nurture the best financial minds of the nation and complement this with top foreign talent, helping to professionalise the management of the fund and ensure the preservation of capital despite market volatility. He also spearheaded the occasional headline-grabbing investment, such as the 2007 acquisition of a 4.9 per cent stake in Citigroup for US$7.5 billion (Dh27.54bn).

In addition to his role as managing director of ADIA, Sheikh Ahmed was also the Under Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Industry, and the chairman of the board of trustees of the Zayed Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works. He was a major shareholder in National Holding, a company with interests including banking and property. He sat on the Supreme Petroleum Council, the emirate's top energy policy body.

"He was somebody really generous and down to earth, very simple," said Albert Momdjian, a managing director of Calyon, the investment banking division of Credit Agricole. Sheikh Ahmed spent most of his career at ADIA, starting in 1991 as an analyst covering European stocks. ADIA itself was young at the time, having existed as an independent entity for only 15 years when he started. As the fund matured, Sheikh Ahmed rose through the ranks, eventually becoming managing director in 1997. He had a quiet charisma, people close to him say, and a knack for making big decisions unflinchingly.

"Sheikh Ahmed was a quiet decision maker," said Fardan al Fardan, the deputy director of the property department at ADIA. "He took time to evaluate things. Under his leadership, ADIA changed a lot how it does business. "What distinguished him was the way he handled people and the way he chose people around him. He surrounded himself with a very qualified group of young Emiratis that he has trained and made sure that they got a good education. That says a lot for him."

When sovereign wealth funds came under increased scrutiny several years ago, ADIA took the lead among global funds in developing a set of voluntary principles for transparency in governance. This led to the publication of the fund's first annual review this month. The review disclosed that ADIA had made annual returns averaging 6.5 per cent over the past 20 years. It also showed that the fund was putting more of its money in passive index investing, a strategy Sheikh Ahmed adopted in 2008 when the fund moved from 45 per cent to 60 per cent of assets in indexes, according to a BusinessWeek article.

"He was trying to change ADIA philosophy, especially in terms of disclosures, and wanted by all means to change the fund's image to make it more transparent," Mr Momdjian said. "This annual report was very, very important for him." Nazem Fawwaz al Kudsi, a former ADIA employee and the current chief executive of Invest AD, a government-owned investment company, said Sheikh Ahmed pushed the fund in new directions.

"He was a hands-on driver of investment processes, and as a result made a major contribution to the growth of ADIA into the economic force it is today," he said. "May God bless his soul." * Additional reporting by Bradley Hope @Email:afitch@thenational.ae ngillet@thenational.ae