x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The salvage specialist on the case

Aidan Birkett, the chief restructuring officer of Dubai World, has faced many challenges in his long career as a corporate turnaround specialist, but Dubai World ranks as the biggest and most complex.

Aidan Birkett, the chief restructuring officer of Dubai World, has to work out a deal between the company and 97 creditors.
Aidan Birkett, the chief restructuring officer of Dubai World, has to work out a deal between the company and 97 creditors.

Aidan Birkett, the chief restructuring officer of Dubai World, has faced many challenges in his long career as a corporate turnaround specialist, but Dubai World ranks as the biggest and most complex. Before Mr Birkett, 57, was appointed to the Dubai World job last November, he was reckoned to have taken part in the restructuring of more than US$100 billion (Dh367.32bn) of corporate debt in a series of high-profile transactions for his current employer, Deloitte, and his former firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

If he pulls off a deal between Dubai World and its 97 creditors, he will have added significantly to that tally, and also resolved the most complex and sensitive issue on the UAE's financial agenda. Yesterday's announcement was the first step towards resolution, although the final shape of a deal could take months for Mr Birkett and his team to hammer out with creditor banks. He is well used to the process of attrition that is characteristic of these restructurings. He has clocked up years of delicate negotiation, cajoling and compromise in such corporate rescues as Eurotunnel, Cable and Wireless, Wembley Stadium and the Spanish property group Inmobiliaria Colonial.

Mr Birkett is also no stranger to controversy and a high media profile, having been involved in the restructuring of the bankrupt media empire of the late tycoon Robert Maxwell. He has been head of the 1,200-strong corporate finance practice at Deloitte in the UK since 2004. The firm says he has a "reputation for devising profit enhancement and business turnaround strategies, and for successfully advising on corporate restructurings".

A colleague describes Mr Birkett as a "no-nonsense individual who does not suffer fools gladly, and who is prepared to let his anger show if he thinks the situation demands it". Another says: "He's one of those people who, although he's been very successful and achieved a lot, doesn't just sit in the background waiting to make even more money. He's very hands-on and involved, and likes to remain client-oriented."

Mr Birkett's involvement in the Gulf has increased since he helped set up Deloitte's office in the Dubai International Financial Centre in 2006. Last year, he headed the Deloitte team that was hired by the Central Bank of Bahrain to investigate the collapse of The International Banking Corporation (TIBC), which sparked the biggest corporate scandal in Saudi Arabia when the al Gosaibi family, the owners of TIBC, accused Maan al Sanea, the head of the Saad Group, of a $10bn fraud.

Mr Birkett was in Dubai later in the year making presentations to creditors of the Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi and brothers group businesses, many of which are among the financial institutions with which he must now negotiate over the Dubai World proposals. A native of north-east England, he likes sport of all kinds and is a fan of Newcastle United Football Club. He was mentioned as a possible financial rescuer for the club in its recent cash distress. He is also keen on horse racing, rugby and skiing.

A friend says that, having missed the last skiing season in Europe because of the Dubai World restructuring talks, Mr Birkett is determined to reach a successful conclusion to the negotiations with creditors before the next season. @Email:fkane@thenational.ae