Qatar bolstering wealth fund team to diversify portfolio

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, one of the world's most aggressive investors, is hiring senior bankers and industry executives to lessen the fund's reliance on Europe and diversify its investment portfolio, sources familiar with the plan said.

Under newly appointed chief executive Ahmed Al-Sayed, the US$100 billion (S$127 billion)-plus sovereign fund is scouting for opportunities in Asia and the United States. The hiring reflects a long-term objective of geographically balancing a portfolio, which is now nearly 80 per cent exposed to Europe, the sources said.

Mr Al-Sayed, known as a savvy negotiator and aggressive dealmaker, took the helm at Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) in July, when the newly crowned emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, shook up the investment vehicle as part of his restructuring of the Qatari state on his father's abdication.

Mr Al-Sayed is one of the very few senior executives who are not part of the ruling family in Qatar to take helm at a major state-owned entity in the Gulf state. Previously, QIA was run by the emir's cousin, former prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who built up big stakes in European business and real estate.

Since Mr Al-Sayed's appointment, the fund has embarked on an aggressive expansion spree, hiring bankers and senior executives with experience ranging from mergers and acquisitions in Asia to retail and luxury investments in Europe.

Qatar Holding, the wealth fund's investment arm, has hired Mr Ugo Arzani, most recently a managing director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, as its new head of consumer and retail investments, three of the sources said. The sources declined to be identified as the hiring is not public.

Also joining the fund as head of Asia real estate is Mr Jason Chew, previously the head of Greater China operations at Pramerica Real Estate Investors, the sources said. Both executives will start with the fund next month and will be based in Doha.

The two hirings follow the appointment of Hong Kong-based banker Michael Cho as head of mergers and acquisitions last month, the veteran Merrill Lynch banker filling a post vacant since 2011. Mr Deven Karnik, another Asia-based banker who was previously with Morgan Stanley joined in April to run a newly formed infrastructure team.

QIA also appointed Mr Stefan Frank as its head of strategy in July, according to the sources. Mr Frank was previously strategy head at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt.

"Ahmed is extremely ambitious and knows very well that to create a global wealth fund you need people with experience in Asia and the US. The current team is very smart but their expertise is mostly in Europe," one of the sources said. "Knowing him, he must be thinking about taking to the fund to the next level, to the likes of Abu Dhabi's ADIA or Singapore's GIC. Nothing less will do for him."

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) is one of the world's largest sovereign wealth fund with estimated assets of between US$400 billion to US$600 billion. State-owned GIC has around US$250 billion in assets under management.

A spokesman for QIA in London declined to comment on the hiring or on its plan to diversify its portfolio.