Ever wondered what the real attractions are to investment roles in the Middle East?, by Oliver Gilkes

8 July 2019 | Oliver Gilkes, Senior Consultant

If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to move to the Middle East, here is a quick guide to the region and some reasons why people we have placed there rate it so highly.

The principal investments market in the Middle East is broad with sovereign wealth funds, independent principal investment and private equity firms and family offices. Some of these invest in the MENA region whilst others have a more global remit, investing across Europe, the Americas and Asia.

The Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) based in the region tend to have a wide investment remit across different asset classes and geographies, typically including private equity, public equity, fixed income and credit, infrastructure, real estate and currencies. SWFs have become increasingly hands-on with their private equity investments in recent years, playing active roles on company boards and proactively asset-managing their investments.

A significant proportion of hiring in the past has been driven by oil and gas prices. Today, decreasing oil and gas prices have, to an extent, driven some sovereign wealth funds to become more operationally efficient and has caused some others to diversify their portfolio away from energy. Recruitment has generally picked up again.

There are a small but growing number of credit funds focused on the region, although this remains a niche asset class. Middle East SWFs and family offices are also substantial investors in real estate in developed markets.

Principal investment teams often invest mainly outside the region so they hire people who have been trained in the major financial centres of Europe, North America and Asia. More regionally focused firms tend to value candidates with work experience in the MENA region.

OG Middle East Insight Photo

The interview processes typically involve first round interviews over the phone / video conference or an interview in-person in the city in which you are based.  Final round interviews usually take place within the home country of the role, allowing you to get a feel for what it is like to live and work in the area. Some investment firms (typically SWFs) include a housing allowance – or even housing itself – as part of the compensation package; this is less common with independent principal investment firms.

We select people for Middle East roles on the basis of technical skills, commercial awareness, track record and cultural fit.  A high level of diplomacy and cultural sensitivity is valued and large egos are often not.  You will also find that a degree of mental flexibility is useful, in that decision-making processes may be slightly different and hierarchies can sometimes be less clear, compared to a typical “western” investment firm.

Why work there?

These roles are exciting and less predictable than maybe a “vanilla” role in London.  You’ll have exposure to working on a wide range of investments across multiple countries and continents. Most roles involve international travel.

The teams typically consist of people from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities, so you will be exposed to different cultures and personalities from the beginning.  You’ll probably meet people who are slightly more adventurous and culturally aware and who have probably worked internationally already during their career.  This means that there are large ex-pat communities in the major financial centres within the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), and it’s easy to build a wide and active social network as everyone is in the same position.

The senior investment professionals in the firms have generally worked in top-tier investment firms, meaning you’ll have great mentors to learn from. And the working atmosphere is often very collegiate.

You’ll be surprised at the quality of deal flow – you will be looking at global opportunities and your access to capital will open doors and result in deal-flow that conventional private equity firms may not see.

Your remuneration will be tax-free in the GCC although your own tax position will depend on your home country’s tax regime.  And the sun shines. The lifestyle for families is good.

Overall, it’s an exciting option to explore and will open more doors than it closes for your future career.

Click here to see our latest Middle East roles

About the author

Oliver joined us in 2008 and covers the UK, Europe and the Middle East. His focus includes private equity, private credit, real estate and infrastructure for sovereign wealth funds, family offices and GPs.

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