Nemir Kirdar, father of private equity globally, dies at 83

The former Chase Manhattan banker founded Bahrain's Investcorp and ran the alternative investment firm for more than three decades

Nemir Kirdar helped turn Investcorp into a globally-recognised investor, acquiring international assets. Courtesy Investcorp
Nemir Kirdar helped turn Investcorp into a globally-recognised investor, acquiring international assets. Courtesy Investcorp

Nemir Kirdar, one of the Middle East’s most prominent investors who founded and ran Bahrain’s alternative asset manager Investcorp for more than three decades, has died at the age of 83.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Nemir Kirdar, Investcorp’s founder, my predecessor, friend, mentor and a great man of virtues and values,” Investcorp’s executive chairman Mohammed Alardhi said on Twitter.

“My thoughts at this moment go to his family, his wife Nada and daughters Rena and Serra. May God bless his soul.”

The former Iraqi-British banker set up Investcorp in 1982 and ran it with close confidants he worked with previously at Chase Manhattan Bank, including Salman Abbasi and former Morgan Stanley banker Yusef Abu Khadra.

From the beginning, the company, which was known as the Arabian Investment Banking Corporation at the time, attracted notable names from across the Arab world’s business landscape as it vied to become a serious player from the region in the world of finance and private equity.

Its board read like a who’s who of the Arab world and included Khaled Al-Zayani, Ahmed Al-Mannai, Hussain Al-Fardan, Ahmed Ali Kanoo, Omar al-Aggad, Abdulaziz Al-Sulaiman, Dawood Musaad Al-Saleh, Abdul-Rahim Galadari, Abdul-Rahim al-Atiqi and Mohamed Al Zamil.

“We started with $50 million [Dh183.5m] out of two rooms in the Holiday Inn in Bahrain,” Mr Al Zayani, one of the company’s founding investors, told The National.

“We went around the Gulf to raise capital from merchants and ultra-high-net-worth individuals.”

Kirdar was a “visionary” and redefined how investors from the Gulf invested their wealth, Mr Al Zayani said.

“He wanted us to be involved at the early stages of an investment, to be in the market and not wait until much later,” Mr Al Zayani said.

“He was a great leader and a legend; few like him exist in our part of the world.”

Investcorp came onto the world stage with its 1984 acquisition of Tiffany & Co, which it took public in 1987 and pocketed a profit of at least $100m.

“Tiffany was a big jump for us. It remains the most profitable deal to date, at 600 per cent return on capital,” Mr Al Zayani said.

Over the years, Kirdar’s company made many other stellar investments in companies such as Gucci, Chaumet, Saks Fifth Avenue, Circle K, Breguet, Ebel, Carvel Corporation and Tyrrells.

Under Kirdar, Investcorp would come in, rescue failing or distressed entities that had promise, turn them around and then exit when the time was right.

Over the years, the business lines diversified beyond the company’s famed retail acquisitions and its business model influenced other players in the finance industry.

For many fresh graduates from the Arab world, landing a job with Investcorp became an aspiration on a par with securing a place at Harvard or Oxford.

Investcorp, which counts Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company as its biggest shareholder, made over 195 private equity deals since inception in the US, Europe, Asia and the Mena region.

It has also made more than 800 commercial and residential real estate investments in the US and Europe, with a total transaction value of $61 billion.

Kirdar “was a legend,” Abdulla Al Zamil said, whose father served on Investcorp’s board.

“He was the father of private equity in the Gulf. No one knew what it was, and he took it upon himself to localise it in Bahrain,” Mr Al Zamil, chief executive of Zamil Industrial and chairman of Gulf International Bank KSA, said.

Kirdar, who made Investcorp a conduit for Gulf investors interested in acquiring international assets, left his post as chairman upon retirement in October 2017. He had stepped down as chief executive in 2015.

When Kirdar left, the alternative investment manager had about $21.3bn in total assets under management including assets managed by third parties.

Investcorp suffered its first and the only annual loss in 2009, after the 2008 financial crisis.

It quickly bounced back and returned approximately $7bn to investors between 2009 and 2015, according to the company’s website.

“For over three decades, he generated exceptional and consistent returns for Investcorp’s clients and shareholders, establishing the firm as a titan of the Gulf investment community,” Mr Alardhi said in 2017 when Kirdar retired.

Today, Investcorp is pursuing an ambitious growth strategy as it continues to invest through its six business lines: private equity, real estate, absolute return investments, infrastructure, credit management and strategic capital.

The company had $31.1bn in assets under management at the end of 2019 and its new leadership plans to take assets under management to $50bn in the medium term.

“When we started, our main clients were from the GCC, and while they remain important, the company’s investors now are from all over the world, including Europe and Asia,” Mr Al Zayani said.

With fast-changing global investment scenarios, Investcorp is increasingly pivoting to technology sector investments.

“We built on this solid foundation and today the firm, his dream, is more global, diversified and resilient than ever,” Mr Alardhi said.

Updated: October 28, 2020 02:01 PM

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