Peter Smith knows more than most about stock markets. Nowadays, he’s chief executive of the Dubai-based Global Equity Partners, which advises small to medium enterprises (SMEs) on how to raise money and, potentially, launch an IPO on exchanges in the region.
“There’s a plethora of misguided young companies in the SME space who don’t know where to turn,” says Mr Smith. “We bring them under our wing and help them operationally here in the Middle East, raising capital here or abroad and helping them achieve public listings. It usually takes two to four years.”
He certainly has the experience to make this happen.
Back in 1986, in the decade when “yuppies” (young upwardly mobile professionals) were making a mark for themselves in the world’s big cities, the 18-year-old Mr Smith became one of the youngest qualified stockbrokers in the UK. He was the quintessential yuppie, having risen from humble beginnings on the edge of Toxteth in Liverpool with a father who worked as a labourer.
“The neighbourhood I grew up in was dreadful. Most people were unemployed,” says Mr Smith, 46, who adds that this drove him to better himself.
His determination led him to train to become a stockbroker, and by 1987 he was trading on the London stock market floor.
“Going from a very poor situation in Liverpool to this Thatcherite stock exchange was incredible. We’d work 12 hours a day, but you didn’t feel like you were, because there was continually that buzz in the air.”
Mr Smith became an options trader, generating US$200 million of trades a month. When he started out, the open outcry method – shouting and the use of hand signals to transfer information about buy and sell orders – was still in use in the UK.
“It was slow, because you were relying on human ability to pass a message from A to B, and often from B to C,” he recalls.
In 1993, at the age of 25, Mr Smith set up the international financial services business Belgravia.
It made its debut on the Nasdaq Junior Boards with a market capitalisation of $40m, and by 2006 had 23 worldwide offices and $2.2 billion under management. But the same year, at the age of 38, Mr Smith decided to go out on a high, and resigned.
“When people used to ask me ‘where do you live?’, I’d say ‘seat 1A’ because I spent an awful lot of time on planes. It’s a tough gig to do for a long time. I’d employed 325 people and had built the business to a point where I needed to replace myself. As it happens we were bought out by another institution, which left me in a nice position.”
Mr Smith retired to Spain along with his wife and two children, now 17 and 19.
"But I was still looking for something to get my teeth into. The turning point came in 2008 when I was approached to help float a company called M1. I helped them raise money and go into the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. I decided there was a gap in the market, to help SMEs without charging a pile of money. Instead we would take equity, which means you're sitting alongside them. That's our USP [unique selling proposition].
“Because I’d been a broker I knew how to take people public, and after having 23 offices worldwide I had a wide reach of connections. When people want to explore whatever market, I know people to help them.”
Mr Smith then launched Global Equity Partners, with operations in Dubai, the United States and London, and moved to Dubai in 2010.
“When property prices were plummeting and everyone was leaving town, I thought that was a good time to get some roots in the Dubai business community, because people wouldn’t be so busy. It proved to be a good decision.”
GE Partners is now poised to launch a special opportunities fund run out of Luxembourg, geared towards the UAE SMEs.
“We’ll raise capital from Europe and the Middle East into the fund and build a board who can deploy that capital into the SME space here. There are almost 8,000 SMEs in Dubai,” says Mr Smith. “We see this as a massive opportunity.
Next year Mr Smith plans to open offices in Sri Lanka and Thailand, and expand his London office. He currently operates with a team of five in Dubai, and five in the UK.
“Most of my days now are spent working with companies on their financing, their capital raising strategy, or their potential IPO,” adds Mr Smith.
“There’s no better feeling than when you have a success story. It’s not an arduous task coming to work these days.”
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