Has the family office model taken hold in the Middle East? Yes, although differently than in the US and Europe - and not to the extent as in these markets. The model favoured in the region is to mostly use a holding company structure linked to an investment business, so often there is a strong connection with the operational business, or at least stronger than in many family investment groups in the US and Europe.
Here are five prominent family office-type groups in the region, which gives an idea of the operational structures they work under and what some of their investment preferences are…
Kingdom Holding Company
The benchmark of all family investment groups in the region is the Kingdom Holding Company, controlled by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal - arguably the Gulf region’s best-known investor. KHC, which is also listed on the Saudi stock market, owns big chunks of some of the world’s best-known brands, including Apple, Twitter, News Corp, Time Warner, Citigroup, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Prince Alwaleed founded KHC way back in 1980 and owns 95% of the huge investment group. His son, Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, has his own investment office, called KBW Investments, which operates in a similar way to KHC - investing directly in a host of sectors.
Al Zarooni Emirates Investments
A Dubai-based family office managing the assets of the Al Zarooni family, who made their money in oil and gas, and real estate in the emirate of Sharjah. ZE Investments, as it is more commonly known, has been one of the more transparent family offices in the region in terms of its investment activities. A big investor in healthcare in the region as well as the UK, ZE Investment has also backed startups - most recently funding Laundrybox, a high-tech laundry service based in Dubai. Like many big Middle East investors, ZE Investments likes property and has a substantial real estate portfolio.
Al Ghurair Investment
The investment arm of one of the UAE’s biggest family-owned businesses, the Al Ghurair Group, and controlled by the family of the same name. Al Ghurair Investment is a classic example of a Middle East family office linked to many other parts of the family business, where there is often a blurred line between the various operating groups, which are many in the case of the Al Ghurair Group.
Emirates Investment Group
The family investment group of the Al Qasimi family, one of the six ruling families of the United Arab Emirates. EIG is one of the main shareholders in a big property group called ENSHAA. It also has investments in aviation and financial groups. Like some of the other family offices listed, EIG has links with the private equity group Abraaj Capital, which is one of the biggest players in its field in the region.
Run from Riyadh and managing the money of the AlTouq family, the eponymous family office has been around since the 1970s. AlTouq likes private equity and has been a limited partner in a number of PE funds, as well as making direct investments itself. It’s owned and run by the father and son team of AbdulMoheen Ibrahim AlTouq and Saif Ibrahim AlTouq.