In the fallout from the financial crisis, private equity firms have had their pick of investment banking talent in their local markets. With job cuts more prevalent, bankers are now looking for work beyond their home markets and targeting the Middle East.
And they may be successful. The Middle East private equity recruitment market is reviving after years of stagnation.
“There’s been a big surge in private equity jobs in the Middle East recently and we expect this to continue in 2013,” said Gail McManus, director of Private Equity Recruitment in London. “A number of firms, particularly regional sovereign wealth funds, have been actively targeting Western investment bankers and private equity professionals for their direct investment arms. Private equity firms investing outside of the region are keen to hire US and European experience.”
Some 200 investment professionals in the Middle East – at least those holding the CFA – believe that private equity will be the most active area of recruitment in the region’s financial sector this year.
Recruiters and private equity professionals in the region said that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Invest AD, Mubadala and the Qatar Investment Authority have been hiring for their direct investment arms in recent months. Abraaj Capital recently hired Sarah Alexander from the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association as a managing director and Citadel Capital took on Joelle Fahmy from Citigroup as managing director this month.
McManus said that the quality of people working in private equity firms in the Middle East is increasing, which in turn is prompting more Western financial professionals to make the move. “People aren’t taking jobs out of desperation, but because a few years in the Middle East is viewed a good move for their career,” she said.
Not all agree that the Middle East is an easy move for investment bankers and Western private equity professionals.
Nicola Beer, director at Dubai-based recruiters Footprint Private Equity, said that Saudi Arabia is currently the busiest recruitment market, but most firms request both Arabic language skills and regional knowledge, which makes the shift from Western markets difficult.
Meanwhile, one private equity professional who has been working in the Middle East for the past 12 years, said that the desperate plight of those in European markets has not gone unnoticed by local firms.
“The reality is that moving to the Middle East is going to be nearly impossible for most,” he said. “The sheer number of job losses, combined with the skewed supply-demand equation means that Middle East employers and recruiters are being incredibly picky and weed out 99% of hopefuls.”