How to Get a Job at Abu Dhabi’s $627 Billion Sovereign Wealth Fund

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ADIA

Would you turn down a role in London, New York or Hong Kong to go and work for what was until October the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund?

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, with an estimated $627 billion in assets, second only to Norway’s sovereign fund,  has been hiring throughout this year – predominantly in its private equity division – and has been attracting some high calibre names. Former Credit Suisse banker Colm Lanigan recently became head of principal investments and Marc Keirstead, from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), joined as chief financial officer for the private equities department.

ADIA targets recruits in major financial centres for senior positions, according to its head of recruitment, Robin Prince. These days, people are more familiar with ADIA as a “major player in the financial world” and sometimes turn down roles in Western locations to make the move to Abu Dhabi, he says.

“If you couple all of this with the fact that many global financial firms are still retrenching, the prospect of a move to Abu Dhabi is increasingly attractive, even for professionals at the senior level that we are targeting who may have competing job offers in their home markets,” says Prince.

Headhunters in the Middle East who work with regional sovereign wealth funds say their appeal has increased in recent years and they’ve been able to attract some bigger names, sometimes forcing out long-serving professionals.  However, their appeal is not universal, claims one recruiter close to the situation.

“If you’re looking for big bonuses and, in the case of private equity professionals, then a sovereign wealth fund is not the place to be,” says the headhunter who declined to be named. “However, they still attract Oxford or Harvard-educated financial professionals with bulge bracket experience because they offer both job security and the chance to be involved in some big ticket deals.”

ADIA invests in a broad mix of assets including equities in both developed and emerging markets, hedge funds, managed futures, real estate, private equity and infrastructure. In November, it invested A$872 million ($914.6 million) in a joint stake in three Australian shopping centres with the CPPIB through wealth manager AMP Capital. The fund famously put $2.7 billion into Citigroup in 2007, only to lose most of it during the subsequent meltdown of the bank during the financial crisis.

This year, ADIA has focused on recruiting for its private equity arm – it intended to hire 45 people in this division in 2012 – and has also been building up the pipeline of Emirati talent. Emiratisation – recruiting quotas of UAE nationals, which make up just 11.5% of the total population in the country – is a still a key priority, says Prince, but he declined to comment on other recruitment plans for 2013.

Getting into ADIA

ADIA employs over 2,000 people from 42 countries who speak a total of 112 languages. If you want to work there, you need to be worldly. “ADIA employees are generally very tolerant people with an international perspective, and they are used to working within a multicultural environment,” says Prince.

More importantly, you should expect the recruitment process to be relatively vigorous. ADIA doesn’t advertise its vacancies, instead choosing to have an ever-open recruitment portal where candidates can post their CV. It also actively recruits talent internally as well as externally via recruiters.

If ADIA  wants you, expect an initial call and then a lengthy recruitment process. “If there is a fit, we usually like to have an initial conversation before asking them to complete a series of psychometric assessments,” says Prince. “If these initial stages are positive, we then invite the person to Abu Dhabi for a series of interviews, as well as to experience first-hand the lifestyle and get a feel for ADIA and our working environment. Usually at this point we give the candidate an indication that we are interested in bringing them on-board.”

One headhunter describes getting into a Gulf sovereign wealth fund in simpler terms: “It’s very, very difficult; expect numerous interviews and vigorous psychometric and competency tests. Gulf sovereign wealth funds only want the very best.”

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