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


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.”

Comments (12)

  1. Please, give me a break. ADIA – ‘They only want the best’ – take a look at their staff…sure some good people but by far the majority are 2nd-3rd tier. This sounds like a headhunter trying to big them up..

    londonbanker99 Reply
  2. maybe true, maybe not. the fact is, is experience with adia recognised at Goldman Sachs and other bulge bracket banks?

    The reverse it true : adia wants you if you have experience with Goldman, but does it work the other way around?

  3. Agree with londonbanker and have had extensive dealings with these guys. Some good people but usually at end of career and/or finding it hard post credit crunch to get decent positions in London, NY etc. A lot of other people who would never be considered for similar roles elsewhere as they often don’t have the appropriate experience.

  4. Sounds like some people had their CVs rejected….!

  5. You can see the problem with ADIA in the recruitment process. It should not take a committee and 17 officers to interview someone to see whether the person being interviewed is up to the job. This shows that no one has responsibility or accountability. Hiring more and more CFA’s and MBA’s just makes a mess. What they need is people whith track records of profitability and performance, not letters after their name. Adia’s performance has been a howler in all areas of investments. It is just too big to manage effectively, it has become complacent and mediocre and the people they hire are just so.

  6. You can imagine some of the local ADIA managers reading these comments and thinking “if we’re so average, how come we are so rich?”…

  7. Yes, I can imagine local ADIA managers reading these comments, and thinking…’if we are so average – how come we are so rich?’ The point is… they are not so rich, they just have a huge amount to manage and the funds are coming or increasing the amount to be managed, from the sale of oil, not the managing of the funds, supposedy being managed by ‘the local ADIA managers.’ Reality is the problem, because the amounts are so large the human side of things and ego blurs the reality. Sitting on a pile of cash is one thing, actually increasing it from adept management – is another. Thats not why they/you are so rich. Its not the size of what you/they are managing, its how you manage it.

  8. Spare us al the uninformed, thinly veiled racist comments. Fact is, ADIA doesn’t publish annual returns so nobody here has any idea how well they are performing. I interviewed with them a year ago and was impressed, on lots of levels. It didn’t work out for various reasons but I would have had no concerns about having ADIA in my CV.. I think a lot of the views here are based on outdated stereotypes..

  9. It appears that The Selection Process has many Flaws. Firstly They are impressed by The candidates previous employer. I have seen and met Many ADIA “Managers” Unfortunately “ALL TALK and NO PROFESSIONALISM” .. There is a Dearth of Professionals in ADIA and it seems that will continue. Secondly The Recruitment Process is also Biased towards Americans/Canadians/Europeans. One Cannot Progress as Top Tier is ALWAYS A National..

    Lately The pay Packages also have made ADIA unattractive with NO JOB SECURITY ANYMORE.

  10. After reading some of these comments, I’d be interested to hear how the nationals like working with the alphas from western funds. Glad to hear Canucks are popular, there’s only 45 million of us and the UK just snatched our banker.

  11. ADIA is an excellent place to work, i have a couple of friends who are CFA but are earning and enjoying as much as i do, though i’am a qualified actuary. So i believe they had a good deal.

  12. A pretty good place to work and I say this based on my consultancy experience with them.But find out whether you are on the correct contract type. Apparently they have two or three contract types and your total salary can change anywhere between 15 to 20 K USD P.A. if you are on the wrong side

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