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Sat 15 Sep 2007 12:00 AM

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Mubadala heads for life in the fast lane

The Abu Dhabi-based company makes elegant appearance as host in Italy's fashion capital.

If you thought the Italians were rich, fashionable and stylish and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was the best PR man on the planet, think again. A new world order is emerging. Last weekend la cremo de la cremo of Italian business and society gathered in Milano to be greeted by a red carpet lit up by a 200-metre corridor of giant flaming candles surrounded by the exquisite 14th century walls of the city's famous Castello Sforzesco - a standard evening for your 21st century A-lister. But this party had a twist no sharp-suited Italiano had ever seen before - it was being hosted by the mysterious Abu Dhabi investment enigma Mubadala. As soon as people began elegantly gliding down the tappeto rosso and gathering in the castle's beautifully preserved Middle Age gardens mutterings of ‘Who is this company? Where is Abu Dhabi? And how many billions do they have to spend?' were floating through the air. The slightly more educated guests meanwhile were asking themselves, ‘Who is really in charge of making that final investment decision?' while I was wondering what on earth it was doing paying an estimated US$1m for a late summer's evening in the capital of football, fusili and Ferragamo?

Its logo (two triangles one on top of the other) dotted across the vast grounds gave nothing away. What did was the authentic live Arabic music, gigantic projected images of the UAE's capital, its landscape, architecture and traditionally dressed people onto the Castello rampart and the incredible array of stars and dignitaries who had flown on the inaugural Etihad flight two days earlier.

Rare as it was, Mubadala had finally shown its face, not only publicly but on foreign soil and in the finest suits, dresses and ties from Europe's most sought after tailors and designers, and without hesitation in front of Mr Ferrari himself and half of the boot-shaped country's business brains. Among it all, and quite frankly in awe, was yours truly... and that wasn't just when Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen turned up to chat about their qualifying times.

But what was important that night was that Abu Dhabi didn't just make an elegant appearance, it planted the UAE flag firmly into the ground, setting out its considered investment strategy loud and clear and sealed a few deals along the way. It has so far invested in four Italian companies including 5% of Ferrari, 35% of Piaggio, luxury furniture maker Frau and a minority stake in Italian TV station Mediaset. But this is far from the end. The Italians and the Emiratis like each other's style. They get on so well that HE Khaldoon Al Mubarak counts the Ferrari family as close personal friends, and stood up in front of a large crowd to announce just that.

The night was a huge success and one of the biggest PR coups the emirate has ever staged. Of course it helps when you have close ties with Europe's most sought-after car manufacturer, but expect Mubadala to become increasingly public in the near future and to use style and substance to its distinct advantage.

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