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Sun 4 Apr 2010 04:00 AM

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Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: 1969-2010

A nation mourns the loss of a man who played a key role in the UAE's rise to prominence.

Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: 1969-2010
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: 1969-2010
Sheikh Ahmed’s glider crashed into the Moulay Abdellah Lake in Morocco. The artificial lake is located south of the Moroccan capital Rabat.
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: 1969-2010
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: 1969-2010

A nation mourns the loss of a member of its ruling family who as managing director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority played such a key role in the UAE's rise to prominence.

When a light aircraft dropped out of the sky over the inland waterways of northern Morocco on the last Friday of March, no one who arrived at the scene immediately afterwards could have realised it had contained one of the UAE's brightest sons.

That the frantic days which followed, when rescue teams searched grimly for His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, proved fruitless is a tragedy. But perhaps there is consolation in the manner of his death: the young Sheikh died as he had lived - flying high in pursuit of adventure.

As managing director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, Sheikh Ahmed's dynamism and sense of ambition matched the values of both Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates. A young boy at the birth of his nation, Sheikh Ahmed would have grown up watching his country, and its influence in world affairs, grow with him.

Last year, a magazine no less august than Forbes placed the sheikh at number 27 in its annual roll call of the most powerful men on the planet on the basis of both his role at ADIA and his membership of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi - he was half brother of the UAE's ruler.

The ranking was not only a fitting honour for Sheikh Ahmed, but for his country, too, whose vast reserves of petrodollars have become ever more powerful during the biggest global recession in living memory.

A nod from Sheikh Ahmed, Forbes realised, could see the funds needed for survival arriving at beleaguered institutions, and even countries, around the world. His was the ear that heads of state and business leaders from Washington to Moscow to Beijing wanted. That he managed to keep such a low profile was remarkable, yet in keeping with the low-key nature of ADIA.

In 2007, at the behest of the sheikh, ADIA pumped $7.5bn into Citigroup Inc, the biggest of several infusions of cash from the Middle East into US and European banks. The moves were welcomed by cash-strapped western executives, but caused some concern in various governments about the level of political clout being wielded by Abu Dhabi.
As a result, ADIA agreed to comply with a set of commercially-based investing principles drawn up by the International Monetary fund. The move was seen as a statement of intent with regards to co-operation and openness, both of which were believed to be values important to Sheikh Ahmed.

In March the fund announced for the first time its performance numbers, saying its annualised return over the last 30 years had been eight percent.

Born in Al Ain in 1969, Sheikh Ahmed died having only recently turned 40 years old. His life may have been short, but his career was stellar, and his life experience broad. Perhaps he will be most remembered for his work at ADIA, which he joined as an equity analyst in 1991 and took over as MD in 1997, but he also had a life outside of the boardroom.

The philanthropic side of his nature was channeled through his role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Zayed Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works, a body which provides support for all manner of causes, from supporting Islamic mosques around the world to education to disaster relief. He also sat on Abu Dhabi's top oil body, the Supreme Petroleum Council, and was one of the eighteen surviving sons of the UAE's founding father, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He was listed, too, as a major shareholder in National Holding.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which was set up in 1976, is the financial might of living with ten percent of all known oil reserves beneath the feet of the country's citizens made real. No one, save those who people its highest offices, know the true extent of the sovereign wealth fund's financial might and assets, but estimates vary from $400bn to $1 trillion. Sheikh Ahmed himself, in a rare interview last year, said that a figure of $800bn was "exaggerated".

About 80 percent of ADIA's assets are managed by external fund managers, and 60 percent of the funds are tied into index tracking strategies. Eighty percent of the organisation's staff of 1,200 are believed to be expatriates. Plans for succession within ADIA are underway and soon the new man in charge will be announced. One thing is for certain, whoever replaces Sheikh Ahmed - who oversaw ADIA during the recent oil boom and the UAE's rise to global stardom, while pushing for transparency and successful returns - will have very big boots to fill.

Timeline Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA)1967 Creation of Abu Dhabi's Financial Investments Board under the Department of Finance.

1976: Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) was founded and separated from the government as an independent organisation.

1986: ADIA starts investing in alternative strategies.

1988: Number of employees hired by ADIA reaches 500.

1989: ADIA starts investing in private equity.

1991: Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan joins ADIA as European equities analyst.

1993: Number of employees hired by ADIA reaches 1,000.

1997: Sheikh Ahmed takes over as head of ADIA.

2007: ADIA starts investing in infrastructure and moves to a new headquarters.

2008: ADIA appointed co-chair with IMF of International Working Group of SWFs.

2010: ADIA publishes first annual report; Sheikh Ahmed passes away after tragic glider accident in Morocco.

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