Amanda Staveley: Doyenne of Mideast deal-doers sees ‘big opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

Amanda Staveley: Doyenne of Mideast deal-doers sees ‘big opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 July 2017

Amanda Staveley: Doyenne of Mideast deal-doers sees ‘big opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

Amanda Staveley: Doyenne of Mideast deal-doers sees ‘big opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The British financier Amanda Staveley has come back from holiday on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia to handle some pressing matters for Arabian Gulf clients, and makes time for a breakfast meeting with Arab News.
We meet at her substantial townhouse just off Park Lane in London’s swanky Mayfair. It has to be over breakfast because the rest of her day will be taken up with client meetings before she heads back to her family.
But in the midst of a hectic flying visit, she will also be keeping one eye on events a few miles away in Southwark Crown Court, where the opening day of a rather important trial is taking place, one in which she has a very personal interest.
In Southwark, four former directors of the Barclays banking group were attending the opening day of a trial brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the UK’s main financial enforcer, on charges of alleged conspiracy to commit fraud in their dealings with Qatar investors in 2008, when the bank was effectively bailed out by the Arabian Gulf state.
Staveley — who was involved in similar deals for Abu Dhabi investors that fateful year — is also suing Barclays, through her investment vehicle PCP Capital Partners. PCP is claiming £720 million ($935 million) in damages plus interest and costs that will bring the total value of her lawsuit up to around £1 billion.
Eye-watering, even by Staveley’s standards. So her interest in the Southwark proceedings is understandable, not that she can say very much in public about it.
“My case will go ahead in about six months, and will be well over by the time the SFO trial even gets to court,” she says, picking at some fruit. “But the stress of all the confrontation with Barclays was terrible. I was heavily pregnant at the time and my baby was born very prematurely,” she says.
The baby, a boy, is 3 years old now and doing well, enjoying his Sardinian holiday with his father, Iranian-born businessman Mehrdad Ghodoussi.
I am planning to attend the Southwark hearing straight after breakfast with Staveley, and promise to keep her informed of proceedings there.
I had not seen her for some time since she left Dubai — where she once lived permanently — to bring her child up in her native UK. But she has the knack of slipping back into an easy familiarity and likes to hear gossip from the Arabian Gulf about the movers and shakers she still mixes with there.
Staveley is very interested in the big plans for economic transformation in Saudi Arabia, she says and quizzes me on the latest news. She believes the initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco is a good thing and would like to see London get at least some of the IPO action.
“If the Aramco IPO comes to London it will be great for the UK. Some institutions might have doubts about it maybe, but I think it is a good thing for the company, London and Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudi transformation has to happen. It has to create a critical mass and a better level of liquidity,” she says.
She sees enormous opportunity for her private equity company PCP Capital Partners in the $200 billion privatization program being prepared in tandem with the Aramco IPO.
“There are lots of things we want to do in Saudi Arabia. Technology investment is a big opportunity for us, and PCP has got a big Shariah-finance side,” she says, reeling off deals in real estate and diamonds she has recently seen through using Shariah-compliant sovereign bonds.
“I’m very excited about what is happening in Saudi (Arabia). There are big opportunities in infrastructure, funded by local bonds. We’ve done $7 billion to date in the Gulf in bond deals,” she says.
In particular, she would like to get involved in some of the transactions being planned by the Saudi investment giant Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is slated to become the biggest sovereign wealth fund in the world. PIF is part-funding the Vision Fund set up by Japanese financial institution SoftBank.
“We’d like to get involved with PIF in the Vision Fund, perhaps helping Abu Dhabi people invest more in that. I think we’ll be doing more advisory work on that,” Staveley says. Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi government investment group, also has a big interest in the Vision Fund.
“We have to find the big unicorns to invest in the Middle East. Like ARM Holdings, that was such a good deal. I loved that,” she says. The British semiconductor group ARM was bought by SoftBank last year for nearly $24 billion in one of the Vision Fund’s earliest deals.
Some of her and PCP’s most notable and profitable work came via contacts in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
There was, of course, the deal that helped Barclays stay out of government ownership in 2008 with a cash injection from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who put some £3.5 billion into the British banking group, which turned a healthy profit for the sheikh. Sheikh Mansour is not the subject of any investigation by the British authorities into the case.
According to the legend, Staveley got a £30 million fee for that transaction, but she has never publicly acknowledged that amount.
There was also some chatter that the size of that fee alienated her from the UAE establishment, but that does not seem to be the case.
She still talks about senior Emirati royals as friends and business partners, and regularly visits the region for top-level meetings.
And why would her investment partners not be happy with her efforts? Since the turn of the century, when she first got involved in investment in the region, she has helped enrich Arab investors in a number of areas, using her finely honed personal and investment skills to identify transactions that would appeal to them.
Just before the Barclays deal, she helped pull off the deal that has perhaps got Abu Dhabi more global publicity than any other — the purchase for £210 million of Manchester City Football Club for an investment group that included the same Sheikh Mansour.
New ownership with deep pockets enabled City to compete at the top level of European football and did more to raise the profile of Abu Dhabi than any of more mundane forays into the corporate world or real estate investment she helped arrange.
The City deal was pretty straightforward compared to another attempt at buying into the British national sport. In 2007, Dubai investors related to the ruling family took a long hard look at buying Liverpool Football Club, but the deal never materialized and the club was eventually sold to American investors who own it to this day.
Staveley’s interest in British football has not diminished, and she does not rule out another attempt to buy an English club on behalf of her investors. She has two clubs in her sights and is ready to go — at the right price.
Her career in investment began with deals in the Arabian Gulf, and investors there are still her mainstay, but she has broadened her source of funds these days.
“We (PCP) are a vanilla private equity fund but with sovereign investors, from the Gulf and China and elsewhere,” she says.
One thing on her mind, as it is for most people living in the Gulf region, is the standoff between Qatar and four of its neighbors — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, the Anti-Terror Quartet — that has been an increasing concern for business people in the region.
She has been involved in some big deals for the Qataris, and as we talk in the heart of Mayfair she points to grand buildings that are owned by senior members of the Qatari royal family, which she helped them purchase. But she sees a danger of that source of income slowing as long as the current high-tension situation is maintained in the Gulf.
“The Qatar crisis certainly has affected business already. We were in the middle of one transaction and had to stop it. But I think they will calm it down. I expect good sense to prevail. Nobody benefits from conflict,” she says.
Staveley speaks from experience, because another big transaction for her, in the telecoms sector in Yemen, has been more or less put on hold due to the ongoing military confrontation there.
Whatever happens in the Gulf, it is very unlikely to change her mind about doing business in the region. “The Gulf has always been my love and I’m passionate about it,” she says.