Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s former prime minister and architect of its assertive investment strategy, has been replaced as head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, as the emirate accelerates its transition to a younger generation.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the new emir who took over after his father’s abdication last week, handed the top job at Qatar Investment Authority to Ahmad Al Sayed, the 37-year-old lawyer who has been chief executive of Qatar Holding – the fund’s direct investment arm – for the past four years.
With $100bn in assets, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has built up an impressive global portfolio with stakes in companies from Credit Suisse to the owner of Heathrow.
The reshuffle at the fund seals the demise of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, known to foreigners as HBJ, who was last week replaced as prime minister and foreign minister.
Bankers said the changes reflected the new emir’s goal of divorcing politics and economics after a tumultuous period that has seen the close US ally rise to global prominence as an investor and a controversial player in the Arab uprisings.
The new emir, who is also the QIA’s chairman, appointed a board that included new faces as well as previous board members, including Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani, the central bank governor, and Hussein Al-Abdulla, a powerful decision maker at the fund.
The shake-up follows the pattern of last week’s cabinet reshuffle, where younger successors were promoted to reflect the abdication of the “father emir” in favour of his 33-year-old son.
The elevation of Mr Sayed, widely regarded as HBJ’s protégé, has been welcomed as a sign of continuity by some bankers who had been concerned the political succession would signal a change in Qatar’s investment strategy.
“He’s HBJ’s guy,” said a senior banker based in Dubai. “He’s experienced – and there aren’t too many with those credentials in Doha.”
Yet the towering presence of HBJ, who is equally comfortable with the presidents of companies and countries, will be missed as the fund seeks to deploy excess hydrocarbons revenues to secure a fund for future generations of Qataris.
“You cannot replace the intertwining of HBJ’s political and private offices, and his official role as deal maker,” said the banker.
Mr Sayed has been described as a demanding boss by those who work at the fund and he divides opinion externally.
Mr Sayed’s rise also sparked concern among some property investors and bankers, many of who have been critical of his tough negotiating style.
“It is a shame because the appointment doesn’t really represent a change of direction, but rather the expansion of a strategy that has been quite tortuous for counterparties,” said a person who has worked on deals with Qatar Holding.