DUBAI (Reuters) - Ahmad al-Sayed, the Qatari investment manager holding the fate of Glencore’s (GLEN.L) $26 billion takeover of Xstrata XTA.L in his hands, is known as an aggressive negotiator who relishes the big deal.
The lawyer was formerly general counsel at Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund of the gas-rich Gulf state, before taking the helm as chief executive of Qatar Holding in 2008.
Well-liked and trusted by Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister who is also chief executive of QIA and chairman of Qatar Holding, he has significant influence at the top level where decisions are made.
“An iron man, and a hedge fund manager in disguise, he can easily kill a deal if it doesn’t suit him,” said one banker who knows him personally.
“And why not? Don’t the Qataris have the money? There could be a compromise but it’s ultimately their way or no way.”
“We respect him for his smartness but we dreadfully fear him for his aggressiveness. One day you’re closing a deal and the next you’re flushed away.”
Commodities trader Glencore is fighting to save its deal after Qatar Holding, QIA’s investment arm which has built a stake of around 11 percent in Xstrata since February, issued a late demand for better terms, forcing them to push back the timing of the deal.
Sayed, who is in his late thirties and studied law and business in Qatar, Paris and Boston, is leading talks with Glencore about the deal.
“I‘m enjoying watching the soap opera from a distance,” said British deal broker Amanda Staveley, who helped orchestrate Abu Dhabi’s 2008 investment in Barclays (BARC.L) and knows Sayed, describing him as bright, utterly professional and very diligent.
“Qatar has been using decent strategies lately and I kind of assume he’s the man behind it.”
Qatar’s unexpected intervention - an unusually aggressive step for a fund that has hitherto been content with a less muscular role in its portfolio - has set off a new round of negotiations, putting in doubt a deal that would create the world’s fourth-biggest mining company.
Signs of Qatar’s new stance may have been evident in April. Speaking on the sidelines of a Doha conference, Sayed outlined his ambitions for Qatar Holding.
“We should always be active. To be passive is not healthy. Our intention will always be to add as much value as possible and to improve the company we invest in,” he said.
Bankers who have dealt with Sayed all agree that he is a hard negotiator, someone who will cut the deal at the terms he wants.
In the last four to five years, every deal done by Qatar Holding - which controls an investment fund of at least $100 billion - has had his stamp on it, said a Dubai-based banker.
“He is tough and you know where you stand with him once he makes a decision,” said one London real estate source who knows him by reputation.
“He has taken (Qatar Holding) to a level of sophistication and confidence that helps them to make the kind of calls they have taken in the Glencore/Xstrata merger,” said another banker.
Qatar, well known for trophy investments like London’s Harrods department store, Canary Wharf, and stakes in Hochtief, the German construction group, Porsche and Volkswagen, which owns Audi and Lamborghini, and has invested in Barclays and Credit Suisse, is shifting its sovereign wealth fund assets into commodities like gold and oil.
Sources told Reuters last month that QIA has bought a stake in Royal Dutch Shell, while also reportedly eyeing a chunk of Italian oil major ENI (ENI.MI).
“The Qataris in general don’t do a deal unless the terms are right. It doesn’t matter how many deals they do as long as they are profitable. And they are making money on most of the deals, including Goldfields,” said a banker from London.
Qatar’s investment fund had to sit on the side late last year waiting for the outcome of European Goldfields’s C$2.5 billion ($2.4 billion) takeover by Canadian group Eldorado Gold despite an earlier agreement to provide a $600 million project financing loan to European Goldfields.
The banker said Sayed Ahmad was not happy with how the Goldfields deal unfolded but ended up making money on the deal.
“He is tough like a rock but makes compromises when least expected. He even backs off when needed.”
Additional reporting Dinesh Nair in Dubai, Regan Doherty in Doha, Thomas Bill in London and Edward Taylor in Frankfurt; Editing by Amran Abocar and David Cowell