Mehdi El Amine Fichtali (H.01)
The Octopus in his Garden
Dubai. We met Mehdi at DeNovo’s offices in the heights of Dubaï Emirates towers. He has spent ten years in the finance sector in Dubaï. He has witnessed Dubaï’s economic miracle, and its part of illusion too. However, Mehdi is confident that Dubaï’s walk to becoming a world class hub and affirming its international position is on the right track. Discover a land of opportunity where ambitious, open and adaptable individuals blossom.
Read full transcript…
HU: Hello Mehdi, as usual let us start with a Chinese portrait! So if you were… a color?
HU: If you were an animal?
MA: Octopus. Because it is a very intelligent animal that adapts to its environment.
HU: A song?
MA: War, Bob Marley, it is a song of the mid 70’s that quotes the United Nations speech of Emperor Haile Selassie, with themes on racial equality and human rights.
HU: A movie?
MA: Pulp Fiction
HU: A sin?
MA: I think I have too many, I won’t be able to choose only one.
HU: An object?
MA: Paper. You can write on it the most valuable things whereas its intrinsic value is almost nill.
HU: A sport or a game?
MA: I do kitesurf so I would say kite surf.
HU: A book?
MA: One of my favorite book is The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo. Or the search for your personal legend, your own destiny…
HU: A hero or a superhero?
MA: I was young when I watched terminator 2, , I really loved that movie. Terminator would be my hero.
HU: Could you sum up your professional background in just 30 seconds?
MA: I am from Morocco, I was born and raised in Casablanca. Moved to Paris for “prepa” then HEC. After HEC I joined Sciences-po and specialized in geopolitics and the Middle East. After that, I started my career in the finance world and worked first for Crédit Agricole Indosuez, Calyon or CACIB as it is known today. In 2005, I came to Dubaï to work for Barclays capital, then Morgan Stanley. And, by the beginning of 2011, I followed the CEO of Morgan Stanley who decided to spin off to found DeNovo Corporate Advisors. I joined her with two other directors from Morgan Stanley, we started as a team of four and we are now a team of fourteen professionals serving our clients for M&A and private placement.
HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?
MA: Happy is probably not the right word. What motivates me is the fact that we contribute to a better allocation of capital within the economy. We are helping companies expand by advising them to acquire new targets, by raising financial means and/or by placing them under the right investor in order to help them develop. We participate in the life cycle of the corporations in the region and it is very rewarding.
“Once you’ve reached a certain level of seniority you want to prove to yourself that you can build a business and have a greater impact”
HU: Is there any deal you are particularly proud of?
MA: I am currently working on a mandate that is particularly dear to me. Beyond the financial reward of this transaction, this project will be impactful on the population of Middle East and Africa. It is a fund that invests in the technology-disruptive businesses that have been conducted so far offline. It is an exciting venture because it leverages on innovation, smart business and is socially impactful at the same time.
HU: What are the everyday tasks in your job?
MA: As investment banker you spend a lot of time on conf-calls, interacting with clients and investors, preparing presentations with the junior members of your team. These ‘tasks’ are the means that enable us achieve our bigger picture goals, but they can sometimes be quite time consuming…
HU: Have you ever faced a difficult choice in your professional life? What have you learnt?
MA: Leaving a multinational bank such as Morgan Stanley to follow my CEO in deNovo was a very revealing choice. Of course you have to weigh many pros and cons. I think that once you’ve reached a certain level of seniority you want to prove to yourself that you can build a business and have a greater impact. And moving to a boutique was definitely something that helped me realize myself professionally. I now have a greater impact on the organization I work in and more influence on the clients. I also enjoy a great deal of flexibility. I conduct business in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do in a big institutions. We have less red tape and we promote efficiency and I can do pretty much what I want as long as it is business relevant.
HU: What is deNovo’s strategy in Dubaï?
MA: We differentiate from large international banks because we are able to deliver the blue chip investment banking advisory to companies that are not the largest in the ecosystem. This is why we are preferred and ultimately successful. We are able to provide our clients with a 5-star service and charge fees that are commensurate to their size: most of our transactions are between 50 and 150 million dollars, and fall below the radar of the large international banks, given their cost structure.
“I am proud because I feel that I have contributed to the development of Dubaï at my level”
HU: What are the specificities of Dubaï’s economy, as you have been living it for the past ten years?
MA: When I arrived to Dubaï in 2005 it was not the city that we all know. I am proud because I feel that I have contributed to the development of Dubaï at my level. I worked in several transactions that made this place be what it is today.
2008 was a challenging year as everybody knows. The financial crisis hit the city quite hard. Eventually we managed to cope up with it and actually the past 3 years have been great and put Dubaï back on tracks and on the world map.
Today, with the 30$ per barrel oil price we face different kind of challenges. However one thing to know about Dubaï is that it is very adaptable. Dubaï is flexible and is always able to make itself a safe haven that attracts talents and businesses. What makes Dubaï very specific is that it plays the role of a melting pot of businessmen from all over the world. In this relatively small city you have 170 nationalities. Everyone is here to try and develop himself; through more the business side than the cultural side. This is an element that many expats can miss. But definitely Dubaï is a New York within the Arab world.
HU: What do you do during your free time in Dubai?
MA: We enjoy the beautiful weather that we have in Dubaï for 8 months per year as the summer here can be very challenging because of the heat and humidity. We particularly appreciate going to the beach, explore the desert and camp there. Dubaï is also a great place for restaurants, the best names are here. We also have a lively nightlife. Dubaï is a city that allows people from all cultural backgrounds to enjoy their life here.
HU: What do you like the most about people in Dubaï?
MA: Diversity. People are here to work, they want to be successful in their careers and this is the reason why they are here. So you meet people with a lot of professional ambition. And they all come with different connections, different ways of looking at life and also sometimes with different ways of doing business. The challenge is to be able to adapt to all these different backgrounds. And you learn a lot because you definitely learn more from people that are different from you than from people that are like you. And at the same time while interacting with different people you discover what really makes you be yourself.
“Unlike in Europe where you can have a medium term view on how businesses can evolve, here you should always be ready to change posture and be able to adapt”
HU: So what is the main thing Dubaï has taught you?
MA: Two things.
- Dubaï is a place where East meets West. I work in an environment that is Arab, Indian, Western, African, American as well, so it is an environment where everybody mixes and this is full of learnings.
- From the professional perspective. The business in Dubaï can be very volatile. The winds can change quickly. Unlike in Europe where you can have a medium term view on how businesses can evolve, here you should always be ready to change posture and be able to adapt.
HU: What is today’s Dubaï challenge that matters the most to you?
MA: How to create an economy that is not as oil dependent as it used to be. We see sectors developing that are less connected with oil: hospitality, tourism, health, construction, retail, transportation with Emirates as you all know. All these elements are the right seeds that Dubaï is planting in order to grow in a world which is lehss dependent on oil.
There is a second challenge which is: How to secure its place as a one of the most relevant world’s hub. At the regional level Dubaï is definitely there. Now, Dubaï is willing to gain worldwide rankings and recognition when it comes to its importance in the world economy.
“HEC is a school where most of the friends you make are bright in what they do. So you get a lot of inspiration from your comrades”
HU: Let’s talk about HEC now. So we go back in time, back to Jouy en Josas’ campus. What’s your favorite place on the HEC campus?
MA: My favorite place was the Zinc. Because it allowed people to mingle in a relaxed environment, late at night.
HU: What is you best memory from HEC?
MA: One memory that is quite persistent is the working groups meetings we organized, starting only at 11 pm for a case that we needed to deliver the next morning. Several HECs will surely identify themselves with this memory. Most of us developed this ability to work intensely and in quite an optimal manner in a last minute environment. It is a skill that proves to be very useful in the professional life.
HU: Why would you advise someone to go to HEC today?
MA: A lot of what you can get from any school depends on what you are going to put in it. HEC allows you to learn a lot, in a 2/3 years period spent in the same place with the same people. It is also a school where most of the friends you make are bright in what they do. So you get a lot of inspiration from your comrades. And there is also this competitive mindset that actually pushes you to do as much as you can.
HU: As its president, could you tell us more about the HEC Alumni chapter in GCC?
MA: We meet at least once every other month. Sometimes for informal gatherings/drinks and sometimes for conferences/debates. We have an annual gala that brings people from Qatar and Saudi Arabia! We are one of the most active business school alumni in the region. And this is thanks to a big team that is spending a lot of its time to maintain this level of involvement from all the HEC alumni and to strengthen the network.
“Dubaï spirit is very welcoming to visitors so don’t hesitate to leverage on this”
HU: Any message you’d like to pass on to HEC alumni in France?
MA: I would advise any alumni passing by Dubaï for work or visiting during a personal trip to get in touch with the HEC community here. Dubaï spirit is very welcoming to visitors so don’t hesitate to leverage on this. We are here, we are present and we are very much willing to show you what our beautiful city offers!
HU: What do you expect from a young HEC today as an employer?
MA: Of course he should master the subjects of finance… But we also need him to be curious, not only about his specific job but also about the overall business life of the region in which he wants to evolve. Being able to put things into perspective and understand the role that each actor does at the larger scale is very important.
HU: What advice would you give to a 20-year-old HEC?
MA: My advice would be at three levels.
First, as we are to see less stability in the world in the coming years, the best weapon that a HEC should have is adaptability and flexibility. These are skills that she/he will use for sure in her/his professional career.
The second element would be to put things into perspective. You will probably be a productive element in your company, or as an entrepreneur. In all means everyone needs to be able to take one step back and see where his activity fits in the overall course of business and of the society.
And the third one would be: develop your curiosity. Don’t feel that you should limit yourself to your job. On the contrary, the wider your spectrum of knowledge and interaction is with the world, the better HEC, professional, and citizen you will be.
HU: As an HEC what did you do to improve this curiosity?
MA: After 10 years of professional activity I took a small break to do an executive program in Berkeley. I studied public policy and majored in institution building. The purpose was to see how the private sector could work hand in hand with the public sector to bring a better future. That was end of 2011. The following year I commuted between Dubai working at deNovo, and Washington DC where I was a visiting scholar at Georgetown University. I did research, gave lectures and participated to conferences on the private sector in the Arab world, and how it could be leveraged to help the Arab countries develop further their societies and economies.
HU: How did Dubaï create synergies between public power and the private sector?
MA: In Dubaï, as in many Arab countries, the public sector is key in putting the economic reforms on the table. However, for it to be efficient they have to be backed by a private sector which is willing to take part in this transformation.
I think the vision of the political power in Dubaï was great and brought all the elements that the private sector needed to grow and blossom. This is built on two other important elements. The first one is the huge wealth that lies in Dubaï’s backyard, the petro dollars on one hand and the Indian, Pakistani and Iranian cash placed in Dubaï on the other hand. The other one is the policy of Dubaï to welcome the expats, blue white collars alike. All these people share the same vision, which is Dubaï’s vision too: build the right economic growth, build the city, and, in the process, build themselves.
HU: HEC’s moto is “The more you know, the more you dare”. What is your own moto?
MA: The better you adapt, the more you grow.
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