Profile: Yacine Zarrouk, Ardian
The Drawdown (TDD): You spent four years as principal at Ares Management before joining Ardian. What prompted the move?
Yacine Zarrouk (YZ): I've been covering the MENA region for close to 20 years now, having shifted to asset management later in my career. Ares Management was a real growth accelerator in terms of gaining visibility in that region.
While I was at Ares, I met the global head of international affairs and investor relations at Ardian, François-Aïssa Touazi, on several occasions and he had mentioned that he was considering a regional office in Abu Dhabi and was looking for someone to help lead Ardian’s local presence. So, we stayed in touch until the decision was made, re-engaging in early 2022 and agreeing to work together later that year.
TDD: How did you get into investor relations?
YZ: I started my career at Bank of America and then I went to Citigroup, so my initial expertise was more centred around capital markets and global investment solutions. At Citigroup, part of the role was helping tier two and three GPs, mainly based in the US, who didn't have access to the regional investor base in the GCC. That was my first exposure to the asset class.
I then joined Ares, which accelerated my career in asset management, fundraising in the GCC across PE, private debt and real assets. That’s how I gained deeper expertise of the market dynamics of the MENA region.
TDD: What are your operational responsibilities?
YZ: My primary expertise is fundraising for Ardian and expanding outreach to the investor base. Simultaneously, in my remit as co-lead of the Abu Dhabi office, my managerial responsibilities are focused on driving growth, deepening relationships and solidifying Ardian’s presence in both the Emirates and wider region. My role now also focuses on coordinating investor relations, investments and client servicing.
Effectively establishing an office is a nuanced process. This means we had to hire the right people and ensure we had a smooth growth plan in place. While I'm co-leading the overall direction, we also have a COO who co-leads the office, and a great team in place for the more operational side of things.
TDD: Why did Ardian decide to expand its presence in the MENA region with the opening of the Abu Dhabi office?
YZ: Ardian has been managing AUM on behalf of GCC investors for close to 20 years and the Middle East notably represents a great part of our global growth. Of the AUM we manage globally, more than 15% is from MENA LPs, with more than 40 LPs committed to our funds.
So, it is a natural transition to inaugurate a regional office to show investors our local commitment. It is important to demonstrate our full commitment to MENA LPs and portfolio companies in the region via a dedicated local team, with easy access to our network and an established on-the-ground presence.
TDD: How do you interact with Ardian’s 16 other global offices?
YZ: I catch up with my other global IR colleagues daily to share insights on the opportunities and challenges that we are facing – both in terms of fundraising and also cultural nuances and regional differences.
I also have weekly discussions with portfolio management teams to ensure we are aligned on the monitoring of the existing investments, discussing potential investment opportunities and our local fundraising activity. This allows a consistent and transparent exchange of information between teams, which is crucial for providing market and investment insights to our clients and stakeholders.
TDD: What sort of challenges have emerged from these discussions?
YZ: It is no secret that the current macro environment makes fundraising a more challenging exercise than it used to be. The cost of capital is another factor contributing to a more challenging environment.
Credibility and visibility can certainly help under these conditions. Ardian has been around for almost 30 years and has seen different cycles over time. Our investors trust us to invest well in different environments.
TDD: How big is your team?
YZ: Today we have a good dozen people already on the payroll.
We intend to have at least 20 people by year end. Our hiring strategy is diversified and we are looking to both bring in experts from abroad alongside local talent with deep cultural and market understanding.
TDD: What challenges did you face when setting up the office from scratch?
YZ: The primary challenge was getting used to a new regulatory environment, and we’re very grateful to the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) for its guidance.
The next chapter was hiring internally for the first batch of employees. They came from Ardian’s presence across the US, Europe or Asia to our Abu Dhabi office. They had a range of responsibilities: investment functions, client support, legal compliance or investor relations.
After that internal wave of hiring, you have to find people externally who are relevant to the business function by supporting our efforts to expand our presence in the region.
In a practical sense, we had to make sure our space was ready and given that we had a significant area – the 23rd floor of the Al Khatem tower of the ADGM – I would say there was a lot to do!
TDD: What advice would you give to fund managers who are also looking to open up offices in the UAE?
YZ: Fund managers need to understand that local investors in the Middle East are extremely wise and have been allocating capital to alternative investments for many years. They know exactly what they want – this is not a ‘new’ market, despite sudden momentum in the region.
It would be a misconception to think setting up an office here will make it really easy to raise funds. To be successful in the region, you must have demonstrated over investment cycles the ability to deliver differentiated performance consistently to investors. Establishing a regional presence is an incremental element to the equation.
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Zarrouk details the key elements needed for establishing a successful regional office: “As I moved into my new role leading the office, I needed to make sure that we would have the right strategies in place, a commitment to the region, and a good track record. That is what it takes for you to have a fundraising impact in a new region.”
He adds: “Beyond fundraising, we aim to provide liquidity locally through our secondaries platform, grow our regional investments in renewable energy, and support regional portfolio companies.”