Former National Australia Bank senior executive Ahmed Fahour is aiming to build the world's first Islamic global investment bank following his appointment to Middle Eastern bank Gulf Finance House.
The Lebanese-born Australian will take charge of the Bahrain-based bank next month, looking to offer oil-rich Gulf states with investment opportunities ranging from infrastructure and specialist investment products that comply with Islamic rules.
Mr Fahour, a practising Muslim, said the role gave him the chance to bring together his skills as a banker developed here and in the US and linking them with the opportunities of the fast-growing economies of the Middle East and Asia.
"I'm someone who has spent all their life in the West. It's a chance for me to go back to the region where I was born and familiarise myself with the culture of the area," Mr Fahour said yesterday.
"I'm in a unique position to create some value," he said.
Mr Fahour joins a string of senior banking executives heading offshore. ANZ retail banking boss Brian Hartzer recently agreed to join Royal Bank of Scotland and former Westpac executive Mike Pratt snared a position at global bank Standard Chartered, running its Chinese consumer banking business.
"I can't tell you how much Australian executives are being sought after overseas, there's a view that this generation have done a good job in their own businesses and have avoided the problems hurting the world," Mr Fahour said.
Once a contender to be NAB chief executive, Mr Fahour left the bank in February to become interim head of the $4 billion Rudd Government-backed lender, the Australian Business Investment Partnership, designed to support the property industry. Mr Fahour yesterday said he was disappointed the Senate voted against the creation of ABIP, which he said was an important insurance policy for the sector.
"Any measure of success for ABIP would be that it was never used," Mr Fahour said.
Before joining NAB in 2004, Mr Fahour was Citigroup's CEO in Australia and New Zealand and earlier worked at the Boston Consulting Group.
Listed in Bahrain, Kuwait and London, Gulf Financial is capitalised at over $850 million and specialises in sharia-compliant energy and infrastructure investments.
Islam prohibits the charging of interest, prompting banks such as Gulf Financial to develop sharia-compliant financial products such as bonds.
Gulf Finance House chairman Esam Janahi yesterday described Mr Fahour as a seasoned banker who could draw on years of broad experience in the highest reaches of the global financial community.
"He will apply the most exacting standards of institutional governance, process and oversight throughout the organization and play an important role in the evolution of Islamic banking practices," Mr Janahi said.
Assistant Treasurer Senator Nick Sherry recently said Australia was looking at Islamic finance as a potential opportunity for regional growth in the financial services sector.
- The Age