One Kuwaiti Family Office Says Legacy Is Worth More Than Money

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(Bloomberg) -- Mohammad Al Duaij drives a 13-year-old Range Rover, which seems kind of odd for someone who’s from a well-known wealthy family in Kuwait. “My friends make fun of me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from a rich family and the CEO of a company and you’re still using an old car,’ ” he says. “It’s not about showing off.”

Al Duaij runs Alea Global Group, a single-family office that invests the wealth his family accumulated through a string of businesses stretching back to the 17th century. 

The Al Duaij family started Alea in 1998, managing a portfolio that was focused mostly on real estate in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and private equity in the Persian Gulf region and Europe. Al Duaij, 37, took over in 2008 and expanded the company’s reach into Latin America and Asia. Its investments include everything from agricultural land in Brazil to a commodity trading arm in Asia. 

A lot of what Alea does is under the radar. “We’re very low-profile,” Al Duaij says. “Even the company name that we’re running, the family office, that’s not my family name. But I am proud of it, don’t get me wrong.”

Al Duaij, who worked at an economic development fund in Kuwait and later an investment bank there before joining Alea, says one of the biggest differences in making business decisions now is the emotions attached to them. “With a family business, the emotional part comes into every decision that you are taking because the family is behind it,” he says. 

Al Duaij says the pressure of being from a successful family also makes him more cautious, so he avoids potentially fleeting investment trends such as Bitcoin. “My family gives me the privilege of the legacy of having a brand name. I don’t want to ruin it for stupid stuff,” he says. “It’s not about the money. The money goes and comes. Our brand name is the real money for us.”

Many of the wealthiest families in the petroleum-rich Gulf region, who are among Alea’s clients as part of its advisory business, have built up their fortunes through real estate and trading, not oil, as many assume, he says. Oil reserves, he explains, are generally owned by the government. 

Another Western misperception about Gulf Arabs, Al Duaij says, is that the rich “have plenty of money and no knowledge.” He says anyone who has a business meeting with these families soon finds they’re sophisticated investors who “need a lot of time to get convinced.”

How much time? Al Duaij says the New York-style 15-minute power meeting doesn’t cut it: “You have to plan a one-hour meeting—first to chitchat, to talk about football, politics, the economy, and then have coffee. Then you start talking about your story.”

Don’t just throw out numbers, because “that’s a turnoff,” he says. “If you give me a story about how we create this deal, that would motivate me to hear more about you.” 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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