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GC Powerlist > GC Powerlist: Middle East
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For 28 years, The Legal 500 has been analysing the capabilities of law firms across the world. The GC Powerlist (formerly the Corporate Counsel 100) is the latest publication from The Legal 500, turning its attention to the in-house function, and recognising those corporate counsel who are driving the legal business forward. The latest edition is the GC Powerlist: Middle East, which identifies an array of the most influential and innovative in-house counsel working in the region. ...read more
The GC Powerlist is a series of publications, highlighting the most influential in-house lawyers in business today.
We have canvassed opinions from law firm partners and in-house counsel across the Middle East, to identify corporate counsel that have been instrumental in changing or forming opinions within their company or industry; developing brilliant technical solutions to complex issues; creating innovative structures to ensure that the in-house function is driving the business forward; or providing a business working model that other corporate counsel should follow. Our team of experienced researchers assessed the nominations, speaking both to general counsel and nominating lawyers to finalise each jurisdictional list. GC Powerlist: Middle East features not just information on why that individual has made the list, but also comment from the law firms about how they feel individual corporate counsel have helped shape innovation in the legal industry.
If you have feedback on the GC Powerlist: Middle East, or wish to nominate other in-house individuals (either in the Middle East or global), please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope that this listing will stimulate debate around the role of the in-house lawyer and help corporate counsel with possible improvements and efficiencies in running their departments.
|David Burgess||Julia Ross|
GC Powerlist: Middle East
(listed in alphabetical order; click on an individual to view an expanded biography)
Amin Saad Abdulla
executive director and general counsel
Al Jazeera Media Network, Qatar
Toufic Abi Fadel
legal manager (general counsel)
Qatar Development Bank, Qatar
Yasser Abo Ismail
chief legal counsel
MENA, Eaton, United Arab Emirates
senior legal counsel
EmiratesLNG, United Arab Emirates
chief administrative officer
Mena Telecom, Bahrain
Arab Banking Corporation (ABC), Bahrain
Ahmed Al Juneidi
chief legal officer
Baniyas Investment and Development Company, United Arab Emirates
legal affairs senior vice president
Saudi Electricity Company (SEC), Saudi Arabia
chief legal officer
Airbus Defence and Space, Saudi Arabia
Dalia Al Sayeh
Middle East, Honeywell, United Arab Emirates
head of legal affairs
Alizz Islamic Bank, Oman
Hessa Al Twaijri
legal affairs manager and the board secretary
Petrochemical Industries Company, Kuwait
GlaxoSmithKline, Saudi Arabia
vice president and general counsel
Siemens, Saudi Arabia
senior director, legal
Qatar Petroleum International (QPI), Qatar
head of legal: Europe, Middle East, East Africa
Aggreko, United Arab Emirates
manager, legal and commercial – Eastern Hemisphere
Grey Wolf Drilling International, United Arab Emirates
Dr Khaled Aswad
Abu Dhabi National Chemicals Company (ChemaWEyaat), United Arab Emirates
Qatar District Cooling Co., Qatar
associate chief legal officer
Gulf Bridge International, Qatar
United Arab Bank (UAB), United Arab Emirates
vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary
Shelf Drilling, United Arab Emirates
group general counsel
Batelco Group, Bahrain
Takamul Investment Company, Oman
manager: legal and compliance
ORPIC (Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries Company SAOC), Oman
head of legal
Dubai Properties, United Arab Emirates
senior legal counsel
GDF Suez Energy International, Dubai
deputy general counsel
Oman Oil Company, Oman
Oman Air, Oman
general counsel (head – legal and integrity IMA)
ABB Industries, United Arab Emirates
group chief legal officer and board secretary
Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) Authority, Qatar
Banque Saudi Fransi, Saudi Arabia
averda, United Arab Emirates
Kuwait Finance House Bahrain, Bahrain
Anwar El Khatib
executive vice president – head of legal and compliance
Oman Insurance Company, UAE
Mohamed El Roubi
general counsel – Asia, Middle East and Africa, and Southern Europe
AMEC Foster Wheeler, United Arab Emirates
head of legal and board secretary
ALUBAF Arab International Bank Bahrain, Bahrain
head of legal services
Oman Investment Fund, Oman
counsel, practice leader – maritime, aviation, sale and trading
Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia
Dubai Group (a member of Dubai Holding), United Arab Emirates
general counsel and chief corporate affairs officer
King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), Saudi Arabia
chief legal officer
Arabtec Construction, United Arab Emirates
chief counsel, Middle East and Africa
AECOM, United Arab Emirates
Rima Hadid Al Masri
head of legal and corporate secretary
Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, Bahrain
acting general counsel
Al Khalij Commercial Bank (al khaliji), Qatar
manager of legal affairs
VIVA Bahrain, Bahrain
group general counsel
Al Futtaim Group, United Arab Emirates
Maha Jadallah Harper
chief legal officer
Al Faisal Holding, Qatar
general counsel and secretary of the board of directors
Ibdar Bank, Bahrain
Sidra Medical and Research Center, Qatar
Qatar Railways Company, Qatar
general counsel and company secretary
Dragon Oil, United Arab Emirates
Dubai World, United Arab Emirates
head of legal and compliance
First Energy Bank, Bahrain
chief legal advisor
Al Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia
head of legal
Bank Sohar, Oman
legal affairs manager
3M Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
Evolvence Capital, United Arab Emirates
M1 Group, Lebanon
chief legal officer
Tameer Holding Investment, United Arab Emirates
senior legal counsel
GDF Suez, United Arab Emirates
general counsel and secretary
Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia
Advanced Petrochemical Company, Saudi Arabia
deputy general counsel and head of corporate
Etisalat Group, United Arab Emirates
VP – legal (projects)
ACWA Power, United Arab Emirates
legal (general) counsel
New Port Project, Qatar
Bahrain Airport Company (BAC), Bahrain
general counsel and chief tax officer
Landmark Group, United Arab Emirates
Ooredoo Oman, Oman
Qatar Foundation Endowment, Qatar
senior legal counsel and group company secretary
Mercuria Energy Group, United Arab Emirates
Mohamed Abdel Hafiz Mohamed
legal advisor and acting head of legal
Bank Dhofar, Oman
chief legal counsel
GEMS Education, United Arab Emirates
Mohannad Al Nabulsi
Samsung Electronic Levant, Jordan
David O' Sullivan
head of group legal
Qatar National Bank, Qatar
head of legal and corporate secretary
Foulath Holding Company, Bahrain
general counsel and corporate secretary
Sadara Chemical Company, Saudi Arabia
regional legal counsel and company secretary
Oceaneering International, United Arab Emirates
legal and regulatory director, company secretary
Vodafone Qatar, Qatar
associate general counsel
M. H. Alshaya Co, Kuwait
Alinma Bank, Saudi Arabia
chief legal officer
ACWA Holding, Saudi Arabia
Abu Dhabi Ports Company, United Arab Emirates
general counsel and company secretary
SEDCO Capital, Saudi Arabia
Oman Power and Water Procurement (OPWP) Co, Oman
general counsel and SVP legal and regulatory affairs
du, United Arab Emirates
Mubadala Petroleum, United Arab Emirates
general counsel and head of market regulation
NASDAQ Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Duqm Refinery and Petrochemical Industries Company, Oman
vice president and general counsel for Middle East and Africa
PepsiCo, United Arab Emirates
head of legal
Saudi Hollandi Bank, Saudi Arabia
Susy Aryani Singgih
Investment Corporation of Dubai, (ICD) United Arab Emirates
general counsel and board secretary
Astra Foods, Saudi Arabia
associate legal counsel
Msheireb Properties, Qatar
head of legal/Middle East and North Africa
Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Jordan
head of legal – special projects
Etihad Airways, United Arab Emirates
manager, legal department
senior legal advisor
National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia
The region’s premier news network, Al Jazeera is at the forefront of a complex and fluid political landscape. As general counsel and executive director, Amin Saad Abdulla plays an integral role in strategic board-level decisions, covering issues across a broad range of jurisdictions. Sources point to his calm and measured approach to major cross-border disputes.
Toufic Abi Fadel has led some of Qatar Development Bank’s most significant transactions of recent times. Since becoming the bank’s general counsel in 2010, he has built a four-strong legal team from scratch, and established comprehensive processes and documentation. Currently an executive board member, ‘convincing management of the general counsel’s key role in the bank’ has not been without its challenges, Fadel says. Sources point to the progress he has made in embedding legal into the decision-making process at an earlier stage. A Gide Loyrette Nouel partner for over a decade, Fadel would like to see greater ‘proactivity’ and ownership from the law firms he instructs.
Heading all legal operations across MENA and North Africa, Yasser Abo Ismail joined the company to take up the ‘exceptional opportunity’ of helping to establish new business hubs in Dubai and Morocco. ‘Achieving these two “go big” projects required a huge legal support to implement an extensive and aggressive corporate restructuring plan covering approximately 40 legal entities’, he says. A board member at four of Eaton’s holding companies, Ismail’s wide remit of responsibility has included road-testing business models, training and risk management. He has also taken an active role in the group’s diversity strategy and best practice procedures. With broad international in-house experience, Ismail previously helped establish PepsiCo’s Egyptian and Saudi Arabian legal functions. ‘The biggest challenge I have faced during my career has been business leaders’ resistance to asking for legal help whenever it is necessary’, he says. ‘Unfortunately, the majority of business folks consider the legal function as a hurdle restraining them from achieving their deals in a timely manner’. Ismail began his career at Ernst and Young and teaches competition law at the University of Dubai.
Set to be UAE’s largest regasification terminal, Abu Dhabi-based PPP EmiratesLNG is scheduled for completion in 2018. When he joined the pipeline project in 2013, Ackroyd had a number of changes to contend with, as the entire concept of the project was reworked, requiring ‘quick thinking’ both from both a legal and a strategic perspective. ‘A feature of strategic projects is that they are often fast-track and always unique’, Ackroyd says. ‘The challenge is to be dependable and flexible in the provision of legal support’. It is his close involvement in the project’s main operations, and with it, ‘exposure to key decision-makers both at a corporate and governmental level’, which he enjoys the most; in addition to ‘working with a team who are passionate about what they do and devoted to delivering the project’. A seasoned oil and gas lawyer, Ackroyd’s experience includes cross-border transactions, joint ventures and all major components of the industry’s value chain. Having practised at CMS and Ashurst in the UK and Australia respectively, he stresses the level of sophistication in the region’s legal market across both private practice and in-house. When he is instructing outside counsel, Ackroyd looks not only for ‘quality and timeliness’, but also proactivity. ‘A good law firm will be able to pre-empt those questions to ensure the deliverable is as required, on time and within budget’.
Heading legal, HR and administrative functions, Eman Ahmed was at the pinnacle of Mena Telecom’s WIMAX network launch, which transformed Bahrain’s telecommunications industry in 2010. ‘We instigated the breaking of monopoly on access to international IP connectivity’, Ahmed says. ‘The competition that was created as a result has brought connectivity access prices down by over 1000% in the last five years. We are very proud of the impact that increased internet penetration has had on the Kingdom and on its GDP’. Ahmed established the company’s legal function from scratch. Her cross-departmental role has made her central to all business strategy and operations. ‘My experience as a legal support resource has made me a much better problem-solver than I once was’, she says. ‘I now enjoy the comfort of understanding that every problem has a solution which is equal and proportionate to the sum of all the problem’s components’.
Aluminium Bahrain (Alba)’s award-winning former general counsel and corporate secretary, Afshan Akhtar was hired to build the company’s legal function from scratch. ‘This was no mean feat considering the size of the business and the multiple jurisdictional, industrial and regulatory exchange issues applicable to it’, Afshan says. ‘In addition, the combination of the economic crisis and the Arab Spring created a very uncertain time for the business. As a result, the legal department had to be set up and hit the ground running quickly to ensure operational risk was minimised’. In response to the economic climate, Akhtar consciously built a ‘lean responsive team’, comprising five professionals across legal and corporate secretarial. Formerly a Clifford Chance senior associate in London, Akhtar is praised for her practical and methodical approach, as well as her ‘deep industry knowledge’ and relationship-building skills. She feels the function is now ‘an integral business partner’. ‘This cross-functional bias and interaction enables the legal department to be proactive in influencing the business and supporting its strategic direction’. Active in board-level decisions, Akhtar co-headed Alba’s Integrity Work Force and is increasingly being recognised as a corporate governance expert in the region. She is a director of the ACC’s Middle East chapter and a regular events’ speaker.
Heading a ‘nimble’ legal team at Baniyas Sports Club’s majority-owned subsidiary, Ahmed Al Juneidi is known for his successful leadership of major litigation. He has also taken extensive steps to improve processes and standardise documentation. His current position is a change of step, having previously led large, established legal functions at Housing Bank for Trade and Finance and Al Ghurair Investment. When it comes to outside counsel, Al Juneidi values ‘professionalism’, ‘tackling the case from all angles’, timeliness and ‘trust’.
Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s fastest-growing electricity consumer, and the entire industry is undergoing dramatic regulatory reform. As the legal head of KSA’s primary provider, Mutlaq Al-Mutlaq is a respected industry expert. He represented SEC in the government’s reform committee on electricity law, and took on the mammoth task of updating the company’s entire regulatory framework. ‘SEC is undergoing huge changes in implementing a restructuring program according to government policies for establishing a competitive electricity market in the Kingdom’. With overall control of around 70 legal personnel split across four regional departments, Al-Mutlaq has made performance optimisation a core focus throughout his tenure, with an emphasis on greater business involvement. ‘We in the Saudi Electricity Company legal team believe the role of the in-house legal counsel is no longer confined to handling traditional roles of providing legal services or giving legal support after things have gone wrong’, he says. ‘The role should be more positive and proactive and add real value to the company by engaging, at early stages, in commercial, operational matters as well as strategic decisions’. As far as outside counsel goes, Al-Mutlaq feels foreign firms have an important part to play in Saudi Arabia’s evolving legal framework. ‘The legal regime in the Gulf Region generally – and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia especially – is unique’, he says. ‘Whereas Sharia principles have been the paramount body of law, I would like to see international law firms take a leading role in developing comparative studies between Islamic jurisprudence and conventional law in the fields of commercial, corporate and securities matters’.
An ‘outstanding extemporaneous lawyer with a business mindset’, Raed Al-Saadouni is praised for his leadership and common-sense approach. As Airbus Defence and Space’s chief legal officer he has supported the Kingdom’s world-leading SR8bn integrated defence system covering the nation’s borders. Leading all legal, governance, risk and compliance, he is highly visible at board level and commended for the respect he has earned across all quarters. Formerly Arabian Cement Group’s general counsel, he finalised the European Export Credit Agencies’ first Islamic – Export Finance issue for a greenfields development, and negotiated a new SR1.5bn cement line. Al-Saadouni is a Saudi Ministry of Justice arbitrator and an American Academy of Financial Management compliance officer.
As the legal head of a foreign multinational moving into the region, Dalia Al Sayeh recognised the benefits of learning from the experiences of others. Accordingly, she formed an informal network of GCs in the same situation, in order to share knowledge and build a support network to deal with unchartered territory. An experienced international lawyer, Al Sayeh has relished the challenge of supporting a ‘successful and innovative company’ in its ‘energetic growth across the region’. ‘Coming from a corporate MandA background I really enjoy the diversity of the work’, she adds. ‘The role is fast-paced and challenging’. Al Sayeh has drawn praise inside and outside her organisation for the steps she has taken to simplify the function’s running and maximise its value-add. ‘As we are a small team supporting various business groups across a wide jurisdiction, one of my goals coming into the role was to automate certain processes to address routine matters which don’t require much legal input or analysis’, she says. ‘These processes enabled my team to function more efficiently and dedicate time to the more complex matters’. When it comes to law firms, she would like to see a more ‘practical’ approach. ‘We operate in a distinct legal environment without much certainty or binding precedent’, she says. ‘As in-house counsel we recognise that but would like outside counsel to advise beyond the state of the law’.
An award-winning corporate counsel, and Oman’s first female private sector legal head, Maimuna Al-Sulaimani has made a substantial contribution to discourse in the region’s in-house legal community. She spearheaded Oman banking sector’s first corporate legal training and established a combined legal, risk and compliance policy, which set a precedent in the jurisdiction. On the transactional front, Al-Sulaimani’s role in launching 16 tailor-made Islamic banking products was acclaimed within the industry. During her time at Oman Mobile, she also led the tendering process for Oman’s Third Generation Telecom 3G Network. Combining her legal knowledge with a successful media career, Said is behind the world’s first bilingual legal magazine, Law and Life, and has her own television show #RightsReserved, promoting legal awareness and protection of rights across all groups in society.
Highly experienced in the oil and gas sector, Hessa Al Twaijri has been active in some of the region’s most significant transactions and projects. Leading international ‘mega’ deals, she has worked closely with Kuwait’s government and public authorities. ‘I have been working with Hessa for more than seven years and she manages some of the most complex JVs and acquisitions in the Middle East’s downstream sector, valued at billions (US$)’, one source says, adding: ‘Being a Kuwaiti woman doing what she’s doing, she is quite outstanding’. Al Twaijri has also instigated wide-reaching initiatives to increase efficiency and quality of work within the legal function, and is particularly praised for her contribution to corporate governance. External counsel need to see the ‘big picture’, she says, and stay up to date with the issues affecting their clients.
Leading a compact team, Ammar Alattas manages GlaxoSmithKline’s Saudi Arabian legal function and supports operations across the region. A former Hammad Al-Mehdar and Co in alliance with Simmons and Simmons LLP lawyer, Ammar Alattas has intricate knowledge of the jurisdiction’s highly regulated pharmaceutical sector. He played an integral role in the separation of Saudi Arabia’s legal and compliance functions and has led a number of strategic projects within the region.
A ‘brilliant’ corporate counsel, ‘calm under pressure’ and ‘softly spoken’, Shadi Aldaoud is, for some, ‘the best general counsel Siemens has ever had’. Throughout his decade-long tenure with the global brand, he has manoeuvred a number of challenges, from economic downturn to onerous regulatory demands. He has been particularly praised for his role Riyadh’s €1.6bn subway system development, and his contribution to Siemens’ long-term clean energy program plans. Such is his entrenchment in the business, Aldaoud temporarily headed Siemen’s national human resource function during a period of sustained recruitment and training initiatives to develop home-grown talent.
‘An outstanding lawyer’, Bertrand Alexis is praised highly for his commercial awareness, ‘integrity’, ‘professionalism’ and capacity to simplify complex situations. As senior director at Ooredoo, he supported the global telecommunications provider through the 2013 rebranding of its Qatar operations. With an international legal career spanning three decades, his past experience has included Cable and Wireless’ general counsel and vice president, and principal and co-founder of innovative legal practitioner VistaLaw. He has been a respected thought leader across a variety of global industries, throughout his in-house career.
UK and US-qualified Albertus Alfridijanta has extensive oil and gas experience spanning Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East. As general counsel to SOE Qatar Petroleum (QP)’s strategic investment arm, Alfridijanta handles significant global transactions, competing with major international oil companies. Formerly MedcoEnergi’s GC, Alfridijanta’s past successes include his role in the company’s acquisition of Novus USA’s assets.
For Lois Allela, her ‘strategic contribution and visibility at board level’ are areas which have been particularly important to her throughout a high-powered in-house career. Supporting European, Middle Eastern and East African operations for the world’s largest temporary power generation company, Allela is widely respected in corporate counsel and energy circles alike. ‘Risk evaluation’, she says, is particularly challenging in the variety of emerging economies she deals with. Having previously led high level policy issues at the National Oil Corporation of Kenya, she has rounded and deep-rooted sector knowledge. In her current position, she plays a key role in business strategy and has led numerous significant cross-border transactions. Previously Telecom Kenya’s general counsel, Allela played a pivotal role in overhauling training, governance and processes.
‘I think I have demonstrated that a corporate counsel can be much more than just a legal advisor to the company’, Olof Arnman says. ‘By stepping out of the traditional boundaries of the role, the corporate counsel can become an integral partner to the business in various commercial and strategic matters’. With almost 10 years’ in-house experience in the oil industry, Olof Arnman has successfully merged Grey Wolf Drilling’s legal and commercial departments. ‘I have ensured that the legal department has become an integral part of the business in general, and not just acting in an advisory role’, Arnman says. ‘Though my background is in the legal field, by taking on a dual role as “manager, legal and commercial”, I have broadened the scope of my department’s work’. Creating this synergy between the two was not always easy, Arnman explains. ‘It took some time to make internal stakeholders realise that a corporate counsel can be of value to the business outside of the scope of a legal advisor’, he says. ‘People tend to believe that lawyers should stick to the legal work. However, I have built trust over time and received buy-in from the business by consistently and successfully contributing to key non-legal deliverables’. In the view of those inside and outside his organisation, Arnman’s contribution to Grey Wolf’s incremental growth across the Middle East and CIS regions has been substantial. Sources interviewed particularly point to his role in negotiating high profile contracts. When it comes to outside counsel, Arnman stresses the need for a common-sense approach. ‘One challenge in the relationship between in-house advisors and external counsel can often be to find that balance, where the advice provided by outside counsel is neither so broad that it becomes too generic nor so detailed as to cover every possible or impossible legal risk’, he says. ‘While clear communication from in-house counsel is of high importance in finding such balance, it is also crucial that the outside counsel makes a sincere effort to understand the client’s business and put the legal aspects of a particular situation into a broader context’.
‘Dr Khaled Aswad is an outstanding model of exactly the kind of in-house counsel external counsel wants to work with’, opines one source. ‘Khaled knows his industry inside-out and understands every aspect of his business top-to-bottom. His extensive knowledge of all aspects of his company’s business operations and management structure greatly facilitates collaborative efforts on what are often complex and time-sensitive mandates’. One of the most popular lawyers on our list, ‘emerging giant’ ChemaWEyaat’s general counsel Khaled Aswad has led some of the region’s most significant, complex and high-value transactions. ‘He is an extremely sharp negotiator with strong legal and management skills and the ability to close deals and coordinate teams’, says one private practice lawyer. ‘His complete bilingual Arabic and English language skills also give him an edge over his peers’. Others interviewed point to his ‘character’, ‘pragmatism’ and commercial mindset. In a short period, Aswad has taken ChemaWEyaat’s developing legal function several steps closer to maturity, devising comprehensive policies and procedures, and dividing it into four specialist pillars. ‘I like the fact that the company is a young one with start-up activities’, Aswad says. ‘The legal department was at an early stage of development when I arrived and I personally enjoy starting things from scratch’. A quadrilingual lawyer dual-qualified in Arabic and English law, Aswad has over 15 years’ experience across legal practice, academia, and in-house, and holds doctorates in corporate governance and jurisprudence. He has set up a number of legal conferences in the Middle East and has been a speaker at various events and seminars.
A ‘dedicated’ ‘problem solver’, Marie-Therese Auger works closely with executive management in her leadership of all legal, governance and secretarial functions at the world's largest district cooling plant operator. Sources particularly highlight her role in Qatar District Cooling Co.’s quality management certification from the International Standards’ Authority. Former legal head of global commodities brand, Webcor, Auger’s international experience has spanned Europe, Africa and the GCC, and she is fluent in English, Arabic and French.
Supporting the Middle East’s first privately-owned submarine cable system, Kenneth Awoonor-Renner adds real value with his capacity to think holistically, across legal and business factors, according to sources. Gulf Bridge International (GBI) links Gulf countries, Europe, Africa and Asia, using state-of-the-art submarine technology, in a project which has revolutionised the region’s connectivity. An ‘exceptional communicator’ with ‘great creativity’, Awoonor-Renner has taken the lead in a number of high value strategic financings. He was promoted to associate chief legal officer in 2014, in recognition of his integral role in legal and business decision-making. Valued for his ‘expert’ knowledge across a broad spectrum of jurisdictions, Awoonor-Renner has extensive in-house experience in both Qatar and London, within a range of industries. He has been general counsel at both ExxonMobil and New Airline Corporation.
As general counsel for one of the region’s largest financial institutions, Nabil Azar is an influential industry figure. He is particularly known for his role in Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)’s purchase of RBS’s retail and SME divisions. Lebanese-qualified and fluent in English and French, Azar has advised banks throughout his career, both in private practice and in-house at various institutions. He took up his previous role at ADCB in 2008, where he set up its entire legal function from scratch. Throughout his six years within the function, the team grew from two to 12, and his remit expanded from heading retail banking, to leading business and high-net-worth lines also. Azar previously worked at Barclays, across its Lebanese and Dubai businesses.
When he became general counsel in 2012, Dzul Bakar’s first and defining task was to lead Shelf Drilling’s historical $1bn Transocean buyout. ‘Achieving independence from Transocean was a challenging and complex undertaking’, Bakar says. ‘Although the transition of 38 rigs in 12 different countries has thrown many obstacles in our way, today we are substantially independent and managed to achieve this within the projected timeframe’. In the transaction’s aftermath, Shelf Drilling was required to establish its own legal entities across all business operations, and Bakar was faced with the ‘interesting challenge’ of building a functional legal department and comprehensive compliance program from scratch within a 60-day timeslot. He then formed locally compliant legal entities across Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Central and South East Asia, East Africa and Europe, throughout 2013. ‘We have had to be flexible and adapt to our changing and growing needs’, Bakar adds. ‘From setting up department and legal infrastructure and systems from scratch, growing the department and adapting to the needs of the business’. It is the ‘diversity and variety’ of his role which most appeals to him, he says, as well as the high-level strategic involvement in Shelf Drilling’s run of significant transactions. ‘I am blessed with a talented and diverse legal team’, he adds.
As group general counsel, Bernadette Baynie has been pivotal in Batelco’s growth from a small regional player, to a global company operating across 14 companies. She has led legal and regulatory aspects of all strategic transactions over a crucial seven-year period, which included the award-winning Cable and Wireless Islands transaction of 2013. Leading a 16-strong interdisciplinary team, Baynie is praised highly for her success in driving forward a corporate governance mindset across the business. ‘As a member of the Batelco Group executive team, I have been able to positively influence and shape our corporate culture by promoting best industry practice in our undertakings and high integrity in our behaviours’, she says. Baynie introduced Batelco’s first ever compliance function, which was later embedded into an overriding risk-management program. She has taken considerable steps to develop talent in the legal function, spearheading extensive recruitment, training and incentive initiatives. At its core, she explains, has been a strategy of ‘unconditional team support, empowerment and enablement’. Her approach has seen tangible results, both in department performance and employee satisfaction. She has also taken a number of steps to play legal into the decision-making process at an earlier stage, including arrangements for lawyers to join senior leadership teams. ‘By significantly transforming the structure, functionality and performance of my department and its resources across the group, there has been a fundamental shift in how it is perceived and valued by all levels of management and our board’, opines Baynie. ‘This transformation has moved the department from a purely “service support function” to a “valued business enabler” that has become an integral component of decision-making’.
Australia and New Zealand-qualified Adrian Brown has been government-owned investment company Takamul’s general counsel since its 2008 inception, supporting some extraordinary developments during this period. Designed to drive forward greenfield industrial projects, Takamul spans Oman’s chemicals, metals and minerals sectors. Brown has led a number of strategic projects and is actively involved in management, investment, HR and tender committees, making him a ubiquitous presence across the business. He previously led the corporate division of Oman’s largest law firm, Al Busaidy, Mansoor Jamal and Co.
Managing legal and compliance functions for ORPIC and its subsidiaries, Lorenzo Bruttomesso’s impressive projects experience includes managing the $2.1bn Sohar Refinery Improvement, Muscat-Sohar’s pipeline and Liwa Plastics. A former Nilands Attorneys partner in South Africa, Bruttomesso has extensive international experience and is fluent in English and Italian.
‘Proactive, positive and extremely professional’ and ‘one smart lawyer’, Melanie Collishaw has built a sterling international reputation for her role in major property transactions, with particularly expertise in PFI schemes. As Dubai Properties’ legal head, she is an influential figure both in the real estate sector and the region’s wider in-house community. During her time at Lusail, Collishaw handled some of Qatar’s most significant projects, including the world’s largest global 25-year concession district cooling agreement. Her work in the 2012 London Olympic Project delivery team also received high acclaim. During her four years working on the project, Collishaw covered a broad spectrum of planning and operational issues, including the transfer of obligations for the Park’s legacy transformation and running.
Leading transactions across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, Benjamin Coquerelle stands out for for his leadership and exceptional work ethic. ‘He has performed a lion's share of the work on a number of transactions and has always done so with smiles and kindness’, one private practice source says. ‘He is exceptionally hard working and is capable of inspiring the team of lawyers, both inside and outside of his organisation’. Coquerelle closed a $1.5bn independent power project following two years of planning and negotiation. Internally, he has made a substantial contribution to improving processes, including overhauling complex standard documentation. Handling a high volume of major transactions in a smaller team, he concedes, can be challenging, and makes efficiency key.
Former general counsel to Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE), Mark Craig led Oman Oil Company’s €1.76bn Oxea Sarl acquisition. The company’s largest international acquisition to date, it was also the first time OOC acquired 100% of an international entity. Craig has gained recognition for establishing a group-wide internal legal training program and developing a template database. ‘Working as part of a broader multi-disciplinary team always raises challenges, and leading that process adds significantly to the responsibility’, he says, adding: ‘We are fortunate that we get to work with a range of experts in the course of transactions and development projects, creating ample opportunity to learn and gain invaluable experience’. When it comes to law firms, ‘communications is always the key thing’, for Craig. ‘It brings outside counsel closer to being an extension of our own legal function’.
Heading Oman’s national airline’s legal and compliance functions, Vaughan Crossley is a leading regional expert in aviation law, with over two decades’ industry experience. Formerly a partner at Clark Ricketts LLP, Crossley also worked at the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
With an impressive in-house career spanning multiple sectors across the Middle East and Asia, Bapsy Dastur excels in her capacity to ‘hit the ground running’, both as a lawyer and as a business advisor. Heading technologies provider ABB Industries’ legal function, she plays an integral role in board-level decision-making, and is praised for her considerable contribution to its compliance framework. Dastur’s previous roles include GE’s Indian general counsel, and head of legal, operating risk, compliance and treasury support for Grindlays Bank’s India Region. A UK and Indian-qualified solicitor, she practised in Mumbai for several years, specialising in MandA and financial services.
As the Qatar Financial Centre’s commercial and strategic arm, the QFC Authority’s primary objective is catalysing growth in the nation’s financial services sector. In 2010 the Authority unveiled a new strategy to create a global business hub across the three core markets of asset management, reinsurance and captive insurance. Heading legal and company secretarial, the ‘very knowledgeable’ David Dhanoo is a ‘master’ in his field, impressing with his ‘gravitas’ and ‘exceptional intrapersonal skills’. Dhanoo has strong financial services credentials, having previously headed legal, compliance and secretariat at world-leading credit insurer Euler Hermes’ UK operations.
A highly respected Middle Eastern corporate counsel, Nicholas Diacos joined Banque Saudi Fransi in 2014, with the task of expanding and restructuring the institution’s now 15-lawyer legal function. As well as his ongoing recruitment drive, Diacos has implemented comprehensive precedent streamlining and updating, and spearheaded integrated workflow systems. As well as ‘building a team and systems, virtually from scratch’, Diacos is praised for his role in major transactional and contentious issues. He describes the ‘unexpected variety, size and complexity of the work’ as one of the things which gives him the most satisfaction in his current role.
One of the developing world’s fastest growing environmental service providers, averda announced plans to launch Saudi Arabia’s first underground waste containers in 2015. As general counsel and executive committee member, Emma Dickie has led significant strategic initiatives, and manages all legal and compliance support. She has supported a number of averda’s complex transactions across the region. With 14 years’ cross-border MandA experience, Dickie previously handled the legal aspects of Gate Gourmet’s global restructure, as its legal director, covering the Middle East, Europe and Asia. She has also practised at White and Case LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright and Clayton Utz.
As general counsel for the leading regional retail and investment banking institution, Iris Edwards is praised for her role in financing of Bahrain’s $3.2bn mixed-use Diyar Al Muharraq development. She has also drawn attention for her effective negotiations with the Bahraini Government. Edwards has outstanding global financial service experience, sources say, with past employers including National Australia Bank and Ashurst.
‘A lawyer who knows how to find answers’, Anwar El Khatib has been widely acclaimed throughout a prestigious 20-year legal career across in-house and private practice. During his previous role at real estate finance provider, Tamweel, he established a ground-breaking process for enabling Sharia-compliant documents to be enforceable in conventional Courts between 2009 and 2010. A year earlier, when he joined Tamweel at the height of the global crisis, he established its entire legal function from scratch, with minimal resources. Leading all legal, compliance and administration at Oman Insurance Company, he has expanded the function and restricted the outsourcing of work to litigation and specialist areas. Outside counsel should be more ‘commercially inclined’ and ‘solutions-oriented’, he suggests. El Khatib’s previous roles have included interior specialist depa’s group legal director and company secretary and partner at Souhaid, Sayssa and Khatib.
Not just a gifted corporate counsel but also a ‘genuinely nice man’, Mohamed El Roubi’s impressive in-house experience spans Europe and the Middle East, with past roles including GE’s general counsel. Heading legal across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Southern Europe, El Roubi is recognised for his role in AMEC’s billion-dollar acquisition of global engineering conglomerate, Foster Wheeler. Sources also praise his leadership of several high profile Middle Eastern transactions. El Roubi previously served as managing partner at IandD Iraq Law Alliance and partner at Ibrachy and Dermarkar.
‘Analytical, tenacious and decisive’, ALUBAF legal head Ismaeel Elnasri is praised for his substantial contribution to the function’s effective internal processes, and particularly the bank’s compliance framework. Formerly at Investors Bank, he has an intricate understanding of the jurisdiction’s financial services, with particular expertise in capital markets, Islamic products and union negotiation.
Blessed with ‘charm’, Clinton Genty-Nott impresses both with his technical understanding and the strong relationships he has built inside and outside his organisation. With a dual personality as both public and private entity, Oman Investment Fund’s high-profile investment activities carry complex legal implications. Embedded in executive decision-making from an early stage, Genty-Nott has acted on a number of significant energy and infrastructure project financings. Formerly Barclays’ regional head, he is one of Oman’s most knowledgeable financial services lawyers, according to some sources.
Randall Geuy led the multi-billion-dollar asset-level transfer of Saudi Aramco’s shipping subsidiary, which created the world’s third largest shipping company. He also restructured the company’s entire maritime, aviation, sales and trading practice areas. Heading an eight-strong team, input from outside counsel is key to a business dealing with Aramco’s scale of transactions. ‘The pace of transactions often demands quick turn-around in documents and other requirements’, Geuy says.
Dubai Group’s award-winning general counsel, Cherine Ghali is routinely at the helm of high-profile strategic transactions. With 16 years’ finance experience across private practice and in-house, she has previously worked at Barclays Africa, Sama Dubai (another Dubai Holding subsidiary) and US firms Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe (Europe) LLP, Ashurst and Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP. Fluent in English and Arabic, she is UK and US-qualified.
Supporting one-of-its-kind ‘megaproject’ King Abdullah Economic City, general counsel Hani Gharbawi is in a unique position, particularly given his broad remit of responsibility. ‘The type of work the team is exposed to is unprecedented, as we build a city from the grounds up’, he says. ‘On a daily basis, the team covers legal advice on contractual matters and general compliance with legal and capital market rules for areas ranging from a sea port, to an industrial valley, housing developments, schools, a new college, a hotel, retail and utilities. Team members also participate in drafting policies and regulations that govern these areas and many others, while coordinating efforts amongst various functions within the group’. Gharbawi has recently rejoined KAEC, having previously worked for them in 2008, only three years following the City’s conception, when he established, what is now an eight-strong legal team, largely from scratch. ‘I am very proud to have compiled a team of lawyers who are highly skilled and very well coordinated’. Since he returned to the project in 2013, he has spearheaded steps to streamline processes and bring more legal work in-house. ‘Our team is also zealously attending court hearings to protect the groups interests’, he says. ‘It is better equipped than external counsel, to participate in drafting agreements, operational issues, and technical discussions with our engineers’. During his break from KAEC, Gharbawi took a wide-reaching legal, strategic and executive involvement in developing King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, situated 20km away from the city. Both projects, Gharbawi explains, hold both professional and personal significance to him. ‘The most memorable achievement for me is my leading role in drafting the formation documents for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’, he says. ‘The discussions leading to the final draft approved by the Saudi Arabia's highest authority involved very complex legal and political strategic planning. The well-celebrated KAUST is the dream of the late King Abdullah and being part of realising that dream meant the world to me. Being able to serve the Kingdom through KAUST and KAEC in more than one career station is a most honourable blessing of mine’.
Heading a nine-strong team, Alex Ghazi has drawn praise both from internal and external clients, for the steps he has taken to build and consolidate the company’s existing legal framework. As well as codifying processes and putting comprehensive systems in place, Ghazi says he has ‘tried to strengthen the bond between the business and the legal department’, raising awareness of the function’s role and cementing its status as a ‘business partner’. ‘Often in the Middle East, one of the main challenges is to demonstrate to the top management the extent to which the legal department can be of assistance to the organisation and how cost-effective it can be’, he adds. Formerly group chief legal officer at ALJ Co, the world’s largest distributor of Toyota, Lexus, and Daihatsu vehicles, it is this closer interaction with the business and the ‘bird’s eye view’ this offers, which most appeals to him about his role.
Heading a 12-strong team, supporting the Middle East, Africa and India, Malcolm Haack is revolutionising the structure and effectiveness of the legal function, in the view of some sources. Amongst other things, the team’s remit has been considerably broadened, leading to greater involvement with business decision-making, at an earlier stage. He has also introduced a more specialist approach, and worked to heighten cross-border expertise. This aspect of his work, he admits, has at times been challenging, but he gains a real sense of achievement from seeing lawyers new to the in-house side, become ‘well-rounded’ professionals. It is also ‘the significant diversity in the issues faced and working with people across the globe to develop integrated delivery solutions for projects’, he says, which gives him most satisfaction from his position. Outside counsel need to understand their clients’ ‘pressure points’, he says. With previous employers including BHP Billiton, Telstra and Minter Ellison, Haack has broad international experience across a range of sectors.
‘I cannot think of many aspects that I do not enjoy - I consider myself very lucky’, Rima Hadid Al Masri says of her role as Mumtalakat Holding Company’s legal and company secretarial head. ‘Due to the variety of sectors that our investment portfolio covers, I am exposed to types of transactions, which most in-house lawyers would not have access to. Working for the investment arm of the Kingdom of Bahrain, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that you have contributed to the growth of a country’s economy and worked towards social and economic development’. Praised repeatedly for her high-powered skillset, professionalism and ethical standards, Hadid ‘brings in a unique dimension to any process from a legal and strategic perspective’. Sources particularly highlight her management of difficult circumstances surrounding her role in Mumtalakat’s now defunct subsidiary Gulf Technics’ final days. ‘It would be easy to discuss highlights in one's career in terms of transactions, but I would say that my biggest achievement to date related to a somewhat negative task that needed to be addressed’, Hadid says herself. ‘I joined the company whilst it was going through very stressful conditions. I had to manage the internal affairs of the company and set up basic functions for them, in addition to managing current contracts and dispute resolution. All this in an industry that I did not have any previous experience in’. When the business came to be wound up, Hadid concluded on all contractual, financial and legal liabilities, including wide-scale redundancies. ‘What made this a bigger challenge than usual, was that this was a government-owned entity, attracting political and social attention and related sensitivities’, Hadid adds. Since her arrival at Mumtalakat in 2013, Hadid has instigated a wide-scale overhaul of legal and company secretarial functions to improve efficiency. This has included examination both of the law firms they instruct and the kinds of work they are outsourcing to them. ‘To be frank the law firms that we have historically dealt with and continue to instruct have been a pleasure to deal with, and very accommodating to our needs’, she says. ‘One thing that I would like to see improved in a couple of firms that we have come across, relates to their cost estimations. As a client, it is very difficult to deal with a law firm who undercuts fees to ensure they provide a competitive fee proposal, yet then attempts to recoup costs by deeming work out of scope’.
Supporting legal operations across Qatar, UAE and France, efficiency is key for Oliver Hallsworth’s three-strong team, and as acting GC, he has focused on optimising time and resources. With measures such as reorganising law firm panels, he has achieved significant cumulative costs reduction over the past three years. Convincing an organisation of legal’s ‘value-add’, he admits, can be a challenge. ‘An exceptional manager’ and ‘a constant source of excellence and practical insights’, Hallsworth’s diverse investment, regulatory and private banking background has included UBS, Citibank and Lehman Brothers, where he managed Wembley Stadium’s financing. He also directed UBS Jersey’s successful FATCA audit by the US Department of Justice, over a nine-month period. When working with outside counsel, Hallsworth dislikes the ‘culture of billable hours’. ‘I don’t want or expect the clock to be running every time I pick up the telephone’, he says. He also recommends a greater openness and ‘innovation’ in the use of technology.
Fluent in English and Arabic, Ahmed Hamidou is a highly experienced telecommunications lawyer. As the third industry competitor to enter a former duopoly in 2010, VIVA has faced a myriad of complex regulatory and business issues. Valued for his proactive and 'forward-thinking' approach, Hamidou has liaised directly with the Telecom Regulations Authority (TRA), and drawn particular notice for his ground-breaking contribution to contract drafting and precedents. Previously at KPMG, Hamidou also practised at Emirates Advocates.
‘Softly spoken and transparent’, ‘strategic player’ Fadi Hammadeh ‘presents the best of corporate counsel leaders in the Middle East’. Al Futtaim Group’s general counsel and former Dubai Properties’ legal head, Hammadeh is among the region’s most widely known in-house lawyers. Praised repeatedly for his commercialism, methodical approach and superior intellect, he is an increasingly respected writer and speaker on issues affecting in-house legal functions. Hammadeh obtained an executive MBA in 2008 and worked in private practice in Europe and the Middle East before moving in-house.
‘One of my proudest achievements is seeing the legal department I first inherited totally transformed, and the new team developing and working well together’. In less than two years as Al Faisal’s legal head, Maha Harper has overhauled the entire function, implementing brand new systems, and devising corporate governance and compliance guidelines. ‘It took a full 12 months to really see improvement’, Harper says. ‘A further 11 months later, I am proud and pleased to see a real shift in not only the department’s work product, but in its professionalism and reputation’. Beyond the function’s internal workings, sources particularly highlight Harper’s handling of high value cross-border transactions. ‘I am proud to lead our newly re-vamped legal department as our company diversifies both cross-border and over an ever-widening range of sectors’, she says. On the subject of outside counsel she has two suggestions for improvement: ‘Responding more quickly, and answering more succinctly!’
‘A polished professional’ who has exceptional experience in the Middle East’s financial services sector, Omar Haydar is valued for his ‘communication’, ‘energy’ and work ethic. General counsel since 2010, he handled the integration of three separate legal departments, following the bank’s 2013 merger. He is also praised for his effective management of significant litigation and his efforts to change mindsets around risk management. ‘Being in-house, you are exposed to the full spectrum, from litigation, to advisory, to structuring, to labour issues’, Haydar says. ‘It keeps things interesting’. Making the business cognisant of the value legal brings, he admits, can sometimes be challenging in the region’s banking world. ‘I like to see thinking and innovation more than I like to see old archaic proven structures’, he says of outside counsel. ‘Doing the same thing 100 times doesn't mean it’s the best thing, nor does it mean you should bill the same for the same routine’.
A ground-breaking hospital, research and medical centre, Sidra is not yet fully operational. During the past two years, Hermes has been developing a comprehensive legal function, which can fully support the needs of its unique offering within a highly-regulated industry. As a high-level strategic counsel to the board, he has been integral to the future development of all aspects of the fledgling organisation. A prominent figure in health law, Hermes joined Sidra in 2013 from St Jude’s Research Hospital, where he handled all legal and governance relations issues. Sidra’s focus on women’s’ and children’s’ health, closely reflects his own professional interests and history. A decade-long member of the Strategic Outreach for all Families’ Reservations’ Board, he is also Judge Baker Children's Research Center’s former vice chair.
Heading a ten-strong team, Qatar Railways’ highly-acclaimed general counsel Stephen Hibbert established the SOE’s internal legal function from scratch in 2012, and has since delivered contracts exceeding $40bn. A qualified civil engineer and international arbitrator, Hibbert has over 30 years’ global projects experience, with particular focus on the rail and transport sectors. Some of his previous professional highlights have included Singapore’s MRT, Hong Kong’s New Territories rail expansion and Bangkok’s SkyTrain. He has written over 300 professional and academic texts, including the Oman chapter of 2009’s The Practitioner’s Guide to Arbitration in MENA. Hibbert was previously partner at Squire Patton Boggs.
Supporting a dynamic business on the rise, Julian Hicks has successfully negotiated multibillion-dollar foreign direct investments amid the MENA and FSU regions’ political instability. ‘Negotiating, implementing and defending very large capital intensive projects in developing jurisdictions in times of political and social change’ is among his biggest challenges, Hicks says. Dual-listed in London and Dubai, exploration company Dragon Oil has undertaken several strategic transactions in recent times, making headlines over its aborted $500m purchase of Petroceltic in 2014. Leading an eight-strong team, Hicks has made a number of internal changes during his time as general counsel, in efforts to improve performance and crystalise the function’s remit across the business. ‘We have defined our role, clarified accountabilities, publicised clear focal points for work streams and introduced agreed KPIs to manage expectations and measure delivery’.
A highly respected corporate counsel within the region, Nick Hornung is praised by sources for his successful defence of Dubai World subsidiary, Istithmar World, in a $750m two-year arbitration. Having practised for a number of years across Linklaters LLP’s UK and Asia offices, Hornung is well known for his expertise in major international MandA, private equity, joint ventures and IPOs. He is also leading Dubai World’s ongoing $14.6bn debt optimisation project. ‘Riding the global financial crisis’, he concedes, has been a major challenge of recent times, requiring him to run multiple distressed transactions and deal with widescale redundancies. During his nine years at the group, Hornung built Istithmar World’s in-house legal function from scratch and merged it with the main Dubai World team. He now heads the end product, a 12-strong ‘lean and highly respected in-house legal team’, supporting the entire group. When it comes to outside counsel, he suggests greater ‘innovation’ would be an improvement.
Heading legal and compliance functions at First Energy Bank, David Hudson joined the institution on its 2008 inception and established the function from scratch. ‘While transactional legal work takes up the majority of my time, this is my first experience of working for a start-up’, he says. ‘It has therefore been particularly satisfying putting in place some of the necessary infrastructure for the two functions for which I am responsible’. As an institution focused on Islamic investment in the energy industry, First Energy Bank’s needs are complex and niche, and it is this ‘unpredictability’, Hudson says, which keeps him motivated. ‘Almost every week brings something novel, so it’s rarely dull. Also, we’re an Islamic bank and have to consider Sharia compliance in all that we do’. Hudson has been praised for the rigorous and effective compliance framework he established. ‘In-house counsel is expected to point out the legal risks of whatever’s under review’, he says. ‘But it’s all too easy to stop at that (and be seen as part of the problem) rather than addressing the sometimes even more challenging tasks of legal risk assessment, mitigation and management (and being seen as part of the solution)’. With almost 17 years’ financial services experience, Hudson is known for his steady judgement and industry understanding. His experience with law firms in the region has been very positive. ‘Most of the lawyers we deal with are pretty switched-on when it comes to client care, so I have few complaints’. He places the greater emphasis on relationships with individuals, rather than firms, however. ‘I have been known to follow lawyers from firm to firm rather than rebuild the relationship with a successor’.
Worth $71.2bn, Al Rajhi Bank is one of the largest Islamic finance institutions in the world. ‘One of the prominent legal scholars of our generation’, Siddig Hussein has led significant project financings across the Middle East, and is seen by many as one of the region’s leading Sharia law experts. Sources also highlight his effective management of significant cross-border disputes. In a distinguished 15-year in-house career, Hussein has been Sudanese French Bank’s legal head and acted as advisor to the Minister in the UAE’s ministry of labour.
‘A very articulate and knowledgeable lawyer’, Elsamawal Idris stands out from the crowd, according to sources, with exceptional understanding of Oman’s banking system. Formerly legal head to Sudan’s Bank of Khatoum, and its five subsidiaries, he proved himself consistently in major transactions and disputes. He was also commended for his wide-reaching initiatives to improve efficiency and performance in the function.
Global brand 3M has established a meaningful footprint across the region’s ICT market, with a continuing pipeline of new products. ‘An extremely detail-oriented person’, Fadi Kahhal has been at the epicentre of the business’s strategic direction, and is commended by sources for his effective relationship-building across all arms of the business, and his commitment to high performance standards. Previously working in-house at Arabia Insurance, he is praised for his versatility and diverse sector knowledge.
‘It’s an exciting time to be GC in the UAE’, Ali Khalaf says. ‘The more light shone on the field will only result in better overall performance and tailoring of laws to allow the jurisdiction to compete with its regional and global peers’. Dubai-based conglomerate Evolvence Capital is viewed as a pioneer in its sectors, known for its innovative product development. Khalaf has gone to significant lengths to equip its legal function to meet the business’s growing needs, as it spreads its reach across MENA and India. He has also taken two companies public.
With a broad international remit, investment holdings group M1 operates across an exceptional spread of sectors. Upon her arrival, one of Khalife’s biggest challenges was bringing legal into line with the business’s complex needs. Heading a small team with limited resources, Khalife has raised the function’s profile considerably, bringing it further into the decision-making process and taking a considerable amount of work in-house. ‘Working with M1 Group has been challenging and interesting’, May Khalife says. ‘When I started, the structure of the legal department was not consistent to the development of the Group. I had to develop the department but at the same time provide legal support, according to international standards, to sophisticated and well-developed business units. This required very hard work and really long hours’. As well as recruiting and instigating wide-scale training and devising a compliance framework, the key, Khalife feels, has been inspiring confidence from the business. Sources also highlight Khalife’s role in complex strategic deals.
‘I thoroughly enjoy all the challenges every day brings and the new and creative ways I learn to manage all the myriad of companies across all these different jurisdictions’, Aasma Khan says. ‘I get to work with fantastic firms, meet many interesting people and face “right out of a TV law drama” situations… almost every day’. Former Allied Investment Partners’ legal and compliance head, Khan already had a prestigious in-house legal career before she joined Tameer. Regional property developer Tameer Holding Investment continues to operate on an impressive global scale, as well as making a seismic imprint on Dubai’s skyline. Its pioneering legal head, Khan established the function in its entirety, when she arrived in 2009. ‘To put this initiative into perspective, this is a multibillion-dollar company that has delivered the tallest residential building in the world - Princess Tower’, Khan says. ‘With each new company or group of companies added to my portfolio of responsibilities, I have had to repeat this process to create proper legal function and support to the business’. Establishing all compliance and company secretarial frameworks, Khan built what is now a 15-strong team up on highly specialised lines, to reflect the value and complexity of the projects it supports. She has also constructed an extensive global panel of external counsel. Her innovative dispute resolution strategy has drawn notice not only inside her organisation, but also from the firms she instructs. ‘In the Middle East, very few companies are equipped to manage volume litigation or arbitration’, Khan says. ‘Because I have implemented a dispute resolution strategy consisting partly of risk management and process standardisation, I have been able to manage external legal costs to fixed exposures’.
By far a high point in Paul Kirkby’s in-house legal career to date was his role in the closure of Kuwait’s first independent water and power project. ‘I was solely responsible for the project documentation against two sets of magic circle law firms acting for the lenders and an American firm acting for the Government’, he explains. ‘The law changed three times during the development of the project and we had to come up with innovative solutions to new problems to keep the deal on track. It was a long and painful process but in the end it all worked out’. His achievement was particularly impressive in light of his team’s uniquely holistic approach to deal-making. Holding a dual-role in its truest sense, Paul Kirkby handles multi-jurisdictional billion-dollar transactions from their early beginnings to final conclusion, running legal and commercial negotiations simultaneously. ‘It’s business advisor role – the reality is you have to do everything all of the time’, Kirkby says. ‘There’s no real division between commercial and legal; it’s very different to being in private practice. We have external counsel but ultimately the buck stops with us’. A former DLA Piper UK LLP senior associate, Kirkby has taken significant steps to optimise efficiency in the function since his arrival, and also build closer ties with GDF’s commercial teams. Even with the legal function’s integrated approach, gaining the trust of the business can still be difficult, Kirkby explains. ‘It takes time to build respect with your commercial colleagues so that you are seen as a help rather than a hindrance’.
As the world’s largest oil company’s legal head, managing a 150-strong global team, David Kultgen remains one of the region’s best known and most respected general counsels. In-keeping with the enormity of his role, Kultgen has been working on a structured transformational program of similarly vast proportions, since 2011. Its extensive measures have included doubling lawyer-headcount, devising eight specialist streams and creating paralegal and administration units, and an HR function. Kultgen has also assisted in establishing marketing support offices worldwide. Working closely with the CEO and the Board, he sits on the company’s strategy council and several corporate-level committees.
Elnitaifa Kurmino has made a substantial contribution to optimising efficiency in Advanced Petrochemical Company’s legal function, including a substantial revamp of standard documentation, and innovative IT solutions. An executive team member, sources also point to his success in achieving greater integration between legal and the wider business.
Fulfilling a dual role as deputy general counsel and corporate head, Brooke Lindsay is firmly entrenched in the business, sitting on Etisalat Nigeria’s board of directors. She has been formally recognised as one of the top performers across Etislat’s global business. During her time at Etisalat, Lindsay is praised by sources for the steps she has taken to optimise efficiency and closen ties with the business. ‘I love the diversity of my role and complexity of the matters that come across my desk’, she says. ‘Every day is different in terms of my legal practice and that, in turn, requires you to be dynamic and versatile in the way you focus and approach issues’.
‘It is an exciting time to be working with such a dynamic company but also has its challenges’. Teegan Lindsay is recognised in our list for developing a sophisticated and respected legal function, supporting leading independent water and power projects specialist, ACWA Power. ‘Teegan leads a team of talented and experienced lawyers’, one private practice source says. ‘She manages extremely diverse transactions in numerous jurisdictions. She is a true leader with a vision and kindness’. Lindsay herself, sees the development of her team as among her greatest professional achievements to date. ‘Not only are they respected within the company but also within the wider legal market. They really are experts in their field and work cohesively and professionally together and with everyone they come in contact with’. Appointed general counsel in 2013, Lindsay has built up the team up to 15, bringing in wider international expertise and key specialisms. ‘This is reflective of the successes in the last 12 months’, she says of the recruitment drive. ‘And also the appreciation that in-house lawyers bring real value to the company’. Making extensive changes to processes and procedures, Lindsay even re-examined how the function communicated with the rest of the business, shifting what was traditionally an ‘email culture’ towards more face-to-face meetings. ‘The other objective I set for myself was to ensure that each individual legal team member felt valued and nurtured’, Lindsay adds. ‘It wasn’t that long ago that I was one of their colleagues rather than their boss so I had a real insight into the pressures they were experiencing’. To achieve this, Lindsay pooled considerable energy into structured trained and mentoring.
‘A consummate professional’, Michael Mackin heads all legal and compliance support for Qatar’s $7bn project to build a commercial port in Doha’s centre; the world’s largest “greenfield” port development. Mackin had strong credentials for the role, with previous experience at Bechtel and Qatar Petroleum.
Fayyaz Mahmood has been praised for his role in obtaining Bahrain Airport Company’s UK Health and Safety certification in 2015. BAC was established in 2008 to develop and manage Bahrain International Airport’s commercial operations and primarily outsourced legal work, until Mahmood’s arrival in 2011. Setting up the legal function from scratch, Mahmood not only established comprehensive processes and procedures, but also took significant steps to shift the ‘culture’ of the business, according to our sources. As the function matures, ‘elevating the role to commercial advisor as well as being a legal advisor’ has been a major focus for Mahmood. ‘You are so close to the business and see the effects of your advice and decisions on the company’. He stresses the importance of retaining ‘independence’ as a legal advisor, whilst simultaneously supporting the business’s aims.
‘We are operating in a very dynamic part of the world’, Anuraag Malhotra says. ‘Businesses are pressurised by changing economic scenarios; tax activism and BEPS and increased global competition coming to Gulf; political pressure on Levant; recent very positive developments and regulatory framework easing out in India; and many other factors are causing the operating environment for businesses and their legal framework to go through a transformation’. Landmark Group has continued its roll of high-profile strategic acquisitions and global expansion. Managing a 45-strong team across MENA, India and the UK, global retail conglomerate general counsel Malhotra, is known for his ‘energy’ and professionalism. ‘Watching successful legal teams which are well respected for their support and delivery, gives immense satisfaction’, Malhotra says. He joined the company 11 years ago as the only in-house lawyer, and since then has facilitated the evolution a function supporting more than 20 businesses across 18 jurisdictions. Heading legal and tax simultaneously, his skill-set and remit give him a unique appreciation for the issues at stake in structuring transactions. ‘Every major initiative, whether it was designing and creating the Landmark Group's corporate structures, or leading the acquisition of Carluccio’s, Fitness First; or current tax structuring exercise for the group; all are wonderful experiences by themselves’. Malhotra is developing a group-level compliance program, with ongoing work including transfer pricing and international tax structuring.
As general counsel, James Maxwell has guided what is now Ooredoo Oman, through every major breakthrough of its 11-year history; from winning the nation’s second fixed wireless to rebranding from Nawras and launching the WIMAX network, and several milestones in between. ‘I love working in the region, and particularly in Oman’, Maxwell says. ‘The evolution of legal services, both in-house and external, is exciting, and we have a unique opportunity to be involved in, and shape, that evolution’. Currently heading a 13-strong team across legal, regulatory and wholesale, Maxwell joined the company as Nawras’ sole in-house counsel. As well as structuring and building all three functions under his remit, he also led the comprehensive corporate governance review preceding its 2010 listing. Keeping integration at the forefront of the function’s development, Maxwell established procurement, pricing and tender committees and introduced standardised contracts and management systems across the business. In his view he has ‘made the legal function approachable and a genuine business partner’.
Former general counsel to Qatar Foundation and Dubai Group, David Mee has over 10 years’ in-house experience and is prominent in the region’s corporate counsel community. Joining non-profit Qatar Foundation Endowment at its inception in 2011, Mee established the legal department from scratch. Since then he has played an integral role in all strategic decisions from their early stages.
Yahlive’s legal counsel and company secretary until 2015, Giles Menezes, who has ‘wit’ and ‘energy’, played a pivotal role in the company’s spectacular expansion across the region and beyond. ‘Giles is an instrumental member of the team which has seen the company grow from a start-up, to what is now one of the premier providers of DTH television services across the MENA and Central Asia regions’, senior Yahlive marketing director Ammar Baranbo says. MultiChoice Kenya COO Kurt Otto opines: ‘Giles has been a great balance to an aggressive growth strategy with contribution enabling not just risk mitigation but new business concepts and different approaches to capturing market share’. From a legal perspective, Menezes has been praised highly for managing the strategy’s complex multijurisdictional components and leading ‘first-of-its-kind’ transactions. Heading a small legal and marketing team, Menezes built Yahlive’s function from scratch, and is credited with the function’s strong cohesion with the business. ‘Giles is a most knowledgeable and diligent corporate counsel’, Frank Lucente of Al Tamimi and Company says. ‘He is prepared to understand not only all facets of the business of his employer but all facets of the law relating to the company as well. Giles does not just dump the task onto outside counsel but plays a proactive role’.
Oman’s third-largest lender by assets, Bank Dhofar announced plans to raise its capital by up to $300m in 2015. As its acting legal head, Mohammed Abdel Mohamed managed some of its largest regional and global transactions. Heading a small team across legal and non-legal, he has completely overhauled the function’s processes, drafting comprehensive guidelines and automating systems. Mohamed says it is the opportunity to ‘think out of the box’ in the face of ‘unprecedented legal issues’ which gives him most satisfaction in his role as in-house counsel.
Noel Motha came firmly onto the radar with his role in GEMS Education’s 2014 minority-stake sale to private equity funds, including Blackstone (its first ever Middle-Eastern investment). The Dubai-based schools operator is continuing to its viral growth, with 2015’s reports of planned entry into key South East Asian territories. This news occurred concurrently with GEMS' announcements of planned rebranding and an impending report into the future of the UAE’s education system; the latter of which cements its status as an industry thought leader. ‘The company has many classic attributes found in a family owned business, but is very serious about transforming itself into an international corporate suitable for listing in the not-too-distant future’, Motha says. ‘It has an increasing presence in developing markets, where growing middle class populations are demanding a standard of education which may not be provided by government. GEMS is at the forefront of these initiatives, which often require innovative legal solutions’. Motha’s legal team has led a run of significant strategic transactions over recent years; including multimillion-dollar global financings, a listed sukuk issue and innovative sale and leasebacks. When asked what his greatest challenges have been, Motha says: ‘In a professional sense, holding together a team during 2014’s frenetic activity – probably the most demanding moments of my career’. He left a prestigious career as a private practice construction lawyer to move in-house, over 10 years ago. As an associate at Allen and Overy LLP, he advised on construction documents for London’s Tate Modern development. It was his secondment at Brazil’s National Grid-France Telecom, five years later, which first gave him a taste of the ‘sheer variety’ of the other side. ‘In the unreal environment of Rio, I decided I preferred in-house’. After five years as deputy general counsel to Hitachi Europe’s tech division, Motha made the move to the Middle East in 2007. ‘Dubai’s building and construction industry was at an absolute boom at that point, so it was an obvious choice – I was even busier when the downturn arrived’. During his five years as Dubai World subsidiary, Limitless’ general counsel, Motha advised at board-level on huge global development projects. As somebody who has been driven, throughout his career, by an interest in ‘building something’, the challenges offered by his current role are distinctive in their breadth. ‘By the very nature of the business, the legal team support a wide range of legal situations: from the raw commercial activity of building, owning and operating schools – these can be $100m developments – to the legal support for the education function, which gives rise to everything that humanity can throw up’.
The global digital leader made headlines in 2015 with its inauguration of the Samsung Academy and Ultrasound Medical Laboratory at University of Jordan. General counsel Mohanned Nabulsi has drawn high praise for his support of the ground-breaking public-private partnership; the latest of an emerging trend in the region. Heading all legal and compliance support across Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, he is particularly known for his contribution to building a respected corporate governance framework. Nabulsi has a long history in Jordan’s telecommunications, as wi-tribe Jordan’s former general counsel and corporate affairs director. Prior to this, he spent seven years managing legal affairs at Orange’s Jordan subsidiary, Jordan Telecom Group.
Heading a 15-strong team, David O’Sullivan has distinguished himself with his transformation of the legal function into a ‘top-performing department’ and ‘partner to the business’. He has led on a number significant transactions at Qatar’s leading national institution and has played a key role in its expansion into new regions, with Africa and South East Asia as recent examples. O’Sullivan is energised by the ‘fast pace of deals, variety of deals, fast pace of decision-making and variety of jurisdictions’. Outside counsel could sometimes do more to keep up with this ‘pace’, he says. He also suggests they could sometimes work more effectively with their overseas offices in cross-border transactions.
Fluent in English, French and Arabic, Firas Oggar established the legal function supporting the whole of Foulath Group, including Bahrain Steel, SULB Company, USCO in Bahrain and Saudi SULB. With past in-house roles including Wataniya Telecom’s legal head and investment fund KIPCO’s general counsel, Oggar has broad sector expertise. ‘In general the main achievement was to be able to adapt myself to a different and new industry and be able to understand its risks and dynamics’, he says. During his time as Foulath’s general counsel, he has successfully led the commissioning of three steel plants, collectively worth $1.2bn, working with teams across Europe and Asia.
Sadara Chemical Company is constructing the world’s largest ever single-phase chemical complex business, through a unique alliance with Saudi Aramco and The Dow Chemical Company. A doyen of the region’s in-house community, US-qualified John Olson has taken a central role in the project dating back to his previous role at Dow. Sadara Chemical Company’s general counsel and corporate secretary since 2013, he heads all legal and compliance functions across the business.
‘As in-house legal counsel it is also vital to think outside the box and to take on the role of commercial strategist’. Lamprell’s former general counsel, Andrew Onley heads Oceaneering'slegal operations across MENA, Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific. According to sources, Onley has particularly distinguished himself with his substantial contribution to Oceaneering’s global compliance framework. He spearheaded ground-breaking global data protection policies in 2014, and previously developed an anti-corruption training program for all employees and contractors worldwide. The highly international nature of Onley’s role has required him to develop an effective understanding of the legal and cultural frameworks of a broad spectrum of jurisdictions. For Onley, efficiency is key to the effective running of a legal function continually being stretched by Oceaneering’s ‘phenomenal growth’ over the past five years. Equally, it is the ‘truly international nature’ of his role, which he enjoys the most, alongside ‘being considered as more than "just a lawyer"’.
Taking a ‘straightforward and refreshing’ approach, Matthew Osborne has a broad international remit, and impresses through his negotiations with governmental and other stakeholders. ‘He rates as one of the most commercially focused and astute general counsels we do business with’, says one private practice source. ‘He also presents as a great ambassador for Vodafone Qatar in how he conducts himself in business, and is a strong advocate for Vodafone Qatar on key strategic issues’. The national business became fully Sharia-compliant in 2015, and Matthew Osborne is praised highly for his role in the initiative, which involved a complex refinancing and compliance review. Vodafone Ireland’s former general counsel, Osborne has nine years’ experience as the telecommunications leader. He previously specialised on corporate finance in law firms across the UK, Ireland and New Zealand.
International retail franchise operator, M. H. Alshaya Co, manages and operates over 70 of the world's most recognisable brands, including the likes of Starbucks, HandM and Le Pain Quotidien. Heading a multi-jurisdictional team across Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Osman has made it a focus to ‘change mentalities’ and bring the legal function closer the business. ‘The department is now playing a crucial role in helping the business to make informed decisions’, Osman says.
Publicly-owned financial institution, Alinma Bank, specialises in Sharia-compliant retail, corporate and investment banking. General counsel Eyad Othman is a respected lawyer in the nation’s financial services sector, with previous employers including Capital Market Authority and Bank Albilad.
Heading legal and risk functions at water and power specialist, ACWA, Ned Othman reorganised the legal department into a standalone function, in his words, ‘akin to a “law firm”’. He is praised for his success in increasing legal’s performance and engagement with the business, through measures such as KPIs and effective IT infrastructure. ‘Success and satisfaction from an in-house experience is achieved by treating the constituent business units as clients’, Othman says. ‘By assisting them in attaining their goals and overcoming their challenges effectively, efficiently and economically, business managers recognise the value and appreciate the services delivered by their in-house partners’. When it comes to the law firms themselves, Othman identifies one key developmental area as ‘team management affecting cost management’. ‘Often, in an overzealous effort to achieve client satisfaction, matters are overstaffed with little team management, resulting in numerous unnecessary timekeepers billing time for uncoordinated services’.
During his time as the leading port developer’s general counsel, Emil Pellicer has reduced reliance on external lawyers and heightened efficiency through standardising documentation and processes. He is praised for his ‘proactive approach’ and his effective steps to bring legal into the decision-making process at an earlier stage. ‘There is an expectation within the company that legal advice will not only be technically spot-on but also reflect the commercial realities of the company’, Pellicer says. ‘This means my team and I must have an extensive and intimate knowledge of the company and its business. I love this aspect of my work’. ‘Growing Emirati talent’, he says, has also been a focus. ‘We have been lucky enough to have had some very real successes regarding this issue’.
Former Charles Russell Speechlys LLP partner, Nicholas Polley, is credited by sources for his exceptional international structured finance expertise. As general counsel and company secretary to leading Sharia-compliant private wealth management specialist, SEDCO, Polley is, in the eyes of some, a national expert in Islamic finance. UK-qualified, Polley has over a decade of Middle East experience, previously working at global natural gas leader, Exterran.
As OPWP’s general counsel, Andrew Rae is setting the wheels in motion for both Oman’s biggest independent water project and its largest power generation project. Heading all legal and compliance support for Oman’s single buyer of all water and power projects, Rae is recognised as one of the region’s leading projects experts. With Oman growing demands for both energy and potable water, he has been involved in some of the biggest infrastructure developments in the nation’s history. Formerly Trowers and Hamlins’ Abu Dhabi managing partner, Rae was well known for his projects expertise before making the move in-house.
Award-winning general counsel Anneliese Reinhold is an influential voice in the Middle East’s in-house community, and a bastion for diversity. Reinhold joined du, UAE’s second telecoms operator in 2005, during its start-up days, when she built the department from scratch. Her now 22-strong legal and regulatory team is among MENA’s most respected in-house legal functions, and the first within the region’s locally-owned companies to achieve Lexcel accreditation. One key to Reinhold’s success has been a formalised KPI strategy, based on Harvard Business School’s ‘balanced scorecard principles’. ‘Attracting and retaining high quality talent’ in the regional market place remains an ongoing challenge, Reinhold concedes. When it comes to outside counsel, Reinhold looks for ‘advice which is high quality, succinct and handled efficiently and cost-effectively’. She also points to what she terms ‘“hygiene factors”’, including ‘matter management’ and ‘responsiveness’.
With ‘charm’ and ‘relationship-building skills’, Christopher Richardson is highly respected in UAE’s oil and gas circles. He has tackled a raft of legal and regulatory issues across a broad international spectrum, supporting Mubadala Petroleum’s mounting activities across the Middle and Far East. Active in several major projects, the company made headlines in 2014, when its South China Sea explorations yielded substantial gas discovery in offshore Malaysia. Richardson has over 10 years’ experience, with a focus on major projects and cross-border transactions across upstream and midstream operations. He previously practised at Vinson and Elkins LLP in the US and Asia, and worked in-house at Occidental Petroleum.
Combining ‘innovation’ with impeccable commercial and regulatory expertise, Angela Russo has a unique level of involvement in NASDAQ’s business operations. When she joined the international financial exchange in 2011, her immediate task was building a compliance framework sufficiently robust to support its expanding regional activities. Since then, Russo has taken a central role in its strategic planning, advising at board-level from the early stages of initiatives. Formerly general counsel and director at investment group Legatum’s Dubai office, Russo managed projects across UAE, Asia, Europe and the US. She previously practised at Afridi and Angell and Herbert Smith Freehills’ Sydney office.
A joint venture between Oman Oil Company and International Petroleum Industries Company, Duqm Refinery will be Oman’s third petrochemicals complex. Faris Sahra has led all legal and regulatory aspects of the project. Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries Company’s former general counsel, Sahra is highly experienced in energy and infrastructure projects and transactions, across the upstream, refining, petrochemicals, power and mining sectors. He previously practised in Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP’s London office.
Dean Sheehan is singled out by sources for his creative and pragmatic support to PepsiCo’s expansion strategy. The leading food and beverages company has seen continued growth in the region, and opened its first ‘innovation’ centre in the Middle East in 2014, focused on new product development. During his time as the brand’s regional general counsel, Sheehan has revolutionised the department’s internal structure to ensure effective cohesion between regulation, government affairs and research and development. He also implemented cost-saving procedures focused on areas such as external counsel instruction and introduced groundbreaking internal KPIs, reportedly yielding tangible results. The region’s ‘uncertain legal landscape’ and political uncertainty are factors continually to be taken into account, Sheehan says. With former roles as global diversified brand Al Tayer Group’s VP – legal and sports manager The EndGame Group’s former managing director, Sheehan has sterling legal and commercial experience.
It is the ‘diversity and complexity’ of work which most motivates Marouf Shweikeh in his current role. ‘Our bank is on high gears when it comes to new products, which keeps things interesting’. In just two years as the leading Saudi bank’s legal head, Shweikeh has taken substantial steps to streamline its processes and increase efficiency and effectiveness. Sources particularly praise his contribution to risk-management and the significant improvement in litigation success rates, which has correlated. Having previously worked at two leading institutions in Bahrain, this is Shweikeh’s first KSA role. ‘As a newcomer to the Saudi Hollandi Bank and indeed the Saudi market, I would consider the orientation and familiarisation with the local banking customs and judicial system was the most challenging part at the very beginning’, he says. ‘But with the help of my great Saudi colleagues I managed to properly adjust and get a thorough understanding’. When instructing outside counsel, he looks to firms to really understand the market and stay up to date, he says. ‘Banking lawyers should be market savvy. It is always appreciated if law firms would focus more on lawyers’ capacity to meet the ongoing rapid development in the market’.
Government-owned sovereign fund ICD holds an investment portfolio spanning some of Dubai’s most recognisable brands and continues to finance significant regional projects. General counsel Susy Singgih has drawn particular notice for her role in the fund’s acquisition of a significant equity stake in Kerzner International Holdings in 2014.
A joint venture between Vinci Group and leading national property developer Qatari Diar, QDVC’s flagship projects include the City of Lusail, and Qatar’s first rail network. General counsel Oliver Sulik concedes, balancing his billion-dollar projects portfolio can be a challenge, but says it is the ‘absence of routine’ which keeps him energised by his work. Heading what is now a 16-strong team across legal and contract management, Sulik was required to establish a legal function capable of supporting billion-dollar ‘mega infrastructure projects’ from scratch. From the outset he has been praised for his hands-on approach, and his team’s strong immersion in the projects they support. Law firms should be ‘less theoretical’ he says, and need to work on improving their ‘understanding of projects dynamism’.
A ‘diligent’ and ‘devoted’ lawyer, Swaiss is valued both inside and outside his organisation, for his legal skills and ‘exceptional’ intrapersonal skills. Heading a small legal team Ahmad Swaiss established the entire function from scratch, at leading global food manufacturer Astra Foods’ Middle Eastern operations, when he arrived in 2013. An increasingly respected voice in the region’s legal market, Swaiss has published articles on a variety of issues, with particular interests in human rights and civil action.
Msheireb’s ‘first-of-its-kind’ ‘megaproject’, Msheireb Downtown Doha (MDD), is the five-year $7bn regeneration and preservation of Doha’s historical old city centre. ‘MDD will blend traditional Qatari heritage and aesthetics with modern technology, with a focus on sustainability and harmony with the environment’, Kandarp Thakar says. ‘The aim is to bring people back to their roots, to create an iconic landmark globally recognisable but simply, to make Doha unique’. Constructing a legal team to support a project of this scale presented Thakar with a considerable challenge, but one he addressed in a simple logical way. ‘You start from the bottom and build organically’ he says. ‘Anticipating and foreseeing risks and planning in advance to avoid and tackle them. A progressive in-house legal team’. Built on a specialist model, the five-strong team is entrenched in all stages of the project’s strategic planning and development, and is also closely involved in liaising with public bodies. MBA-qualified Thakar is an increasingly visible and respected figure in the region’s in-house legal community. He previously practised at DLA Piper Middle East LLP and Baker and McKenzie LLP.
Heading a 12-strong team, Zeid Uteibi has extensively revamped processes during his time as Hikma Pharmaceuticals’ regional legal head. He has also tackled a number of major cross-border deals across his remit. When it comes to outside counsel, El Uteibi says typical areas for improvement include meeting deadlines and taking a more solutions-focused approach. He also greatly appreciates firms who are prepared to share knowledge with and offer training to clients.
As Etihad Airways’ special projects legal head, Ashley Whitcher has led some of the airline’s most ground-breaking cross-border transactions of recent years. He is also credited for his role in modernising the legal department, with a focus on greater efficiency, in response to Etihad’s substantial growth over recent years. ‘Keeping up with the pace of growth in one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines’ is the biggest challenge, Whitcher says. His response to it has been working to reposition the function as a ‘business partner’, as he terms it, moving away from ‘the push or pull approach to legal practice’.
Heading a cross-functional team across legal and human resources, the ‘dynamic’ Joumana Younes’ unusually broad remit has empowered her to promote greater integration with the business, according to sources. ‘We have been able to change the organisation’s perception of the legal department role and gain its trust in being a commercial advisor’, Younes herself says, adding: ‘We have been able to strengthen the communication lines and build trust with board members and the other departments’. Lebanese chocolatier, Patchi recently announced its plans to open a new Dubai factory in 2015.
As former general counsel to asset manager Sidra Capital and Al Murjan, Mohamed Yousef has sterling financial services expertise. Supporting one of the region’s leading banks, Yousef is a legal policies and procedures committee member, and takes an active involvement in business decisions from an early stage. With an impressive track record across in-house and private practice, Yousef’s former employers include Islamic Development Bank, and Clifford Chance and Norton Rose Fulbright in London.
Husam Hourani, Managing Partner at Al Tamimi & Company:
The Middle East is currently a region with two distinct faces; one of turmoil, with the situation in much of Iraq, Syria and Yemen serving as apt examples; while the other of great opportunity, as many countries in the region, and particularly those in the GCC, continue to successfully diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons, opening up new markets across a wide range of sectors.
Dubai in particular has emerged as a thriving global business destination, with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with GDP rising by 6% annually. Furthermore the hosting of Expo 2020 is expected to create over 225,000 jobs over the next few years, bringing with it huge economic opportunities for the UAE as a whole. The Emirate has built a vibrant economy based on commerce, tourism, finance and real estate, with Dubai now home to one the world’s largest and active real estate markets.
Capital markets were at their most active for two years in Dubai during 2014, with several UAE based companies going to market and listing their shares on the Dubai Financial Market and Nasdaq Dubai, highlighting positivity and optimism in the market. The recently amended UAE Commercial Companies Law will move the country closer towards international standards and best practice, and thereby boosting the local financial markets and also encouraging new IPO activity.
The introduction of this legislation also demonstrates the UAE government’s commitment to, and evidence that it believes that commercial laws, rooted in international best practice, are vital to the modern economy that has developed in the UAE. IPOs, many of which have been on hold locally over recent months due to the lower oil price, are predicted to return, aided by a more transparent regulatory regime and a favourable business environment more generally. We will be watching closely to see how the market responds. Additionally, the opening of the Saudi Tadawul exchange to foreign investors will impact on other GCC markets and have an effect on many businesses in the Gulf more generally.
Given the way the opportunities in the Middle East are shaping up for local and international businesses, particularly with major events like Expo 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the need for quality corporate legal counsel is more important now than ever before. There are widespread economic and growth opportunities across the region, and effective corporate counsel will help to navigate changing economies and regulations in this environment. Similarly, with the shifting geopolitics of the region, posing a multitude of additional challenges, these too need to be carefully considered and appropriately responded to. Prudent and well informed legal advice is crucial and can often be the difference between success and failure.
In-house legal teams are being called upon to play a more important role in how businesses operate, and they are becoming increasingly involved in operational issues, such as risk management and business strategy. They have the ability to change or form opinions within their industry, create robust structures to drive a business forward, and there are enormous opportunities for innovation, leadership and decision-making at the highest levels. It is important that General Counsel fully understand the corporate, geopolitical and economic environment in which they operate, allowing them to give robust advice to their clients, and partnering with and working closely with law firms to navigate through the region’s changing business and legal environment. Looking ahead, if the same pace of growth and expansion is going to be sustained across the financial sector and various other industries, the need for able and business-savvy corporate counsel in the region will be significant. Despite falling oil prices, the region’s economic outlook remains encouraging and positive and we would expect that there will be more local and regional companies seeking to list their shares on the various exchanges in 2015 and 2016.
We at Al Tamimi and Company are excited by this economic outlook for the region and we would hope to continue to partner and work closely with in-house legal teams to support their businesses and their clients in taking advantage of these opportunities together.
On behalf of the team at Al Tamimi, I extend our congratulations to each and everyone of you who has been included in the top 100. This not only shines a spotlight on the increasingly important role of corporate counsel, but recognises an array of the most influential and innovative in-house counsel working across the region.
GC Powerlist: Deutschland 2014
GC Powerlist: Deutschland, first published in September 2014.
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