Former army man marches onwards with financial adviser CH Stirling

You might think a spell in the armed forces would be a bit of a career dampener for an ambitious investment banker, but not for Hamad Al Mutawaa.

Mr Al Mutawaa is founder and managing director of a rising UAE financial firm, CH Stirling, but he is also a proud Emirati citizen. He had no hesitation when the call to service came earlier this year for him to do his bit for the country by serving in the army, and was happy to head off, to the applause of his Abu Dhabi family, to boot camp in Al Ain.

The timing was not perfect, however. CH Stirling had started up in the capital in 2013 when Mr Al Mutawaa teamed up with a business colleague, Chris Flinos, to launch a new kind of investment bank for the UAE.

The pair met during the financial crisis, when Mr Al Mutawaa was working for Dubai Holding, the government-owned conglomerate, and Mr Flinos was an executive with Merrill Lynch, the US investment bank involved in some of the taut negotiations over restructuring of Dubai’s debt-laden corporate sector.

They spotted what they thought was a gap in the banking market, for a client-focused, relationship-driven advisory firm that offered cost-effective and independent advice. The firm had grown significantly in its first year, advising on restructurings in the capital’s business sector and in the hotels business, which is a speciality. At the beginning of the year, it was time to take it to the next level.

Mr Flinos takes up the story: “Hamad was proud to do his duty, but we were just getting our next round of financing off the ground.

Fortunately, we have a good team in place, and he has also been available to give advice and involvement by phone and during leave. It hasn’t slowed us down at all.”

CH Stirling is in the closing stages of putting together a Dh100 million capital-raising exercise to fund the next stage of growth. It has attracted a group of investors from among the regional family and institutional community, and aims to sign the deal by the end of the year.

Then will come a move to the Dubai International Financial Centre, where every decent investment business wants to be, and a gearing up in staff numbers. It has already taken on two senior executives, Marc Aouad from the French investment house Centuria Capital and Ian Russ from Dubai’s Istithmar World, but will be looking to hire 10 more staff for its DIFC hub.“We’re keen to be seen as having the culture of a traditional merchant bank, with the characteristics of a modern private equity business,” says Mr Flinos.

One sector that has already caught CH Stirling’s eye is the fast-moving and highly-valued healthcare business, where the firm has plans to make a move into public equity markets. “Watch this space,” says Mr Flinos.

DIFC will also be a much more comfortable environment for Mr Al Mutawaa, deservedly so after the rigours of patriotic duty.

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