Unlocking Access

Getting to know the gatekeepers to Abu Dhabi’s ‘$1.5 trillion man’

When it comes to big business in the UAE, few people matter as much as Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed

Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed with Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft, and Peng Xiao, Group Chief Executive Officer of G42, at the signing of a deal for Microsoft to invest $1.5 billion in Abu Dhabi’s G42.

When it comes to tapping the UAE’s vast wealth, few people matter as much as Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, known as the “$1.5 trillion man.” The trick is access.

After conducting some four dozen interviews, Bloomberg’s Ben Bartenstein on Thursday identified the gatekeepers critical to getting facetime with the Emirati royal, who is the brother of UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and runs Abu Dhabi’s largest companies and sovereign wealth funds. He is also the UAE’s National Security Adviser.

Among Sheikh Tahnoon’s key go-betweens is Sofia Abdellatif Lasky, described in the Bloomberg story as de facto CEO of Abu Dhabi-owned Royal Holdings. Other close advisers identified as having the ability to set up meetings are former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri; former U.K. diplomat Bill Murray; and Ajay Bhatia, the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Sirius International Holding.

ADQ, one of the funds controlled by Sheikh Tahnoon, is pouring a fortune, meanwhile, into Kenya to build up its industrial holdings in East Africa’s largest economy.

On Wednesday, ADQ signed a framework agreement with the Kenyan government to invest as much as $500 million in strategic sectors for both countries including food production, mining, technology and logistics.

Economic growth is the aim, according to Mohamed Hassan Alsuwaidi, Managing Director and CEO of ADQ: “We are confident that our investment will bring forth notable opportunities that will unlock tangible value… harnessing its vast potential for development,” he said in a statement. 

In 2023, non-oil trade between the UAE and Kenya surged by 26% year-on-year to $3.1 billion. That figure is set to rise further as the two countries locked into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) earlier this year.

Last month, Kenya signed a preliminary agreement with the UAE to develop the country’s first data center powered by geothermal energy. The 1-gigawatt facility will be built by Kenya’s EcoCloud and the UAE’s G42.

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