Venture at 10: Sabih Al Masri

Venture at 10: Sabih al-Masri

April marked the tenth anniversary of Venture. Over the past decade, we’ve strived to capture and convey the many events and issues that have combined to shape Jordan today.

While Venture has been on the newsstands, we’ve witnessed our economy boom on the back of an oil-fueled real estate bubble, only to then spectacularly hit a few years later by the double whammy of the global financial crisis and the Arab Spring. And if that wasn’t enough to contend with, there’s also been a refugee crisis, an IMF bailout, a ballooning budget deficit, tax hikes, and subsidy cuts galore.

But there have also been reasons for cheer. Jordan’s promising tech startup scene has managed to produce genuine contenders like ArabiaWeather. Decision makers are also finally facing up to the Kingdom’s energy problems by making multi-billion dinar investments in renewable and nuclear power projects.

We’ve been fortunate enough to speak with many of the high-profile individuals at the heart of these important developments. Over the following pages, we thought it would be appropriate to share with you some snapshots from just a few of these incisive interviews. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them.

Sabih al-Masri, Chairman of the Arab Bank

Date of Interview: September 2012

In August 2012, Abdel Hamid Shoman resigned suddenly as chairman of the Arab Bank. Business tycoon Sabih al-Masri was elected as his successor. Venture spoke to him shortly after he took the helm of one of the region’s largest privately-owned finance houses.

From the Interview

Are you optimistic about the bank’s future following your predecessor’s resignation?

The bank is moving forward with or without me, or whoever comes into the bank. It’s already an established institution and a very high-quality one. It will move forward, because it has good people, and the administrative elements it has are excellent. I am very confident it will move forward, and will even perform better than before.

The Arab Bank’s stock price has witnessed an upward trend, closing five percent higher. Do you think the upward rise will continue and did any of the bank’s main shareholders interfere to prevent a crash?

It depends on the market. I can’t [foretell the future] but I hope [the trend] will continue this way. People who bought new shares are not people I know; the Arab Bank did not interfere in the stock price; none of the major shareholders or the board members bought any shares. I looked at the list today… not even the Social Security Corporation bought more shares, even though people said they bought stocks directly after Shoman’s resignation; they haven’t bought a single share in the Arab Bank since January.

Is the bank moving its headquarters out of Amman?

It’s a joke. The Arab Bank is a Jordanian bank and nobody can relocate it. Even if the Hariri family owned 100 percent [of shares], they would not be able to change the location of the headquarters. Look at the Housing Bank—most of the major shareholders are non-Jordanians, but they did not move the bank out of Jordan. Technically it’s impossible. The majority of Arab Bank’s shares don’t belong to specific families, [they belong] to the average Jordanian.

The bank posted a 10 percent profit increase during the first half of this year. How do you expect its performance to be by the end of the year?

I hope for a bigger profit increase, but these are bad times for all markets. The stock price should be higher than its current value, even without any change in performance.

What is happening with the New York lawsuit?

The lawsuit is still pending. I’m going to New York next week. I’m the one who’s following up on it and I feel very comfortable. I’m not worried about it; it’s not easy, but I think time is on our side. The judge has not gone to trial because there’s no case. There are many cases but all are in the same court. I believe the lawsuit will not affect the bank’s position in the future.

What’s happened since?

Since the interview, the Hariri family consolidated their shares in the Arab Bank into one portfolio in April 2013. The deal saw the transfer of a total of 68 million shares from Bank Med and Saudi Oger to one entity, Oger Middle East Holdings.

The bank also reached a settlement in August 2015 to settle lawsuits from some 500 US citizens under the US Anti-Terrorism Act. The plaintiffs claimed the bank provided services to Hamas and other terrorist-labeled groups, thus helping them carry out terrorist attacks. According to Reuters, due to this settlement the bank’s 2015 net profits fell from $577 million to $442 million. Nonetheless, in its financial statements for 2015, the bank said the settlement was in its own favor, for fear the litigation period could be prolonged further, stressing that the settlements will not affect its financial wellbeing.

This is part one of a 10-piece story. Articles in the series of Venture at 10 will also include other prominent figures Venture interviewed during the past decade.