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Emirates NBD: Scale emerges from the culture clash

Much has been said about the unfortunate timing of the Emirates NBD merger just before the global financial crisis, but what is often forgotten is just how challenging that merger would have been in any conditions.

The two banks were very different. National Bank of Dubai was pretty much an organically grown expansion of exactly the same bank it was in 1963. Sultan Al Owais – the pearls in the museum are mainly from his family’s collection – founded it with a group of merchants, together approaching the then-ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum with the idea of a first indigenous national bank (the nation in question being the emirate of Dubai, since the UAE would not be formed for another eight years) to compete with the British Bank of the Middle East, now HSBC. 

Shayne_Nelson _2-160x186

Shayne Nelson, Group CEO
at Emirates NBD

Al Owais brought in Abdullah Saleh, who advised on the bank’s formation and was later its managing director for 22 years and subsequently its chairman. The team at the bank’s inception – Al Owais and Saleh – was pretty much still the team in place at the merger with Emirates Bank more than 40 years later. That’s continuity for you. Contrast this with Emirates Bank, whose existence and growth has largely come about as a result of being asked to fix other failed institutions, starting with Union Bank Middle East in the early 1970s.

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