Middle East: Accad wakes up ABK
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Middle East: Accad wakes up ABK

Two years into what he says will be the last job of his career, ABK’s chief executive Michel Accad has already taken the bank from a domestic to a regional player and begun much-needed modernization.

by Olivier Holmey

Michel Accad illustration-350

Illustration: Pete Ellis

When Michel Accad became chief executive of Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait (ABK), the bank was a small and rather boring financial institution.

“Nothing ever happened at ABK,” Accad tells Euromoney, bluntly, during an interview in his Kuwait City office. “It was pretty uneventful.” 

He adds: “Nobody could remember the bank. Every time you’d say: ‘I’m from Ahli Bank’, they’d say: ‘Which Ahli Bank?’”

Accad, who is Lebanese but grew up in Switzerland, worked at Citi for 27 years, mainly in the Middle East and Africa. He decided to move to ABK in 2014 – a final challenge before retirement – after engineering a stunning turnaround at one of the Gulf’s biggest post-crisis mishaps, Gulf Bank, also in Kuwait.

The question at ABK was: how would he shake the bank out of its old ways and make it a dominant force in the country and beyond?

From the time of his appointment, Accad was convinced that to grow and improve ABK, which also has a tiny presence in the UAE, it needed to buy a foreign institution. The board agreed, but quickly rejected Accad’s first target idea, a proposal which he will not discuss in detail but now admits was “very complex”.

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