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Lifetime achievement award in the Middle East: Al-Eisa proves local is best

After the parting with Citi in 2003, Saudi Arabia’s Samba has thrived under the leadership of Eisa Al-Eisa, the recipient of Euromoney’s award for outstanding contribution to financial services in the Middle East. Sudip Roy reports.

Eisa Al-Eisa, Samba

"Since inheriting Citibank’s legacy five years ago, Samba has grown across the spectrum. We have developed a successful business model that has withstood a multitude of challenges"

Eisa Al-Eisa, Samba

NEXT YEAR EISA Al-Eisa celebrates 30 years at Samba. But his career at the Saudi financial institution can be broken into two distinct parts: Citi and post-Citi. It’s the second phase that stands out most, an era during which Al-Eisa’s leadership of Samba has revitalised the bank. Samba Financial Group was established in 1980 after acquiring two Citibank branches in Jeddah and Riyadh. Under the takeover terms, 44.5% of the equity was sold to the Saudi public for cash. Another 15.5% was sold to a select group of Saudi founders, including the original Saudi board of directors. In practice, though, Citi owned and managed the group despite its controlling only 40% of Samba’s stock.

That stake was whittled down over the years until in 2003 the US bank left altogether. It’s still not clear why it pulled out: whether Citi’s management lost its nerve after the attacks on the World Trade Center and abandoned Saudi Arabia or whether the Saudi authorities, keen to create a national champion, hustled Citi out of the door.

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