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Lunch with Anwer Q. Sher

Published by Current on 2009-04-12

So who exactly, one might ask, is Anwer Q. Sher? Banker? Real-estate developer? Personal-finance adviser? Novelist? Historian? Columnist for international publications? Equestrian impresario? Friend, counselor and confidante of the rich and powerful around the Gulf?

No prize for guessing the answer: All of the above.

But with credentials and connections like those, one might expect Mr. Sher to be at least slightly aware of his aura. No such thing with him. He’s modest to a fault, so quiet-spoken and with such an emollient nature, in fact, that his American-born wife Eileen Verdieck – an acclaimed equestrian who’s been in the industry for the last 35 years – entrusts Mr. Sher with handling some of the most temperamental of the 52 horses in the stables they run under the rubric of The HoofbeatZ™ Entertainment, a division of their holding company, Equine Management Services. These horses include Spanish Andalusian dressage horses, black Fresians from Europe, American Morgans and Quarter horses, pintos, miniature horses, and an entire herd of beautiful Arabians, some of whom were rescued creatures that have been rehabilitated by the HoofbeatZ™ training team.

Those horses are currently on display at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club. Ridden by skilled men and women from a dozen countries, they perform in a two-hour extravaganza called “Al Saheel: The Voice of the Horse.” trace the history and influence of the Arabian horse around the world. Acts include traditional Spanish dressage, stunt riding, humorous tricks, and free-form acts that showcase the traditional Arab Bedouin skills of equine communication. Needless to say, Mr. Sher introduces the show; needless to say, Eileen Verdieck is among the star performers. And needless to say, Al Saheel was funded by the Shers.

Which leads to the question: How did Mr. Sher manage his personal finances in a way that has enabled him, in less than three decades after arriving in Abu Dhabi from his native Pakistan, to become Chief Executive of the Union National Bank, to become a global entrepreneur with projects ranging from “Escape” in Ajman – an equine-themed community of 1,200 homes – to developments in Morocco and, soon, the United States?

To respond sensibly to that question about personal finance, Mr. Sher deems it necessary to walk his listener through some personal history.

“While the initial entry into the banking world was more coincidence, I found that finance, and its understanding draws a common thread through every aspect of our business lives,” he said. “The essence of banking is the exposure one gets of different businesses that a banker is exposed to, and the enormous learning curve that exists in that profession. I got attracted to real estate because of the nature of creative expression in a business sense that real estate development offers. Even though today the real estate model may look a bit jilted in the current economic conditions, I do believe that real estate, unlike stock companies, does go sick from time to time -- but land never dies.”

At this point, Mr. Sher makes the nexus between the land, money, and the horse.

“Today we are seeing a lot of turbulence in the financial markets, and planning for personal finance is not an easy task. While defensive strategies have been recommend recently, I tend to think the defensive positioning for personal finance was needed about eight months to a year back. Now with the financial assets depressed to these levels, it’s really a time to be picking financial assets that will lead the recovery,” Mr. Sher said. “Indeed, in a financial battleground where everything seems to be badly battered, there are going to be companies who will spin off good cash, and lead the recovery. I believe the financial impact on the world banking system has been over exaggerated and this is what is coming to light now, with the first quarter results in the US show that some banks will lead this recovery.

“If assets and companies are chosen with strong cash flows, some in the service industry, including well positioned real estate assets -- and the holding period is a three to five-year view -- then this is the time to be a bit contrarian and buy assets. Being defensive now is like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”

He continued: “When it came to translating our own love of horses into a business, we began to realize that the equine model does not see itself sustainable because it was so insulated and elitist -- and this is where bringing a broader base to the model and opening it up into a real estate accent brings the best of the equine world to marry into the best business practices. The creation of the HoofbeatZ program and its various aspects creates this sustainability that was truly missing in the past. The modeling of the Ajman project ‘Escape,’ showed that there is value to be driven in this model -- and it has weathered the current storm well.”

But can the traditional affinity that Arabs have for horses truly resonate in the harsh world of business?

“While the Arab world, especially here in the UAE, has had an affinity to horses, it was always an elitist interest -- and this is why the equine industry in the region was top heavy,” Mr. Sher said. “The emergence of competitive equine sports; horse racing, show horses, jumping, endurance and dressage have meant that horses have come to the country with enormous values; and indeed, with it comes the problem of how to deal with horses that do not make the grade. We believe this has resulted in unique role for our HoofbeatZ program where we absorb the horses that did not make the grade. Even in our show ‘Al Saheel,’ some horses did not make that competitive grade. As pure financial investments, owning a racing horse or jumping horse poses financial challenge. But if done right, it can have benefits.”

Little wonder that Mr. Sher’s blend of personal finance-management and canny investments has driven a premium into the real estate developments that he and his wife have modeled. You might say they have good horse sense. Or you might also say that they listen to the voice of the horse in them.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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