Will Investcorp be the next big Gulf entity to own a high-profile football club? Apart from the AC Milan play, Investcorp is also chasing other opportunities, whether that's real estate or crypto. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Bahrain’s Investcorp sure made people sit up and take notice – and not among global investors alone – when word got out that it was in the fray to buy the Italian football club AC Milan. Buying AC Milan, one of the world’s high-visibility sporting teams, sure would push Investcorp onto a different track.

As one of the Middle East’s most prominent names in the business of investing, Investcorp is right up there. But until now, it has been known more for its making real estate plays in the US, buying stakes in European tech or healthcare firms, or, more recently, going for some smart selections in China, India and other Asian growth markets.

So, where does the potential purchase of AC Milan fit into Investcorp’s bigger goals? Rishi Kapoor, Co-CEO of Investcorp, has his say.

Is AC Milan a done deal?

At this stage, it’s not possible to comment. But it’s a fact that Investcorp hasn’t had any direct exposure to sporting franchises anywhere. What we do have is an investment in United Talent Agency in the US, which apart from entertainers and artists also represents and works closely with sports personalities.

Through United Talent Agency, we do have a pretty strong appreciation and understanding of how the business operates in the US. And sports is a key component of the entertainment market today. Let’s leave aside any AC Milan deal for now…

Some of the biggest fund managers in the Gulf are retaining a substantial part of their wealth within the region. The Saudi wealth fund PIF is doing that. Is Investcorp on the same tack?

We are actually in the process of raising a dedicated pre-IPO fund, which will look almost exclusively at companies in Saudi Arabia. These need to be businesses that would in a short period of time be ready to float on the Saudi exchange.

We are probably the best positioned for a vehicle of this nature, given that we successfully helped take companies in the Kingdom to the stock market. The last four IPOs of Saudi businesses, including the one for Bin Dawood, we had stakes in raised a combined $45 billion in subscriptions.

Our journey to invest back in the Middle East started all the way back in 2007 – definitely not a recent decision. As you scan the landscape, Investcorp will figure in the regional Top 3 on private investments. In Saudi Arabia, I would say we are the most prolific private investor. We have a track record not just in the Kingdom, but investing in family-owned businesses and taking them to the next journey of going public.

Stock - Rishi Kapoor of Investcorp
Rishi Kapoor, the co-CEO of Investcorp, "We take the whole idea of ownership on the internet through using Blockchain technology. That is where we see a pretty long, sustained emphasis in terms of transition from Web2 to Web3. We see that as a pretty good investment opportunity." Image Credit: Supplied

Investcorp recently came up with big plans for crypto-assets, including a dedicated fund out of Abu Dhabi. Isn’t that taking you well away from a comfort zone?

Let’s be clear about one thing – the current hype is around cryptocurrencies. That’s where countries are deciding whether they will allow it or not.

The way we see it there is a better and sustained value in the underlying technology or architecture that drives crypto assets. We are talking about using Blockchain or smart contracts – with little transaction costs, this technology allows the shifting in ownership of digital content from one person to another.

That is where I think the real future value of this ecosystem sits. And governments are totally aligned with that thinking - you see several looking to double down on the use of Blockchain technology to solve real, big-time issues.

And yet there are several countries banning any use of cryptocurrencies in transactions…

There will probably be further evolution as countries get their heads around on how to regulate the crypto space or have their own monetary policy blending in to use these currencies. I think the likely possibility will be the continued push to have their own central bank issued digital currency, much like how China did it. Or how India has said it will proceed.

It is not surprising at all that the larger economies and their central banks keep evaluate bringing out their own digital currencies.

When anyone mentions crypto, the immediate thought that comes to mind is that of cryptocoins. Whereas what is really taking over is the underlying technology infrastructure - Blockchain and what is referred to as the Web3 platform. This has effectively transitioned the internet from being a platform to deliver content to getting content and, now, to owning content.

Rishi Kapoor, as Investcorp’s Co-CEO, oversees the firm’s Private Equity businesses in North America and India, as well as the real estate, credit management, absolute returns and strategic capital businesses globally. He had served as the Bahrain firm’s CFO between 2003-15. Kapoor joined Investcorp from Citigroup in 1992.

Holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Kapoor is a member of Duke University’s Middle East regional advisory board. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Bank of Bahrain, Gulf Air Group, Bahrain Airport Company and Gulf Aviation Academy.