Wall St.'s Denizens Look East

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 27, 2008

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Fahad al-Deweesh, a vice president at a Persian Gulf investment firm, is getting e-mails from old finance classmates at the University of Southern California he hasn't heard from in years, asking what the job market here looks like for Americans.

Robert Sloan, a New York-based recruiter whose clients' starting-salary bids can run in the $1 million range, has logged a 50 percent jump since spring in the number of U.S. financial executives interested in sending résumés to Dubai and other Middle East financial hubs.

Europeans in investment banking and other financial fields have been flocking to the oil-flush Persian Gulf for months, propelled by the hope that emerging economies of the East will ride out any global recession better than New York or London will. In a phrase often used by British brokers and bankers, "It's Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai or goodbye."

Overcoming a long-held wariness about living in the Middle East, growing numbers of U.S. investment bankers and other financial professionals are mulling moving their careers here, having lost their jobs or fearing that possibility. But Americans hoping to make the East their refuge in the global financial storm will find a few more obstacles than their job-seeking European peers, warn executives and recruiters: Many here are unhappy with U.S. financial and foreign policies, and dubious about what is still regarded as Americans' brasher way of doing business.

One problem for Wall Street denizens hoping to relocate to the East is the broad perception that bad lending decisions by American bankers triggered the global financial crisis.

"Ooh, yes, that's not a good bit to have on your résumé, is it?" Briton James Gaubert said, wincing sympathetically, as he hurried on his job hunt through the high glass hallways of the Dubai International Financial Center.

"So, you've managed to screw up your banks, and now you've come to screw up ours?" a Saudi investment executive said of the attitude toward job-seeking Americans.

Politically, the U.S. military presence in Iraq means many here no longer view Americans as kindly as they did in the 1990s, some financial executives said.

"Let's just say that blue passport doesn't get you any favors anymore," said one longtime U.S. banker in Dubai.

The American and the Saudi, like some of the job-seekers and the newly hired, spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing their firms' rules or career considerations.

Proportionate to their populations, fewer Americans than Europeans have experience abroad, making Americans less apt overall to move their careers overseas, said Sloan, head of U.S. financial services for the Egon Zehnder executive-search firm in New York.

And more so than Europeans, American job-seekers outside the petroleum industry have been wary of the Middle East. "People don't understand it is 1,000 miles from Dubai to Baghdad. A lot of Americans, they lump the Middle East together as being a problem," said David Johnson of the British-based Whitehead-Mann Partnership recruiting firm.

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