When Robert Whyte, senior managing director for Mosaic Capital LLC in Century City, heads to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates next month, he'll likely need to talk to Shadi Sanbar.
Sanbar, who lived and worked in Los Angeles most of his life, is a director of the Dubai International Financial Market or DIFX, where Whyte is looking to take his Los Angeles-based technology client public.
A UCLA graduate and former partner at Arthur Andersen's Los Angeles office, Sanbar knows all about the long flights between Los Angeles International airport and the Arabian Peninsula.
Sanbar is currently the exchange's public interest director as well as financial and cultural consigliere to the Kingdom Holding Co., the private investment vehicle of Saudi billionaire Prince Alaweed bin Talal. The Prince is the largest individual shareholder of Citigroup and one of the largest individual owners of stock in the world.
"It's interesting that this exchange has garnered so much interest," said Sanbar, speaking on a satellite phone from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "Especially considering it's barely been more than a year since its inception. But it's fitting because Dubai has a Hong Kong feel to it as a financial center as well as an increasingly Western-leaning personality as an international city."
Sanbar said the exchange, which had a total market value of $21 billion last year, doesn't now have any U.S. listings but aims to attract American firms. As part of the American strategy, Sanbar will look to leverage his relationship with the business community in Los Angeles.
The exchange's expansion is happening rapidly as just last week DIFX entered into a joint venture with Clearstream, a German trade services firm the largest in the world that will allow DIFX to create more dual listings, streamline its trading data and attract more traders, companies and institutional investors.
Moreover, with a combined listing and annual fee of $15,000, Sanbar expects to attract lots of small cap companies.
Exchanges in "Canada, England, Germany and Dubai are all much lower in cost than the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange," said Whyte. "A family of investors in the company we're working with suggested Dubai to us, and we're taking a serious look at a listing over there because of the low listing cost and low regulatory burdens."
Whyte, who is also president of the Los Angeles Venture Association, a trade group for venture capitalists, wouldn't reveal the name of his local client.
Sanbar, meanwhile, is careful not to overstate DIFX's attraction.
"My advice to most small American companies right now is that if it's not in your strategic advantage to list in Dubai, you should probably look at AIM in London or Toronto or stay private for the time being," he said.
"Today we're still small and have an immediate interest in focusing on the region. But with the global economy being the way it is, there are always pleasant surprises."
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