Two retirements, a tragedy and an ecosystem for sports management

Anand Krishnan, Managing Partrner of FidelisWorld, has had a ringside view of the topsy-turvy world of global financial services industry

Ehtesham Shahid
Ehtesham Shahid
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From managing multiple financial crises to battling a very personal tragedy and building a sports management fund from scratch, Anand S. Krishnan has seen it all in an eventful career so far.

The Dubai-based Managing Partner of FidelisWorld – a Mauritius domiciled private equity fund – has risen through the ranks on more occasions than one. He counts sovereign restructurings in the late 80’s, Asian Crisis restructuring in the late 90’s and the global financial crisis restructuring in the UAE of 2008 as his most definitive moments as a finance professional.

Yet, over the years, what has defined Krishnan is the “mindset of doing things that were different” simply because “the space we’re in today is an evolving market”. Krishnan believes he happened to be at the right place at the right time. “I became part of the journey and took part in a lot of mergers and acquisitions,” he sums up.

Krishnan’s career began in India of the late 1970s. He landed various roles that gave him incredible opportunities such as working in an edible oil and crushing company. He then set foot in Africa – Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana to be precise – before traveling back to the US where his parents lived.

Krishnan rose through the ranks at JP Morgan – he joined the firm in 1986 – moving from audit space to the investment banking arena. Then a quirk of fate brought him to the Dubai International Capital (DIC) where he managed assets worth over $13 billion in 10 years.

Interestingly, Krishnan retired twice during this period, first in 2005 to be beside his son who was then battling illness. His second retirement happened in 2011 in Dubai after six years of working at the DIC. Around this time, “sports was becoming a relevant industry in Asia and the Middle East.”

FidelisWorld started operations on the premise that insufficient investment focus had been devoted to sports and sports ancillary businesses, estimated to be worth over $500 billion. It began investment activities in October 2013.

“We understood certain models, created a strategy in 2013 and decided to raise a fund.” By then they had enough experience of what and where investments should go and what the strategy should be.

It is obvious that if JP Morgan offered Krishnan growth, DIC offered diversity. Understandably, toward the end of his stint at DIC, he was beginning to gravitate toward something that would combine both these attributes.

“At DIC we had planned a sports fund toward the end of 2007. Unfortunately, it didn’t go ahead, as the recession happened - in 2008,” says Krishnan. Around that time, according to him, DIC was looking to acquire Liverpool and he was part of the deal making.

“DIC also gave me plenty of experience because we did deals which were much larger and wider. But once it decided they didn’t want to do any more deals and were in the mode of exiting, I decided to retire in 2011. “So it was a great opportunity for me now,” he says.

So what’s unique about the fund? According to Krishnan, the company decided to invest in everything that surround a league and a team. “So industries like technology, medicine, education – but there had to be a theme – sports – cutting across it”.

“This was important as private equity investment is different from most others and because we like to create that ecosystem”. More importantly, “we want each of our investments to talk to each other and to see how they can build value with each other”.

Two of FidelisWorld portfolio firms are doing really well globally. “One is already here and the other will be seen in Jeddah very soon. The first one is a technology firm which has monopoly in cricket worldwide”, Krishnan says adding that the firm also has presence across Australian Rugby, English Rugby, F1, the La Liga, the Bundesliga, and soccer in the UAE.

The second company – called ‘Smaaash’; an indoor playground – is the latest rage on the horizon. Krishnan calls it a place where the entire family can enjoy themselves. “We just opened our first overseas venture in the US. People are in awe of the technology as this is not just sitting in front of the screen but physically playing the game”.

“We’ve introduced ice hockey and baseball as well in the US. Now it is coming to Jeddah. We’ve already signed the deal. And in places like Saudi, we think it’s going to be a huge breakthrough model.”

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