Gulf Bank is an industry-leading financial services provider that has been an integral part of Kuwait’s community and culture for more than 50 years. Founded in 1960, the bank’s legacy is based on three enduring core competencies: commercial banking, retail banking and world-class customer service.
Omar Alghanim was elected Chairman of Gulf Bank in March of 2013. Prior to that, he was Deputy Chairman.
Omar’s history with the bank goes back many years. He joined the board in 2009, just as the global financial crisis was exploding. This was an exceptionally tough period for the industry, and Gulf Bank was not immune. It was severely challenged by the crisis, which would eventually claim some of the biggest names in finance, including Lehman Brothers, the storied Wall Street firm in New York City. Lehman, which had more than $600 billion in assets, collapsed in the fall of 2008; this roiled the financial markets, triggering a domino effect that would impact international banking for years.
Gulf Bank did not collapse – it survived. But its core was weakened by the crisis, forcing the board to take corrective action.
As a board member, Omar provided a steady hand during these transformative years. In doing so, he played a critical role in restoring community trust, which would prove crucial as the institution continued its evolution. During this period, Omar also worked to implement stronger risk management functions and usher in a new management team. Led by CEO Michel Accad, the new team was tasked with making a number of changes, including a sharp refocus on core competencies.
The storm clouds eventually passed.
In the years since, Gulf Bank has seen its balance sheets strengthen, aided by year-over-year growth and steady upgrades from major debt ratings agencies. The bank’s relationship with customers, which had become strained during the crisis, also strengthened and solidified.
With the growth trajectory assured, Michel Accad stepped down. Omar led the search for a new leader, who was soon found: Cesar Gonzalez-Bueno, former CEO of Spain’s Novagalicia Banco.
Cesar was named CEO of Gulf Bank in March of 2014, on the heels of Omar’s appointment as Chairman one year earlier, in March 2013. This created a powerful collaboration in the executive suite.
Thus, a new era at Gulf Bank began.
Omar’s views of business were imbued early in life, and those lessons have roots that go back for generations. Omar is the oldest son of business pioneer Kutayba Alghanim, and the grandson of Yusuf, also a prominent Kuwaiti businessman. Omar’s great-grandfather, Ahmed, was a Kuwaiti pearl merchant who distinguished the family name at the turn of the century. His early commercial endeavors laid the groundwork for what would become, nearly a century later, Alghanim Industries, one of the oldest and largest companies in the Gulf region. Omar is the CEO.
Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Omar believes it is his honor, also his duty, to do all that he can to create prosperity in Kuwait and in the Gulf region more broadly.
Omar’s vision for Gulf Bank is one that combines best practices in global banking with best practices in customer service, infused with a strong show of respect – always – for Kuwaiti heritage. At Gulf Bank, for example, branches pay honor to Kuwait’s seafaring history by showcasing furnishings that invoke the distinctive shape of the dhow – the traditional sailing vessel that has traversed the Arabian Gulf for centuries. The image of the dhow is prominent in the bank’s crimson and royal blue logo.
Omar’s views are steeped in history, certainly; but they are also informed by his personal life experiences.
Earlier in his career, Omar worked in the Investment Banking Division of Morgan Stanley in London – the firm is one of the most respected names in global finance. There, Omar provided counsel on mergers and acquisitions, financial restructuring and corporate finance. He left Morgan Stanley to get his MBA at Harvard. Afterwards, he joined the family business in Kuwait. His first job: selling used cars for Alghanim Automotive, one of the largest GM dealers in the Middle East.
This experience gave Omar valuable insight into what makes customers tick. He also learned a lot about what ticks them off. These lessons would also prove valuable, and continue to pay dividends now that he is overseeing one of the largest financial service operations in Kuwait.