The rifle-shooter who became Investcorp’s co-chief executive

Meet Hazem Ben-Gacem, who will take over at the helm of the $22bn Bahrain-listed private investments firm.

Hazem Ben-Gacem is a man who wastes no time when he wants to shoot for the stars. When the private equity investor and former banker decided  after watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony the thing he most wanted to achieve in life was to participate in an Olympic Games, he set the wheels in motion the next day.

“I kept thinking, imagine when I’m 98 years old and I’m on my deathbed, sitting with my children and grandchildren, catching my last few breaths. At that moment, what is the one thing I want to say: I’m so glad I did it?” Ben-Gacem told Private Equity International in January.

Ben-Gacem phoned the British Olympic team the following day and spoke to the rifle-shooting coach. It was the sport he felt he could most realistically excel at. “What else can a 42-year-old chubby man do in the Olympics?” he joked.

The polite and exuberant banker didn’t end qualifying for an Olympics but did win a bronze medal in the 2017 African Shooting Championships, double gold medals in the 2010 North African Shooting Championships and is a member of Tunisia’s national shooting team.

Last week Ben-Gacem, who has been European head of corporate investment Bahrain-listed Investcorp since 2012, hit a target of a different kind. The $22.2 billion private markets firm announced he will replace Mohammed Al-Shroogi as co-chief executive when he retires in August. Ben-Gacem will join Rishi Kapoor, a 25-year Investcorp veteran, at the head of the firm.

Born in Tunisia, Ben-Gacem joined Credit Suisse First Boston’s mergers and acquisitions team in New York before crossing the pond to Investcorp’s London private equity group in 1994. During his tenure the Europe unit acquired 10 businesses and exited 12, returning more than $3 billion to investors.

The Harvard graduate’s track record leading this part of the firm is impressive: in Europe, Investcorp’s deals have delivered a gross internal rate of return of 30 percent since 2009 across about six exits, Ben-Gacem told Private Equity International in February. Its average return on these exits is about 3.8x.

Ben-Gacem joins Kapoor at the helm at a time of potential change – in addition to hedge funds, private equity, credit and real estate, the firm is eyeing healthcare through a $750 million dedicated Gulf-focused fund focusing on the strategy, and was looking “very seriously” at launching an infrastructure business, which may involve an acquisition, Ben-Gacem said in February.

He has also been in conversations with limited partners about returning to a blindpool model for its private equity business. The firm has been investing on a deal-by-deal basis in private equity since its 2007-vintage previous blind-pool fund, as well as its Gulf and Turkey-focused vehicle, which closed in 2008.

“We may explore something on that front hopefully not in the too distant future. It’s an evolution of our business model,” he said.

Investcorp was established in 1982 to fulfil a particular need – a bridge between the prodigious personal wealth of the Gulf region and the abundance of alternative investment opportunities in the US and western Europe. With a sharpshooter now at the helm, the firm’s targets are in even clearer focus.

– Isobel Markham contributed to this report.