I was looking for different challenges,
to get out of my comfort zone

For Hedi El Karoui working for an Italian bank in Dubai could hardly be more perfect

Hugh Wilson


Born in Tunisia, Hedi El Karoui was set to become an engineer in the oil and gas industry until an MBA scholarship in France and an internship with a multinational banking company started him on a different path. After 17 years with the same firm he moved to Intesa Sanpaolo in January 2016 and now works in the company’s Dubai branch as Senior Banker for corporate and investment banking.

What attracted you to Intesa Sanpaolo?

I spent 17 years at Société Générale and learnt a lot, but I was looking for different challenges, different experiences and to get out of my comfort zone. I was looking for a new job but I wanted to work for a major bank with international ambitions. I couldn’t have worked for a regional or local bank despite several approaches from these banks. There’s a good mood in Intesa Sanpaolo at the moment, a determination to grow the business and attract new clients. That appealed to me.

How do you find Dubai?

I worked in Dubai for many years and I really enjoy the environment there. Professionally it’s very dynamic and it is becoming a true international hub, a bridge between the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Culturally it’s also a very good compromise. It’s international and cosmopolitan but also retains an Arabic, Muslim culture. So for me it is keeping a strong bond with my roots while enjoying a modern life-style.
And working for an Italian company is great because I’ve loved Italy since I was a kid. My grandmother is from Sardinia and I speak some Italian and that is almost completely down to growing up watching Italian TV. My wife and my sister are both teachers of Italian. So the connection is really strong.

My grandmother is from Sardinia and I speak some Italian
What are your initial impressions of Intesa Sanpaolo and its people?

My criteria for joining Intesa Sanpaolo was that it is an international bank, with that level of capabilities. It is also a bank with very long tradition, deep roots and a lot of know-how. It has very high standards and the level of expertise among our colleagues is high. I haven’t been disappointed. As an example, a few days after I joined, we had to deal with a very large transaction with a client from the UAE. There was very strong collaboration from various parts of the bank – the branch, the industry, the top management and the credit teams – we were all focused and dedicated to this transaction. And guess what, we closed the deal with the highest role possible for Intesa Sanpaolo acting as book runner, we scaled down our exposure in-line with credit approvals and we secured two new mandates that we expect to close before year-end. This was for me a great start and a strong signal of confidence and trust with the teams and with the bank. It also makes me feel very confident about the bank’s commitment to the region.

How has international experience helped you to grow personally and professionally?

I’m very open-minded and I love discovering new people and new cultures, but I don’t really think about it too much. I just take advantage and try to learn from things that happen to me, good or bad. Whether it’s the financial crisis on one side or just starting out at Intesa Sanpaolo on the other, they’re all strong experiences that help you grow.

Where would you like to be in your career in five years?

In a few years, I’d like to see that I contributed to the growth of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Hub in the Middle East and Africa. I believe that we are already on the right track thanks to significant deals where Intesa Sanpaolo had already played the best roles: active book runner, MLA and documentation bank. Such for example a deal for a new client on its first international financing and involved Intesa Sanpaolo Dubai, Milan, London, Luxembourg and Paris. It was a great success for all the teams and for our new client and hence provided our bank with high visibility in the market.

I’m really excited to be involved in growing the bank in this huge, diverse and dynamic region.

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