Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a younger brother of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was Managing Director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia) and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Zayed Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works.
As the executive who ran the world's richest sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the 41-year-old was ranked by Forbes magazine at number 27 on the list of the world's most powerful people.
The official news agency WAM earlier reported that a glider carrying Sheikh Ahmed and a pilot had plunged into Moulay Abdellah lake in Morocco. The pilot was rescued soon afterwards and the search for Sheikh Ahmed continued for several days.
Before his death was finally declared yesterday, the UAE rescue team in Morocco had said that they had narrowed down the search focus after thoroughly combing the wider area around the lake.
Before becoming Managing Director of Adia and Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance and Industry, Sheikh Ahmed had served as the UAE's Interior Minister from 2004.
Under his guidance, Adia grew to become the world's largest SWF. It was formed in 1976 and is now estimated to have assets of between $500 billion (Dh1.836bn) and $700bn, ranging from Citigroup bonds and a stake in Britain's Gatwick airport to a portfolio of residential property in major cities.
He led Adia aggressively even during the global downturn, an approach he touched upon during an interview last year when he said: "The fund is refining its investment approach and might consider a larger investment than its rarely-exceeded five per cent stakes."
The normally media-shy Sheikh Ahmed told German business daily Handelsblatt that he preferred not to use the term 'Sovereign Wealth Fund' to describe the investment authority.
"We prefer to be seen simply as a globally diversified investment institution – with the difference being that our owner is the government of the emirate of Abu Dhabi," he said. "Adia's sole mission, which has not changed in over 30 years, is to secure and maintain the current and future welfare of the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
"The rumours that circulate occasionally about Adia planning takeover bids or looking to buy controlling stakes in one company or another are invariably a case of mistaken identity."
The fund has stakes in Citigroup, Hyatt Hotels and Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holding and last month revealed it had bought a minority holding in Gatwick airport.
Adia published its first annual report last Monday in compliance with the Santiago principles, which stress the need for better disclosure and strict rules on risk management.
Sheikh Ahmed said at the launch of the report that "a significant recovery in economic activity and substantial gains in world equity markets" had taken place.
"Even so, considerable uncertainty remains about the outlook for 2010," he added. "[The] most pressing is the sustainability of the economic recovery."
The report revealed that 60-85 per cent of Adia's holdings were in North America and Europe and 25-45 per cent were in Asia and the emerging markets.
About 46-65 per cent of its assets were held in developed equities, emerging market equities and, to a lesser extent, small cap equities, it added.
Ten to 20 per cent were invested in government bonds, five to 10 per cent in hedge funds and managed funds and up to 10 per cent was held in cash.
Adia was run by a multi-national team of 1,200 people, just under a third of whom were emiratis, the report said.
The document, issued as part of moves to provide increased transparency, did not reveal the size of Adia's assets, which some observers estimated to be as much as $800bn.
Adia was established to manage Abu Dhabi's oil wealth, and the fund's rate of return averaged eight per cent annually over the past 30 years and 6.5 per cent per annum during the past 20 years, the report said.
Abu Dhabi, home to eight per cent of the world's proven crude reserves, is trying to diversify away from oil. Adia and its Norwegian and Chinese peers are the three largest SWFs in the world, managing over $1 trillion between them.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development last year said Adia had been impacted by the global financial crisis, shedding $183bn of assets in 2008.
The report estimated the value of Adia's assets at $329bn at the end of 2008, but as oil prices recovered and investments worldwide regained value, the fund's assets, too, are thought to have gained last year.
The Santiago Principles, formally known as the Generally Accepted Principles and Practices, have been approved by 26 SWFs from around the world.
REMEMBERING A LEADER
A number of people who closely worked with Sheikh Ahmed for Adia said: "For us, Sheikh Ahmed was very humble and unpretentious, highly accurate and realistic in organising and planning. He taught us that orderliness is above all personal considerations and nobody shall override it. The changes that he made throughout his tenure at Adia were essential and focused on human resources, therefore programmes for education and development of qualified people and encouraging national resources were intensive.
'A Precise mind, Media-Shy Personality'
Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was born in Al Ain in 1969. He graduated from the United Arab Emirates University and worked in several government positions.
He joined the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority in 1991, and worked for various Adia departments, though a lot of his work was in analysing European stocks.
In 1997, he was appointed Managing Director of the Adia board by an Emiri decree from the Abu Dhabi Deputy Ruler. On April 19, 2005, he was appointed by an Emiri decree from Abu Dhabi Ruler as member of the Supreme Petroleum Council.
Sheikh Ahmed was known to shun the limelight and usually distanced himself from media statements, since the authority he was running needed a head who precisely weighed its statements.
Though usually he kept a very low profile, Sheikh Ahmed did make headlines with major corporate moves like the 2007 acquisition of a 4.9 per cent stake in Citigroup for $7.5 billion (Dh27.54bn).
Of the early decisions he made as Adia Managing Director was to increase the budget of training and work with international institutions such as Harvard University, with focus on attracting world-class skills and talents and to maintain the authority through a competitive organisational structure.
In 1996, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Zayed Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works, and he also volunteered in several humanitarian and charitable societies inside and outside the UAE.
In January 2008, he had a son whom he named Zayed.