July 27, 2021

Michael Zaoui, the star banker of Mohammed VI – Jeune Afrique

After having made the heyday of the Morgan Stanley bank and accompanied by XXL deals, the Moroccan Michael Zaoui was commissioned by the monarch to develop, with other handpicked personalities, the future development model of the kingdom. Story of a meteoric rise from Fez to New York.

He had to travel through Morocco as a patient is auscultated to detect its strengths and weaknesses, but the Covid-19 pandemic has passed through there. Rabat closed its borders on March 15, and it is from New York, where he is confined, that Michael Zaoui has exposed in recent weeks his vision of the crisis.

On May 6, live on Facebook, installed at a desk and with your back to a lithograph by Georges Dayez, Chamber orchestra, which recalls his passion for classical music, he urged the Moroccan government not to play the score of austerity and to “mobilize all the means in its possession” to encourage savings and encourage large companies to diversify.

Announced by the royal cabinet in December 2019, the appointment of Michael Zaoui as a member of the special commission on the development model surprised more than one. The body is responsible for identifying ways to “allow Morocco to achieve the rank of advanced country” and must submit its report to King Mohammed VI this summer.

Memory and business

What does the native of Fez, an investment banker in London come to do there? To hear the members of the commission, thirty-five in number, the man is “humble” and takes his role “seriously”. For others, he is “above ground”, little acquainted with the terrain. “He is aware of being disconnected from the reality of the country, but he is making efforts to immerse himself in it,” reassures Karim Tazi, boss of the Richbond furniture brand.

After having advised CEOs in XXL deals for three decades, here is Zaoui, 63, back home, he left for Europe at the age of 8.

In this Morocco which he finds “formidable” and to which his friend Anne Méaux, communicator of the powerful and of the CAC 40, knows him “very attached”, he returns on several occasions to visit his wife’s family, Moroccan, and to meditate in Fez, where some of his relatives rest, including his father, who disappeared in 2006. “I walk around the Jewish cemetery on the edge of the old mellah, with its little white and simple graves. It’s like going back to basics, ”he explains.

The phosphate giant OCP could call on its services for the project to open its capital

In the pantheon of his memories, there is also an “appeal to the Israelite population of Morocco” written in 1933 by his maternal grandfather, who urged the Jews there to learn Arabic: “This document marked me because it is significant of the friendship between the two communities. “

With his native land, it’s not all about memory. Zaoui has as many supporters as there are clients. It was he who supported LafargeHolcim in 2016 in the restructuring of its partnership with the royal holding SNI (now Al Mada), a transaction worth 3.6 billion euros. “As a reward for his civilian merits”, Mohammed VI presented him with the Wissam Al-Arch officer’s medal in 2014.

Since his appointment to the commission, it is rumored that the phosphate giant OCP could call on his services for the project, which has been announced many times, to open up its capital. An unverifiable rumor but revealing of the degree of influence attributed to Zaoui.

“The best of his generation”

Born in 1956, the year of independence, he spent the second part of his childhood in Rome, where his father, a close collaborator of the future President of the Council, Abdallah Ibrahim, then director of the Cherifian topographic service, had joined the FAO.

It will then be Unesco in Paris, where the teenager enters Sciences Po. Fresh from rue Saint-Guillaume, his path is traced: London School of Economics, Panthéon-Sorbonne, Harvard, advisor to Banque Rothschild, then Mac Group and finally Morgan Stanley, where he started in 1986, in New York.

Trained by Robert Greenhill, a pioneer of mergers and acquisitions, Zaoui was 34 when he was sent to London, transformed into a world financial center thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s Big Bang, to conquer the Old Continent.

His experience at Morgan Stanley allowed him to be in contact with many leaders

At 40, he oversees Morgan Stanley’s M&A operations in Europe. At 50, he has several hundreds of billions of euros in recommended transactions. The press is piqued with curiosity for this rainmaker, evoking annual bonuses of several million pounds. Unverifiable numbers, again.

The only certainty: Zaoui bought, in 2006, for 10 million dollars a 290 m2 apartment at 15 Central Park West, in New York, in a luxurious building built by the Israeli real estate magnate Eyal Ofer. In London, he also owns a townhouse at The Vale, one of the city’s most exclusive streets.

What does Zaoui owe this spectacular climb to? The chairman of Wendel’s management board, André François-Poncet, who accompanied him in setting up the Parisian structure of Morgan Stanley, describes him as “a brain surgeon. He quickly grasped the essentials and understood the balance of power ”.

His mastery is also due to his temperament management. A former employee confirms: “He is capable of integrating human and emotional parameters by juggling with opposing dynamics. Not everyone has this talent. “Not stingy with compliments, François Pinault, whom he supported in the epic battle between him and LVMH for control of Gucci, considers him” the best of his generation “.

“Morgan Stanley has allowed Zaoui to be in contact with many managers,” says business lawyer Jean-Michel Darrois, who sits alongside him on the board of directors of the Geneva management group Decalia.

Façade of the London Stock Exchange © SIPA

Two brothers

When he left the bank in 2008, his advisory activities continued under the label of “independent consultant”. In addition to the high masses which finance is crazy about, Zaoui occasionally takes part in more “political” events. A founding member of the France-Israel Foundation, wanted by Jacques Chirac and Ariel Sharon, he was shown in 2007 at the Saban Forum, a raout created by businessman Haim Saban, where American and Israeli experts converse.

The solo adventure ends in 2013, when Michael decides to ally himself with another Zaoui, his biggest rival and now partner: Yoël, four years his youngest, spent at Goldman Sachs and involved, like him, in the main mergers and acquisitions of the last twenty years. Long felt, the association of the two brothers hits the mark.

His firm is one of the advisers of a “mega-deal” of more than 6 billion euros between L’Oréal and Nestlé

With a team of ten people, housed in offices on Hill Street, in the very chic Mayfair of London, Zaoui & Co arrogates in 2014 some 110 billion dollars of transactions. Their firm is notably one of the advisers of a “mega-deal” of more than 6 billion euros between L’Oréal and Nestlé.

The following exercises confirm the trend: the market is no longer just for the big banks. Salaries and dividends, but also payments via the accounts of the parent company Zaoui & Co SA, registered in Luxembourg, have since provided the duo with comfortable income.

What about retirement? In 2017, Michael Zaoui created Diadochi Ltd., owner of half of Zaoui & Co SA The name refers to the Diadochi, the generals of Alexander the Great, who fought for his empire after his death. A sign ? A banker who knows him well warns: “The Zaoui have created an haute couture boutique that will certainly disappear with them. When we call on Zaoui & Co, we hire the two brothers. “