Bloomberg reports that Paul Brinkley (pictured), the former U.S. Defense Department official who sought to attract companies to Iraq and Afghanistan, has started an investment and advisory firm with backing from billionaire Hyatt chairman Thomas Pritzker.
Nawah LLC – short for North America Western Asia Holdings – will initially seek to invest in Iraqi companies while advising clients looking to do business in the country and throughout North Africa and Central Asia.
Brinkley, who left the Pentagon in July, is chief executive officer, with Pritzker serving as chairman.
The executives believe Iraq can be a stable and profitable country where industries such as energy and agriculture can thrive.
“There’s a point at which the private sector needs to come in and play its role,” Pritzker said in a telephone interview. “It’s potentially an elegant handoff between the government and business.”
Pritzker, who lives in Chicago, is chairman and CEO of the Pritzker Organization, the principal financial and investment adviser to various Pritzker family business interests. He is also executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and chairman of Marmon Group, a holding company in which Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. bought a controlling stake in 2007.
He serves on the board of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Over his career, Pritzker has founded and played a central role in companies in a number of different industries. Pritzker is also active in a number of philanthropic organizations including chairing the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Pritzker, 61, is the lead investor in the new firm. Nawah declined to disclose how much it will have available to put into deals.
At the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business & Stability Operations, Brinkley traveled extensively in Iraq beginning in 2006, eventually bringing more than 200 companies to the country. The visits, which included Honeywell International Chief Executive Officer David Cote and Boeing Co. CEO James McNerney, generated investment commitments of more than $5 billion, excluding oil-related deals, according to task force data.
As with their government work, Nawah is planning to set up shop in a region many companies actively avoid because they’re unconvinced that any financial rewards are worth the monetary and physical risk of operating in war-torn countries with fragile democracies.
“We see an honest opportunity where more risk-averse capital might not be willing to go,” Brinkley said. “It’s a patient view that creates long-term wealth for ourselves and our business partners.”
Brinkley, a former chief information officer for JDS Uniphase, retired as a deputy undersecretary of defense shortly after the departure of Secretary Robert Gates. While the task force was originally slated to move under the auspices of the State Department, the Pentagon, led by new Secretary Leon Panetta, successfully fought to keep it in its ranks.
Pritzker first met Brinkley as the task force was pitching to international hotel chains about opening in Iraq and later Afghanistan. Brinkley persuaded Pritzker to travel to Iraq twice and the pair subsequently went twice to Afghanistan, where Pritzker had first visited in the 1970s and again in 2004 with his wife.
While Hyatt hasn’t opened a hotel in Baghdad or Kabul, the two men became friends and when Brinkley left the government, he called Pritzker.
“I have a lot of confidence in this group,” Pritzker said. “It’s seen as a can-do team in terms of commercial development. Throughout the region, they have a great and well- deserved reputation for being reliable.”
Brinkley and Pritzker both said their success ultimately will depend on political stability in the region, and in the individual countries. Their work, if done right, may have a hand in helping create that, they said.
“There’s no opportunity like this in the world, given the political developments and the unleashing of human activity,” said Brinkley, who weighed returning to the tech sector after leaving the government. “It would be silly to walk away from it.”
(Sources: Bloomberg, Business Wire)