Why Michael Lee-Chin collaborated with MBM Holding of Dubai

Billionaire investor, and former advisor, outlines why he’s working with the Emirati holding company, and what that should mean for advisors

Why Michael Lee-Chin collaborated with MBM Holding of Dubai

In April, Michael Lee-Chin’s private investment firm Portland Holdings Investco Limited (“Portland”) announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on healthcare and clean energy sectors with Dubai-based conglomerate MBM Holding. The alliance is aimed at facilitating the United Arab Emirates in achieving their stated goal of economic diversification and environmental sustainability.

In a wide-ranging interview with WP, Lee-Chin explained why he entered into this cooperation with the Emirates. He outlined what he thinks Canadian expertise can bring to the UAE vision, and why he thinks advisors need to pay close attention to climate change and the potential solutions to what he sees as an existential threat to humankind.

“MBM is a major Emirati holding company focused on implementing the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and is responsible for ensuring that Dubai is future proofed…they can do that by being at the forefront of technology, being business friendly, and being safe,” Lee-Chin says. “They recognize the benefits that Canada can bring to Dubai in terms of the technology accessible to us and, by being associated with us, we are able to bring that to Dubai.” 

While the alliance is wide-ranging, Lee-Chin emphasized two areas of key collaboration: treating cancer and addressing climate change — urgent challenges facing humanity. This collaboration will allow Portland to provide MBM  better access to key technologies and intellectual property in health sciences as well as nuclear and clean energy.

Lee-Chin believes that, in combatting climate change, fossil fuels must be replaced with nuclear power. Nuclear is clean, scalable, carbon-free, and comes with high density energy. In addition, it is always on and never turns off. Lee-Chin believes Canada is well positioned to provide access to groundbreaking advancements in nuclear technology: small modular reactors (SMRs).

At the groundbreaking for the world’s first SMR project in Chalk River, Ontario, this year, Lee-Chin delivered remarks, stating that these reactors could be the first step to help averting a global humanitarian crisis. In the future, these reactors could be implemented in remote communities that are currently dependent on diesel fuel, allowing for safe, reliable, self-supporting, zero-carbon electricity to power industries and the population, integrated with exiting grids or operating off-grid,  across parts of the world that had previously relied on fossil fuels.

Canada’s technological leadership in SMRs through collaborative frameworks make a significant difference in achieving the UAE’s sustainability goal. Lee-Chin believes, though, that Canadian investors should take a similar view as his new Emirati associates.

Lee-Chin likens this opportunity to when he started his advisory practice in the 1980s. He saw Canada, then, at the start of a long-term wealth accumulation trend. In 1983 he saw a mutual fund industry managing $5.8 billion in Canada, now it manages $1.8 trillion and Lee-Chin has been on the ground floor of that “tsunami” of wealth accumulation as he calls it.

“The moral of that story is, when you identify a trend, and you’re early in the trend, what should you do?” Lee-Chin says. “Firstly, you should load up, stuff your pockets…then start an aggregating vehicle and bring people into an aggregating vehicle. Today is no different with this clean energy revolution. I believe the SMR units will be the apparatus that provides clean and green energy globally. So, what should you do now? Start an aggregating vehicle and allow access, that’s what we’re doing now.” 

Lee-Chin says his companies are setting up two funds to capture this trend. The first is a publicly traded fund focused on replacements for fossil fuels. The second  is a Luxemburg based alternative investment fund set up for institutional investors to invest in private businesses in the clean and nuclear energy space.

The lesson for advisors, Lee-Chin says, is that they need to lift their eyes and widen what they think of as an opportunity set for themselves and their clients.

“The natural default is to come into the industry, and behave with the norms of the industry, and when you do that, you’re just going to end up being mediocre,” Lee-Chin says. “You have to ask yourself, what is this former mutual fund salesman doing in Chalk River giving a speech to some of the most eminent people in Canada in the nuclear space. The answer is because he’s looking at the future, making himself relevant. If we went from Burlington to Dubai and made that connection, what does that say in terms of the approach that we’re taking?”