Top 10 SWF executives: Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir, Sigmund Kyrdalen

AsianInvestor has identified 10 outstanding executives who are leading best practices and innovative thinking at sovereign wealth funds operating in the region. On day four, we showcase executives from Khazanah Nasional and Norges Bank Investment Management.
Top 10 SWF executives: Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir, Sigmund Kyrdalen

AsianInvestor's Top 10 sovereign wealth fund (SWF) executives in Asia list is aimed at recognising exceptional senior executives -- from CEOs and CIOs to alternatives and sustainability specialists -- responsible for leading the industry’s growth and development.

With the right governance structures in place, SWFs can be particularly valuable in preserving and growing a nation's savings.

We believe it is important to acknowledge the role key individuals play in boosting the influence of SWFs in the region, especially as these entities are set to grow in importance in coming years.

It's also important to recognise that not all SWFs are the same – they can have vastly different mandates and investment goals. AsianInvestor recognised those differences as we created our list.

You can find out more about the rationale for our Top 10 SWF executives in Asia list here.

Today, we feature two senior executives from Malaysia- and Norway-based funds.

Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir
Managing director, Khazanah Nasional Berhad

Amirul Feisal Wan Zahir plays a crucial hub-and-spoke role as he oversees the alignment and collaboration between various investment team heads at Malaysia's Khazanah, one of Asia's long-established SWFs.

He also plays an instrumental role in the wealth fund's “Advancing Malaysia” strategy, launched after Amirul was appointed as managing director in July 2021.

“Guided by this framework, we will continue undertaking strategic investments, developing human capital, supporting startups and SMEs [small and medium enterprises], driving sustainability, and executing impactful CSR [corporate social responsibility] programmes,” Amirul said in a statement in late 2023.

Amirul has extensive banking experience as well as working with state-ownend entities: he has worked with Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) — a government-owned asset manager — and Maybank.

He brings deep financial sector experience to Khazanah's investment operations, having worked in corporate finance, equity market and private equity divisions in previous jobs.

At Khazanah, Amirul oversees the investment mandate while also ensuring these investments deliver sustainable value over the long term.

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While aiming for traditional long-term risk-adjusted returns, the fund targets impact to enhance Malaysia’s economic competitiveness and  develop new growth areas.

About two thirds of Khazanah’s total investments portfolio, or 66.3%, was invested in domestic assets at the end of 2022.

It also invests overseas, with about 10% of total investments in China and about 11% in Asia ex-China at the end of 2022.

The sovereign entity's overall investments are targeted in four sectors -- healthcare, technology, consumer and services, and financial institutions.

In a sign that it takes its socio-economic responsibilities seriously, Khazanah recently launched an impact fund, known as Dana Impak, that invests in developmental assets and special situations in Malaysia.

“In 2024, Dana Impak will allocate RM600 million ($126 million) to spur economic growth and create opportunities for rural, suburban, and underserved communities, in line with the government’s vision of more balanced regional development, thereby raising both the floor and ceiling for Malaysians nationwide,” Amirul said in October 2023.

Khazanah is also tasked with spearheading the development of the local venture capital (VC) ecosystem, in collaboration with VC agencies.

This will be done while targeting sustainable growth in line with the Malaysian government’s sustainability and energy transition agenda.

It also manages a green investment platform, UEM Lestra Berhad, under a wholly-owned unit to invest in and build domestic enterprises in green sectors such as renewable energy and storage, green building technology and energy efficiency, and an e-mobility ecosystem.

Sigmund Kyrdalen
Head of Singapore office and senior portfolio manager, Norges Bank Investment Management

Sigmund Kyrdalen leads Norges Bank Investment Management's (NBIM) operations in Asia through his role as head of the Singapore office and senior portfolio manager.

Under his stewardship, the Singapore office, which opened in 2010, has evolved into a pivotal hub overseeing all operational functions in the region, including vital markets such as China.

NBIM, which manages the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway's Government Pension Fund Global, has entrusted Kyrdalen with a dual mandate -- to manage a global portfolio of consumer companies and to leverage Singapore's position as a regional hub to invest across Asia.

"The Singapore office has seen a steady expansion to its current headcount of 50 and has full capabilities to support NBIM's equity and fixed-income investments in Asia, in the areas of portfolio management, trading, governance, operations, and technology," Kyrdalen told AsianInvestor.

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The Asia office also serves the wider investment organisation via its capabilities in risk management, operations, and technology.

"As such, the office is a crucial part of NBIM's global around-the-clock operations. The expectation is for the office to continue to develop in line with the organisation, serving as its hub in Asia," he said.

Kyrdalen's role is not just about making sound investment decisions; he's also the primary liaison for some of NBIM's more significant consumer holdings. 

He is one of the key team members that ensure NBIM's operations align with the fund's philosophy of sustainable economic, environmental, and social development.

About 13% of NBIM's global equities and about 6% of its fixed income portfolios were invested in Asia at the end of 2022.

It also has some minor property investments (relative to overall AUM) in Japan, including majority interest in several Tokyo-based retail properties.

At its core, NBIM invests for the long term, leveraging its significant stakes in over 9,000 companies globally to foster sustainable business practices. The fund's approach is rooted in the belief that corporate respect for consumer interests correlates with long-term value creation.

This philosophy is evident in the Singapore office's focus on sectors where consumer interests are paramount, such as consumer goods, healthcare, technology, and consumer finance.

Kyrdalen's leadership has been instrumental in integrating these beliefs into the day-to-day operations of the Singapore office.

His team diligently assesses consumer-related risks and ensures that the companies they invest in are not only aware of these concerns but also take action to mitgate these concerns via their corporate strategies.

Despite the moniker of “Norwegian oil fund,” industry experts consider NBIM to be one of the most progressive and sustainable institutional investors in the world. 

It actively leverages its stakes in portfolio companies to influence how they operate to promote sustainable growth and development.

As the world faces the challenges of sustainable development and ethical consumerism, Kyrdalen's role  -- and the role of players such as SWFs -- become even more critical.

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