Who is Alwaleed bin Talal?
The man and vision behind one of the world’s most successful international holding companies has been named twice by Forbes magazine as one of the smartest and most creative investors in the world. Such a portrayal encapsulates the remarkable achievements of His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, founder and chairman of one of the world’s most successful and diversified financial investment enterprises, Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) which was listed on Tadawul (the Saudi Stock Exchange) in 2007.
Prince Alwaleed was born in 1955, he is the grandson of two remarkable, and in some ways legendary, historical figures, King Abdulaziz Alsaud, founder and first ruler of Saudi Arabia, and Riad El Solh, an iconic statesman in Lebanon’s drive for independence and its first Prime Minister. The uncommon achievements of those two personages must have loomed large in shaping Prince Alwaleed’s propensity towards excellence, as became evident in his school years. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, magna cum laude, from Menlo College in California in l979, and his Masters in Social Sciences with Honors from Syracuse University in New York in 1985.
Alwaleed bin Talal Business and Civic Accomplishments
In recognition of his business and civic accomplishments, Prince Alwaleed has been the recipient of numerous honors and accolades from many organizations, societies, monarchs and heads of state. These include 14 Honorary Doctorates from universities in the U.S., Britain, Korea, Egypt, Malaysia, Ghana, Palestine, Philippines, Tunisia and Uganda, to name only a few. The citations accompanying these honors particularly point to his financial contributions to education, international understanding, coexistence, and to the provision of assistance to the victims of natural disasters, as well as to the poor and needy, irrespective of nationality, race or creed. They refer to his fidelity to the dictum “To whom much is given, from whom much is expected.”
It is common knowledge among Prince Alwaleed’s friends and business associates that whenever he sets his mind to attain a particular objective, he pursues it with an unrelenting tenacity and singleness of purpose. This became readily apparent when soon after returning to Saudi Arabia in 1979 he set about, in his own words, “to make my mark in business.” He formed his own company, Kingdom Establishment for Commerce and Trade, which in 1996 was transformed into Kingdom Holding Company. His first contract was a US $8 million project to build a bachelor’s club at a Riyadh military academy representing a Korean contractor. It was a promising start. The Prince’s business grew rapidly, and before long he was involved in a variety of profitable joint ventures with foreign companies that yielded healthy returns. He reinvested a considerable portion of his profits in the real estate market of Riyadh.
Looking to other opportunities, the banking sector caught the Prince’s eye. In 1988, he acquired a controlling stake in the then ailing United Saudi Commercial Bank (USCB), and within a year he turned it into Saudi Arabia’s most profitable commercial bank. The value of the bank’s stock subsequently multiplied twenty-fold. From there he went on to bring about a merger with the struggling Saudi Cairo Bank, thus creating the United Saudi Bank (USB). After that, Prince Alwaleed cast his eye on the more dominant Saudi American Bank (SAMBA) and came to the conclusion that a merger of USB with it would be wise, given SAMBA’s very competent managerial team. In 1999, that merger became complete.
Perhaps no single transaction has catapulted Prince Alwaleed to the world’s financial stage in as spectacular a fashion as did his acquisition in 1991 of Citibank (subsequently, Citigroup) stocks. Few people could then imagine that a Saudi Arabian, and a royal at that, would burst onto the international scene, seemingly out of nowhere, to invest so heavily in one of the major banks of the world and to help restore it to such health that it would become the leading financial institution in the world. Needless to say, this was not propelled by a sense of altruism, but by the impetus to act whenever suitable opportunities presented themselves. That investment has since brought Prince Alwaleed stellar returns, and as Citigroup’s largest individual shareholder, that segment of his total portfolio now constitutes the biggest portion of his wealth.
Significant though it is, the banking sector has not been the only focus of Prince Alwaleeds’s investment search. He has constantly scanned the spectrum for opportunities in other spheres. Over the years he has acquired substantial interests in a variety of sectors, such as hotels, real estate, media, broadcasting, entertainment, information technology, communications, upscale fashion retailing, supermarkets, health and education. Within this diversified portfolio there are investments in local companies including Savola, Tasnee, Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) and National Air Services Company Limited (NAS), and two significant real estate developments, one in Jeddah and the other in Riyadh. The portfolio also includes investments in the recognized international names of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, George V Hotel in Paris, Fairmont Raffles International Inc., Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, Songbird Estates (Canary Wharf), Apple Inc., Time Warner, News Corp., Walt Disney, Euro Disney, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Eastman Kodak, among others.