Al Sa'ud, Al-Walid Bin Talal (1955–)

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Al Sa'ud, Al-Walid Bin Talal

An internationally prominent businessman and investor, Saudi Prince Al-Walid (also Alwaleed) bin Talal bin Abd al-Aziz Al Sa'ud is the largest single foreign investor in the United States economy in the early twenty-first century.


Prince Al-Walid is an internationally prominent investor as well as a nephew of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (r. 1982–2005) and the incumbent monarch, King abdullah bin abd al-aziz al-sa'ud (r. 2005–). With a reported net financial worth of more than U.S.$26 billion (according to Arabian Business magazine in 2006), Prince al-Walid is one of the world's wealthiest men.

Prince Al-Walid was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 7 March 1955. His father, Prince Talal bin Abd al-Aziz Al Sa'ud, was King Abd al-Aziz's twenty-first son, with a reputation for being a modernizer, a leader of the reform movement called the Young Najd (Najd being the name of the central Arabian plateau on which the national capital in Riyadh is located) and later the Free Princes, and an advocate for constitutionalism. Prince Talal's activist engagement in political issues at odds with the prevailing traditional system of governance in Saudi Arabia reached a point such that, in the early 1960s, a period synonymous with the zenith of modern pan-Arab-ism led by the United Arab Republic's then-president, Jamal Abd al-Nasir (Gamal Abdel Nasser) of Egypt, Talal's passport was suspended for several years, during which time he lived in exile in Egypt. Prince Al-Walid's mother, Princess Muna al-Sulh, is the daughter of independent Lebanon's first prime minister, Riyadh al-Sulh.

Prince Al-Walid's early life was marked by the separation (1962) and eventual divorce of his parents (1968). At the age of five he went to live with his mother in Beirut, where he attended elementary and middle school. In 1968, his father enrolled him in the King Abd al-Aziz Military Academy, where he remained until 1973. In that year, at the age of eighteen, he wrote a letter to King Faysal asking that he be released to return to Lebanon. The request, considered rather bold coming from a teenager, was granted.

In 1974, Prince Al-Walid successively enrolled in the Shu'ayfat (Chouefiat) School outside of Beirut, then the Manor School in Beirut itself, and was set to continue his studies at the International College in Beirut (ICB). However, when the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, he decided instead to enroll at Menlo College in Atherton, California. In 1976, he married Princess Dalal Al Sa'ud, also a member of the Saudi ruling family, and in 1978 their first son, Prince Khalid, was born in California.

Prince Al-Walid graduated from Menlo College in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in business administration, and returned to Saudi Arabia in hope of benefiting from the extraordinary oil boom then underway. His first business venture, Kingdom Establishment, was created in 1980 as a construction company with approximately U.S.$30,000 in startup money from his father, Prince Talal. In the early 1980s his business focused on real estate and construction, fields in which he began to make considerable sums of money.

In 1982, Princess Dalal gave birth to a daughter, Princess Rim. In 1984 and 1985, Prince Al-Walid returned to the United States to earn a master's degree in social science at Syracuse University in New York. Upon returning to Saudi Arabia, he set his sights on the banking sector. His purchase of controlling shares in the United Saudi Commercial Bank in 1988 helped bring about enormous increases in the bank's market value. This venture, together with his investment in and merger with Saudi Cairo Bank in 1997, was followed by the creation of United Saudi Bank. In the course of these investments, Prince Al-Walid's fortune grew substantially, burnishing his reputation in Saudi Arabia as a shrewd businessman and investor who was admired by financial strategists and observers in the kingdom and in Asian and Western commercial and banking sectors.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Prince Al-Walid rose to further prominence in international financial circles with his U.S.$590 million bailout of Citicorp. Previously, the company was perceived at near collapse and unable to attract significant investors who, in view of the circumstances, would be taking substantial risks. In spite of numerous cautionary signs from conservative investment advisers, who pointed out how potentially ruinous such a venture could be, Prince Al-Walid took the chance. His investment was announced in 1991, and the company's success (first as Citicorp and then Citigroup) in the ensuing years made it the cornerstone of Prince Al-Walid's fortune. Some have criticized the prince's Citicorp deal as a stroke of luck in comparison to some of his other less successful investments. However, Prince Al-Walid has defended himself on the basis of his overall record and the amount of research and consideration that went in to not only the Citicorp deal but his other business ventures as well.

Throughout the 1990s, Prince Al-Walid continued to invest internationally. Along with his Citicorp move, he made other large investments in the foreign hotel industry, with shares in Fairmont Hotels and Resorts (in which he had acquired a 50% share in 1994 when it was the Fairmont hotel chain), Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Movenpick, and others. One notable project in this field was his purchase of the King George V hotel in Paris in 1996, together with his announced aim of restoring the run-down property to its former glory. After extensive renovations, the hotel reopened in 1999 to great acclaim. Prince Al-Walid, along with other business associates, also invested heavily in London's troubled Canary Wharf, which at the time was Europe's largest real estate development project. As a result, the project's steady decline up until then was reversed (to the relief of British officials for whom the venture's failure to that point had been embarrassing), with the prince's subsequent sale of shares in 2000 earning him a considerable profit. Another of his investments to draw public attention was his U.S.$345 million deal in 1994 for a 24 percent share in the financially faltering Euro Disney theme park, later renamed Disneyland Paris. After the prince's investment, the company registered initial success but by the early twenty-first century was faltering again.


Name: Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abd al-Aziz Al Sa'ud

Birth: 1955, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Family: Married and divorced Princess Dalal (married, 1976); children, Prince Khalid (21 April 1978), Princess Rim (20 June 1982); married and divorced Princess Iman Sudayri (married 1996); married Princess Khawlud (1999)

Nationality: Saudi Arabian

Education: B.A. (business administration), Menlo College, Atherton, California, 1979; M.A. (social science), Syracuse University, 1985


  • 1980: Establishes first business, Kingdom Establishment
  • 1988: Purchases controlling shares in United Saudi Commercial Bank
  • 1991: U.S.$590 million bailout of Citicorp
  • 1994: Purchases one-quarter share in Euro Disney
  • 2001: One month after the 11 September 2001 attacks, donates U.S.$10 million to the Twin Towers Fund in New York; New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani returns the check following Al-Walid's comments on American foreign policy
  • 2005: Donates U.S.$20 million each to Harvard University, Georgetown University

Some of Prince Al-Walid's noteworthy investments have been in the entertainment sector. He began investing in the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation's (LBC) satellite channel in 1993 through another investment in the Arab Radio and Television network (ART). In 2003, he acquired a 49 percent stake in LBC. In 1995, he purchased a 25 percent stake in the Saudi recording label, Rotana, which hosts many top Arab pop singers and musicians. By 2003, his stake in Rotana was 100 percent. By merging ART's music channel with Rotana, the prince created Rotana Music Channel as a 24-hour broadcast show, providing video clips featuring Rotana artists. Other music channels were added to the Rotana portfolio, together with a feature where mobile phone users could send text messages scrolling across the screen, which proved especially profitable.

In the mid-1990s, Prince Al-Walid began work on a series of construction projects in Riyadh. The 994-foot high Kingdom Tower was built on land that he bought relatively inexpensively in an anxiety-laced economic atmosphere following Iraqi President saddam hussein's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. Kingdom Centre, the shopping mall situated at the base of the Tower, is also Prince Al-Walid's idea. Other Kingdom projects in Riyadh include the state-of-the-art Kingdom Hospital, the private Kingdom School, and Kingdom City, a residential community that houses many of the employees of Kingdom Hospital.


Prince Al-Walid's name became more widely recognized in the United States following the attacks of 11 September 2001. On the one-month anniversary commemoration of the attacks, Prince Al-Walid attended a memorial service in New York City, bringing with him a U.S.$10 million dollar check for the Twin Towers Fund, which he presented to the city's mayor, Rudy Giuliani. A press release issued by Prince Al-Walid on the occasion made a critical reference to American foreign policy in the Middle East and especially toward the Palestinian issue. Upon learning of the press release, Giuliani took exception to what he contended was an inappropriate statement at an event meant to honor those who had perished in the tragedy of the month before. He said he considered the prince's statement unacceptable and, for that reason, returned the contribution. Prince Al-Walid refused to retract his statement. He asserted that all he was attempting through his observations was simply to speak the truth as an honest friend of the United States.

In December 2005, Prince Al-Walid made gifts of U.S.$20 million each to America's Harvard and Georgetown Universities in a gesture, as reported by the Washington Post, designed to promote the study of Islam and the Muslim world. At the same time, he donated U.S.$15 million each to The American University in Cairo and The American University in Beirut to enable them to establish the first American studies centers in the Arab world. The money allocated to Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and Harvard's Islamic Studies Program was received and acknowledged with gratitude by the recipient institutions. The gifts themselves, however, prompted criticism from some American circles that claimed to be leery of the contributions being used to promote favorable views toward Muslim states and societies within American academia. Prince Al-Walid maintained the exact opposite, emphasizing that the gifts were meant to bridge misunderstandings between America and the Muslim world. To that end, he noted further that he neither had nor did he want to have control over how the money would be spent.


Few, if any, in within the Arab world's private sector, with the exception of a number who prefer to remain anonymous, combine Al-Walid's unparalleled commercial acumen with a penchant for assisting societies' handicapped and less well-endowed citizens, and who also associate themselves as unabashedly as he does with the need to build and maintain the strongest possible bridges of mutual understanding and respect between the Arab and Islamic worlds, on one hand, and with Western societies on the other. One of the closest of his countrymen would be the daughters and son of the late Sulayman Ulayan, whose charitable foundation is identified with similarly focused good works. Others would include the Juffali and Ali Rida families, together with the sons and daughters of the late Saudi King Faysal, whose King Faysal Foundation plays a major role in support of laudable endeavors spanning religion, science, medicine, and education, as well as library science, the undertaking of pioneering educational experimentation at the pre-collegiate level, and the facilitation of regular dialogue not only among Arab elites but also among the Arab world's future generation of leaders. Of those whose charitable deeds span national and international philanthropy with public service, one of the closest would have been the late rafiq hariri, prime minister of Lebanon before his assassination on 14 February 2005. Another would be Juma al-Majid, a businessman long known for his extraordinary success in a variety of commercial activities in the bustling UAE port city of Dubai, who has been similarly generous, albeit not on a comparable scale, in supporting a wide range of cultural, educational, and charitable activities, together with anonymous Saudi Arabians and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries' nationals who have long demonstrated their commitment to assisting worthy causes.

In the same spirit, in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Prince Al-Walid made additional financial contributions to various U.S. nongovernmental educational organizations, among them the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, and the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. The vision and mission of these organizations shared similar objectives. One was a dedication to enhancing American understanding of Arab and Islamic culture. Another was a commitment to expanding American awareness and appreciation of the massive and multifaceted benefits that the United States as a whole has derived from its overall relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, notwithstanding the jealousies and misrepresentations of these relationships that have incessantly been depicted negatively by various American, Israeli, and other critics. In 2007, Prince Al-Walid signaled an intention to concentrate the future international focus of his charitable and educational donations, beginning in 2008 and continuing beyond for an indeterminate period, upon two different geographic areas. One would be Great Britain and elsewhere among the European Union countries, as well as within Saudi Arabia itself. The other, as he revealed over the course of a lengthy interview with Arabian Business on 13 May 2007, would be Africa, where he believed international entrepreneurs who were also philanthropists had for too long failed to appreciate opportunities for conducting business and entering into profitable joint ventures.


Known as one of the world's three wealthiest and most philanthropic individuals, Prince Al-Walid's worth was estimated at 26 billion U.S. dollars in 2006. He is also known as the investor who financially rescued one of the most renowned international financial institutions, Citibank, in the early 1990s; as the single largest private individual foreign investor in the United States; as a prominent member of the world's largest ruling family; and as someone who is the exact opposite of the widely held negative stereotype of dynastic personalities who deign to work hard, are reluctant to take financial risks with their own money, and who perform the obligatory but seldom outsized major roles on a regular basis year round in using their money and offering strategic advice to assist such worthy causes as cross cultural educational understanding and the advancement of better health services, medical care, and living conditions among the world's less fortunate peoples.


Prince Al-Walid has frequently stated how deeply he has been influenced by the character of his grandfathers King Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Sa'ud, father of the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Riyadh al-Sulh, the first prime minister of independent Lebanon, both of whom he has cited as examples of honesty, uprightness, and generosity. Moreover, as one might expect, his childhood and youth in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, representing two distinctly different geographic regions as well as similar yet significantly dissimilar variants of history, culture, and society in the Arab world, have also affected his outlook on and appreciation of the diverse positions and roles of Arab and Islamic countries in global affairs.

A key aspect of Prince Al-Walid's character to which he frequently has made reference is his and many of his fellow citizens' attachment to various features of Bedouin culture, however romanticized, selectively highlighted, and mythically remembered in association with its Arabian roots and manifestations. Indeed, as biographer Riz Khan has noted, Prince Al-Walid has long demonstrated a fondness for spending weekends in various desert settings outside Riyadh. According to Khan, Prince Al-Walid has said, "No big investment decision, no professional decision in my life, no personal decision has been made unless I come to the desert," which the prince has explained as providing him a chance to think and reconnect with his roots (Khan 2006).

In his approach toward business, Prince Al-Walid, in the eyes of many who have observed him closely or partnered with him in investment projects, has frequently been described as in tune with the norms of international corporate leaders. His early investments, for example, turned heads in Saudi Arabia not only for their effectiveness, but also for their aggressive, American-capitalist style of takeovers and reorganizations. Indeed, the prince has been viewed for years by international financial and commercial leaders and many of their counterparts among his fellow countrymen as something of a novelty among members of the Saudi Arabian ruling family. His admirers and critics alike have marveled at his preference for investments and contributions to humanitarian, charitable, and educational causes instead of conforming to a traditional stereotype, one frequently voiced by domestic and foreign anti-monarchy critics alike, of conspicuous consumption or maintenance of an indulgent lifestyle. Indeed, his detractors as well as those who have known, partnered with, and admire him, acknowledge his legendary work ethic and the extent to which his investments and business deals reveal a penchant for tireless and extensive research beforehand, followed by a propensity for hard bargaining.

Besides the attempted Twin Towers Fund donation and gifts to universities and nongovernmental, educational, and cultural organizations, Prince Al-Walid has contributed to numerous other projects and institutions, including the Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the formation of a foundation in Lebanon focusing on medical care. In addition, he has donated considerable funds toward health, education, food aid, and HIV/AIDS research in sub-Saharan Africa. He is also known for his concern for Palestinian causes, having invested in the Palestinian Investment and Development Company, and founded the Jerusalem Develop-ment and Investment Company with the goal of increasing Palestinians' leverage in developments in and related to the disputed city.

Within Saudi Arabia, Prince Al-Walid's overall impact on commerce and investment has been considerable. Among many examples are his investments in various economic sectors, among them the Kingdom properties, Rotana, the Savola foodservice group (the product of a series of mergers driven by the prince), and his transformation of the physical environment effected by the Kingdom Holding Company complex in Riyadh. The manner in which he has achieved so many business successes has inspired analysts to credit him not only with being able to navigate the kingdom's investment landscape adroitly as a skilled player of the international capitalist game, but managing to do so in a manner that has no counterpart among other wealthy Gulf Arabs. Beyond Saudi Arabia, Prince Al-Walid's impact as a businessman and investor has been as vast as it has been unique. An example is that he has remained for years the largest individual foreign investor in the American economy. His fortune, business acumen, and devotion to charity have helped refurbish for the better the many negative stereotyped images traditionally associated with ruling family personalities in Arabia and elsewhere. Certainly, few would deny his positive impact upon the way many have customarily viewed dynastic personalities vis-à-vis change amid constants, and constants amid change, alongside acts of charity and humanitarian goodwill benefiting Arab and Islamic societies.


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                                          John Duke Anthony