How the other half live

Our definitive Rich List is intended as a guide for those interested in doing business in the Arab world, says Damian Reilly

Twenty two new entries on this year’s Arab Rich List, and if you want to see your name on it next year I suggest you find a way to bottle whatever it is HH Prince Alwaleed has and sell it, widely. Everyone is good at something, and we all know someone for whom that something is money. Some people just seem, frankly, to have more gravitational pull when it comes to money than others. Prince Alwaleed is clearly very good – a world beater – at money. Just look at the stats.

In the worst financial crisis in living memory, he has each year posted consistently greater returns than the year before. In 2008, his wealth stood at $17.08bn, in 2009 $18bn and, amazingly, in 2010 that figure has swollen to $20.4bn. This growth despite the prince’s considerable philanthropy – in the last 25 years he has donated $3bn to good causes through his Foundation. To say he is so rich he is literally giving the stuff away would be fatuous, but clearly it takes more than a credit crunch sufficient to bring the economies of various countries crashing down to stop him making huge amounts of money.

Last month he took a punt. He took $500m and stuck it in General Motors, a company that only eighteen months ago was on the brink of going crashing through the “too-big-to-fail” safety barriers. The move was typical of the prince.  In 1990 he started buying Citibank shares, when no one else was going anywhere near them. It was a move that made him billions.

Rather as George Soros is famous for seeing opportunity where everyone else in the market sees warning signs, Alwaleed has made a reputation for seeing the world through eyes untainted by perceived wisdom, and for making his instincts pay, massively. Anyone can buy shares in GM now – the question is, do you have the stomach for it? A statement issued on behalf of the prince said he was confident GM’s board had what it took now to turn the company around and start achieving positive growth. With Alwaleed’s track record, it is easy to imagine he will be proved right and GM will turn out to be another Citi.

Another thing the prince does differently: he is amazingly open with this magazine about his wealth. We hear a lot about the benefits of transparency in the Gulf these days, but when it comes to compiling the Rich List, each year we run into the same problems of trying to ascertain exactly who owns what, and how much it is worth. For the last three years, however, the prince has made his financial accounts accessible to us, demonstrating that he has nothing to hide. It is a refreshing approach, to say the least.

We hope you enjoy this year’s list – it has been six months and endless debates and late nights in the making. It’s the definitive listing of the world’s wealthiest Arabs – and is intended as a guide for those interested in doing business in this part of the world can keep. Over the Christmas break in fact, those of you keen on starting the New Year with a bang could do worse than try to wile away the duller festive moments by trying to memorise it. You never know, perhaps a little of the wisdom of that went into compiling $250+bn fortunes inside might rub off. Have a good break.

To read the full Arabian Business Rich List 2010, click here

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