The long and winding road

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Masri amassed his wealth from projects in the oil and gas business across the Middle East.

Masri amassed his wealth from projects in the oil and gas business across the Middle East.

It is 8pm on Monday 11 June, and over 200 of the world’s most powerful Arabs are jostling for a position at a special event to unveil the 2012 Arabian Business Power List. Doctors, scientists, philanthropists, actors, singers, sports stars and business leaders are all subtly eyeing out each other, wondering about their respective rankings on this year’s list.

Until a 77-year-old Palestinian man walks into the room at the Pavilion, in Downtown Dubai. “It’s him... it’s him. I can’t believe I’m in the same room as him,” says one of the region’s most successful businessmen.

No matter how impressive the crowd, Munib Masri has made a career out of standing out for the past 40 years. A close confidant of former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, and a native of Nablus, Masri has dedicated a good chunk of his life to the Palestinian cause. From being a mediator in the 1970s between Arafat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, to running a multi-billion dollar business empire and dedicating huge chunks of his time and wealth to philanthropy, there’s very little that Masri hasn’t seen, done or is still doing.

And he knows exactly how to work an audience. “I hope some day we will unveil the Arabian Business Power List not here in Dubai, but in Palestine,” says Masri to huge cheers, as he takes to the stage.

A former geologist and graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, Masri amassed his wealth from projects in the oil and gas business across the Middle East. After getting his initial work experience, he went on to establish and lead the massive EDGO Group, which has business segments in contracting, industrial development, trading, distribution, project development, operation and maintenance, project finance and representation.

Masri then helped create the Palestine Development and Investment Company (PADICO), after the Oslo agreement in 1993. It was created in preparation for an independent Palestine that has yet to evolve.  Since then, PADICO has invested over $500m in the Palestinian territories and created thousands of jobs. PADICO has investments or fully owns entities in tourism, real estate, industry, the stock exchange, telecommunications and electricity.

Within five years of being formed, Masri’s company had just 710 shareholders. By 2011, that had jumped to 10,500. And they have a lot to be cheerful about, with Masri expecting 2011 profits to top the $38.8m recorded a year earlier. Just as the global recession set in during 2009, Masri bucked the trend by delivering an $18.3m jump in revenues to $102.2m over the next twelve months.

PADICO was behind the first ever bonds issues in Palestine (for $70m) — which will help finance mega projects including a power generation project in the north at a cost of $300m and a mixed-used huge real estate development project in Jericho.

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