100 Most Powerful Arabs 2018
Wed 27 Jun 2018 09:18 AM
Prince Alwaleed  bin Talal

Company: Kingdom Holding Company

Designation: Chairman and CEO

Without a doubt one of the most recognisable businessmen in the Middle East – and perhaps the globe – Prince Alwaleed is consistently named among the most influential business leaders in the world. He is famously quoted as saying that, “If I’m going to do something, I do it spectacularly or I don’t do it at all” – and he has more than lived up to that credo throughout his career. 

Born in Jeddah in 1955, Prince Alwaleed’s business career began in 1979 after graduating from Menlo College in California, beginning his journey from a small, nondescript office Riyadh. From these humble beginnings, today he sits at the helm of Kingdom Holding Company, a massive conglomerate – of which he owns 95 percent – which includes companies in tourism and hospitality, mass media, entertainment, retail, agriculture, aviation, technology and real-estate, among other sectors. 

Among his most important business decisions came in 1991 when he bought a large tranche of shares in the then-struggling Citicorp. From an investment of $550m, his holdings eventually grew to approximately $1bn. He remains as the company’s largest individual shareholder, and also holds significant parts of other companies, including Twitter, Lyft, the Four Seasons hotel management chain, News Corporation, Rotana Group. In the past, he invested in AOL, Apple, Motorola, MCI and Fox News. 

In addition to his business acumen, Prince Alwaleed is a well-known philanthropist, with charitable activities ranging from funding educational projects around the world to helping the people of Palestine and providing funds for victims of the September 11 attacks in New York City and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. 

More recently, in late 2017, he found himself among a number of prominent Saudi businessmen and government officials swept up as part of a government crackdown on corruption in the kingdom – allegations he denies. 

“I’m very nationalist. I’m very patriotic,” he said. 

“I felt comforted… there was nothing in my life that directs me into any financial dealings or corruption that could be against me. So I was very much at ease.”

It seems as though the issue was merely a blip on the radar for the now 63-year-old tycoon. Just weeks after his release, he was hunting for deals and planning to reshape his empire, telling reporters he was looking for investments as large as $3bn for Kingdom Holding and visibly confident that business will be as good as ever. “I understand it’s not going to be easy. Some people in the business community will be doubtful,” he said. 

“I assure them that everything is normal and we are functioning as we were before and we welcome them to come here to see what we’re doing.”