The first time I was fortunate enough to meet HRH Prince Alwaleed was back in May 2007, initially at his office in Riyadh. At the end of an interview on his various business interests, I thought I would try and trap him into giving me a cracking news story.
“Your Royal Highness, surely you must now be thinking about taking over a big football club, like Manchester United, or Arsenal?”
He looked utterly bemused, almost furious, at the mere suggestion. “What?? Football!! I don’t have time to waste.”
Had he even sounded vaguely interested, it would have been a world exclusive. Except it wasn’t true. And never will be. Sure, he may one day take an investment in a much smaller club (he has recently been linked with Marseille) that has growth potential. But splashing a few hundred million on an asset that can deliver better headlines than profits has never been his style. And it also helps explain why, for the 11th year running, the Saudi prince has taken the top slot on our rich list with a personal fortune of $28.1bn.
With the Olayan family placed second on $12bn, it’s fair to say that the prince will be hanging onto the top slot for at least another decade. In short, he has no equal.
But while we all know about the bumper investments that have delivered massive returns (such as Apple, Citigroup, Fox and News Corp), I would, however, argue that the real secret of the prince’s success is the so-called “rest of the pack.”
The deals that very few people hear about, the ones that get minimal press coverage, prove that as an astute investor, we are unlikely to see a better one this generation. Take his $250m investment in Chinese online retailer Jingdong (JD.com) back in 2013 for a 2.5 percent stake. When the company floated in NASDAQ this year, its shares jumped by 130 percent. Getting into the Chinese e-commerce market early has been a masterstroke. You probably didn’t hear about his joint venture with PineBridge Investments Middle East in June this year to seek out private equity opportunities in Africa. I suspect there will be hefty rewards to come from this, particularly in the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
The same goes for his stake in Kingdom Schools, the largest private schools group in Saudi Arabia, and Kingdom Agricultural Development Company (KADCO) in Egypt. You won’t read much about KADCO’s groundbreaking irrigation research, but you can be sure it is one of the many rungs on the ladder than keep Prince Alwaleed at the top of our list. When it comes to finding the right opportunities, and long before anyone else, nobody does it better.
During that same interview in 2007, I asked him about his investment strategy. He told me: “When everybody sells, I go and buy. To be honest with you, this is a fact. There is the herd effect in the whole world. If one sells, everyone sells, but that’s when you have to think if they are all getting out you should think of getting in.”
On March 7 next year, the prince will celebrate his landmark 60th birthday. For many similar high-profile global leaders, the day is likely to be a cocktail of speeches, tributes and fireworks. For Prince Alwaleed, I suspect he will be closely studying the financial prospectus of the next Apple.For all the latest banking and finance news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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