It's good to be king. Or, in this case, prince. In a part of the world overflowing with billionaires, Prince Al-Waleed is the richest of them all. He's not only the richest person in Saudi Arabia, he's the richest person in the entire Middle East. Even more impressively, with a net worth of $32 billion, Prince Al-Waleed is the 17th richest person in the world overall. He's a full $15 billion richer than his uncle, King Abdullah! Have we properly established that Prince Al-Waleed is wealthy yet? Hopefully. So how did he earn this vast fortune? Clearly he started out on the right foot by being born into an extremely wealthy Royal family, but over the last 20 years, the Prince has proven to the world that he is much more than the billionaire playboy nephew of a King…
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was born on March 7, 1955 in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah to Prince Talal and Mona Al Solh. The Prince's maternal grandfather is Riad Al Solh, the first Prime Minister of Lebanon. His Aunt, Leila Solh Hamadeh was the first woman to hold a position in the Lebanese cabinet. His father is the younger brother of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Prince Al-Waleed's father, Prince Talal, was the finance minister for Saudi Arabia in the early 1960s. However, due to his desire to see political reform in his country, the elder Talal was forced to go into exile in Lebanon. Prince Al-Waleed's parents separated when he was 7-years old and he returned to Saudi Arabia with his mother.
Prince Al-Waleed was a spirited child who regularly ran away from home. He would spend a day or two exploring the world, sleeping in the back of unlocked cars. When he was old enough, sis parents sent him to military school in Riyadh. This experience instilled in the young Prince a strict discipline that he continues to practice as an adult todau. Prince Al-Waleed moved to the United States in 1975 to go to college received his bachelor's degree in business administration from California's Menlo College, in 1979. After Menlo, he returned to Saudi Arabia and began investing in real estate. For his first deal, Prince Al-Waleed borrowed $30,000 from his father to build an officer's club at the Riyadh military academy.
In 1985, he went back to school in the United States to earn a master's degree in Social Science from Syracuse University. Prince Al-Waleed burst onto the international investing scene in 1991, when he bailed out Citibank with a $550 million investment. Citibank had fallen on hard times due to under-performing real estate loans in the US and Latin American businesses. It was the first time a Middle Eastern investor gained such a large stake in a Western corporation and put the Prince on the investment map. Prince Al-Waleed's Citigroup holdings are currently worth about $1 billion. After Citibank, Al-Waleed went on to invest in several publicly traded American companies including News Corp., Disney, AOL, Motorola, and Apple. He made these investments with personal funds and through his newly formed financial firm Kingdom Holding.
Today Prince Al-Waleed owns 95% in the publicly traded Kingdom Holding.Through Kingdom Holding, Prince Al-Waleed has investments in real estate, media, stocks, aircraft, and private equity all around the world. His holdings include the prestigious George V hotel in Paris, the Four Seasons group of hotels, London's Savoy Hotel, and a stake in New York's Plaza Hotel. In fact, Prince Al-Waleed spent $305 million of his money to renovate Paris' George V hotel.
Outside of his real estate holdings, Prince Al-Waleed owns an 80% stake in media company Rotana, which produces and airs television in both Arabic and English in the Middle East. Rotana had $1.2 billion in revenue in 2011 and Prince Al-Waleed's stake in the company is worth $1.13 billion. Prince Al-Waleed also has investments in publicly traded companies in the Middle East worth $1.24 billion but it's his investments outside of his region that are really worth the big bucks – $2.68 billion to be exact. This includes his stake in Citigroup, an undisclosed Chinese company, and more than 20 million shares of Twitter.
Despite owning stakes in these high profile luxury hotels, they are not Prince Al-Waleed's most valuable real estate investments. His most valuable real estate investments are back in Saudi Arabia where he owns tracts of undeveloped land in and around Riyadh. Interestingly, Prince Al-Waleed's companies employ a staff made up mainly of women, which is pretty progressive by Islamic standards.
When he needs to lay his head at night, the Prince can do so at one of dozens of palaces and mansions around the world. His main residence is a 420 room, 370,000 square foot palace on the outskirts of Riyadh. Al-Waleed's Riyadh palace has its own zoo, completed with giraffes, zebras, and gazelles. He also owns a luxurious residence in the top three floors of Kingdom Tower. His real estate properties in Saudi Arabia are reportedly worth more than $4.5 billion on their own. His super yacht, the Kingdom 5KR, is the 54th largest private yacht in the world. He reportedly has a new yacht being built with a price tag topping $500 million.
When he needs to fly he does so on one of nearly a dozen private airplanes. He owns a custom Boeing 747 that has two bedrooms and dining room that can seat 14 people. He also recently purchased an Airbus A380 for $300 million then proceeded to spend another $200 million on customizations. The $500 million Airbus A380 has a parking space for the Prince's Rolls Royce, a concert hall with seating for 10, a marble steam room and spa, five master bedrooms with King sized beds, 20 smaller rooms, a private elevator, a boardroom and a prayer room with computer monitored prayer mats that automatically adjust by GPS to always face Mecca.
The Prince contributes to a number of charitable causes with a special focus on educational programs designed to bridge the gaps between the Western and Islamic communities. Prince Al-Waleed has funded a number of programs and centers of American Studies in Middle Eastern universities and centers and programs of Islamic Studies in Western universities. He funded most of the Islamic Art Collection that is found today at Paris' Musee de Louvre.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Prince Al-Waleed gave New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani a check for $10 million, publicizing the written sentiment that accompanied the check:
"At times like this, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause". Mayor Giuliani returned the check. After that, Prince Al-Waleed told a weekly magazine in Saudi Arabia: "The whole issue is that I spoke about their position [on the Middle East conflict] and they didn't like it because there are Jewish pressures and they are afraid of them".
In 2002, Al-Waleed donated $500,000 to help fund the George Herbert Walker Bush scholarship at Andover, Massachusetts' Phillips Academy. After the tragic Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in Thailand in 2004, Prince Al-Waleed donated $17 million to the victims of the natural disaster. Prince Al-Waleed's first wife, Dalal bint Saud is the daughter of King Saud. The couple has two children together, Reem and Khalid. After divorcing his first wife, Prince Al-Waleed married Princess Ameera who turned 30 years old in November 2013.
What's the lesson here? In Saudi Arabia, it's good to be King… but it's GREAT to be Prince!