Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is more famous for his immense success as a businessman and investor than for the fact that he is a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family. His parental grandfather was Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, the man who founded the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His maternal grandfather was also a prominent figure: the first prime minister of the Republic of Lebanon, Riad al-Solh.
Even though Al-Waleed is a royal figure, his incredible wealth was not inherited, but self-made. This is the first thing that we really like about the Saudi prince. After his parents divorced (he was just a young child when that happened), he was sent by his father to the King Abdulaziz Military Academy to learn more discipline. The next step in his education was towards Menlo College in California, U.S.A., where he obtained a degree in business administration. Later he earned a political science master’s degree from the Syracuse University.His business career started with a little help from his father, who gave him a house and $15,000 cash (some say it was $30,000). Bin Talal used the money to invest in construction and spent the entire sum very quickly. His father then refused to continue to help him financially, so in order to support his new business, Bin Talal decided to mortgage his house. As a young broker, he sought foreign firms that were interested in doing business in his country. He then continued by sealing land deals and eventually making significant investments in the Saudi Arabia banking industry.
Bin Talal’s investing success started to become really significant after he acquired almost 5 percent of Citicorp’s shares in 1990. He made this investment when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy, but a few years later Citicorp made an impressive recovery, bringing the Saudi prince billions of dollars.
Bin Talal continued to invest in many foreign companies. Most of his ventures were highly successful, but some failed to bring any profit. His ability to make wise investments at the best possible time was sometimes not enough, because some experts said he lacked the ability to recognize bad stocks and sell them in time. Overall however, Al-Waleed bin Talal’s decisions were wise and brought him a great fortune.
In time, he bought small stock percentages in numerous companies, including eBay, Amazon.com, Ford Motor Company, AOL Time Warner, Pepsi, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, the Walt Disney Company and many others. He also bought hotel shares (Fairmont Hotels, Four Seasons), and invested in technology and media, including Arab Radio and Television, and Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. He is currently the 26th richest person in the world (according to Forbes), with a net worth of approximately $19.6 billion.
His immense success is mostly due to his ability to diversify his investments and to look beyond his country’s borders. He recognized big potential in undervalued companies and he usually invested for long-term gains. Even though very rich, Bin Talal was always on the look for bargains and he was an excellent negotiator and deal maker. He proved to be a very modern businessman, in spite of the fact that Saudi Arabia was a rather traditionalist country. He was open to the public and the media, as he wanted his voice to be heard.
When in his country of birth, the prince dresses up in the traditional fashion and observes all the religious and cultural customs of the kingdom, but when he travels in the West, he very naturally wears classy business suites and uses American slang. Bin Talal is also very vocal about women’s rights and he even hired the first ever female airline pilot in his country, named Hanadi Hindi.
Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal has gone through three divorces and has two children (a son and a daughter) with his first wife, Princes Dalal bint Saud bin Abdulaziz, who is also his cousin.
When it comes to his assets, the list is rather long and impressive. He owns three castles, hundreds of expensive cars (Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, Lamborghinis etc), and several aircrafts. In 2012 he will even receive an Airbus A380, which is the largest passenger aircraft in the world. This however doesn’t make him a selfish lavish spender. Even though he loves to purchase exclusive and expensive luxury things, Bin Talal is also very generous. He has donated huge sums for charitable causes in his country and around the world.
After the tragic World Trade Center attack for instance, the Saudi Prince offered America a $10 million donation for disaster relief, but New York mayor Rudy Giuliani turned down the offer due to some controversial declarations of Bin Talal on the United States’ policies in the Middle East. In 2003 he told the Middle East Economic Digest that he believed it was his “responsibility to take advantage of my position to make the world a better place” by supporting charitable causes.