The business magnate Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud was born on the 7th of March 1955 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as the son of Prince Talal and of Mona Al Solh, who was the daughter of the first Prime Minister of Lebanon. He was also one of the nephews of King Abdullah, the Saudi ruler.
Prince Talal was the finance minister of Saudi Arabia during the 1960s and then he went to exile when he advocated a political reform. The family separated when Al-Waleed was seven years old and he went to live in Lebanon with the mother. During the time he liked to wander and go away from his home for a while, sleeping wherever he could, so he finally ended up in the Riyadh military school to change his ways.
The discipline Al-Waleed learned here would be followed by him for the rest of his life and once military school was over he went to Menlo College in California, graduating in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in the field of business administration. The social science master was next which he received with honors in 1985 from the Syracuse University.
With graduation Al-Waleed went into business right away, returning to Saudi Arabia right in the middle of the oil boom that began in 1974. He received a $30,000 loan from his father and focused on construction contracts and real estates which would be managed from a small pre-fabricated office in Riyadh.
His first billion dollars was made by selling land and by working as a point man for different multinational companies to seek local contracts. When the oil boom ended he changed the investment portfolio and bought the United Saudi Commercial Bank which was struggling at the time. He put the company back on track and merged with Saudi Cairo Bank and SAMBA to make it one of the most important banks in the Middle East.
He was building his fortune in the country but in 1991 he became the interest of the international investing community when he bought a large amount of shares in Citicorp in a moment that the company was in difficulty. The $550 million spent to bail out Citibank as well as the investment in a lot of publicly traded companies from USA such as News Corp., Disney and Apple made his fortune grow.
In 1995 he acquired 42% of the New York Plaza Hotel. By 1997 he owned 5% of News Corporation and the empire of luxury hotel properties would increase as well. His investments were usually made along with his conglomerate Kingdom Holding.
He gave $10 million to New York after the attacks on 11 September 2001 and the money were later returned. Before the financial crisis of 2007 Citibank was what constituted half of his worth and he started increasing his interest in the company from 1990 when he bought the minimum amount of shares which could be bought without having to declare the purpose (4.9%). In 1991 the new preferred shares were bought for $590 million and this brought his overall stake at 14.9%.
The large amounts of money he was investing made him become the main subject in an article from The Economist in 1999 expressing doubts about his sources of income and they supposed that he was a front man for more investors from the Saudi Arabia.
Massive new investments followed in AOL, Apple, Motorola, Fox Broadcasting, MCI Inc. and other media or technology companies as well as in the Eastman Kodak and the TWA airline. He holds stake in the Four Seasons hotel chain as well as the Plaza Hotel and he invested in the Savoy Hotel in London and the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel as well.
Other hospitality investments followed in January 2005 when he purchased the Savoy Hotel for 250 million GBP and his sister Sultana Nurul also own 16% stake. In January 2006 he acquired the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts for $3.9 billion in partnership with the Colony Capital real estate firm.
By 2009 Al-Waleed was the owner of 35% of the Research and Marketing Group which was the largest media company in the Middle East and as a display of his wealth he contracted the Bin Laden Group to design the tallest building in the world in August 2011 entitled the Kindgom Tower with a height of 1000 meters with a preliminary cost of $1.23 billion and today it is still under construction.
Another impressive purchase was made in December 2011 when he invested $300 million in Twitter by buying secondary shares from various insides leading Kingdom Holding to own over 3% of the company, an amount that was valued at $8 billion during the same year.
His first wife was Dalal bint Saud, one of King Saud’s daughters and before their divorce they had two children together: Reem and Khalid. The second wife was Ameera al-Taweel and later on was separated from her as well, making the statement that “she remains a person that I have all respect for”.
With a current net worth of $22.9 billion, Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Alsaud is known for his eccentric lifestyle, never shying away from large expenses. Most of the fortune comes from the 95% stake in Kingdom Holding and the other parts come from the real estate, stocks, media, private equity and aircraft.
He travels on a retrofitted Boeing 747 that had two bedrooms, a dining room and only 14 seats. His home in Saudi Arabia has no less than 420 rooms and spreads over 370,000 square feet. He has its own zoo at home with zebras, giraffes and gazelles and this is just one of the five residences he owns in the area of Riyadh. He once stated that his properties are valued at $4.69 billion.
He owned the Kingdom 5KR yacht which was originally built for the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi in 1979 and it has a length of 85.9 meters. Later on he sold it to Donald Trump who renamed it Trump Princess but after the second bankruptcy of Trump the yacht was bought back.
Al-Waleed is an active philanthropist offering donations especially for education initiatives and projects that want to fill the gaps and improve communication between the Western and Islamic communities, creating centers of American studies in the universities of the Middle East and centers of Islamic studies in the Western universities.