If you’ve heard of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud it’s probably because you’ve seen him on CNBC or read about his vast wealth and investments.
Alwaleed, one of Saudi Arabia’s thousands of princes (literally), likes to be called the “Warren Buffett of The Middle East.”
With a reported net worth approaching $20 billion, Alwaleed is number 26 on Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires.
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Alwaleed has that much money in part because, back in 1991, he invested $590 million in a struggling American bank, then called Citibank.
The bet paid off insanely well, turning the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s king into a billionaire many times over.
Then Alwaleed invested in Apple, just before Steve Jobs turned it around. He’s now the second largest shareholder in News Corporation and owns a big stake in Time Warner, too. Just last month, he took a $300 million stake in Twitter, one of the hottest American tech companies.
Prince Alwaleed calls himself the largest foreign individual investor in the United States. And he may well be.
With ownership comes power.
Alwaleed on CNBC
During the banking crisis of 2008, CNBC set up a remote on Alwaleed’s compound in Saudi Arabia, asking him – still Citi’s top shareholder – whether he would support the company’s hated CEO and board. Even at night, Alwaleed appeared in his trademark tinted glasses. He sat in a recliner. The camera lights lit up camels and horses behind him as he announced his continued support for what was then one of the most loathed management teams in America.
In Saudi Arabia and around the globe, Alwaleed is a high-profile philanthropist – an activist even. He donated millions of dollars to the victims of 2004’s Tsunami in Indonesia, and he’s a vocal proponent of women’s rights in the Middle East. His spokesperson says he has donated over $2.4 billion to charities in 70 countries during the last 30 years. In the Western press, at least, he is considered a contender for the Saudi crown.
And yet, Alwaleed is a controversial figure.
After a group of Saudis flew airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York on September 11, 2001, Alwaleed donated $10 million toward the city’s relief. But then Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned the gift after Alwaleed said in a press release that the U.S. might want to reconsider its stance toward Palestine.
And there have long been stories about Alwaleed’s bizarre eccentricities and behavior.
So who is this mysterious international billionaire who is buying up stakes in America’s most-important companies? What’s he actually like in person? What’s he like to work for?
To get a sense of this, we spoke to a handful of Alwaleed’s former employees as well as a source who worked for Alwaleed’s son, Prince Khaled.
Prince Khaled’s former employee, a ~30 year-old American we’re calling Matthew, asked us to use a pseudonym. None of the other sources would allow us to use their names, either.
One said: “I fear for my life and the safety of my family.”