Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a man who wears many hats. One of the richest men in the world, he has recently been accused of being one of the financiers behind the planned Islamic center in downtown Manhattan by Fox News -- which is owned by a company in which, ironically, he is also a major stakeholder. Jon Stewart's Daily Show lampooned the incongruity of this earlier in the week, joking that the only way to stop Al-Waleed from funding the Islamic center was to stop watching Fox.
Given that the prince is the frequent subject of magazine profiles and even an authorized biography, it is strange that we seem know so little about him -- and get so much of it wrong. The following is a brief, irreverent, account of everything you need to know about Prince Al-Waleed.
How rich is he? Very -- but not as rich as he would like to be. The Forbes March 2010 listing valued his wealth at $19.4 billion, ranking him as the 19th richest person in the world. The wealthiest he has been in the last 10 years was in 2005, when he was worth $23.7 billion, making him the fifth-richest person in the world that year. At his lowest point in the last decade, he was ranked 22nd in 2009, when his wealth was valued at a mere $13.3 billion.
Two-thirds of Al-Waleed's wealth is tied up in Kingdom Holding Company, an investment vehicle. In 2010, Al-Waleed had a lucky break when, in the five weeks leading up to date Forbes uses to value the stocks of those it profiles, Kingdom shares rose 49 percent.
How reliable are the figures for his wealth? The prince took issue with the Forbes listing, which attempts to assess net worth in large part by valuing known stock holdings. In 2009, he invited a reporter from the magazine to his Saudi palace, with the objective of "setting the record straight" about his wealth. "For years, the prince has told us he was worth several billion dollars more than the conservative estimates we printed in our list," Forbes wrote.
How good an investor is he? In 2000, Forbes valued him at $20 billion; this year it was $19.4 billion. His wealth has been up and down over the years, but mostly hovers around $20 billion. His investments are now spread across banks, hotels, real estate, media and industry. Personally, I would expect better growth from my investment manager.
How did he become rich? Is it all his own money? In Saudi Arabia, it certainly helps if you are a prince. Al-Waleed started off with $15,000, which was given to him by his father, and initially grew his wealth by representing South Korean construction companies. He has always denied suggestions that he acts as an investment front for other Saudi royals who want to avoid a public profile. Forbes puts him in the category of "self-made" moguls.
How tall is he? Not very. A five-foot-six-inch reporter who interviewed him told me that they were approximately the same height. The question received renewed attention last week, when the Arab News, a Saudi English-language newspaper, carried a photo of him sitting round a conference table with executives of News Corp., which owns Fox News, in which he was head and shoulders taller than them. Perhaps the seat of his chair was pumped up, or he was sitting on a phone book, or News Corp. executives tend to be short -- in any case, the prince may have something of a Napoleon complex.