The Arabian Kings of cash

HOW RICH IS RICH? Well, US$139.4 billion to be precise. Yes, that's exactly how much the world's fifty richest Arabs have between them, a staggering figure — up 11% from last year. For the past three months, Arabian Business has been busy researching this magazine's annual rich list.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  August 21, 2005

|~||~||~|HOW RICH IS RICH? Well, US$139.4 billion to be precise. Yes, that's exactly how much the world's fifty richest Arabs have between them, a staggering figure — up 11% from last year. For the past three months, Arabian Business has been busy researching this magazine's annual rich list. And once again, it is full of some very rich surprises. There are four big new entries, some very big winners and a few familiar faces. Top of the list for the second year running is Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed, with a personal fortune of US$26 billion — a rise of nearly US$6 billion on last year. The brilliant Saudi businessman has had a busy year bringing in more big deals into his empire, and there is strong talk of him floating his hotel group. His position at the top of the list looks unbeatable for several years to come.||**||Prince Alwaleed Bin talal al saud (1)|~||~||~|Saudi Arabia US$26 billion (Last year: US$20.15 billion) Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, is the world’s wealthiest Arab, with a huge investment portfolio that includes stakes in Citigroup, Apple Computer, Canary Wharf, Euro Disney and News Corporation. He is one of the largest investors in tourism in the Middle East, with assets including a stake in the luxurious Fairmont Palm Hotel in Dubai. He is also expanding the Mövenpick hotel chain, in which he has a 27% stake, in Saudi Arabia. This year, Kingdom Hotels Investment Group revealed plans to buy or build at least 35 more hotels in Dubai, Egypt, Bahrain and other Arab countries over the next three years. It is also expanding into Africa and in May led the acquisition of five hotels and resorts in Kenya from Lonrho Africa, the last vestige of Tiny Rowland’s once-sprawling empire. The Kenyan properties include the 100-year-old Norfolk Hotel — once a regular haunt of Hugh Cholmondeley, the third Baron Delamere, who helped to establish Kenya’s reputation as a playground for privileged, decadent British expatriates. The other Kenyan assets were acquired in a joint venture with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada and comprise the Mara Safari Club, The Ark, the Aberdare Country Club and The Mount Kenya Safari Club. Fairmont, based in Toronto, holds roughly 15% of the joint venture and will manage the hotels, which will be renamed Fairmont Hotels. 2005 has been another great year for the Prince. Last month he revealed plans to float hotel and media assets worth more than US$2 billion in Dubai and London over the next two years. He said that he planned to sell shares in his Middle Eastern joint venture, Kingdom Hotels Investment Group before the end of the year. The company to be floated would own a portfolio of hotels in the Middle East and Africa, including the group of resorts in Kenya recently purchased from Lonrho, while the prince would retain his stakes in prestigious Western hotels such as The Savoy in London and thew George V in Paris and a large stake in Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “The company will be worth more than US$1 billion, with a dual listing in Dubai and London,” he said. He also revealed plans to float Rotana Audiovisual, the media conglomerate whose interests range from Arabic music to free-to-air broadcasting. The initial public offering is likely to happen next year and the prince said that, although a dual listing had not been confirmed, the company is likely to be quoted in Dubai and London. Rotana, which the prince owns outright, is the largest producer and distributor of Arabic music, with more than 100 of the top Middle Eastern recording artists signed to its labels, as well as 24-hour music television channels in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Dubai. The prince said that the company would also be valued at more than US$1 billion. The flotation plans and rises in the value of other investments have all helped push his wealth up considerably in 2005. ||**||Nasser Al Kharafi (2)|~||~||~|Kuwait US$9.4billion (US$9.2 billion) Another great year for Nasser Al Kharafi. Last October he won the coveted “Businessman of the Year” gong at the Arabian Business Awards. And with his Kuwaiti based empire including a 30% stake in Atheer Telecom, which holds a lucrative mobile licence for the southern part of Iraq, his wealth has increased rapidly. His multi-billion dollar Kuwaiti conglomerate first launched in 1976 as the National Company for Mechanical and Electrical Works. It has since diversified from local contracting to become a world class player in engineering, construction and maintenance, focusing on petroleum, water, chemicals and power. The company’s contracts include a US$110 million Beirut hotel, a US$200 million golf and residential development in South Africa and a US$400 million sewage plant in Kuwait. The family-owned, Disneyesque Port Galib on Egypt’s Red Sea coast attracted 25 flights a week from Europe and 800 visiting yachts last year. Recently, Kharafi has been maneouvring his business into Iraq. The National Bank of Kuwait, in which his family owns an estimated 16% stake, is part of a consortium that is rebuilding the financial sector in the war-torn country. ||**||The Bin Laden family (3)|~||~||~|Saudi Arabia US$6.9 billion (US$6.5 billion) The Bin Laden family has considered changing its name to distance itself from terror chief Osama Bin Laden. But despite the association, business has kept rolling in with a raft of new contracts in Dubai and Saudi Arabia for the family's construction firm, which is renowned as one of the Gulf’s finest. Founded by Mohammsd Bin Laden, the group grew into one of the major companies in Saudi when it was entrusted by the royal court with the task of expanding Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina. It has also built several palaces in Riyadh and Jeddah for members of the royal family and carried out restoration work following an arson attack on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969. Salem, Mohammad’s eldest son, ran the financial empire left behind by his father upon his death in 1968 until he himself died when his private plane crashed in Texas in 1988. Mohammad left 54 sons and daughters from several marriages. Thirteen of his sons sit on the board of the family’s firm — the most prominent being Baker, Hassan, Islam and Yehya. Baker, Mohammad’s second son, succeeded Salem at the head of the firm, which has extended its reach across the Arab world and employs tens of thousands of people. ||**||The Olayan Family (4)|~||~||~|Saudi Arabia US$6.82 billion (US$6.8 billion) Saudi Arabia’s highest ranking female executive Luba Olayan sits on the board of the Olayan Group, and has been a prominent feature on the international speaking circuit in the past year. She has also been busy snapping up new businesses — the Olayan Financing Company, for example, recently set up a US$200 million investment firm with Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Holding, the Dubai-based diversified business house, Oasis Capital Egypt and Orascom Telecom. MAF and Olayan will each have a 30% stake in the new company, and the rest will be held by Orascom Telecom. This is the first time that an alliance between three such dominant corporations has been formed in Egypt. Targeting investments in the range of US$25 million to US$35 million, the new company will seek majority stake ownerships in firms that are located in Egypt and have not yet realised their full potential. This deal alone could add a billion dollars to Olayan Group’s value within two years. The Olayan Group started life as a trucking concern in 1947 and grew into more than 50 companies, with big stakes in MetLife, Credit Suisse First Boston and American International Group. Its founder Suliman Olayan was born in 1918. After leaving school in 1936, he went to work for the Bahrain Petroleum Company. A year later, he crossed back over to Saudi Arabia to take a job with the California Arabian Standard Oil Company, the forerunner of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). By 1947, Suliman had risen from transportation dispatcher to storehouse supervisor to a position in Government Relations. In the wake of World War II, the oil industry was expanding rapidly. Sensing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and encouraged by Aramco, Suliman set out on his own in mid-1947 to bid for some of the work. With a personal loan secured on his home, he established General Contracting Company (GCC). This small scale trucking concern soon attracted big name customers such as Bechtel, and spectacular growth followed. In 1954, he launched General Trading Company (GTC), the Group’s food and consumer products distribution business. Also in 1954, Suliman was instrumental in introducing commercial insurance to Saudi Arabia, founding Arab Commercial Enterprises (ACE), which went on to become the largest insurance and reinsurance broker in the Middle East. Sulaiman died in 2002, and the group’s chairman became Khaled. Along with Sulaiman’s widow Mary, the three other children — Hayat, Hutham and Luba — share nearly US$7 billion. ||**||The Hariri Family (5)|~||~||~|Lebanon US$5.4 billion ($5.2 billion) The murder of Rafik Hariri in February this year triggered seismic changes in Lebanese politics, but had no adverse effect on the fortunes of the family’s massive construction empire. Hariri’s original wealth stems from the massive Saudi Oger Group, the construction giant with annual sales of over US$3 billion. The company was founded in 1978 and has since become a major force in projects across the Middle East and USA. Along with the Bin Laden Group, Oger has built many of that kingdom’s roads, hospitals and palaces over the last two decades. Over the last dozen years Rafik Hariri has invested an estimated US$100 million in rebuilding Beirut — with a government mandate he himself devised. In 1978, after he became the preferred vendor of Saudi King Fahd by building the US$150 million Taif Intercontinental Hotel for an Islamic conference in a speedy eight months; Fahd handed him hefty airport, bridge and hospital contracts. Today, the family is worth nearly 25% of Lebanon’s GDP. His son Saadeddine, 33, now runs Oger — but in recent months has taken a central role in Lebanese politics. ||**||Abdulaziz Al Ghurair (6)|~||~||~|United Arab Emirates US$5.2 billion (US$4 billion) It has been an incredible year for the founder of Mashreqbank. Last year the bank saw profits rise 25% to US$204 million, with total assets now standing at US$8.7 billion, a rise of 21.8% on the previous year. With nearly 50% of the bank’s income coming from fees, and the UAE economy expected to grow by over 10% this year, the bank’s health has never looked so good. The group includes subsidiaries in the USA (Bank Oman Overseas); Hong Kong (Mashreq Asia limited); and the UAE (Osool Finance Company and and Oman Insurance Company). It is also the second oldest commercial bank in the UAE having originally been established as Bank of Oman Ltd. US-educated Al Ghurair wants a broader base of regional and international investors for the bank, and so far seems to be succeeding. But even if he doesn’t he won’t be having trouble putting food on the table. His Uncle Saif’s owns several megamalls, and the family’s stake in those projects almost make him a billionaire in his own right. His brother Essa, who went to college in San Diego, operates the second-largest flour-milling company in the Middle East, which is also counted among the ten largest global producers. His grandparents didn’t do too badly either, having made a small fortune during the pearl-diving heyday. ||**||Sulaiman Bin Abdul Al Rajhi (7)|~||~||~|Saudi Arabia US$4.85 billion (US$3.35 billion) The rise in the banking sector has resulted in a huge boost for Al Rajhi. One of four brothers, Sulaiman owns the largest stake in the family’s Al Rajhi Banking and & Investment Corp., which operates under Islamic principles, paying no interest on deposits. As the bank’s chairman and managing director, he’s also the most active in the operations. Saudi Arabia’s oil boom has helped boost profits recently, and the bank was just awarded title of “Best Islamic Banking in the World” by the International Convention of Islamic Banks last year. His holding company, Al-Watania, also owns the largest chicken processor in the Middle East as well as other industrial and real estate properties. ||**||The Kanoo Family (8)|~||~||~|Bahrain US$4.7 billion (US$4.5 billion) It's been a good year for the Kanoo Family with a string of new projects helping to boost the family's wealth. That said, the family’s highest profile member, and deputy chairman of the group, Mishal Kanoo, has had an interesting time. He was lined up as the host for the planned reality television show Chief Executive Officer — only for the entire programme to be canned after a public row with the makers of rival show The Apprentice. Mishal is still smiling though, and so he should — the family’s wealth has nudged up US$200 million in the last twelve months. The business's roots can be traced back to Haji Yusuf bin Ahmed Kanoo, who took over a small family business in 1890 in Bahrain, marking the beginnings of what is today one of the most successful and trusted family businesses in the region. The Kanoo family expanded its business in the early 1930s to Saudi Arabia and in the early 1960s to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. During the height of the oil boom, the Kanoo family business grew from its early trading and shipping business to become one of the most diversified currently operating. Kanoo is the oldest and largest shipping agency in the region handling over 5000 ships every year from Suez to India. Kanoo’s involvement in air travel goes back to 1937 when the company provided refueling facilities in Bahrain for Imperial Airways seaplanes en route to India and Australia. In 1947 Kanoo Travel became the first IATA agency in the Gulf. Kanoo Machinery started its operations in the UAE by the mid of 1960s. The company’s latest activities include software and exhibitions. A valuation of its assets puts the families wealth at over US$4 billion, on top of which US$400 million was raised last year by the sale of a shopping centre in Sydney. And the family isn’t exactly shy about it — the family took six years to put together their own autobiography “The House of Kanoo.” The book traces the company’s roots right up to 1997, and features the current generation of family bosses. Most of the book was penned by another board member Khalid Mohammed Jassim Kanoo. ||**||Mahdi Al-Tajir (9)|~||~||~|United Arab Emirates US$4.3 billion (US$3.8 billion) Al-Tajir, 73, a former ambassador for the United Arab Emirates, spends much of his time at his palatial London home or his 18,000-acre Perthshire estate, where he bottles and sells Highland Spring Water. He got his start by organising the customs department at Dubai. Quite legally, he received a cut of the port’s gold trade and “eventually a piece of every oil lease that was negotiated”. In 1990 an armed gang made off with US$10 million of antiques from his Buckinghamshire mansion, and a few months later fire caused US$100 million worth of damage. In 1997 it was hit again by an arson attack. At the time his wealth was placed at US$4 billion. We can see about US$40 million profits made in 2003 by four al-Tajir companies such as Highland Spring and The Park Tower Hotel, largely owned by Liechtenstein trusts. In all, these companies are worth US$300 million — leading to the rise in wealth this year. ||**||Abdullah Al Futtaim (10)|~||~||~|United Arab Emirates US$3.8 billion (US$2.2 billion) High-end exclusive brands turned his legacy partnership with his brother into an ever-growing fortune. Toyota, Lexus, Honda, Volvo and Chrysler are among them — does that ring a bell? Well it most probably does for anyone living in the UAE, who would instantly links those brands with Abdulla al-Futtaim, the man who has massively expanded what was left after his legacy business with his brother, Majed al-Futtaim, was dismantled a few years ago. Ever since then, Abdullah has seemed to be working harder and harder to grow his already huge fortune. Seemingly driven by the liberty of steering his business the way he pleases away from his brother’s hegemony, Abdullah is now keen on diversifying his investments not only through high-end brands and giant stores, but also with huge construction landmarks such as Dubai Festival City, a project into which Abdullah has poured some US$1.6 billion. This project is a landmark for Abdullah’s exponential growth as it opens the way for him to tap into the real estate development market which has been surging forward in the UAE. ||**||

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