A number of Saudi nationals feature in Gulf Business‘ annual list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Arabs in 2017.
While some of them have fallen in rankings due to the kingdom’s dull economic performance – caused by the drop in oil prices – many have also managed to maintain their positions on the list.
In total, 16 of the most powerful Arabs originate from Saudi Arabia. Here are the top five –
1. HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Chairman, Kingdom Holding Company
Overall rank: 1
It would be fair to say 2016 was mixed for Prince Alwaleed, the most well known face in the Middle Eastern business landscape.
During the year, he was involved in a number of notable deals including the exchange of Kingdom Holding’s stake in the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands for AccorHotels stock and the successful $170m sale of the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.
But these were also coupled with disappointments, with profit declines at Kingdom Holding in the second and third quarters and SAR150m less revenue than hoped from the AccorHotels deal due to currency fluctuations related to Brexit.
Outside of his business dealings, Alwaleed’s often outspoken manner continued to attract attention. This was particularly true when after declaring then US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump a “disgrace” on Twitter at the end of 2015. He backtracked on his remarks nearly a year later by wishing the new President congratulations and best wishes “whatever the past differences”.
The billionaire also remained in the public eye for his philanthropic efforts, following the announcement of plans to give $32bn to charity announced in July 2015. In January, Alwaleed Philanthropies received a trophy and certificate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its support for Syrian refugees and the previous month the organisation announced the names of 2,600 Saudis given housing and car grants as part of a longer term initiative to help 10,000 citizens. Other notable donations included $3m to the END Fund to fight neglected tropical diseases and $50m to Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund to finance emerging energy breakthroughs.
As the billionaire’s philanthropic efforts continue, he may well become as known for his charitable donations as the shrewd investments in the likes of Citibank, Mövenpick Hotels, Walt Disney, News Corp and Twitter that have built his name since the founding of Kingdom Holding in 1979.
2. Khalid Al Falih
Overall rank: 3
In May last year, Khalid Al Falih took the position many deemed destined to be his, succeeding veteran Ali Al-Naimi as Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources.
The role gives Al Falih untold power and influence over a global oil market that already held him in high regard, as shown by the key role he played in the OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts agreed at the end of last year.
On top of this new position, Al-Falih’s seat as chairman of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco looks set to become an increasingly important one in the coming years as the company gears up for a 5 per cent listing in 2018 expected to value it at more than $2 trillion. Publicly, he has suggested the funds could transform Aramco into an industrial conglomerate similar to General Electric in the US.
3. Yousef Abdullah Al Benyan
Vice chairman and CEO, SABIC
Overall rank: 6
Now in his second year at the top of petrochemicals giant SABIC, Al Benyan has arguably steered the firm through one of its most difficult periods in recent memory. In the third quarter the company, which has more than $90bn in assets, reported a 7 per cent decrease in profit due to weaker market demand and rising costs, its ninth profit decline in a row. He has predicted 2017 will be another challenging period for the firm as it continues to focus on efficiency, but a turnaround in global energy markets and new projects, including joint plans for a new petrochemical plant with Exxon Mobil in the US, could give the SABIC veteran, who has been with the company since 1987, reason to smile.
4. Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber
Chairman and CEO, MBI International
Overall rank: 16
Billionaire Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber is the owner of a business empire that stretches from the JJW Hotels & Resorts brand to compound developer Jadawel International and oil field services firm Continentoil. Collectively these companies total an asset value in excess of $9bn, with Al Jaber himself believed to be Britain’s 15th richest person with a net worth of almost GBP6bn ($7.2bn), according to the Sunday Times.
Last year Al Jaber made headlines when he urged fellow billionaires to bring their wealth back onshore following the Panama Papers leak. He also sought to revive a $10bn claim against Barclays relating to a Saudi-backed property deal and praised US President Trump in a December interview. “He’s [Trump] capable and, as a businessman, he’s shrewd about the bottom line. The people he’s surrounding himself with have baggage, but they’re also successful and shrewd,” Al Jaber was quoted as saying.
5. Mansour Saleh Al Maiman
Chairman, National Commercial Bank, NCB Capital
Overall rank: 19
Al Maiman is chairman of Saudi Arabia’s biggest publicly traded bank, after a record 2014 IPO on the Saudi stock exchange. However, since then he has had less to smile about as NCB’s performance has been hit by the general slowdown in the Saudi economy. Before his retirement from the public sector in 2012, Al Maiman held a number of influential roles including assistant undersecretary for budget at the Saudi ministry of finance and secretary general of the Public Investment Fund. Today he is an influential voice in the Saudi banking industry and holds board positions at mining company Ma’aden, the Saudi Arabian Investment Company and Tadawul Real Estate Company.
For the complete list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Arabs, pick up the February issue of Gulf Business