Imam Ghazali on Leadership Ethics

Al-Ghazali, a renowned Muslim scholar of the 11th century from Persia, identified qualities required in kings, ministers and deputies, whose relevance to modern business management is worth exploring. 
Ethics in leadership and management is a topic every contemporary business person has to think about. It doesn’t matter whether you work at a major corporation or head up a mid-market consulting practice. Ethics in leadership matters.

In this article we look at the perspectives of the great scholar Abu Hamid al-Ghazali who lived 450-505 AH/1058-1111 AD and served under the reputed Nizam al-Mulk.

We highlight some of the advice he gave to rulers and leaders in his own time on issues like good conduct, trustworthiness, and the qualities to look for in a good team.

Like Ibn Khaldun, al-Ghazali’s thought brings forth wisdom that is highly relevant to our current contexts.

Imam Ghazali’s early career

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 AD)

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s formal education began at the early age of 7 with a curriculum including the basic sources (usul) of Islam, law, theology, logic, and Sufism. After studying with the great Imam al-Haramain, al-Juwaini, for five years al-Ghazali joined the court of the Seljuq minister Nizam ul-Mulk where he remained for six years. During that time he actively participated in political and learned discussions until he was appointed as a professor to the famous Nizamiyyah school at Baghdad. He remained there for four years and wrote works on fiqh, or Islamic law, which he also taught, together with logic and theology.

Al-Ghazali’s position at the Nizamiyyah brought him influence and rank in political and intellectual circles. His proximity to these circles led al-Ghazali to be linked to the service of the Seljuq Sultans who ruled over the central Islamic lands of Iraq, Iran and Central Asia under the minimal authority of the Sunni Caliph in Baghdad.

The Nasihat

Al-Ghazali’s work titled “at-Tibr al-Masbuk fi Nasihat al-Muluk” or Ingots of Gold for the Advice of Kings. According to Carole Hillenbrand, the Nasihat, or Advice, is part of a larger genre of political writings which dealt with issues of political authority at the time. The Nasihat was addressed to the Seljuq government and its administration. Al-Ghazali dealt with a variety of subjects in the Nasihat such as the qualities required in kings, the character of ministers and deputies, and intelligence.

Al-Ghazali’s Advice to Kings

On good conduct

Al-Ghazali places the burden of establishing the right model of conduct squarely on the shoulders of the king. In other words, management’s example will either create an exceptional organization or a corrupt one. In the Nasihat he tells us, “If a king is upright… his officials will be upright, but if he is dishonest, negligent, and comfort-seeking… officers implementing his policies will soon become slothful and corrupt.”

On accessibility

Al-Ghazali begins this section by citing a saying known to Arabs: Nothing is more damaging… and more prejudicial and sinister for the king than royal inaccessibility and seclusion. In other words, leaders who are not open and accessible to their subjects put a strangle hold on open communication throughout an organization. Whether a company adopts a flat or tiered corporate structure the line of communication to leadership should be known and continually tested to make sure that leadership is engaged with the organization as a whole and that there are no bottlenecks along the line.

In addition to being important for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of an organization a good leader will also realize that it’s important to keep abreast of any information which would affect his/her leadership/management of the company.

On Trustworthiness and self-denial

As a result of corporate scandals at companies such as Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, and others corporate greed, misappropriation of funds, and other such vices have unfortunately become too well known. Executives betrayed the trust of their companies’ employees by enriching themselves and contributing to the downfall of their organizations through bogus accounting and diversion of company funds to their own accounts.

Al-Ghazali relates an account from the life of the Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz. He says that the Caliph sat up one night to study the daily report of the government under a lamp light. At that time one of his household employees entered the room to discuss some domestic issues. Umar ordered,

“Put out the lamp! and then speak for this oil belongs to the public funds and the people’s property ought not to be used except for their business.”

Contrast this with the way executives at companies like Tyco and Adelphia did with their corporate funds and Umar ibn Abdul Aziz’s words speak for themselves.

On appointing deputies

We all know that a good management team is a fundamental element to a businesses success. Good leaders surround themselves with experts and leaders who can be delegated responsibilities and come back with results. Likewise, al-Ghazali wrote of deputies in the context of ministerial posts at the Sultan’s court. He likened the minister of a ruler to the companions of the Prophet (s). To support his case for securing good ministers he wrote that even the Prophet (s) was commanded to consult the learned and wise among his companions.

“And consult them in affairs. Then when you have taken a decision put your trust in God.” (Qur’an 3:159)

Prophets of old even asked God to appoint a deputy for them as in the case of Moses (see Qur’an 20:29-32).

Drawing lessons from the Nasihat

The wisdom shared by Imam al-Ghazali is useful in a variety of leadership and management applications. But when taking lessons from Imam al-Ghazali’s work it’s important to keep in mind that he wrote the Nasihat for the kings and sultans of his day. Many of these rulers were given the Nasihat (sincere advice) because they had or were transgressing the bounds of sound leadership.

Imam al-Ghazali wrote the Nasihat based on the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (s) who taught that “the religion is sincere advice”. So al-Ghazali linked his advice to a duty taught to all Muslims by the Prophet (s) himself.

In addition, the fact that al-Ghazali linked his theories of political leadership to theology should be considered. In other words, good rulership and leadership were sacred duties for al-Ghazali – performing them well brought God’s pleasure while doing otherwise brought His ire.

Extending this into a business paradigm requires managers and business professionals to first hold themselves accountable for their conduct. In fact, managers are to hold themselves accountable to themselves and their teams. Whether it’s how one conducts him/herself, how accessible they are, or how they build their teams.

Imam al-Ghazali’s advice is useful for anyone in a leadership position.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) – Leads a Scientific Renaissance

At a time when intellectually-agile tradition of the Muslim world seems to be forgotten, a pioneering project in a “desert country” is set to revive the past glory of the golden Islamic era. A “country of Bedouins” sometimes accused of breeding fanaticism is doing something fantastic. Welcome to the Saudi Arabia of King Abdullah who is determined to breed future Ibn Sinas and Muhammad al-Khorezmis in order to create innovative ideas in the field of science and technology.

At a time when intellectually-agile tradition of the Muslim world seems to be forgotten, a pioneering project in a “desert country” is set to revive the past glory of the golden Islamic era. A “country of Bedouins” sometimes accused of breeding fanaticism is doing something fantastic. Welcome to the Saudi Arabia of King Abdullah who is determined to breed future Ibn Sinas and Muhammad al-Khorezmis in order to create innovative ideas in the field of science and technology.

The proposed King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a dream of the King Abdullah, custodian of the two holy mosques. The proposed 20 billion Saudi Riyal project site lies in the west coast of Thuwal, 80 kilometers north of Jeddah.

Speaking on the occasion of groundbreaking ceremony held on October 21, King Abdullah said that the university will be a place to share “minds and the ideas of enlightened men and women” without “discrimination”. He harked back to Islam’s first “House of Wisdom” and said that the forum dedicated to science and research will be a ” beacon of knowledge for future generations.”

Saudi Aramco, the state-owned world’s largest oil company, has been commissioned to design and build the university’s campus. The campus is stretched over nearly 9000 acres of coastal land. It is expected to be completed by September 2009.

The KAUST will be a graduate university where learning will be substantiated by the research. Aspirants from across the globe will be selected strictly on the basis of merit. KAUST will have research centers and research institutes. The first-four planned research institute will be:

  1. Resources, Energy and Environment,
  2. Biosciences and Bioengineering,
  3. Materials Science and Engineering,
  4. Applied Mathematics and Computational Science
Cumputer Rendering: View of Engineering & Science Building

Dr. Charles M. Vest, President, National Academy of Engineering and President Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) highlighted the importance of Research University in the 21 st Century in his keynote address.

“Research universities”, he said, “create opportunities for industries, cities, nations, and regions by preparing educated citizens and by direct application of the new knowledge, new understandings, and new technologies that flow from their research and scholarship .”

Dr. Vest spoke at length about the evolution, migration and globalization of research universities. “There are many lessons to be learned from this evolution”, he said. He listed down six important lessons to be learnt from the research university experience of the 20 th Century.

KAUST is based on Dr. Vest’s first lesson: Teaching and research must be intimately intertwined.

“Teaching and research are inseparable”, he said.

“And it is their synergy”, he emphasized “that defines the essence of a research university.”

One of the most important lessons that Dr. Vest offered at the inaugural session of KAUST is that ” fundamental scholarship and research must exist on an equal plane with applied research and innovation.”

Elaborating on this lesson he very subtly hinted at the business community . ” We are very aware that research universities create opportunity for nations and regions through the transfer of technology and innovation to the marketplace.”

He also spoke about relevance of education to entrepreneurship. “Industrially relevant work is increasingly important”, he said, and “an environment that is entrepreneurial also gives relevance to education.”

Dr. Vest also spoke on open environment in a research university where people across the globe study and challenge one’s hypothesis so as to arrive at the results of scientific experiments.

“Science”, he said, “cannot be done in isolation.”

“And, of course, interactions among scholars, scientists, and engineers who have diverse perspectives and varied experiences lead to creativity and innovation.”

His mantra for the success of Research University is this: compete as well as cooperate. “It is a paradox of this age that we all must cooperate as well as compete”, he said.

KAUST has already tied with many internationally renowned institutes like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Indian Institute of Technology, National University of Singapore to name a few.

Dr. Vest cautioned on the two “opposing trends” of today’s age: integration and fragmentation. He said that KAUST is all about integration. “We are linked by the knowledge and understanding developed by many people in many places”, he said.

KAUST has two bodies as of now. First is International Advisory Council (IAC) which meets twice a year to review plans and provide guidance and feedback to Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources of Saudi Arabia and man-in-charge of the KAUST. Second body is Presidential Search Committee (PSC) which is still on a hunt for the right candidate.

Plenty of universities are launched worldwide so why this brouhaha about KAUST?

KAUST reminds us of madrasas of Samarkand , Bukhara and Khiva in Central Asia . They were not merely religious seminaries but also great universities where mathematics, medicine and astronomy and all sciences were taught. Khiva is the birthplace of Muhammad al-Khorezmi, the father of algebra. The algebra has evolved from his technique of solving quadratic equations. Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the West) was among the foremost medical authorities of his time. He studied and taught at the madrasas at Bukhara and Khiva.

KAUST can once again play that historic role in shaping innovative ideas, in sharpening the rough edges of young and restless minds. If KAUST can transform an innovative spark into a full-fledged fire, then that will not be simply the gain of business community but it will be the gain of the community as well.

In the world of pharmaceuticals, the word research is the mother of all inventions. Who knows that a research university like KAUST will produce future scientists for major pharmaceutical players such as Hikma, Cipla, or Hamdard?

If King Abdullah’s dream becomes a reality, we are sure; it will produce a lot of scientific dreamers.

Potential of the Palestinian Private Sector in Crisis

Mr. Sam Bahour and Mr. Bashar Masri are two symbols of the resilience and potential of the Palestinian economy which continues to exist in perpetual crisis.

Bashar Masri runs Massar International – a private sector holding company based in Ramallah, Palestine. It includes an advertising agency, a management consulting and technology services firm, real estate ventures and financial services firms.

Its subsidiary, Sahem Trading & Investments is the largest brokerage house serving the small yet growing Palestinain capital markets and recently introduced the first ever e-trade operation allowing local and international investors to buy and sell Palestinian stocks online.

Meanwhile Massar also has brokerage houses and real estate interests in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Serbia.

Similarly, Sam Bahour is another Palestinian private sector stalwart who first participated in the establishment of the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PalTel), which is today the largest business enterprise in Palestine.  Mr. Bahour, who is also a prolific writer on the Palestinian plight, now runs Ramallah based Applied Information Management which provides Information Technology consulting services in a growing IT services sector.

The fact that such new economy ventures are being managed by people subjected to a crushing occupation of their lands is a tribute to the Palestinians spirit of survival with dignity.

Both Mr. Bahour and Masri are part of the professional, globally experienced Palestinian diaspora, which post the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, moved to Palestine to contribute and build businesses in the hope that the Israeli military occupation will end. They were able to invigorate the Palestinian private sector and leverage the qualified workforce (93% literacy rate) in building and supporting a new Palestinian economy which today includes, a stock market, a banking industry, an ICT industry, an olive oil industry, a furniture industry, and a pharmaceutical industry, among others.

Resilience in adversity

Since the occupation began, the economy of the occupied lands (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem ) have been systematically tied to that of Israel .  In 2003, this wounded economy was sent reeling with  Israel ‘s decision to unilaterally ‘disengage’ with the Palestinians.  Thousands of workers allowed into Israel for work were stopped–causing a sudden spike in unemployment, and the Separation Wall’s cut farmers from their lands causing major strain to the agricultural sector.  Compounding the crisis had been the lack of free movement within the occupied territories and very limited market access.

The list of adversities is endless, but the recent situation in Gaza where Hamas militants have taken over resulting in further Israeli restrictions has deepened the abyss.  It is amidst such continual crisis which Mr. Bahour calls “hyper resilent” that the private sector has been able to keep its head above water, backed by a quality workforce and fundamental market potential.

Many governments and businesses support the Palestinians through massive humanitarian programs.  However, as is true with any economy, the real sustainable engine of development and survival has to be its entrepreneurial private sector.  Especially, given the endurance of this private sector and the market potential even in crisis, the World Bank and many professionals such as Mr. Bahour are asking donors to not only provide near term humanitarian aid but invest in real opportunities that support long-term sustainable development.

Problems choking the private sector

A March 2007 assessment by the World Bank on West Bank and Gaza Investment Climate revealed that shrinking market access and the lack of free movement are the main constraints to growth for Palestinian enterprises.

The report concluded that relative to other countries in the region, the Palestinian investment climate is actually good: petty corruption is low, the bureaucracy is relatively efficient and financial markets are well developed.   Unfortunately, the growing settlements and movement restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities for security reasons overshadow all other elements of the investment climate. The restrictions close off markets, raise transaction costs and prevent producers from guaranteeing delivery dates.

Gisha, an Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, just released shocking data about Gaza ‘s economy, post-Hamas overrun. They state that:  “75% of Gaza ‘s factories have shut down because of the closure of the borders. 85% of Gaza residents are already dependent on food aid and the number is growing. There is a serious shortage of raw materials, including flour and sugar for household and industrial  consumption, and prices of raw materials have risen between 15% and 34%.

In addition, since the Palestinian economy is tied to Israel, it has a higher cost structure than other countries producing labor intensive products. The average wage of a production worker in the West Bank and Gaza  is about twice that of a Jordanian worker and almost three times an Egyptian’s. According to the World Bank report, if the Palestinian private sector is going to grow and provide jobs for the rapidly expanding population, Palestinian entrepreneurs will have to invest and move to high value goods that can compensate for the high costs of production.

The challenge is also exasperated by growing poverty amongst the populace.   Kevin Kennedy, the UN’s Jerusalem-based Humanitarian Coordinator recently said, “Two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are now living in poverty. Growing numbers of people are unable to cover their daily food needs and agencies report that basic services such as health care and education are deteriorating and set to worsen much further.”

There is certainly a steady stream of state donation to counter this.  Mr. Sam Bahour in one of his recent writings pointed out that on average, donors annually injected $650 million into the Palestinian Authority from 2001-2007. This amounts to over $7 billion, more per capita than anyplace in the world except for Israel, which is heavily subsidized by the U.S.

However he laments that of those funds, less than 5% were invested in private sector development.  The result he said is that, “state donor’s role in funding Palestinians’ ‘development’ turned into an international underwriting of the Israeli occupation, reducing, and many times removing, the financial costs of military occupation from Israel. In short, knowingly or not, donor funding had an accomplice-type role in allowing the situation to reach where it is today.”

What’s Needed

Mr. Sam Bahour’s plea is clear — an integral part of every donor intervention should include support to the Palestinian private sector which is the only place where sustainable development can be realized.  “Even with meager donor support, the private sector has proved its stamina and resilience in the face of crisis. Productive economic sectors have been organized, firms are now experts in crisis management, and a greater understanding of the limitations of economic growth while yet under Israeli occupation has been internalized” said Mr. Bahour.

The World Bank report supports Mr. Bahour’s assertion and offers specific recommendations both on political and investment fronts.

Politically it recommends that free movement and access must be re-established, while maintaining Israeli security.   At the same time investments should focus on building enterprise capabilities.  In this unstable situation, Palestinian enterprises are highly risk averse and the level of investment is below what is socially optimal. Palestinian enterprises need support to help lower the cost of developing learning mechanisms and to offset some of the risk of investing in new capabilities.

The report suggests that focusing investments on creating a few world class “made in Palestine ” brands that will offset some of the negative perceptions about the ability of Palestinians to reliably supply goods.  It also suggested a matching grant challenge fund or some other type of program that directly supports individual Palestinian enterprises upgrade their internal capabilities.  Such support however must target specific market failures and should focus on helping find and adopt new technologies and opening new markets.

Investment Opportunities

With a total of approximately 4 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, the potential of investment opportunities to serve even the domestic market is certainly there.

Take the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector which includes processed food, beverages, personal care and household consumables.   According to a 2007 report by an initiative named Intajuna to enhance the local FMCG sector, the estimated market size in the Palestinian territories is $1.7 billion.

What’s to be noted is that 34% of this market is being served by local manufacturers while 50% is served by Israeli products and 16% by other foreign products.  There is certainly an opportunity for the existing competing local Palestinian players to gain a larger market share here.

Intajuna is an initiative to help identify and raise the competitiveness and profile of 10-15 such local company products.  The project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and is being executed by a local consulting firm Solutions for Development Consulting Co.

Similarly, Palestine ‘s pharmaceutical industry is a unique opportunity and a symbol of innovation within its private sector.  According to the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency, the total value of the annual pharmaceutical’s supply is $65 million in the Palestinian territories.  Currently there are six major Palestinian pharmaceutical companies, with revenues of $25 million.  The balance of $40 million in sales is covered by Israeli and Foreign manufacturers.  Even besides the export potential, the local players have an opportunity to expand their domestic market share.

Beyond the above two examples, a quick look at company listings on the Palestinian Stock Exchange also gives a good view of the diversity of the Palestinian corporate sector.  The stock exchange which just completed its tenth year in existence has 35 companies listed with a total market capitalization of $2.1 billion (as of Aug 2007.)   The market has certainly suffered in the last two years but has showcased a steady mix of profitable business enterprises from the services, investment, banking, manufacturing and insurance sector.

To facilitate investments, the Palestinian Authority in 2005 launched a one-stop-shop, The Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency (PIPA),   which simplifies the registration and facilitation of new private sector investment.  Indeed, credible structures now exist to support investments as evidenced by a positive Doing Business Report on the Palestinian territories as well as endorsement by the World Bank of a competitive business process.  A 1998 Investment law even guarantees investors the right to repatriate all financial resources, including capital, profits, dividends, wages and salaries

Foreign Investment

Foreign Investment in the Palestinian economy isn’t completely an unchartered affair and shouldn’t deter first time investors.  In September 2006, Kuwait based Wataniya International won the bid ($356 million worth) to build and operate a second mobile network in Palestine and in December 2006, Wataniya International signed a partnership agreement with the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) to form Wataniya Telecom in Palestine .  Wataniya expects mobile penetration in Palestine is to grow by 70% in the next 10 years and it hopes to be the driver behind that growth.

According to a 2005 FDI report by the Euro-Mediterranean Network of Investment Promotion Agencies (ANIMA) other recent investments have included, Kuwait based Global Investment House’s 5% take over of the Al-Quds Development & Investment Bank.  Similarly, the largest MENA region logistical and overnight delivery services company Aramex bought Al Khazen Distribution in Palestine  in 2005 expanding the number of point-of-sale outlets to 150 compared to the earlier 40.  Also, the emerging global real-estate developoer Emaar Properties has setup Emaar Palestine.

Major infrastructure related investments have also been undertaken.  A $500 million infrastructure investment by  CCC Consolidated Contractors Company ( Saudi Arabia ) aims to rehabilitate and construction strategic Palestinian projects.   It also planned on constructing of a 800 to 1000 MW electric power station at Gaza using natural gas.  The electricity produced would be transported by the Israeli network on the West Bank .  Any eventual surplus would be sold on the Israeli market.

An Export oriented private sector

The Palestinian economy has also strategically been setup as an export oriented industry.  In 2003, the total estimated private sector output from the Palestinian territories was a little over $3 billion (PCBS economic statistics).

Stone/ Marble and Agricultural produce were Palestinian territories largest export categories (see below).  However, a healthy set of value added product categories also exist and are key growth sectors.

According to the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency, Information Technology is the fastest growing sector of the Palestinian economy.   Mr. Sam Bahour’s company, Applied Information Management, is part of this sector which is benefiting from a sophisticated telecom infrastructure, the existence of an educated labor pool and adoption of international quality standards such as CMM and ISO and supportive international trade agreements.

The Palestinian Information Technology Association (PITA) represents 56 companies in this sector and is a good place to start in engaging with qualified vendors.  In addition to serving local market needs, these IT service providers are poised to tap into the regional IT services boom specially using their English/Arabic proficiency as a regional advantage.

Mr. Sam Bahour however provides a sobering reminder of the challenges on the ground saying, “To remotely service clients many traditional services are required, access to enter and exit country to be able to visit clients, removal of Israeli occupation from the provisioning of basic services, like telecom, and a working postal system, among others.  So this sector remains to have more potential than it currently has impact on the ground.”

At the same time, as Mr. Bahour points out, the private sector has also built a unique crisis management capability.  “The ability for private sector firms to remain operational after so many decades of strife, and in specific the last 7 years of Israeli battering of our economy, is proof that our private sector is hyper resilient and this characteristic is one that can be utilized across the globe, especially in troubled areas.”

For those interested in engaging with Palestinian companies but didn’t know where to start, can either contact industry specific trade associations or utilize the services of the Palestine Trade   Center (PalTrade) which serves as a one-stop-shop for all trade related needs.  Its recently released Export Directory is also a great resource to identify vendor and partners from the Palestinian territories.

Foundation of future state

With all the promising private sector signs, the harsh reality is that the much of the Palestinian population is living in poverty and under a crushing occupation.  Short of a political solution, the responsibility of the global community, especially in the Muslim world, is to go beyond humanitarian aid and support the resilience of the Private sector to survive and build sustainable development.

Mr. Sam Bahour makes a pointed remark that, “The donor community has a historic responsibility to Palestinians, especially after so many years of observing the Israeli occupation from afar and a decade of footing the bill as Israeli actions continue unabated. The challenge to donors today is to convert assistance to the Palestinians to sustainable assistance, equal in priority to relief and humanitarian assistance, but sustainable in a way that creates an enabling environment allowing the private sector to assume its natural role of becoming the foundation of a future state.”

Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince (Book Review)

Any time one reads something on Saudi Arabia there is looming curiousity about the life and person of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, the world’s fifth-richest man. There are few individuals as unique, enigmatic, and colorful as this member of the Saudi Royal Family. His life is a revealing portrait of a unique person whose presence and impact on the global economy is unmatched.

Like investment guru Warren Buffett, Alwaleed has became hugely successful through a number of strategic high-profile investments. He makes his international investments through Kingdom Holding Company and Time magazine has nicknamed him the Arabian Warren Buffett.

In a fascinating and characteristically insightful biography, international journalist and broadcaster Riz Khan, formerly of CNN, offers a revealing insider’s view of this business genius who is estimated to be worth approximately $24 billion. He based his writing on in-depth interviews with the Prince’s family, entourage, and closest business associates which includes top names such as Sandy Weill, Rupert Murdoch, and Jimmy Carter.

The book deals with Alwaleed’s family history, the origins of his powerful drive to succeed, his phenomenal achievements in rescuing beleaguered companies, his investments in top brands, his unique approach to investing and some of his most lucrative strategies.

From Humble Beginnings

Alwaleed began his business career in 1979 after graduating from Menlo College in California. Funded by a $30,000 loan from his father and a $300,000 mortgage on his house, he initially brokered deals with foreign firms wishing to do business in Saudi Arabia. This was followed by land deals in the 1980s along with major investments in the Saudi banking industry. After these initial successes, there was no looking back for this Saudi prince who has carved out a deep niche as an entrepreneur and international investor.

Alwaleed is the largest single foreign investor in the U.S. economy, with interests in almost everything that touches the American lifestyle. This billionaire prince’s story unfolds in gripping detail, with a relatively modest bank loan to build an empire that embraces some of the world’s best-known brands from Citigroup and Disney to Apple Computers and the Four Seasons Hotels.

Alwaleed’s activities as an investor came to prominence when he bought a substantial tranche of shares in Citicorp in the 1990s when that firm was in difficulties. His holdings in Citigroup now comprise half of his wealth worth approximately US $ 10 billion.

He also currently holds a 17% stake in Euro Disney SCA, the organization which manages and maintains the Disneyland Resort Paris in Marne-la-Vallee, France. He has also made large investments in AOL, Apple Inc, Worldcom, Motorola, News Corporation Ltd and other technology and media companies.

His real estate holdings have included large stakes in the Four Seasons hotel chain and the Plaza Hotel in New York. He has also made investments in London’s Savoy Hotel and Monaco’s Monte Carlo Grand Hotel. Alwaleed purchased the Savoy Hotel in London for an estimated GBP £250 million in which he owns an estimated 16% stake. His company, Kingdom Holdings acquired Toronto, Canada-based Fairmont Hotels for an estimated US $3.9 billion in partnership with the U.S. real estate firm Colony Capital.

Charitable contributions

Prince Alwaleed is heavily involved in charitable activities across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and is estimated to donate more than $100 million annually to charity.

In America his charity includes a donation of $ 10 million to New York City towards relief efforts after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Alwaleed also donated $500,000 to the George Herbert Walker Bush Scholarship Fund in 2002. In December 2005, he donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to finance new initiatives aimed at enhancing the study of Islam in the Western academy and to foster understanding between Muslims and Christians. The Weill Medical College of Cornell University also received a donation $10 million in 2006 to establish the Institute for Computational Biomedicine in his name. Finally, Alwaleed donated $1.48 million to the Islamic Society of North America in 2007.

In France his charity includes a donation of $20 million to the Louvre Museum, the largest gift ever to the world’s largest museum.

Alwaleed donated $8.3 million in the form of goods and cash to support relief and reconstruction efforts in wake of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. He also gave $2 million dollars for the development of the remote regions of Pakistan that include Kahuta, Jhelum valley, and the mountainside region of the Swat River valley.

Alwaleed financed the building of the headquarters of the Fondation Pour l’Enfance, an organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Malian and African children in Mali.

A balanced identity

The billionaire prince has a colorful life style true to his name and status. He owns a Boeing 747 jet that is converted for his private use. He has also ordered the world’s largest passenger aircraft Airbus A380, for private use. The aircraft will be delivered to him in 2010. He owns the yacht Kingdom 5KR, which was seen in James Bond movie Never say Never Again.

The jet set billionaire’s life on one hand revolves around the world of Wall Street, with limousines and designer labels and on the other he has a close and emotional relationship with the desert and its people. His identity sits on the fence separating the Arab world on one side, with tents, camels, and rifle-toting Bedouins and neon lights and the skyscrapers of the West.

Alwaleed is a 21st century ambassador acting as a bridge to connect the Middle East and the West. He has taken a notable pro-American stance and has been diligently working to erase the enemy image of the Arab in America. He has done so by financing a $10 million American studies program at the American University in Cairo. Similarly, his deep involvement in America, where he spends consider time, is to build the image of Arabs, particularly Saudis as friends of America and not their enemy.

The 53 year old Prince is married to Princess Ameera. He had been divorced three times and has two children – Prince Khaled and Princess Reem – from his first wife, his cousin Princess Dalal.

Alwaleed, despite being the nephew of King Abdullah,has stayed outside of the core of political power in Saudi Arabia. He is known for his liberal views and is vocal about women’s rights. He has hired the first female airline pilot in Saudi Arabia, to be part of his staff.

The book – Alwaleed the billionaire Prince – is a scintillating account that successfully reveals a portrait of a remarkable individual whose presence in the global economy is unmatched. Riz Khan has done a commendable job in bringing out the details how this extraordinarily hardworking character has achieved this iconic status.

Brilliantly written, racy in style, the book quotes Alwaleed saying; ‘I see myself as a businessman who is a member of the Saudi royal family. God has blessed me with great wealth, but this comes with obligations. Those who build bridges must be capable of seeing the big picture.’ This is the sum and substance of this fascinating book.