Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Review:Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince

Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince
Book Review
Author: Riz Khan; Published by: William Morrow, 432 pages
By Syed Ali Mujtaba
Apr 8, 2008

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.


Friday, April 11, 2008

‘Tare Zamen Pe’- There are Stars on Earth

‘Tare Zamen Pe’- There are Stars on Earth

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Hindi movie ‘Tare Zamen Pe’ starring Amir Khan dealing with the subject of a talented young child who is unable to cope up with the studies due to some curable disorder must have moved many hearts. At least I can say with certainty that I was inspired by this movie and felt helping one such talented star on earth who can achieve greater heights, provided she get right attention at the right point of time.

Her name is Rosy a.k.a Ms Roquia Khatoon, age 12, class 9 c student of Qasmi High School, Gaya, Bihar. She twinkles in a crammed room with eight members of her family at a building called Mini Market at Bazaza road Gaya, where her father works as a watchman.

An exceptionally talented girl, Rosy has learnt some basics of computer just by watching and observing the people using it. Her friendship with the computers began at 9 and now at the tender age of 12, she is self employed, making enough money to buy toys and ice creams for herself. She has a E mail – and a mobile phone – 0091- 9304638569.

Born to uneducated family, where basic facilities of reading and writing are not available, it’s a remarkable achievement by Rosy to acquire some basic skills of computers.

I was curious about computers as I use to see many people sitting in front of it in the Internet shop in the building of the Mini Market. So I once stepped inside the shops to observe what’s going on there. I saw rich children of my age playing games and enjoying it. I observe them and within few minutes borrowed money from father to play the games. That’s how my friendship with began with the computers. That was in 2003, I was 9 then, the first game I played was ‘Prince,’ Rosy recalled.

The internet shop I was visiting had a printing press attached to it and did lot of desk top publishing work on the computers there. I observed people typing in English and Hindi and so started pressing the alphabets to learn the typing skills. First it was English typing and then learnt Hindi typing pressing the English alphabets on the key board. I also learnt to make a file and save it in a folder. Then I went on to learn the page-maker and tired my hands designing logos, visiting cards, marriage cards, birthday cards, pamphlets posters, resumes and book cover, she said.

The shopkeeper saw me practicing and recognized my talent and started giving me work but no money. I realized the air-conditioned shop was a good place to spend time and so after coming back from school. Since I lived in the same building, I use to sit in the shop till it downed the shutters at night.

I also learnt making horoscopes using the internet. This work was in great demand especially during marriage season when people came for matching the horoscopes of the bride and the groom. I also started to working on excel and prepared accounts and balance of the shopkeepers of the Mini Market.

My work was appreciated and people started knowing me by name. They came looking for me in the shop, and gave their work. The shopkeeper was kind enough to give me some money, but I think he made more then what he gave for the work I did.

Then something bad happened. One day I found that the shop was closed forever. I don’t know what the reasons were for it. I felt shattered since I liked this shop very much and enjoyed staying there. But since many people knew me, they came coming there looking for me. So I asked my brothers to get me a computer on rent and install it on our tiny room. I resumed the activity from my place. In one year’s time, I became proud owner of a computer.

Talking about computer education in school, Rosy said her school has only two computers and that was meant for only high school students. Since I am still in 9th class, I don’t have access to the computer at school, she said.

However, my school principal is aware of my part time activity and in 2006 he had given me a project to design the students’ identity card. There were numerous designs that came for approval before the selection committee but among them mine was considered to be the best by the school authorities. The principal facilitated me for this at a school function and I was called on stage and was given a memento, Rosy said.

Talking about her studies she said, she likes science, particularly physics and mathematics. She is getting 80 per cent marks in science, 92 per cent in general knowledge. I am weak in English and would like to have tuition in that subject, Rosy said.

Talking about her dreams, she said, she wants to learn every thing about computers I want to take this as my major subject, once I am in the 11th standard. I don’t know how far I can go, she said with a twinkle of despondency that was reflected in eyes.

Well, kids like Rosy are cases of exceptionally talented twinkling stars on this earth that require proper guidance and attention. I am sure there may be some philanthropists and charity minded people who can adopt Rosy and help achieve her dreams. Any one interested in doing so can directly contact her at E mail – or mobile phone – 0091- 9304638569.

This write-up is a promise by a journalist to a star on earth to do his best to help her achieve her dreams. Needless to say the inspiration to do so came after seeing the movie “Tare Zamen Pe.”

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He hails from Bihar and ca be contacted at

Sunday, April 6, 2008

India-Burma relations gaining momentum of its own

India-Burma relations gaining momentum of its own

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Indo- Burma relationship is acquiring a positive momentum of its own despite western rights groups' criticism of Myanmar's handling of pro-democracy demonstrations some six months back. India had rolled out red-carpet for Burmese military junta’s top leadership who were on a five day visit to India that began from April 4, 2008.

The Burmese delegation was led by the second most senior military leader and Burmese army’s chief, General Maung Aye. His entourage included the junta’s number five General, Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo.

General Maung Aye is reputed to be anti-Chinese and has wanted to be the architect of stronger military and economic ties with India, ever since New Delhi set up its “Look East” foreign policy in the early 1990s in order to have close linkages with the Southeast Asian nations.

General Maung Aye held a series of meetings with the Indian leadership and held talks with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee followed by a call on President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He held extensive discussions with his counterpart, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, followed by a ceremony to sign agreements.

“Several agreements were signed in the presence of the Honorable Vice President Hamid Ansari and H.E. Vice Sen-Gen Maung Aye, including the agreement and two protocols of the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The statement by the Indian foreign ministry also said that Maung Aye had talked with Vice President Ansari over the forthcoming referendum in May and general elections in 2010 as part of the Burmese junta’s “political reform” and “national reconciliation” process.

The current situation in Burma came up for discussion in all meetings with Indian leaders and General Maung Aye briefed on recent initiatives of the military regime, including its decision to hold a referendum on the new draft constitution in May and general elections in 2010.

According to a statement of the external affairs ministry, Indian Prime Minister did note the 'positive steps' of the Burmese government but also 'underlined the need for Myanmar to expedite the process and make it broad-based to include all sections of society, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the various ethnic groups in Myanmar'.

Besides political issues, matters of trade also came for discussion and the two sides discussed ways to increase connectivity and opening more border points between them. Both agreed to open more border points in India's northeastern states connecting Burma to increase bilateral trade. They talked about intensifying cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector. India showed its commitment to support Burma’s IT and telecommunication sectors.

Both sides also discussed cooperation in security matters on the India-Burma border, particularly with regard to the northeast insurgent groups sheltering in Burma. India sought Burmese cooperation in controlling the insurgent groups which often slip across the border to set up camps when pursued by Indian police. The Burmese side assured New Delhi that it will take care of India’s sensibilities and do its best to rein the insurgent groups on its soil.

An agreement and two protocols on the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport project, which will allow sea access to the northeastern states, were signed. The Kaladan project includes upgrading the Sittwe port and Kaladan waterway and construction of a road from Setpyitpyin (Kaletwa) to the India-Myanmar border at a cost of Rs.5.3 billion.

The project is expected to be completed by 2011-12 would connect Kolkatta port with the Sittwe Port in Burma, a distance of 539 km. From Sittwe Port to Kaletwa in Burma, the transportation will be done by waterway along the river Kaladan, a distance of 225km. The Kaladan river is navigable from its confluence point with the Bay of Bengal near Sittwe up to Kaletwa. Beyond this the river is not navigable. From Kaletwa to India-Burma border transportation will be by road border another 62 km by road. This would provide access to Mizoram and to other north-eastern States, as well as an outlet to the sea bypassing Bangladesh.

Ahead of the signing of the Multi Modal Transit Transport project Indian Government had cleared a whopping Rs 535.91-crore as ‘Aid to Myanmar’ funds.

India and Burma also signed double taxation treaty that aimed checking tax evasion, and boosting trade and investments between the two neighboring countries. The Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement will cover taxes on individual income, company profits, dividends, interest and capital gains.

Hosting a banquet in the honor of the visiting Burmese General, India Vice President Hamid Ansari termed Burma as a natural bridge between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The Indian vice president confirmed India’s support for the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, and conveyed that India did not believe that sanctions were helpful and could prove to be counterproductive. He urged the leaders of the Burmese junta to expedite political reforms and make these more broad-based to include imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi..

However, the Burmese military junta, Maung Aye visit was marred by demonstration in New Delhi organized by Burmese, Indian and Tibetan activists against the Indian government’s policy on Burma. More than 1,000 people, including 200 Burmese activists, gathered in the demonstration quite far from the place where the state guests were staying.

Apart from New Delhi, Maung Aye visited Bangalore to see India’s progress in space programme and even evinced interest in satellite for Burmese usage. He also had good tour of economic, scientific, historical and places of religious interest in India. Amidst tight security he traveled to Boddhagaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

India's intensification of ties with Burma has been partly a result of the military junta coying up to China, which had rung alarm bells in New Delhi. However, following Burmese junta's brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, India had put on hold the sale and transfer of all arms to the Burmese government.

The momentary pause that withheld Indo-Burmese relations seems to be over and the recent thaw tends to suggests that a new momentum is gaining ground in Indo-Burmese relationship.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at