The Prince Waleed Years
Second only to Graham's influence, this book is the result of working for the world's first private global investor
I began writing this book in 2009 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It had been almost ten years since I had left New York City financial services to work for Prince Waleed internationally. It was a fairly radical move at the time. Few people left New York to go off to the emerging markets back then, let alone to the Middle East, let alone to Saudi Arabia. But Waleed was the world's fourth-wealthiest person (Time magazine had nicknamed him the "Arabian Warren Buffett") and arguably one of the few master investors. Having met him on a consulting engagement, I had been struck by what I called the "Waleed mystery": How had a pure investor with only two or three staff members built $30,000 into a $22 billion fortune? Furthermore, how did he walk so effortlessly between developed and developing markets when so many others struggled? He could buy Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. on Monday, hotels in Africa on Tuesday, and banks in China on Wednesday. So I took a chance and became one of his few staffers. In the first year of the first global century, I had joined the world's first global investor.
Of all the major investors (George Soros, Buffett, and so on), Waleed is unique in that he is the only one to have come from a developing economy. He made his first fortune in the Middle East, yet he also became the largest foreign investor in the U.S., the largest shareholder of the world's largest bank (Citigroup, 2007), and the world's second-largest media owner, after Rupert Murdoch. Even Warren Buffett has wryly called himself the "Waleed of America." He is the only master investor who has been equally successful in developing and developed environments.
His Western investments are fairly well known: 5% of Citi, more than 200 hotels (Movenpick, Fairmont, The Plaza, George V, the Savoy, the Four Seasons hotels), EuroDisney, Canary Wharf, News Corp., Saks Fifth Avenue, TimeWarner, Apple, eBay, priceline.com, and many others. Less-well-known investments include Bank of China, a Manhattan-sized real estate development (27 square miles of land), a private Airbus 380, multiple Africa projects and private equity funds, a one-mile-high skyscraper, hospitals, insurance companies, schools, petrochemical facilities, banks, architecture firms, market research companies, and many others. His deal history is an interesting combination of public stocks and private investments in both developed and developing economies.
Sitting at my desk in Riyadh in 2009 and thinking about this book, I began rereading Graham's Security Analysis and Mohamed El-Erian's When Markets Collide. And I began asking many of the questions posed at the start of this chapter. What would Graham have thought of the colliding world El-Erian so accurately described? Why didn't Graham's methodology work very well in other economic systems? And why is it that so many Western-based investors seem to be sitting on the global sidelines while investors like Waleed are making money hand over foot? In my experience, I have found that Graham's concepts are the theoretical anchor for global investing but Waleed's deal history is the Rosetta Stone.
I concluded I had gotten unbelievably, and unintentionally, lucky. I had somehow become part of the first generation of investors trained on a global playing field. Not only did I have a front-row seat at a singular time of global transformation, but I had also ended up in the inner circle of likely the most successful global investor thus far. Now, almost ten years later, I was in a position of being equally comfortable buying hospitals in India, buying stocks in Chicago, and building mortgage companies in Africa.
I think my entire generation has gotten lucky. We are the first wave of investors to see the entire world as our opportunity—being equally excited and comfortable in Shanghai, New York, Dubai, and Mumbai. It is a thrilling time if you are ambitious. And, like many value-focused people, I have a fascination (compulsion?) with understanding things as they are. And now there is much more of the world to learn about. Beijing banks. India–U.S. cross-border mergers and acquisitions (M&A). African natural resources. It's all fascinating—and profitable.
I am ridiculously optimistic about the new century and its opportunities. Absent some sort of new animal analogy, I could not be more bullish (a bull elephant?). For the intellectually curious, it is fascinating. And for the ambitious, money can be made almost everywhere. The first global century is as you would expect any grand new frontier to be—thrilling and chaotic, daunting and confusing, energizing and fascinating.