NEW YORK — Riz Khan estimated he has interviewed about 10,000 people in his journalism career at the BBC and CNN — and that billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud is the most fascinating of them all.
Khan was so intrigued by the royal, whose $24 billion fortune qualifies him as the fifth richest man in the world, that he wrote a book about his life, "Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince" (William Morrow).
Khan broached the idea of doing a documentary on Alwaleed after meeting him at a conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, several years ago. But Alwaleed didn't think celluloid could do his life justice. "‘My life is very multifaceted,''' Khan recalls the prince saying. "‘How do you expect to know my whole life? You have to travel with me. Why don't you write a book about me?'"
The journalist took the bait. While his book shows that Alwaleed has an eye for a bargain — especially when it comes to picking up distressed companies — he clearly prefers to surround himself with luxury, be it a brand or a Boeing 767. The prince is the single biggest foreign investor in the U.S. economy.
Alwaleed gets fashion guidance from his daughter, a recent graduate of the University of New Haven in Connecticut. At her urging, he bought shares of Donna Karan International several years ago, but sold his investment when Karan was acquired by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton because the company's wines and spirits division is in conflict with his religious beliefs.
Through a $100 million investment, Alwaleed in 1993 bought about 10 percent of Saks Fifth Avenue. The retailer was subsequently purchased by Birmingham, Ala.-based Profitt's and renamed Saks Inc.
"He's very proud of Saks Fifth Avenue," Khan said. "He brought it to Riyadh [to the Kingdom Center] and wants to open a store in Jeddah. He may expand it further in the Middle East."
Khan, who will host an interview program on the new Al Jazeera International network launching next year, is clearly sympathetic toward his subject, whom he sees as a businessman first and foremost.
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