- 28 Apr 2010 at 1:15 PM
According to the cover story of Bloomberg Markets Magazine’s Junes issue, entitled “Buffett and the Prince,” yes. Before we get into all that, however, just take a moment to appreciate the setting in which this interview took place:
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal sits under an almost full moon near a campfire at his rustic retreat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He’s surrounded by a zoo with zebras and giraffes, an artificial lake and a lodge that has an indoor pool, saunas and steam rooms. Three hooded falcons are perched on stands in front of him. Five young women, dressed in black miniskirts and jackets and orange knee-high boots that match their nail polish, serve clove-and-cardamom tea to Alwaleed and his entourage.
Now, the Prince and his infatuation. Is it so much an obsession with the Oracle of O as it is one with simply being as rich as him? Obviously that’s part of it, though with a net worth of $16.6 billion, his highness has a bit of catching up to do to Buffett’s $48.7 billion (a disparity Big Al is not sweating. “When he was my age, he was not as big as me,” Alwaleed says. “I still have 20 years.”) And former aides say “being the best, being the wealthiest is what motivates [the Prince], whose preoccupation with his status and wealth is on display at Kingdom Holding’s headquarters, where bookshelves display reprints of magazine articles about his ranking on billionaire lists. After rankings are published, he sometimes issues a press release touting his position.” But there’s more than just a “I would like to have a few more billions in my name” thing going on than a serious “I want to be Warren Buffett, I want to posses Warren Buffett, if I can’t have Warren Buffett no one can” vibe emanating from Alwaleed. First off, he refers to himself as “the Buffett of Arabia.” And he takes pains to prove to reporters that he and Buffs are basically two bodies, one soul, as indicated by similarities such as the fact that they both use filing cabinets and they both wear pants (sometimes).
As the prince rides in his GMC truck around the site of his Kingdom City residential development, he once again draws comparisons between himself and Buffett: The prince says they both buy undervalued assets. The offices of Kingdom Holdings and Berkshire Hathaway have roughly the same square footage, and both companies have small staffs at their headquarters. “I drink Pepsi; he drinks Coke,” Alwaleed says, with a laugh [as if to imply, this is the literally the only thing preventing the two of us from being twins].
Most significantly, Alwaleed “has hired a mostly female staff at his office, creating workplaces rarely seen in Saudi Arabia, where women must wear neck-to-toe robes to mask their figures in public. The women Alwaleed empoys derss in Western clothing and hold jobs managing his construction projects, piloting his jets and directing catering at his palace.” This is of course admirable, but given the Buffett obsession, seems more like an attempt to follow in the master’s footsteps, by (very slowly) turning his office into a Russ Meyers set, as is the practice at Berkshire HQ.
To Alwaleed’s credit, this is all not entirely without encouragement from WB. The two have have been trading letters (by mail and fax, natch) on and off for about nine years, and the pen pal thing was initiated by Buffett, who sent the Prince a note in May 1999 after staying at the Plaza (at the time 42% owned by PA), telling him how great the service was. “You have restored the Plaza to its former luster– indeed your managers have enabled it to surpass its previous heights– and I congratulate you,” Buffett wrote, forcing one to only assume that the nightly turndowns included HJ’s.
The prince responded a month later, saying he was elated to have an individual of such discriminating tastes attest to the Plaza’s high standards. Alwaleed then got down to business. “Needless to say, I should be pleased to consider participating in any of your future investments that you may deem pertinent,” the prince wrote. Buffett, who grew rich by investing in consumer brands such as American Express Co. and Coca-Cola Co., wrote back three days later. He said he would be delighted to team up with the prince. He also piled on the praise. “In Omaha, I’m known as the ‘Alwaleed of America’—which is quite a compliment,” Buffett wrote. In December 1999, Alwaleed told Buffett in a letter that he found news coverage of a slump in Berkshire’s stock “highly objectionable” and had written to editors to defend him.
Which, whoa there Single White Female! When the two finally met face to face, at Microsoft’s CEO summit in 2008, “a beaming Alwaleed posed with Buffett for a photo taken by the prince’s personal photographer. Buffett hammed it up for the camera, handing his black wallet to the prince as the flash went off.”
Now– and I say this not to be cruel but merely to give the prince all the necessary information he needs to make an informed decision that maybe the intense feelings he has for WB aren’t as mutual as he thinks, and that perhaps the Oracle is just being nice– BUFFETT DOES THIS WITH EVERYONE, GIRL! Literally, it is his go-to move. Here are just a couple examples:
He does it with complete strangers he’s met only 5 minutes prior. There’s more evidence available, but I think the point is made. WB probably thinks you’re great, P, but you may not be special to him in the way you think you are. Now that you have this info, please, don’t do anything crazy. Keying his car will only feel good in the moment. Don’t be the psycho-bitch. You’re better than that. Console yourself with a harem of girls in orange boots. Or call Vikram, he’ll get you through this.
- Executive Editor
- Bess Levin
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