Not all rich people are alike when it comes to telling the world exactly how much they are worth. Some spin off their holdings and conduct business under different names in order to avoid getting on the Forbes rich list; some are indifferent to the notoriety; and some, like Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, are obsessed with being ranked as high up as possible, even if it means gaming the system. "That list is how he wants the world to judge his success or his stature," one of the prince's former lieutenants tells Forbes' writer Kerry Dolan, who helped assemble this year's compilation of billionaires. In other words, he cheats. The prince estimates his net worth to be more than $20 billion. The magazine puts it at around half that amount. The prince is fuming:
Of the 1,426 billionaires on our list, not one-not even the vainglorious Donald Trump-goes to greater measure to try to affect his or her ranking. In 2006 when FORBES estimated that the prince was actually worth $7 billion less than he said he was, he called me at home the day after the list was released, sounding nearly in tears. "What do you want?" he pleaded, offering up his private banker in Switzerland. "Tell me what you need." Several years ago he had Kingdom Holding's chief financial officer fly from Riyadh to New York a few weeks before the list came out to ensure that FORBES used his stated numbers. The CFO and a companion said they were not to leave the editor's office until that commitment was secured. (After a granular discussion the editor convinced them to leave with a promise to review everything.)
The dispute centers on the wildly erratic stock performance of the prince's publicly traded company, Kingdom Holding. Seems that shares of Kingdom Holding take off right about the time that Forbes is preparing its list. And the prince just seems to have a big stake in his company. Last year Kingdom Holding's net income grew by 10.5 percent, while its stock skyrocketed 136 percent.
In the ten weeks before Forbes locked down its 2011 list, Kingdom Holding shares rose 31% while the Saudi index was up 3% and the S&P 500 was up 9% over that same period. (Prince Alwaleed finished at No. 26 in the world that year, with an estimated net worth of $19.6 billion.) It happened yet again in 2012, when Kingdom shares climbed 56% while the Saudi market was up just 11%, and the S&P 500 was up 9%. (This time Alwaleed was No. 29, with an $18 billion valuation, after FORBES discounted his claims on many of his non-Kingdom Holding assets.) During this time period several former executives close to Alwaleed began telling Forbes a consistent story: The prince was using his public vehicle to inflate his net worth. Their accounts were based on closely watching the stock, versus direct evidence. But one executive said he could not figure out any other explanation for why the shares went up dramatically at the same time the key asset, the large Citi stake, tanked.