- The Al Nahyan family owns Manchester City Football Club, a dozen or so palaces and invested big in SpaceX.
- In a region where opulence is on full display, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan keeps a low profile.
- He’s effectively in charge of large swathes of a family fortune that’s bigger than any other in the world.
With the UAE home to about 6% of the world’s proven oil reserves and known for the concentration of money within royal families, it’s no secret that the Al Nahyans are rich. But investments in everything from Rihanna’s lingerie line and big data to fast food and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Their net worth now amounts to at least $300 billion. That’s more than the $225 billion attributed to the Waltons, who have long been recognized as the world’s richest family thanks to Walmart Inc.’s retail dominance. Pinning down the precise magnitude of royal wealth is difficult because lines separating family and state are often blurred. In the case of the Al Nahyans — who have ruled the UAE since independence half a century ago — some assets are distinctly private, while others are intertwined with the government. Those clearly personal holdings mean their discernible wealth exceeds other Gulf clans, including the Saudi royal family.
Sheikh Tahnoon — a black belt in jiu-jitsu — operates on both public and private sides. He’s head of the Abu Dhabi wealth fund ADQ as well as the country’s top lender First Abu Dhabi Bank. Among the family’s personal holdings is an investment firm which has seen its value surge almost 28,000% over the past five years. The Al Nahyans’ holdings include trophy assets like Manchester City Football Club, a dozen or so palaces including Chateau de Baillon north of Paris, and most of London’s exclusive Berkeley Square. But the crux of the family’s ascent lies with Royal Group, a sprawling web of companies that employs more than 27,000 people in fields from finance to robotics.
As the Al Nahyans’ wealth grows, so does their influence in the region and around the world. Sheikh Tahnoon is recognized as a key mastermind of their growing business empire as well as an important political emissary.
Royal Group acts as a command center for Sheikh Tahnoon, said the people. In addition to investing in an array of companies, it flies in world-class chefs to cook for the family and hires their personal bodyguards. The company is “the most risk tolerant” of the major investment vehicles in Abu Dhabi, said Richard Clarke, a former White House official and longtime adviser to MBZ.
Sheikh Tahnoon’s superyacht — the family owns at least three, including the world’s largest — is a key point of call for people seeking to do business with the close-knit and elusive family, according to people familiar with the operations. “Why was I excited to see Sheikh Tahnoon?” Tom Barrack, a private equity billionaire close to former US President Donald Trump, said during court testimony. “He’s one of the biggest businessmen in the world.”
While Sheikh Tahnoon conducts shuttle diplomacy throughout the Middle East, he’s delegated important responsibilities within his business empire to several trusted advisers. One of the key players is Sofia Abdellatif Lasky, a Moroccan-born financier who’s worked with Sheikh Tahnoon for two decades.
In the process, IHC — majority owned by Royal Group — has catapulted from a little-known investor focused on fish farming to become the UAE’s most-valuable listed company. It’s worth more than blue chips such as McDonald’s Corp., Nike Inc. and Blackstone Inc. But that size hasn’t enticed international investors, some of whom privately expressed concerns about a lack of transparency.
Like other companies listed on Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, IHC’s interim financial statements receive a review that’s substantially less in scope” than audits conducted under international standards, Ernst & Young reaffirmed in its latest report on the company’s accounts. The family’s overlapping interests — including controlling brokers that dominate trading in Abu Dhabi and ADQ’s ownership of the emirate’s exchange — help ensure support for IHC.
The investment firm’s meteoric rise is emblematic of the growing might of the Al Nahyans and Abu Dhabi. While Dubai long grabbed international attention, the oil-rich emirate cemented its status as the UAE’s dominant player when it bailed out its flashy neighbor for $20 billion in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
After Sheikh Tahnoon met Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year, IHC bought a 50% stake in a Turkish renewable-energy firm. It also invested almost $2 billion in three companies owned by Indian billionaire Adani after the countries signed a trade deal.
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