’Saudi Inc’ charts King­dom’s progress from Bat­tle of Riyadh to Aramco float

Arab News - - FRONT PAGE -

What started out as a doc­toral the­sis turned into a 10-year project for aca­demic turned au­thor Ellen Wald.

Philadel­phia-born Wald, whose book “Saudi, Inc.,” has just been pub­lished amid much ex­pec­ta­tion, said she had been in­ter­ested in the Mid­dle East ever since she could re­mem­ber. “I’ve al­ways felt drawn to the desert. I just found it all so fas­ci­nat­ing.”

A doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion entitled “The United States, Great Bri­tain and the Mid­dle East­ern Oil In­dus­try” in­volved ex­ten­sive re­search in Amer­ica, in the UK and in the re­gion. It also gave her an op­por­tu­nity to get close to some of the peo­ple ac­tu­ally in­volved in the for­ma­tive years of the Saudi en­ergy in­dus­try, some of whom were still alive and happy to share their rec­ol­lec­tions.

“I found an in­cred­i­ble amount of source ma­te­rial in the US on the early days of the Saudi oil in­dus­try.”

The doc­toral the­sis even­tu­ally ex­panded into “Saudi, Inc.,” a fas­ci­nat­ing blend of busi­ness, his­tory and pol­i­tics, of­ten told through the per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions of in­di­vid­u­als di­rectly in­volved in the events that made Saudi Aramco what it is to­day — the big­gest oil com­pany in the world, and one of the most ef­fi­cient.

The book opens with King Ab­du­laziz Al-Saud, the fa­ther of the King­dom, pre­par­ing for the as­sault on Riyadh in 1902 that was to lead even­tu­ally to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Saudi state.

Af­ter cap­tur­ing the city’s main fort, “he watched the sun set over the vast desert be­fore him and looked to­ward Makkah, many miles to the west, and many vic­to­ries away,” Wald wrote.

We meet Sheikh Ab­dul­lah Su­laiman, who rose from the poverty of the Nejd hin­ter­land to be­come min­is­ter of fi­nance to the new king, who had an ac­count­ing sys­tem that only he could un­der­stand and who stored the en­tire ex­che­quer of the King­dom in gold, cash and gems in chests at his fam­ily home

The book is pub­lished just as Saudi Ara­bia is go­ing through the big­gest changes since the dis­cov­ery of oil, with the Vi­sion 2030 strat­egy un­der Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man and the forth­com­ing ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing (IPO) of Aramco.

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