Saudi Arabia gathers billionaires for 'Davos on Miami Beach'

It is the most powerful gathering of the global elite you have never heard of: a 36-hour confab in Miami for billionaires, CEOs and celebrities with a stated agenda of “catalyzing positive impact” that has become the single most important event for tapping into Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth.

The Future Investment Initiative conference (FII) is an attempt by the oil-rich kingdom to gain respectability and compete with the World Economic Forum in Davos in setting the global agenda. The Miami event is a spin-off of Saudi Arabia’s annual conference in October, dubbed Davos in the desert.

This week The Post watched as Wall Street titans who control an estimated $10 trillion of assets — almost double what the federal government spends in a year — mixed with the kingdom’s business elite, and celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow and Rob Lowe.

The guest list included Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, which manages $880 billion, private equity behemoth Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein, and bosses from Goldman Sachs, HSBC, State Street and Franklin Templeton.

It was held at The Faena, an upscale South Beach hotel where rooms average $1,000 per night.

Mingling over tea, coffee and water — the FII respects the Muslim country’s ban on alcohol — were Jared Kushner, former President Trump’s son-in-law whose $2 billion investment fund is almost entirely Saudi Arabian cash, and Trump’s former treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who has also raised money in the region.

In total, The Post calculated, the ten wealthiest speakers at the two-day event boasted a personal net worth of $300 billion.

The conference itself is a display of Saudi Arabia’s growing confidence as an international power broker under de factor ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was not present for the event.

Gwyneth Paltrow is now a venture capitalist after turning her Hollywood career first into the Goop brand, and now into investing through Kinship Ventures. Last year she raised $75 million for the fund and appears to be looking for new cash. @FII Institute/X
Yasir al-Rumayyan, pictured with event emcee Eithne Treanor, is head of both the Saudi’s oil company Aramco and the sovereign wealth fund. YEN HERNANDEZ

It was the second time it was held in the US, and unlike last year where tickets were free, attendees this week paid up to $15,000 to be there.

While the event has yet to attract the kind of media attention given to Davos and other stops on the global elite’s annual itinerary — such as the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado in June or the Allen & Company retreat for media powerbrokers in Sun Valley, Idaho — it is another play for prestige by the Saudis.

In return for turning up, there is the potential to tap into the geyser of cash the country’s sovereign investment fund, The Public Investment Fund or PIF, has at its disposal.

From left: Yasir al-Rumayyan, head of Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of investment giant Blackstone, Mike Pompeo, ex-Secretary of State and Jared Kushner, former President Trump’s son-in-law and ex-aide. RODRIGO VARELA

As if anyone needed a reminder about the sheer magnitude of money involved, in the first few minutes of the event, Yasir al-Rumayyan, the chair of the Kingdom’s publicly traded oil company Aramco, announced plans to spend an additional $70 billion in the US beginning in 2025 on top of investing an estimated $100 billion since 2017.

“The data and numbers the Aramco chair dropped were mind-blowing,” one attendee said of Saudi’s plans for investment.

“The conversation wasn’t about showcasing Saudis for investors it was more ‘agenda-setting,’” another source said of the event.

Rob Lowe, the actor and Atkins pitchman, was on stage with Todd Boehly, the billionaire investor who co-owns the Los Angeles Dodgers and owns English soccer team Chelsea. FII Institute
Dina Powell, global head of sovereign business at BDT & MSD Partners, and another former Trump White House aide spoke with Michael Dell, CEO of computer maker Dell. RODRIGO VARELA

Other attendees included Dell Computers founder Michael Dell, real estate billionaire Stephen Ross, whose Related Companies built New York’s Hudson Yards development, hotel billionaire Barry Sternlicht and sports investment CEO Gerry Cardinale, whose Redbird Capital Partners is part owner of the Boston Red Sox.

Paltrow has launched a venture fund after more than a decade at lifestyle brand Goop and will likely be looking for capital for another fund soon.

Rob Lowe, the “West Wing” actor and Atkins pitchman, was another Hollywood name wooed by the Saudi wealth.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son in law and former White House aide has raised nearly $2 billion in the Middle East after his father-in-law lost the 2020 election. FII Institute

What was not on the agenda was Israel’s war in Gaza and escalating tensions in the Gulf due to Houthi attacks on shipping off Yemen. There was also no mention of Saudi’s human rights record. 

In 2017, weeks after the first FII was held at a hotel in Riyadh, the country’s capital, bin Salman used the same venue to imprison hundreds of rival members of the royal family and some of the country’s wealthiest men, consolidating his grip on power.

One source described it as if the conference had been “frozen in time” and “removed from the outside world.” 

It also ignored the plight of investment banker Michael Klein, who worked with the kingdom on its attempt to merge the PGA golf tour with its rival LIV event series.

He has been subpoenaed by Congress as it investigates the deal — but told that if he complies he could face criminal charges in Saudi, which operates under sharia law.

Saudi’s de factor ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has used the FII event in Riyadh to project himself on the world stage but was not at hte Miami spin-off. His human rights record was not mentioned at the event. POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi has turned to Richard Attias, who co-founded the Clinton Global Initiative with Bill and Hillary Clinton, to run the FII events and fill it with the right people.

“What I’ve seen the past five years in terms of transformation is so massive that anything is possible,” Attias told The Post.

“Nothing will stop Americans from working with Saudis,” he added.

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