Saudi Oil Billions Lure Neumann, Klein, Novogratz to Miami Beach

It takes a lot to bring private equity billionaires, crypto titans, some of the most important people from the Trump administration and a fallen tech founder into one room.

(Bloomberg) — It takes a lot to bring private equity billionaires, crypto titans, some of the most important people from the Trump administration and a fallen tech founder into one room.

But that’s the power and reach of Yasir Al-Rumayyan, gatekeeper to about $650 billion of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign money. 

The governor of the Public Investment Fund spoke for just 10 minutes to more than 400 attendees in Miami Beach on Thursday, kicking off a two-day conference that serves to attract money to the kingdom as well those seeking to tap into its wealth.

Minutes before he started, Adam Neumann walked in the room in his usual white T-shirt and blazer. Michael Klein, dealmaker for the Saudis and other world leaders, SPAC maestro and ultimately one of the biggest losers of the Credit Suisse Group AG debacle, sat in the first row, quickly exiting as soon as Al-Rumayyan wrapped his talk. 

Read more: Michael Klein Loses the Deal of His Life in CS First Boston

Just as the event was winding down on Thursday, news broke that Donald Trump was indicted in New York. Earlier, the former president’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, had exchanged pleasantries with Steve Wynn, who was part of Trump’s 2016 inaugural committee, and Nelson Peltz, a Trump donor who apologized for voting for him the day after the Capitol insurrection.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, spoke Friday on bringing peace to the Middle East. Wealth funds in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have invested with his private equity firm Affinity Partners, the New York Times reported Thursday. That’s on top of a $2 billion commitment from a Saudi sovereign fund.

He also first addressed his father-in-law’s predicament. 

The indictment “shows obviously the fear that the Democrats have of Trump and the political strength that he has,” Kushner said. 

Read more: Kushner Says Trump Indictment Shows ‘Fear’ From Democrats

Organized by the Future Investment Initiative, the two-day Miami event is a smaller version of one held in Riyadh, sometimes dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert.’ 

While that one pulls together corporate and world leaders, this one leaned more into private equity and venture capital.

Crypto evangelist Michael Novogratz showed up in a red shirt emblazoned with a jaguar. Josh Harris made an appearance. On Friday, Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz are expected as speakers (Neumann is moderating).

Deepening ties with Saudi Arabia has been a high priority for investors for years — aside from a brief period in 2018 following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi — but with Middle Eastern investors flush with cash and the US reeling from a tech bust and banking crisis, the appeal has grown stronger. 

“These events are all about PIF money,” said Alice Globus, chief financial officer for Nanotronics, an artificial intelligence company. “They’re putting a lot of money into companies and taking more risks than funds in the US or in Europe. Everyone’s jockeying for it.”

“People here tend to either be looking for money or they already have money and are looking for a way to spend it,” said David Chaudron, managing partner at Organized Change, a management consultancy.

The conference featured talks on Saudi Arabia’s booming economy, the banking crisis and golf. As the news of Trump’s indictment made the rounds, some attendees hurried off to dinners at Carbone or Casa Tua for al fresco dining.

Richard Attias, chief executive of the FII Institute, downplayed the Saudi connection and said attendees “came here really because it was a good time to meet and to gather.” 

The event is returning to Miami in 2024 and Attias says FII will probably open an office in the city.

There were some who weren’t there for the Saudis. 

Christian Nana, a MassMutual financial adviser based in Palm Beach, stood out in a sea of dark suits in a Masters polo and iconic green zip-up. He was drawn to the event to network with people, one in particular: panelist Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed breakaway league. 

“I had a chat with Greg,” beamed Nana, adding that his son is an aspiring golfer. “He does a lot of good things for junior golf.”

(Updates with Jared Kushner comments in eighth paragraph.)

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