With a hall full of executives and heads of states from the Middle East and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia kicked off the second chapter of its Future Investment Initiative yesterday with 25 preliminary agreements for deals worth $50 billion (Dh183.7bn).
There was no dearth of representation from regional or international companies, private equity houses, energy and renewable firms, hospitality majors and tech gurus with novel ideas to build and run the cities of the future.
Of course, the ministerial corps and Saudi conglomerates, be it Aramco, the world's biggest oil producing company, Sabic, the biggest petrochemicals producer in the Middle East or the mining giant Ma'aden, were all participating. They came together under the flag of the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, to promote the vision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who made an appearance towards the end of the day.
Unlike last year, when he presented his grand vision of economic overhaul, he did not address the gathering yesterday.
His message, however, reverberated from the podium all day long.
"The kingdom is going through a transformation of unprecedented proportions and the transformation journey will not stop," Khalid Al Falih, Saudi Energy Minister, told delegates at the opening of the three-day conference in Riyadh.
“Those partners who are here today to continue the journey with us are certainly going to look back at how the kingdom is committed to its partners that stayed the course.”
Billionaire businesswoman Lubna Olayan, who is the chief executive of Olayan Financing, opened the plenary session on sovereign wealth funds on a sombre note. She said this month’s death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey that sparked an international outcry was a terrible act “alien to our culture and our DNA”, and with the support of the government and the leadership of the kingdom, the truth will emerge.
Mr Al Falih later alluded to the incident saying Saudi Arabia was going through a "crisis of sorts" because of the death of the veteran journalist and nobody in the country can justify or explain it.
Despite some executives and partnering entities withdrawing from this year’s event over the incident, the conference has attracted prominent global executives.
Although chief executives of some of the global banks have not participated in this year’s event, attendance by their regional and mid-level executives was a clear message that the international financial institutions want to retain their business relationship with the kingdom, which is heralding the biggest economic and social change in the Arab world.
Local representatives of the international lenders such as JP Morgan were in attendance and so were executives from HSBC, Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered.
The Financial Times and Bloomberg, both of which withdrew from the event as media partners, had their representatives on the ground covering the event.
Among the more prominent attendees were executives from Citigroup, Raytheon, Mubadala Investment Company, Investcorp, McKinsey & Co, Roland Berger, Oliver Wyman, and Total. The state-owned Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has close investment ties with the kingdom in energy and other sectors, also attended the event along with a delegation of businessmen.
Yasir Al Rumayyan, a former Saudi Fransi Capital chief executive and the managing director of PIF, announced plans to spin FII off into more than an annual conference, becoming a foundation with its own board, an office and its own agenda.
The first FII was a big success for Saudi Arabia but the second chapter, he said, will lay the foundations for the next century.