By a Staff Writer
Published — Tuesday 23 July 2002
Last Update 23 July 2002 3:00 am
RIYADH, 23 July — Prince Ahmad ibn Salman ibn Abdul Aziz, son of Riyadh Governor, chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) and owner of the recent Kentucky Derby winner "War Emblem," died yesterday in Riyadh after a two-month illness. He was 44.
Prince Salman returned to Riyadh from abroad last night soon after hearing the shocking news. The governor was received on arrival by Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, and a large number of princes and senior officials.
The funeral prayers for Prince Ahmad will be held at Imam Turki ibn Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh after Asr prayers today, the Royal Court said.
Business colleagues and friends around the world mourned his loss as a popular figure who had no pretensions. "On a personal level, he was the kindest person I have ever seen — he was a prince without the airs," said Khaled Al-Maeena, Editor in Chief of Arab News, one of nearly twenty publications owned by SRMG.
Hassan ibn Abdul Rahman Othman, chairman of the Sharaka Development Company and longtime friend and colleague, remembered Prince Salman as "very much a real person as well as a businessman."
Striking among many fine qualities was that "he held strong opinions, but valued and respected others for theirs. Most admirably, if he erred like any other human, he was quick to correct his mistakes when they were brought to his attention."
"We are deeply shocked and confused" by the prince’s death, said Mohammed Al-Awwam, deputy editor of the prestigious London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, also owned by Prince Ahmad. "This is a big loss and we will miss our company’s most popular figure."
Prince Ahmad was widely traveled and received his education in the United States and Saudi Arabia. He studied at the Colorado School of Mines and then graduated from Wentworth Military Academy, when he joined the Saudi Air Force.
After returning to the United States, he took a baccalaureate in Comparative Culture and, in 1985 he formed ASAS, a company which specialized in maintenance and contracting. In 1989, he became the chairman of the SRMG.
It was here that he built a lasting testament to his energy, personal and business skills. During his tenure, he took the group’s capital from just SR22 million to over SR600 million and built the assets up to in excess of SR2 billion, making it the largest media group in the Arab world. The group also became a joint stock company in July 2000 in preparation for public share issue, a first for an Arab media company.
His charitable works were of particular importance to him. While he was chairman of the Prince Fahd Charitable Association for Kidney Patients, he initiated a campaign with Al-Eqtisadiah to collect funds for the charity, aligning it with the efforts of SRMG’s efforts to extend moral and financial support to the society.
As well as this commitment, he found time to act as honorary president of the Saudi Society for Clinical Medicine and as a member of the General Assembly of the Disabled Children’s Association.
The Director of Public Relations, Saleh Al-Yusef, at another of the prince’s charities, the Charity Society for Orphans in Riyadh said that the society was indebted to Prince Ahmad since its inception.
Through the free publicity generated by SRMG publications, the resources of the society had grown enormously including more than 3,000 sponsors.
In the world at large, Prince Ahmad will be remembered as the prince with a passion for horses. He recently spent $900,000 to buy "War Emblem" just three weeks before the Kentucky Derby, after the horse won the Illinois Derby.
Prince Ahmad also hired trainer Bob Baffert, who won three Kentucky Derbys, four Preakness Stakes and one Belmont in the last six years. Recognition of his stature in the equestrian world came when he was elected honorary president of the New York State Equestrian Club and named top breeder and owner.
The titles carried a special significance in the light of the events of Sept. 11. The first Arab ever to win the Kentucky, and in a spontaneous gesture of infectious enthusiasm typical of the man, he held the winners cup aloft and said, "I present this victory to Saudi Arabia and its people."
The governor of Kentucky, who presented the cup, described the prince, as "a man of equestrianism of high class and every US state is proud of your participation in their races. This victory will strengthen the relationship between out two countries."
A hands-on decision-maker in business, major force and figure in the equestrian world and well-loved in both Saudi Arabia and the United States, he will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife and five children, the youngest of whom is one-year-old.
Last year, his elder brother, Prince Fahd ibn Salman, the eldest son of Prince Salman, died of a heart attack at the age of 46.