Bill Gates the hotelier?

Bill Gates teams with Saudi Arabian prince in a bid for the Four Seasons Hotels group

On the surface it may seem like a case of very strange bedfellows. But when Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and the world's richest man, today teamed up with Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, the world's eight richest person, to launch a US$3.7 billion bid for the Four Seasons Hotels group, it's not as odd a pairing as many might think.

The two have collaborated on a number of humanitarian projects in Saudi Arabia not to mention the Prince has worked with Gates to offshore some of the software giant's operations to his country and the two share a love for cars -- as both have made it into Forbes Top 10 list of autos owned by billionaires.

Alweed has even been to Gate's home in Bellevue, Wash. Even that's not odd as Chinese President Hu Jintao kicked off his trip to the United States earlier this year with a visit to Microsoft's campus in Washington, and dinner at Gate's home.

But Gates and Alwaweed also have a history with this hotel chain: the two have held an almost 30 percent stake in the Four Seasons operations for a number of years. So it may come as no surprise to hear that the two are offering US$82 per share for the hotel chain which has some 70 hotels and more than 340,000 employees in 31 countries.

Some Wall Street analysts think the deal may have to be sweetened to something along the lines of US$86 per share but that depends on the stock price -- which has gone up almost 30 percent since the deal was rumored.

Published reports add that Gates has been actively investing through his private investment firm, Cascade recently. On Nov. 3, the energy company PNM Resources said it had an agreement with Cascade for a 50 percent ownership interest in a new unregulated energy company, temporarily named EnergyCo. In light of the fact that Gates will be reducing his role at Microsoft, experts say Gates his broadening his horizons and investing in a variety of outside businesses.

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Michael Cooney

Network World
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