Executive exodus: Jamie Dimon and other top CEOs quit Saudi conference
A growing number of top business leaders are pulling out of a high-profile Saudi investment conference following the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A JPMorgan Chase (JPM) spokesperson said late Sunday that the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, won’t attend the conference later this month as previously planned. The spokesperson declined to comment further.
Ford (F) Executive Chairman Bill Ford is no longer attending because of “scheduling,” the company said, declining to provide further details about the change of plans. A spokeperson for MasterCard confirmed that CEO Ajay Banga had also dropped out. It was not immediately clear if the company had canceled its partnership with the event.
Blackrock (BLK) CEO Larry Fink and Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of investment firm Blackstone, have also withdrawn, sources familiar with the situation said Monday.
Saudi Arabia invested $20 billion last year in a new Blackstone fund aimed at helping improve America’s crumbling infrastructure.
The Saudi conference, dubbed “Davos in the desert,” has become a focal point for the outcry over the unexplained disappearance of Khashoggi, a former Saudi government adviser turned critic. International executives and media sponsors, including CNN, have withdrawn from the event as concerns have mounted about Khashoggi’s fate.
Turkey claims to have evidence that Khashoggi, a US resident and columnist for the Washington Post, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month — an accusation the Saudi government strenuously denies.
The Saudi business conference, officially titled the Future Investment Initiative, is part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to modernize the country’s economy and wean it off its dependence on oil.
“Whilst it is disappointing that some speakers and partners have pulled out, we are looking forward to welcoming thousands of speakers, moderators and guests from all over the world to Riyadh from October 23 to 25,” a spokesperson for the Future Investment Initiative said.
Speakers and sponsors have been abandoning the event in growing numbers since last week.
Kai-Fu Lee, a former Google (GOOGL) executive who was on the list of speakers, will no longer participate, a spokesperson for his investment fund, Sinovation Ventures, told CNN on Monday.
Other top business leaders who have pulled out of the Saudi event in the past week include Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi. Saudi Arabia has invested billions in Uber.
Some speakers are sticking with the conference for the time being, while other companies — including Japanese tech giant SoftBank (SFTBF) — are refusing to discuss their executives’ plans.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has used Saudi Arabia’s oil riches to help him become one of the most powerful tech investors in the world. The kingdom provided nearly half the money for SoftBank’s $93 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, which has made big investments in startups such as WeWork and Slack.
SoftBank has also committed to help the Saudi crown prince in his efforts to shift the country’s oil-dependent economy into areas such as technology and renewable energy.
It’s involved in Saudi projects to build a new mega city and the world’s largest solar farm.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin still plans to attend the conference. A US Treasury spokesperson said Sunday that officials “will be evaluating the information that comes out this week” about Khashoggi’s fate.
These are the high-profile participants who have pulled out of the Saudi conference:
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman
Blackrock CEO Larry Fink
MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga
Viacom CEO Bob Bakish
Thrive CEO Ariana Huffington
Sinovation Ventures CEO Kai-Fu Lee
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong
Economist Editor-in-Chief Zanny Minton Beddoes
New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin
These public figures are still planning to participate:
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser
Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde
EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy
These executives have not yet commented on whether they still plan to attend:
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son
HSBC CEO John Flint
Glencore Chairman Tony Hayward
London Stock Exchange CEO David Schwimmer
Societe Generale CEO Frédéric Oudéa
BNP Paribas Chairman Jean Lemierre
Standard Chartered CEO William Winters
Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin