Klaus Kleinfeld, reacts during a session on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia Names Mega City's CEO as Adviser to Crown Prince

(Bloomberg) -- Klaus Kleinfeld, who ran Siemens AG and Arconic Inc., will take a new role advising Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince on his reform plans, leaving his current position as chief executive officer of the kingdom’s Neom mega-project.

Kleinfeld will “take over wider responsibilities to enhance the economic, technological and financial development” of the kingdom as an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a statement to Bloomberg News. The change is effective Aug. 1 and Kleinfeld will retain a role as a board member at Neom, a city being built on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast.

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, who led the development of Neom Bay, the project’s initial stage, will take over from Kleinfeld, according to the statement.

Diplomatic Spat

The appointment comes at a low point in the relationship between Kleinfeld’s home country and Saudi Arabia. In November, Germany’s then-foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel suggested the kingdom had orchestrated the surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as part of its ongoing conflict with Iran. Hariri later suspended his decision to quit.

Saudi Arabia responded to Gabriel’s comments by instructing government agencies not to renew some non-essential contracts with German firms, people familiar with the matter said in March. The kingdom also summoned its German ambassador home for consultation.

Kleinfeld was named CEO in October when the project was announced with much fanfare in Riyadh. The appointment marked a dramatic return after he was ousted as the head of New York-based Arconic for sending a letter to activist investor Elliott Management Corp. during a proxy fight. In 2007, he resigned as CEO of Siemens in the wake of a bribery probe into the company’s business.

Prince Mohammed unveiled Neom last year, promising a lifestyle not available in today’s Saudi Arabia, as he seeks to make the kingdom less oil-dependent. Mega-projects like Neom -- a city that officials claim will have more robots than humans -- figure prominently in his economic and social transformation plan, dubbed Vision 2030.

Kleinfeld’s Role

Kleinfeld will “contribute in various functions” to this plan, according to the statement. The government says the Neom project will be backed by more than $500 billion from its sovereign wealth fund, as well as from local and international investors.

The Public Investment Fund, as the sovereign fund is known, is behind several large real estate developments in Saudi Arabia, including an entertainment city on the edge of Riyadh and another tourism project on the Red Sea.

Some of these projects have struggled to take off, including King Abdullah Economic City north of Jeddah and King Abdullah Financial District, a $10 billion community in Riyadh that remains largely empty.

In the statement, Neom said that Al-Nasr, the new CEO, has worked on the strategy and development of Neom Bay as a member of the founding board and is also interim president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. A former manager at Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Aramco, he will be responsible for “developing the business plans for the core economic sectors” of the new city, according to the statement.

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