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Diriyah’s CEO: the American at the heart of Saudi’s transformation

Jerry Inzerillo Supplied
Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority

There has never been a better time for US companies to invest in Saudi Arabia, according to the American businessman in charge of one of the kingdom’s biggest giga-projects.

As group CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), Jerry Inzerillo has been at the helm of shaping the $50.6 billion transformation of the 14km2 district of Riyadh into Saudi Arabia’s foremost historical, cultural and lifestyle destination since 2018.

It’s a key part of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 and the responsibility is not lost on him.

“As an American, I was humbled to have been asked to lead the Diriyah giga-project – a cornerstone project of the kingdom’s opening-up to the world and a celebration of the very roots of Saudi culture and heritage,” he told AGBI.

“I am excited by the prospect of using Diriyah’s unique position to build cultural relations with other countries, including the United States.

“Cultural relations build trust, understanding and mutually beneficial relationships between different countries by engaging people through the most attractive cultural assets of each country, whether in the arts, heritage, sports, cuisine or education.

“It is my responsibility to show the real Saudi Arabia to the world.

“There are two big things that have stood out to me from my time here: the kindness of the Saudi people, and the fierce passion they have for their culture.

“I am yet to meet a group of people more welcoming than the Saudis.

“They’re renowned for their hospitality. For someone who started their career as a bus boy, this is something I truly appreciate about Saudi Arabia’s incredible culture.

“I love the opportunities that tourism and hospitality are creating for young Saudis, and I love the energy, talent and enthusiasm that those young people are bringing to the industry.”

According to Inzerillo US investors have already become partners in Saudi Arabia’s transformation, putting in over $20 billion and creating around 70,000 jobs.

“And, frankly, there has never been a better time to invest here,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia has launched its own National Investment Strategy (NIS) to unleash the kingdom’s potential as part of Vision 2030 which will enhance the economy’s openness and competitiveness.

“The strategy will accelerate the pace of change already seen across the kingdom’s business sector.”

Inzerillo arrived in Saudi Arabia four years ago after being appointed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to be the first CEO of the newly created DGDA.

He was the president and CEO of IMG Artists from 2012 to 2014 and before that he was president of Kerzner Entertainment Group, overseeing the launch of the iconic Atlantis in Dubai.

Inzerillo also served as COO of Sun City, the South African resort, and enjoyed a close personal friendship with Nelson Mandela. In 1994, he coordinated major portions of Mandela’s presidential inauguration.

Ahead of Joe Biden’s visit to the kingdom he has strong views on US-Saudi trade relations.

“As a G20 member Saudi Arabia places the highest importance on its responsibility towards maintaining international peace and stability,” Inzerillo said.

“In 2020 we were ready to host world leaders at Diriyah for the G20 summit, so I think this shows how critical these international connections are to the kingdom as it transforms and takes its place on the world stage.

“The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States is, and I think will continue to be, a significant one.

“The high volume of projects taking place in the kingdom right now and over the coming years, including through giga-projects like Diriyah, present exciting potential opportunities for trade relationships.”

Global partnerships

At Diriyah, Inzerillo said relationships with top international brands are being forged, including a number that hail from the US.

“To date, our US-based partners include hospitality brands Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton and we’re very excited to welcome them to our world-class portfolio,” he said.

“At Mattal Al Bujairi, we’ve partnered with US food and beverage names Nobu, Sarabeth and Michelin-starred Maestro – it’s the first time that this Beverly Hills steakhouse favourite will have opened a restaurant outside the US and I, for one, can’t wait.

“Other potential partnerships are also on the table with more opportunities to come. It’s great to see these amazing US brands coming into the kingdom.”

He also urges other US-based senior executives to experience what Saudi Arabia has to offer.

“As group CEO of one of the largest projects going on in the world right now, in the heart of a kingdom that is going through one of the most rapid and transformational changes in history, this is the most exciting and challenging experiences of my long career.

“I couldn’t recommend it highly enough for those seeking this kind of an opportunity.

“Taking on the honour of group CEO at DGDA is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play an integral role in realising the potential of the special city of Diriyah, the unique kingdom of Saudi Arabia and making it an unrivalled destination to neighbouring countries. 

“When you start exploring the rich heritage and culture of undiscovered regions, you realise that the kingdom is truly one of the world’s last frontiers to be explored and we, at DGDA, are making it happen with our long-term plans for continual tourism upon completion.”

He added: “I go back to the US from time to time, I’m still American and I have family, friends and places that I am always happy to see.

“I grew up in hospitality culture, the US is very good at it, and I do think about that a lot.

“As the kingdom and its people embark on a period of unprecedented transformation, I recognised how I could harness my hospitality experience to shepherd Saudi Arabia and Diriyah towards its rightful place as an iconic tourism destination.”

The Diriyah project's scope has expanded from its inception, adding a further $30 billion to the originally estimated $20 billion cost
The Diriyah project’s scope has expanded from its inception, adding a further $30 billion to the originally estimated $20 billion cost

Diriyah at a glance

Diriyah is located within Riyadh province, 15 minutes north-west of Riyadh’s city centre. It is recognised as a symbolic centre of inspiration for the generations of leaders that have led the kingdom since the foundation of the first Saudi Arabian state in 1727.

Under Inzerillo’s leadership, the mixed-use traditional urban community will be created in an authentic Najdi architectural style, typical of Saudi villages of centuries past. 

Sitting at the cultural heart of Diriyah lies the historic city of At-Turaif, recognised as one of the world’s foremost mud-brick cities. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

On completion it will be home to a population of 100,000 residents, workers, students and visitors and will feature an array of cultural, entertainment, retail, hospitality, educational, office and residential areas, including 38 hotels, a diverse collection of museums, a retail heart and over 100 places to dine. 

The existing Bujairi Terrace will soon be home to Riyadh’s new premium dining hub with views of At-Turaif, while Wadi Hanifah will provide recreational spaces and boutique hospitality venues.