One-third of the 500 billionaires on the recently relaunched Bloomberg Billionaires Index — including the top three — hail from the US. The 18 richest — culled from the global top 30 — are worth an astounding $793 billion — more than the annual GDP of the Netherlands, Turkey, or Switzerland. The two richest people in America are no surprise: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett maintain their lead at the top despite being the two most generous people on earth. But US tech moguls continue to creep toward the very top. Heavyweights like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook add billions to their net worths each year as their powerful companies continue to grow in value and influence.
Phil KnightAfter a stint in the US Army, and with a Stanford MBA under his belt, Phil Knight convinced Tiger-brand shoemaker Onitsuka in the early 1960s to allow him to distribute Tiger shoes under the name Blue Ribbon Sports — the name Knight picked that predated his swoosh-logo-clad company Nike. Knight worked full-time as an accountant as he launched his new brand, and by 1968 he had built up enough of a rapport with customers that he was able to leave the CPA life behind. Knight now serves as chairman emeritus of Nike.
George SorosBorn in Budapest, George Soros lived through the Nazi occupation of Hungary during WWII before fleeing to the UK and later settling in the US. Touted as “the man who broke the bank of England,” he’s best known for the Quantum Fund, a hedge fund he launched in 1973 under his Soros Fund Management company. In 1992 he shorted the British pound, a risky move that ended up earning the fund $1 billion in a single day and solidifying Soros’ place in the finance world. Quantum Fund also generated annual returns over 30% under Soros’ leadership, making it one of the most successful hedge funds of all time.
Steve BallmerSteve Ballmer dropped out of business school at Stanford in 1980 to join Harvard friend Bill Gates at Microsoft as the company’s first business manager, earning a $50,000 salary and a stake in the company. During his tenure, Ballmer held positions as vice president of marketing, vice president of systems software, and executive vice president of sales and support, and was often referred to as “the numbers guy.”
Sheldon AdelsonThe “King of Las Vegas” first hit the jackpot in 1995 when he was 61 and running Computer Dealers’ Exhibition (COMDEX), one of the largest trade shows in Las Vegas. That year, Adelson sold the company to Japan’s Softbank for $860 million and used the cash to finance his purchase of the Sands Casino. He quickly demolished it and in its place built the Venetian Casino Resort and the Sands Expo Convention Center. After further expansion, he took his gambling conglomerate, Las Vegas Sands, public in 2004.
John and Jacqueline MarsSiblings Jacqueline and John Mars inherited a stake in the iconic candymaker Mars Inc. when their father, Forrest Sr., died in 1999. The notoriously private trio co-own but don’t actively manage the maker of M&M’s and Milky Way bars, which their grandfather started in 1931 as a confectionary business in his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington.
Alice WaltonThe daughter of late Walmart founder Sam Walton, Alice Walton holds a major piece of the company fortune, making her the richest woman on earth. Though she never took an active role in running the superstore like her brothers, she’s become the target of pushback from minimum-wage Walmart employees who view her highfalutin lifestyle as insensitive and ignorant to the plights of many workers.
Jim WaltonJames “Jim” Walton’s parents, Helen and Sam Walton, purchased a controlling stake in Arkansas’ Bank of Bentonville the year before opening the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962 — when Jim was just 14. Within five years, the family owned 24 of the retail stores and in 1972 listed Walmart on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1975, after working in Walmart’s real-estate department for a few years, Jim joined his parents’ bank, later renamed Arvest Bank Group. He’s now chairman and CEO of the regional community bank, which has $15 billion in assets. Over the last year, Walton’s has increased by $2.7 billion.
Rob WaltonSamuel Robson “Rob” Walton is the oldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton. He started working at the iconic retail behemoth in 1969, holding positions from senior vice president to general counsel to chairman, a role he stepped down from in June 2015 after 23 years on the job. His son-in-law was named as his successor.
Sergey BrinAlong with cofounder Larry Page, Sergey Brin helped facilitate Google’s massive restructuring, which the company announced in 2015. The move put Google under the auspices of a holding company called Alphabet, run by Brin as president and Page as CEO. Google’s other ventures, such as Nest and Google X, are separate companies also under the Alphabet umbrella.
Larry PageAs a Stanford PhD student in 1998, Larry Page teamed up with classmate Sergey Brin to create BackRub, an early search engine. The project eventually morphed into Google — now called Alphabet — one of the largest and farthest-reaching companies in the world, worth more than $581 billion. Over the past year, Page’s personal net worth has increased by $4.3 billion.
Larry EllisonIn 1977, Larry Ellison teamed up with two colleagues from an electronics company to start their own programming firm, which landed a contract not long after to build a relational database-management system for the CIA under the project code Oracle. The project grew into what is known today as Oracle Corp., which produced $37 billion in revenue last year. In 2010, Ellison reduced his annual salary from $1 million to $1, but he still takes in more than $60 million in total compensation thanks to generous stock awards. Ellison stepped down as CEO in 2014 after 38 years on the job and took on the role of chief technology officer.
TIE: David KochAlong with his brother Charles, David Koch runs Koch Industries as executive vice president. The second-largest private company, $100 billion (in sales) Koch Industries manufactures everything from fertilizer and Dixie Cups to asphalt and biodiesel. David’s personal wealth has decreased by $1.2 billion billion in the past year.
TIE: Charles KochCharles Koch is chairman and CEO of multifaceted conglomerate Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in America. His younger brother David is the executive vice president. The company employs 120,000 people and generates an estimated $100 billion in annual revenue from its diverse holdings, which make everything from petrochemicals and Dixie Cups to raw clothing materials.
Mark ZuckerbergIn 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, then a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard, launched TheFacebook.com, a rudimentary version of the now ubiquitous social network known as Facebook. Zuckerberg dropped out of college to work full-time as Facebook’s CEO, and the site quickly exploded in popularity. Today, it attracts more than a billion users daily and is worth nearly $400 billion. At 32, Zuckerberg is by far the youngest of the 50 richest people in the world. His wealth has increased by $11.1 billion in the past year.
Jeff BezosJeff Bezos earned his massive fortune by introducing e-commerce to the world. After spending time in finance on Wall Street, Bezos founded Amazon.com in the garage of his Seattle home in 1994 and operated it exclusively as an online book retailer. The company went public three years later and has since grown to include everything from furniture to food to Amazon’s own consumer-electronics products, generating $136 billion in revenue in 2016.
Warren BuffettBerkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett started his prodigious investing career at a young age. As a child he delivered newspapers on his bike, and by 11 the precocious Nebraska native had purchased his first shares in the stock market — Cities Service Preferred at $38 apiece — and sold them for a $5 profit. He was rejected from Harvard Business School, so Buffett went to Columbia Business School instead and learned under iconic value investor Benjamin Graham, who would become a mentor to the budding financier.