From 1984 until 1995, one of the best ways to see how extremely wealthy people lived was by watching the television show, Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous. Each week, a different person of wealth would invite the cameras into their home (or homes), and give them a guided tour, pointing out the countless rooms, private yacht moored in the private harbor out the back, swimming pools, tennis courts, landscaped gardens and all the other things that us mere mortals couldn’t afford.
Will Smith Quote
The show basically gave its subjects the chance to show off, although society’s increasing obsession with celebrity and the rise of the Internet probably killed the popularity of the show. We no longer need the rich and famous to show us their lives on their terms, not now that everyone has a camera phone with the ability to upload anything to the Internet they might see a celebrity doing within a matter of seconds. Rich and famous don’t necessarily go together, and the truly wealthy citizens of the world aren’t actually so well known, and can wander the streets without the annoyance of strangers snapping photos of them with their iPhone. So who are these kings and queens of wealth and how did they get to where they are? It’s time to meet the top 10 wealthiest people in the world…
Carlos Slim (Mexico, $73 billion)
Carlos Slim and Bill Gates will often switch places as the wealthiest person in the world, depending on the stock market performance of their respective companies, and when figures for 2014 are released, it’s expected that Gates will reclaim the top spot. Slim has built an empire that is largely limited to Mexico, and bought his first shares when he was only 12 years old. He formed an investment company shortly after finishing college and was already worth $40 million at the age of 26. He made a number of savvy, varied investments over the years and acquired other companies that dealt in tobacco, chocolate, banking and telecommunications, with the recession proof profits from his tobacco holdings propping up his other companies during times of economic trouble. A common trait of the top 10 wealthiest people in the world is their charitable giving, and Slim is no exception, having donated over $4 billion to date.
“The biggest things in life are not material.” – Carlos Slim
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Bill Gates (USA, $67 billion)
Gates’ name is synonymous with Microsoft, and while he retired from his work in the company in 2008, he still reaps the benefits, since he was one of the groups’ founders. Microsoft has perhaps floundered when it comes to hardware, and seems to be forever nipping at Apple’s heels in the Smartphone arena, and yet they’re still the Goliath of software. After his acquisition of extreme wealth, Gates seems to want to give something back now that he’s no longer a part of Microsoft, and funds numerous charitable programs through a foundation he runs with his wife, Melinda- most notably global health and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“If you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.” – Bill Gates
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Amancio Ortega (Spain, $57 billion)
There are roughly 196 countries in the world. We say “roughly” because that number goes up slightly when you factor in countries whose status of independent sovereignty is unresolved. Of those 196 countries, you’ll find Zara stores in 88 of them, offering chic clothing at fairly reasonable prices, all of which has made Amancio Ortega one of the top 10 wealthiest people in the world. He founded Inditex, which subsequently opened Zara as their retail arm. He’s notoriously private, and it wasn’t until 1999 that he was successfully photographed by the media. Now in his late 70’s, he’s scaling back his work with Inditex with a view to retirement, although it’s not as though he’ll worry about money.
Warren Buffett (USA, $53.5 billion)
Buffett is perhaps the lowest profile billionaire in the world, and despite his immense wealth, lives a relatively modest life, only allowing himself a $100,000 annual salary in his capacity of CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment holdings company he took control of in 1970. He is well regarded for his measured, well-informed management style, and spends the majority of his working day simply reading in order to be as knowledgeable as possible about his current holdings, future prospects, and any eventualities, whether positive or negative. Buffett’s ranking on this list is likely to slide in the coming years, as he’s pledged to give the vast majority of his wealth away to charity.
“Honesty is a very expensive gift – don’t expect it from cheap people.” – Warren Buffett
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Larry Ellison (USA, $43 billion)
Like a few of the top 10 wealthiest people, Ellison made his money with computers. OK, so he didn’t develop a printer that could produce counterfeit bills, but he developed a system and the subsequent software that became the dominant player in its field, in this case Oracle, which is the go-to in database management. Oracle is essentially an in-business tool, and very few home consumers have the need for the system. Of course, the need still exists, and it exists to the tune of billions of dollars. Incidentally, Ellison’s daughter Megan has used some of her family money to move into filmmaking, and has produced Oscar nominated films such as Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Her (2013), and American Hustle (2013).
Charles Koch and David Koch (USA, both with $34 billion)
One of the easiest ways to be rich is to inherit, and while that’s exactly what happened to the Koch brothers, instead of resting on their laurels and dating supermodels while drinking cocktails on private jets, they continued the growth of their fathers company… and of course, their own fortunes. Koch Industries is now a whopping 2600 times bigger than when they took control, and continues to have its fingers in a wide variety of pies, including oil pipelines, paper towels, petrochemicals and cattle farming. They each own 42% of the company, and while both brothers are active philanthropists; their company has been criticized by environmentalists for lobbying the US government against placing limits on greenhouse gases produced by industry.
Li Ka-Shing (Hong Kong, $31 billion)
Hong Kong based businessman Li Ka-Shing could have easily have disappeared into the crowd, since like a number of young people in the early 1940’s, the death of a parent meant the end of his education, and a quick entry into the job force. In Ka-Shing’s case, his father passed away when Ka-Shing was just 15, and he subsequently had to work for 16 hours per day in a plastics factory. He used it as an opportunity to learn, and started his very own plastics company after working in the factory for seven years. Like many immensely successful businesspeople, Ka-Shing’s ongoing growth has been the result of a diverse portfolio of investments and acquisitions, and his business empire now includes real estate, retail, plastics and telecommunications. For someone whose formal education ended relatively early, Ka-Shing places a great deal of importance on learning, and this is reflected in numerous donations, which include enough funds to found the Shantou University in China, as well as bankrolling the Li Ka-Shing Library at Singapore Management University and the Li Ka-Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge at Stanford University.
Liliane Bettencourt (France, $30 billion)
Ms Bettencourt essentially inherited her wealth and it hasn’t gone so badly for her, since you probably have a L’Oréal product in your bathroom. Like many majority shareholders (and she owns 30.5% of the company), she served on the board of directors, although she retired in 2012 at the age of 90. In recent years, she’s become better known for her political affiliations, and was accused of illegally donating €150,000 to the election campaign for right leaning French presidential candidate (and eventual winner) Nicolas Sarkozy. Under French law, a maximum of €4600 can be given to a candidate. In 2011, a French court placed her fortune under a guardianship, which was controlled by her daughter and grandchildren, due to concerns about Ms Bettencourt’s failing mental health.
Bernard Arnault (France, $29 billion)
True luxury doesn’t come cheap, and so it’s no surprise that Bernard Arnault has amassed his billions by developing and providing luxury brands though his role as Chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton S.A. In addition to Moët champagne and the Louis Vuitton range, LVMH also controls the Christian Dior, Donna Karan, Givenchy, Bulgari and Tag Heuer brands. Perhaps Arnault always had his eye on prestige, since after he joined and later assumed control of his father’s property construction company, changing their key operations to focus on real estate, before shedding the majority of those real estate holdings and beginning the acquisition of luxury brands, which culminated in the founding of LVMH in 1987.