Different eras in history have paved the way for certain industries to barge their way to the forefront of the economy and make the men and women involved exorbitantly rich. Concepts like the ‘Gold Rush’ have stayed with us because they were a very real force back in their heyday. Men travelled across the continent in the hopes they would find gold and become rich beyond their wildest dreams. They weren’t basing their ambitions on nothing either; the reason tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people thought they could become millionaires through mining gold was because there was a smaller group of people who had become ultra-wealthy the same way. Likewise, when the world became more mechanized and petroleum became an extremely valuable commodity, people flocked to the oil industry. The people who got there first and established large organizations dedicated to oil (e.g John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company) became the richest men of their time.
Their success is a reflection of a concept in business strategy called the “first mover advantage.” When a new industry or commodity is poised to become important to the public at large, the first people to get there and establish a presence have an enormous advantage over the competitors that will spring up in their near future. The individuals who get well and truly wealthy off of their business endeavours are generally fortunate enough to have the right idea in the right place at exactly the right moment in history. In our modern world, this trend is on display clearly in the tech industry. Sometimes known simply as ‘Silicon Valley’ – the area of California that houses the heart and soul of the American tech industry – US tech has been making billionaires out of young, ambitious geeks for nearly 30 years. In a world where we are all connected at all times, whether it be to our laptops or our smartphones, the men and women who control and understand that technology are in a position to be very, very rich – and many of them are. These are the 10 richest people in the US tech industry, a.k.a ‘Silicon Valley’.
#10 Paul Allen – Net Worth: $16.2 Billion USD
Paul Allen has been relatively low-key for the past 2 decades in the tech industry, but his 16.2 billion net worth comes from the work he put in as a young man. In Seattle, as an adolescent in high school, he struck up a friendship with another young man named Bill Gates. The two of them bonded over their love of computers and would often tinker around together developing their programming skills. After a period apart, Allen and Gates reunited in Boston when Allen was working for Honeywell and Gates was attending Harvard. Allen persuaded Gates to drop out and they started a business together. Allen suggested the name ‘Microsoft’ and the two pioneers quickly got to work. After they successfully got the company off the ground – securing lucrative deals with IBM in the process – Allen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982. He successfully defeated his cancer, but slowly distanced himself from the company that Gates essentially ran on his own. He officially left the board in 2000 but remains an adviser to the company – and as a co-founder has a significant portion of Microsoft shares, which are the source of much of his wealth.
#9 Laurene Powell Jobs – Net Worth: $16.6 Billion USD
Whether you loved him or hated him, undoubtedly you’re familiar with Steve Jobs. When he passed away in 2011, the enormous net worth he had accumulated didn’t evaporate overnight – it was passed on to his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs. When all of Steve Jobs’ shares were transferred over to Laurene, she became the proud owner of 38.5 million Apples shares, making her a significant individual investor in the company. She also owns approximately 7.3% of the Walt Disney company, making her the largest single investor in that organization as well.
#8 Michael Dell – Net Worth: $19 Billion USD
“Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” The man who was at one time the single largest vendor of PC’s in the world also gave his name to the company he founded. Michael Dell founded Dell Inc. as a freshmen pre-Med student in the early 80s. He began selling computer upgrade kits and later began manufacturing and selling computers under his company name. He found that the advantage of selling as a manufacturer gave him enormous leeway to sell his products at a substantial discount compared to his competitors. In the late 90s Dell began selling PC’s directly from its website dell.com, which is where the business really took off. By 2001 Dell was the largest vendor of PC’s in the world, making founder Michael Dell a very rich man.
#7 Steve Ballmer – Net Worth: $21.9 Billion USD
He may no longer be CEO of Microsoft, but it’s there that Steve Ballmer made the bulk of his $21.9 billion fortune. Ballmer lived down the hall from Bill Gates when the two attended Harvard university, and he later joined his friend’s company in 1980 and became Microsoft’s 30th employee and first business manager. In 2000, Bill Gates stepped down as CEO and appointed Steve Ballmer in his place. Over the next 14 years, Ballmer led Microsoft through somewhat turbulent times. Although they remained a juggernaut in the industry, they had lost the unparalleled dominance they had enjoyed under Gates’ reign throughout the 90s. Still, Ballmer was able to leave the company with a net worth of $21.9 billion – $2 billion of which he used to buy the Los Angeles Clippers, which are his main focus nowadays.
#6 Sergey Brin – Net Worth: $31.4 Billion USD
Sergey Brin co-founded Google with his friend Larry Page as a research project in the late 90s. Neither one had any idea that their pet project would become one of the world’s biggest corporations, all the while earning comparisons to the invention of the printing press in terms of its importance to human knowledge. Brin immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union when he was 6 years old, and had an interest in computer science that was nurtured by his family. He is still at Google and works in a somewhat loose capacity, putting work into any of the various projects that the company has going on simultaneously that interest him.
#5 Jeff Bezos – Net Worth: $31.5 Billion USD
The founder of Amazon never intended to turn the retail world on its head, but that’s just what he’s done. Founded by Bezos in 1994, Amazon began as primarily a book seller based out of the state of Washington, but quickly grew to become the de facto king of the online retail world. Today, Amazon sells everything from books to bikes, electronics, kitchen appliances, and everything in between. Bezos has also spearheaded initiatives to expand into other markets such as tablets (Amazon Kindle & Fire), cloud computing services, eBooks and music, and many other endeavours. Under Bezos’ leadership Amazon has become a force in the tech world, and it’s made Bezos himself $31.5 billion richer.
#4 Larry Page – Net Worth: $31.7 Billion USD
Larry Page, the other co-founder of Google, plays a slightly more active role in the day-to-day management of the company than his partner Sergey Brin. Page is the current CEO of Google, and it’s primarily his vision that currently guides the internet giant. He became very interested in technology at a young age, which culminated in the founding of Google with Brin when the two were graduate students at Stanford. Page was the driving force behind the creation of PageRank, the key concept in Google’s search algorithm. Together with Brin, the two own 16% of Google, with Page himself having a net worth of $31.7 Billion USD.
#3 Mark Zuckerberg – Net Worth: $33.2 Billion USD
The founder of Facebook is well known to the public, largely because most of them use the addictive service he created daily (the feature film about Facebook’s founding probably helped spread his name to the general public as well). At just 30 years old, Zuckerberg has an astounding net worth of $33.2 billion. Zuckerberg earned his first billion at just 23 years of age, shortly after founding Facebook from his dorm at Harvard University. Zuckerberg remains as the CEO of Facebook and is the driving force behind the company’s future ambitions and day-to-day operations.
#2 Larry Ellison – Net Worth: $51.6 Billion USD
In a ‘sexy’ industry such as tech, where the big names often are well known to the public thanks to media attention, Larry Ellison is relatively low-key. However, his $51.6 billion fortune is anything but low-key. Ellison founded database technology company Oracle in 1977, which would go on to become the most widely used database software in the world. Ellison’s work in relational database technology – a key component of virtually every business or organization operating in today’s world – has made him an extremely wealthy man. Ellison is the 2nd richest man in tech, and the 5th richest man in the world regardless of industry (according to Forbes).
#1 Bill Gates – Net Worth: $80.7 Billion USD
Could it have been anyone else? The name of the man who founded and then led Microsoft through its most successful period is nearly synonymous with ridiculous wealth. Although his business practices in the past have been considered cut-throat and anti-competitive, they helped Microsoft become the juggernaut it is and have made Bill Gates one of the world’s richest people for nearly 20 years. Gates is also well known for his philanthropy, using his billions for important charitable work primarily through the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. Honestly, what more needs to be said? You know who Bill Gates is. The man wakes up with $80.7 billion in the bank every morning and is the poster boy for the geek-turned-big-boss. He’s an idol for every young entrepreneur getting into the tech industry, and will be for the foreseeable future.