The wealth of the world’s richest individuals continues to grow overall. Forbes, which maintains a daily updated list of billionaires around the globe, estimates their aggregate net worth to amount to $6.5 trillion. This is equal to more than 30 percent of the entire economic output of the United States, which is the world’s largest economy with GDP of $16.8 billion.
While recent years have seen the numbers of billionaires grow and their countries of origin expand, the very top ranks of the richest people are still predominantly made up of individuals from the United States and some European countries. Growing numbers of billionaires have emerged in China, but they have not yet accumulated the wealth of those like Bill Gates or Larry Ellison, who come in high on the list.
Both Forbes and Bloomberg update their lists constantly based on the latest market data. Therefore, it is also possible to see how much money has been won or lost by the world’s richest people. Unbelievable sums, running into hundreds of millions of dollars, are gained or lost in a matter of a day or two depending on the course of the stock markets, sums of money that most people will never make in their lives. This list takes public holdings into consideration, but not personal retail, art collections or private equity firms. The following list consists of the 15 richest billionaires. Each entry includes their net worth, as of February, and their country of residence.
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15 Li Ka-Shing, $33.5 Billion, Hong Kong
The 86-year-old has been a mainstay of the richest people in Asia for some time, securing the position of the richest individual in Hong Kong, for 17 consecutive years. Earlier this year, he announced a restructuring plan for his investment interests which saw his non-property and property businesses re-organised into two separate companies. Investors clearly welcomed the move, with Li’s wealth seeing a jump of more than $2 billion in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. His holdings amount to the world’s largest in container terminals, and he also takes first place globally for his health and beauty retail operations.
14 Jeff Bezos, $34.4 Billion, United States
The founder of online giant Amazon, Jeff Bezos has made his billions through the global success of the internet retailer. Amazon now has operations in a number of other countries, including Canada, Britain and Germany. Bezos’ strategy of pricing his competitors out of the market to secure market share has been controversial, but it has served as the basis for establishing Amazon as the best-known online retailer. And he still has ambitions to grow the company further, with a recent announcement that a $2 billion investment program was being planned to develop Amazon’s presence in India, a large emerging market.
13 Bernard Arnault, $36.8 Billion, France
The French businessman has been chief executive of luxury goods firm LVMH since 1989, when he bought a significant shareholding in the company. The expansion of the company under Arnault’s leadership has been dramatic, with market value increasing by a factor of 15 while sales are up around 500 percent. Beyond his main business activities, Arnault has also used his wealth to intervene in the media, purchasing French daily Les Echoes in 2007, for €240 million. He has additional investments in retail, through a 10 percent stake in French supermarket chain Carrfour, and a number of holdings in internet firms, such as NetFlix.
12 Michael Bloomberg, $37.4 Billion, United States
The former mayor of New York accrued his billions through the founding of Bloomberg PLC, which provides financial services, as well as the online news website and television channel. Although the company was founded in 1982 by Bloomberg, who used a large sum he obtained as a severance package from a previous job to get it going, it was only named Bloomberg in 1987. Bloomberg no longer actively leads the company, having stepped down from his position as chief executive when he took the mayoral position in New York. However late last year, he announced that he is to return to the CEO position this year.
11 S Robson Walton, $39.1 Billion, United States
The first son of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, S Robson is now chairman of the company. Like the other family members, he maintains a relatively low profile in the media and public life. He joined Walmart through his work for a legal firm that represented the company, and inherited the position and the wealth that goes with it following the death of his father. According to the latest figures, Walmart employs over 2 million people in a total of 28 countries. S Robson is also known for his philanthropy, in particular his donations to his former University in Arkansas.
10 Alice Walton, $39.6 Billion, United States
The youngest child of Sam Walton, Alice is the third richest woman in the world. As well as the Walmart business, her wealth is to be found invested in a large art collection which secured her a position in the world’s top 10 art collectors in 2013. Together with her siblings, she is involved in Walton Enterprises, which manages all of the family’s wealth and its share in Walmart. In 2013, the total number of shares controlled by the family in Walmart surpassed 50 percent, up from 39 percent ten years earlier. She has lived on a ranch in Texas for many years, and made a professional career in equestrian arts.
9 Liliane Bettencourt, $40.2 Billion, France
As the daughter of the founder of L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, Liliane Bettencourt inherited a large sum of wealth. She served for many years on the company’s board, a position that she gave up in 2012. She has major investments in Nestle, where she invested money during the 1970s. Persistent reports over recent years have suggested that Bettencourt also uses her vast wealth to fund conservative politicians in France, including former President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
8 Jim Walton, $40.6 Billion, United States
Coming in at number eight on this list is the youngest son of the Walton family. Jim replaced his brother John on the company’s board of directors in 2005, following the latter’s death. His role at Walmart is concentrated in the areas of strategic planning and finance. Beyond Walmart, Jim is also CEO of Arvest Bank, and owns a media company founded by his father, Community Publishing Incorporated. Like all of his other siblings, he is an active contributor to the family’s philanthropic foundation.
7 Christy Walton, $41.7 Billion, United States
Unlike the other Walton’s on the list, Christy married into the family and is the widow of John Walton. While her wealth is mainly linked to Walmart, she also obtains a significant portion of it from investments made in First Solar. Forbes reported that she was the richest woman in the world for seven years in a row. Beyond her business investments, she has been heavily involved with non-profit organisations, including engagement with the natural history museum and zoological society in San Diego, and the giving of donations to several international and national organisations.
6 Charles and David Koch, $42.1 Billion, United States
The Koch brothers inherited control of Koch Industries from their father Fred, the company’s founder. It is one of the largest industrial firms in the US, with reported annual turnover of $115 billion in 2013. Charles and David secured their positions, despite litigation over the rights to the company with two other brothers. They are also well known for using their deep pockets to fund political campaigns during US elections for Republican candidates. They provide funding for advocacy groups which support conservative and libertarian policy positions. These include well-known think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation.
5 Larry Ellison, $54.3 Billion, United States
Larry Ellison is the founder and CEO of Oracle, a software company that made it big designing database systems for commercial use in the early 1980s. From having just eight employees in 1980, the company pulled in over $30 million when it went public in 1986. More recently, Ellison led Oracle’s purchase of a number of software companies in a bid to strengthen its market position. Although he is no longer the CEO at Oracle, he remains its most recognizable public face and continues to participate in the board.
4 Amancio Ortega, $63.2 Billion, Spain
Amancio Ortega controls a large retail empire that includes the Zara chain of stores with over 92,000 employees. He established himself in the 1970s in Spain, and the chain now has a long list of brand names recognized internationally. Zara is now part of Inditex, a company that Ortega controls almost 60 percent of. Throughout his life, Ortega has insisted on maintaining a low profile, and there is no record of a photograph of him ever being published until 1999. He announced his retirement from Inditex in 2011, but his net worth continues to rise and he is now the richest European on this list.
3 Carlos Slim Helu, $69.5 Billion, Mexico
Carlos Slim Helu is a telecommunications tycoon with a major holding in communications firms, America Movil and Telmex. America Movil is one of the largest mobile telephone providers in Latin America. While Helu held the prize of the richest man in the world according to Forbes, from 2010 to 2013, his net worth has dropped somewhat, putting him now in third place. On top of telecommunications, Helu has developed considerable investments in retail, finance, media and technology. His latest business adventure was the purchasing of a controlling stake in Telekom Austria, through which he hopes to expand business in central and eastern Europe.
2 Warren Buffett, $73.5 Billion, United States
Investing from age 11, Warren Buffett established himself over the years as an investor and financial expert. Most of his wealth was built up through his involvement with Berkshire Hathaway, where he served as chairman. One of his major recent purchases was the Heinz company, which he bought for a reported $28 billion, in 2013. Buffett secured the title of Forbes' richest man on one occasion in 2008. He also made headlines in 2006 by announcing that he would be giving his fortune away to charity, principally through donations to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
1 Bill Gates, $79.3 Billion, United States
The founder of Microsoft is once again in top spot in the world’s richest list, following a period at number 2 behind Helu. Bill Gates’ billions were accumulated, as everyone knows, through the technology boom and his work in developing personal computers. As well as investments, some of his wealth is now used to fund the Bill Gates Foundation, which carries out charity work around the world. Gates' net worth has risen over recent years, allowing him to knock Helu off the top spot in 2014. He has now held the position of richest man for 15 of the past 20 years.
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