Anyone who knows a thing or two about rich lists knows that oil can make or break a man - or indeed, a nation. Finding oil is pretty much an instant introduction to the world of the high-flying billionaire and its discover brings success to businesses, financial sectors and investors in the region. Striking this 'black gold' is the ultimate game-changer in any playing field but while historically the oil boom was firmly associated with the United States, the tables have turned somewhat in more recent years. The oil-rich Middle East, in particular Saudi Arabia, is now famed for its fields of black gold. However, the success of the Middle Eastern oil industries has been a contributing factor in political unrest and battles for the precious resources: from the Gulf Wars to the more recent ousting of Gaddafi in Libya, turmoil in the Middle East reveals the extent to which this limited natural resource is still contested asset.
The real game changer in the world’s oil industry in recent years, though, has undoubtedly been the privatisation of the oil industry in the largest country in the world - Russia. The fall of the Soviet Union meant big business for those with their eye on this liquid asset and there were many in Russia who pounced on the prize as soon as it became available. The result is that, today, the majority of the world’s oil tycoons are not from the Rockefeller or Hunt families but are instead former Soviet civil servants who learnt about the industry from the inside out. In spite of concerns that the use of oil is both harmful to the environment and unsustainable in the long run, there seems to be no end to the wealth coming from these oil rich-states. Our look at the top ten wealthiest oil tycoons demonstrates this shift to the East but there are still a couple of surprises. With oligarchs who model themselves on The Godfather and owners of some of the largest houses in the world, our top ten list of the richest oil tycoons is not one to be missed!
10 Alexei Kuzmichev: $8.2 Billion
9 George Kaiser: $10 Billion
Where Alexei Kuzmichev and his ilk for many represent the new world, new money and for that matter new oil. George Kaiser, on the other hand, is the kind of oil baron the West - and certainly Americans - are more familiar with. Or, almost. Whereas names like Rockefeller and Guggenheim will forever be associated with the early oil rush of the nineteenth century, the Kaiser family arrived relatively late on the scene. When the Kaiser family fled Nazi Germany, they settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they remain to this day. George Kaiser inherited his family’s vast oil fortune, which was built up over the last century, and today is also in control of the Bank of Oklahoma and he continues to oversee the extraction of oil from fields in the United States and Canada. This oil tycoon might be hurting the environment, but his family are balancing out their karma: From a $3 billion fund, the George Kaiser Family Foundation annually donates millions of dollars towards early childhood education. This American of German descendent is an exemplary case of the American Dream.
8 Roman Abramovich: $10.2 Billion
7 German Khan: $10.5 Billion
Keeping with all things Russian, German Khan is one of our top ten richest oil tycoons. Khan is one of Alexei Kuzmichev’s buddies, with whom he made millions. German Khan is no quiet partner however, serving as executive director of the co-owned oil empire, TNK-BP. The partial sale of the oil company to the state-controlled Rosneft (for $28 billion in 2012) personally scored Khan $3.3 billion. A native of Kiev in what is today the independent Ukraine, Khan grew up under the USSR but studied in the Moscow State Institute of Steel and Alloys. There, he met his future billionaire buddies. Controversially, in 2011 the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph claimed that Khan sees the mafia-based Godfather movies as a “manual for life.” The paper obtained the information from a WikiLeaks source, and the report painted an image of a man who is a shrewd businessman with a work hard, play hard philosophy. Judging by the reputation of most of Khan's contemporaries, we are not at all surprised.
6 Mohammed Al Amoudi: $13.5 Billion
Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi is reminder on our list that it isn't just the Russians who know about oil. With Saudi Arabia the world’s second largest producer of oil in the world after Russia, it's also the world’s largest exporter of the fuel globally. Al Amoudi is the son of a Saudi father and Ethiopian mother holds dual citizenship in both countries. Although his first millions came in the form of construction in Saudi Arabia, it is through oil that the mogul converted this fortune to the big league billions. With refineries in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, Al Amoudi owns 70% of the National Oil Company of Ethiopia. As well his oil exploits, Al Amoudi has investments in gold mining and owns a number of properties and hotels across the world. Like any oil tycoon, the Sheikh has courted controversy over the years, but at 67 he seems to have weathered the storm well. As well as holding the title of Sheikh, the Swedish King Carl Gustav also awarded him membership of the Royal Order of the Polar Star.
5 5.Vagit Alekperov: $14.8 Billion
Back to our friends in the east for this Russian tycoon, and Vagit Alekperov’s career shows us that slow and steady may indeed win you the race. At 63, Alekerpov has been in the oil business for quite a while: he began his career working on a Soviet oil rig in the Caspian Sea, just the beginning of a very lucrative career. Under the Soviet government, Alekperov became a Deputy Minister of Oil and Gas and from here Alekperov really made his leap to the billions. At the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the then Minister helped broker a deal between a number of Siberian oil companies to secure the nation’s first fully-integrated extraction-to-barrel processing company, Langepasuraikogalymneft. Alekperov became President of the company in 1992, rising to Chairman in 1993, when he renamed the company LUKoil - making things quite a bit easier for us Anglophone reporters. LUKoil was the first Russian company to trade on the New York stock exchange in part accounts for the simplification of the name. Like any good oligarch who values his skin, Alekperov maintains good relations with the Kremlin and hangs out with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The billionaire oil tycoon has also penned a book, the aptly titled “Oil of Russia: Past, Present and Future.” The fortune will stay in the family, as Alekperov has made plans for his son to inherit his majority share in the LUKoil empire.
4 Viktor Vekselberg: $15.1 Billion
Compared to some of the habits of his fellow countrymen on this list, Russian Viktor Vekselberg keeps a comparatively low profile. Like his compatriot Vagit Alekperov, Vekselberg too keeps close ties with the Russian President and he ranks among the five richest men in Russia. This tycoon studied engineering at the university in which he worked under Gorbachev’s twilight zone for the Soviet Union. With the emergence of the Russian Federation in the 1990s, Vekselberg was savvy enough to hop on the TNK-BP bandwagon, where he became deputy director. Alongside his oil interests, the billionaire also has investments in aluminium, telecoms and chemicals. In 2010 the Kremlin appointed Vekselberg as head of Skolkovo, a project aimed at creating Russia's "Silicon Valley." Vekselberg’s role involves sniffing out the biggest and best talent for the nation. Like many a billionaire, this Russian is known for his love of art; but in 2004 Vekselberg trumped the lot by acquiring the fabled collection of Fabergé eggs- glittering, jewel-encrusted treasures gifted to Russia’s royal family and lost after their deaths in the Russian Revolution. The sale is rumoured to have cost the billionaire over $100 million, but in an interview with Esquire magazine, the mogul claims that he is a custodian these Russian treasures rather than a mere private collector - of course! That would be beneath an oligarch of this magnitude.
3 Mikhail Fridman: $16.5 Billion
Ukrainian-born Fridman is the third shareholder of Russia’s mammoth Alfa Group to make our list. Fridman is a buddy of Vekselberg (and his Fabergé eggs) and associates with fellow tycoons Kuzmichev and Khan in their oil ventures with TNK-BP. Educated in Moscow, the comparatively young 49 year old is known to have the refined taste of any billionaire, and has established a jazz festival in his hometown of Lviv in the Ukraine. Since the sale of the TNK-BP oil company in 2012, Fridman’s attentions have remained with Alfa Group: The company controls a number of subsidiaries including the Alfa Bank, which he established with his fellow billionaire buddies in 1991. Alongside this, Fridman has a share in the Ukraine’s largest mobile operator Kyivstar, as well as shares in the telecoms group Turkstar. With a portfolio like this, and all those high-flying friends, you can’t help but wonder what they buy each other as Christmas presents…
2 Mukesh Ambani: $21.5 Billion
The penultimate oil tycoon on our list need not feel bad about missing out on the top spot as Mukesh Ambani also ranks as India’s richest man. Ambani is the current chairperson of Reliance Industries, the company his father founded - so in many ways he has the advantage of inherited wealth that none of this Russian associates had. While Reliance industries began as a textile manufacturing company, under Ambani’s leadership the firm has vastly expanded and today it is a major player in the oil scene. Reliance is the owner of the largest oil refinery in the world, and the company has strong investments in a number of petrochemicals as well as telecommunications and gas exploration. For many, Ambani is representative of the modern India with the mogul outspoken in favour of advancing the country both economically and culturally. With projects to provide 4G networks throughout India, it appears that Ambani certainly practices what he preaches. Oh and if that isn’t enough, the true tycoon lives in one of the world’s most expensive properties, rumoured to have cost between $1 and $2 billion. Small change for the richest man in India.
1 Charles and David Koch: $34 Billion Each
Brother’s Charles and David Koch made their money the old-fashioned way: they inherited it. Their company, Koch Industries, was founded by their father Fred who developed a new method for refining oil into gasoline. While Fred and his wife Mary had four sons, it is David and Charles who today head up Koch Industries which is now the second largest private company in the United States, with sales of $115 billion annually. Such fame does come at a price however, and the Koch brothers are certainly the most famous - or rather the most infamous - on our list. As life-long libertarians, the brothers are known for their generous donations to many a right-wing cause and have no problem sharing these views with the media. An interview from Charles Koch to the Wall Street Journal in 2006 dismissed other billionaire moguls’ efforts in philanthropy. The brothers vehemently campaigned against the election of Barack Obama to the White House, donating millions of dollars to his Republican rival Mitt Romney - eliciting, we're sure, many puns on their surname from the Democrats. Establishing their infamy, the brothers were also the subjects of a controversial documentary entitled “Koch Brothers Exposed” by director Robert Greenwald.