It's probably pretty obvious that $25 billion is a lot of money. It's not a lot in terms of governments - the U.S. defense budget in 2015 alone was about $600 billion. But for an individual it’s unbelievable wealth. In fact, there are fewer than two dozen people on the planet who personally control that much money. The figure is so big that it is hard to put into ordinary terms. So how much is $25 billion?
Well, the median household income in the U.S. is about $50,000, meaning that someone with $25 billion could afford to pay to support half a million households for a year. That means someone on this list could afford to give the entire city of Atlanta the year off.
It's more than the value of the stock of United Airlines, which currently has a market capitalization of just over $20 billion. It is more than the stock value of Twitter, Wendy's, Sears, Pandora and Dreamworks Animation combined. The interest on $25 billion, even if it was only invested in treasury bonds, would be enough to buy a company the size of Angie’s List each and every year into the foreseeable future without ever touching the principal.
A fortune that size is enough that if one of the people on this list liquidated their entire investment portfolio, they could afford to buy a cheeseburger, fries and a coke from the McDonald's dollar menu for every single person on Earth (vegetarians could substitute cookies for the burger).
Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Especially the money. Sheldon Adelson can tell you that. He's gathered a fortune worth $26.4 billion in the casino business. The 82-year-old began his career in Boston, starting small businesses as a schoolboy. He continued as a serial entrepreneur into the 1970s, but made his first real money through a company that ran trade shows, like the COMDEX computer industry show. This became his way into Vegas. He used the money earned from that venture to purchase the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which he eventually tore down to create The Venetian. He also has casino holdings in China, Singapore and Pennsylvania.
Brazil is considered one of the next great economic success stories. While various political and economic issues have held the country back, and many parts of the nation remain in terrible poverty, Brazil's vast resources and large population make it a good candidate for strong growth in the coming decades. Right now, Jorge Paulo Lemann is the only Brazilian in the upper echelon of the world's wealthiest people. His father was from Switzerland, but Lemann was born in Rio de Janeiro. He accumulated his original fortune in Brazilian banking, and has expanded his empire through beer. Lemann built regional brewing giant AmBev, which became InBev through a merger with Belgium's Interbrew and then became Anheuser-Busch InBev after the purchase of the iconic U.S. beer maker.
China has been a rising power for at least the last three decades. Vast amounts of wealth have been made, as the country has become the world's manufacturing hub, with money spreading out to all sectors of the economy. One of the biggest beneficiaries has been real estate, as China's cities have grown in both population and international prestige. This is where Wang Jianlin has made his fortune. The 61-year-old is China's largest real estate developer. He also has significant holdings in movie theaters and owns a chunk of Spain's Atlético Madrid soccer team.
The largest retailer in the world is the source of a lot of wealth. Wal-Mart employs more than 2 million people around the world and generates annual revenue of more than $480 billion. It has also created three of the 20 richest people in the world, even 50 years after its founding. S. Robson Walton, known as Rob, represents the first of a Walton three-peat on the list of the world's richest people. He is the oldest son of Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. In his own right, Rob is a lawyer and served a long tenure as the chairman of his father's company, taking over the position in 1992 and helping to steer the company for over 20 years. His fortune is currently valued at $31 billion. He's 72 years old.
The only daughter among the Walton heirs, Alice Walton has made money her life's work. Besides the massive Wal-Mart fortune left to her by her father, she has made a career in finance. With a degree in economics and experience as a stock analyst, Walton started her own firm in the 1980s. She is one of only two women on this list of the 20 richest people in the world. Walton is also known for her checkered driving history. She has been arrested multiple times for driving while intoxicated and has been involved in several major car accidents. This includes a crash in 1989 that caused the death of a pedestrian.
The last (and best performing, in terms of wealth) of the living Wal-Mart heirs, Jim Walton is the youngest son of Sam Walton. He sits on Wal-Mart's board and has a number of other family business interests, including a bank and newspaper company. The 67-year-old is currently worth $32.7 billion. He has four children. Originally, there were four children of Sam Walton. John T. Walton died in a plane crash in 2005. At the time, he was considered the 11th richest person in the world. He was survived by his wife and son, who retain his fortune.
The first of two founders of Google to appear on this list, Sergey Brin has ridden the search engine from a Stanford dorm room to a $35.1 billion fortune. Brin is also a true American story, complete with immigration from another country. Brin was born in what was then the Soviet Union and came to the U.S. with his family when he was a child. At Stanford, he befriended a fellow student, Larry Page, and the two eventually began working on a new method of searching for web pages. The project eventually became Google, which was founded in 1998. Along with Page, the 42-year-old Brin is among the younger members of the world's wealthiest. Only one person on the list is younger, but more on that person later in the list.
French mogul Bernard Arnault has made his career transforming companies. He began with the firm his father started. In the 1970s, he used funds raised from selling the company's construction business to make investments in real estate. Through this, Arnault made his first real fortune. He then moved on to fashion, acquiring the Christian Dior brand and eventually taking control of LVMH, one of the world's largest luxury goods companies. He has also made a number of other investments over his more than 40-year business career, including providing money for Netflix. He's also a well-known art collector, with pieces by Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. The 66-year-old currently has a fortune valued at $35.8 billion.
While it probably isn't something they talk about very much, it must be at least a small point of pride for Larry Page that he is ever so slightly more rich (relatively speaking) than his fellow Google co-founder Sergey Brin. In the latest Forbes tally, Page is worth $35.9 billion, compared to Brin's $35.1 billion. That's only about a 2% improvement, but it also represents about $800 million. That might be close to a rounding error for the Page and Brin, but it would be enough to cause a lotto stampede if it became the next Powerball jackpot. Page is currently the CEO of Google's parent company, the recently re-named Alphabet Inc.
A couple of brothers are tied for the number-nine slot. Charles and David Koch are each worth $40.7 billion. Known as much for their political involvement as for their wealth, the basis of the Koch brothers' fortune is their father's oil business, which they turned into a massive conglomerate. The Koch brothers have received a good deal of attention as backers of conservative and libertarian causes. They are considered two of the most influential behind-the-scenes movers in American politics, willing to give massive amounts of money to try and swing elections. This has made them controversial figures as well, not just with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. In a number of circles, the Koch brothers have become the face(s) of the issue regarding money in politics.
Amazon.com has been one of the biggest disruptors in American business over the past couple decades. Since its founding in the mid-1990s, the company has all but destroyed the brick-and-mortar book selling business. It has also significantly altered the rest of the retailing industry by offering a convenient and inexpensive way to order almost anything. Throughout the time that it was changing American business, the online retailer has been led by Jeff Bezos. The future mogul left a lucrative Wall Street job to found the company in 1994. Encouraged by rising Internet use, Bezos moved cross country to found the startup in Seattle. More than 20 years of expansion later, Bezos is now worth about $47 billion, good enough to crack the top five of the world's richest people.
The king stays the king. Despite all the changes in the economy over the past 20 years, Microsoft founder Bill Gates remains the richest man in the world. His name has become synonymous with "rich," making him the Rockefeller of our time. And his lead on the list of wealthiest people in the world is currently pretty solid. Depending on market fluctuations, Gates has between about $8 billion and $20 billion more than the #2 person on the list, whoever that might be. Surprisingly though, given how long he's been among the world's richest people, Gates is also among the younger people in the world's highest echelon of wealth. At 60 years old, Gates is the third youngest member of the $40 billion club (the 10 people on the planet worth more than $40 billion). He sits just behind the 52-year-old Jeff Bezos and (of course) the 31-year-old Mark Zuckerberg.