Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The World's Billionaires

For the first time ever, the tally of the world's billionaires crossed into four figures, reaching 1,125. Americans still occupy 469 of the list's slots, but that's down two percentage points from last year. In total, we identified 226 new billionaires, 70% of whom come from the U.S., Russia, China and India.

The big news? After 13 years at the top, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is no longer the world's richest man. That honor now belongs to his friend and bridge partner Warren Buffett.

Warren Buffett - Net Worth: $62.0 billion

America's most beloved investor is now the world's richest man. Soared past friend and bridge partner Bill Gates as shares of Berkshire Hathaway climbed 25% since the middle of last July.

Son of Nebraska politician delivered newspapers as a boy. Filed first tax return at age 13, claiming $35 deduction for bicycle. Studied under value investing guru Benjamin Graham at Columbia. Took over textile firm Berkshire Hathaway 1965.
Today holding company invested in insurance (Geico, General Re), jewelry (Borsheim's), utilities (MidAmerican Energy) , food (Dairy Queen, See's Candies). Also has noncontrolling stakes in Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo.

Insurance operations flourished in 2007. "That party is over. It's a certainty that insurance-industry profit margins, including ours, will fall significantly in 2008." The Oracle of Omaha issued a challenge to members of The Forbes 400 in October; said he would donate $1 million to charity if the collective group of richest Americans would admit they pay less taxes, as a percentage of income, than their secretaries. Had long promised to give away his fortune posthumously. Irrevocably earmarked the majority of his Berkshire shares to charity in 2006, mostly to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gift was valued at $31 billion on day of announcement; donation will far exceed that sum so long as Berkshire shares continue to rise.

Carlos Slim Helu & family - Net Worth: $60.0 billion.

Second-richest man in the world this year; even richer than Microsoft's Bill Gates, at least for now, thanks to strong Mexican equities market and the performance of his wireless telephone company, America Movil.

The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Slim made his first fortune in 1990 when he bought fixed line operator Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex) in a privatization. In December, America Movil struck a deal with Yahoo to provide mobile Web services to 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A widower and father of six, Slim is a baseball fan and art collector. He keeps his art collection in Mexico City's Museo Soumaya, which he named after his late wife. In recent years, he has donated close to $7 billion worth of cash and stock to fund education and health projects, and to the revitalization of Mexico City's downtown historical district.

William Gates III - Net Worth: $58.0 billion.

Harvard dropout and Microsoft visionary no longer the world's richest man. Blame Yahoo: Microsoft shares have fallen 15% since the company boldly attempted to merge with the search engine giant to better fight Google for Internet dominance.

Gates is preparing to give up day-to-day involvement in the company he cofounded 33 years ago to spend more time focused on his philanthropic endeavors. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has $38.7 billion in assets, donates to causes aimed at bringing financial tools to the poor, speeding up the development of vaccines (for AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis), bettering America's lagging high schools.

Sells 20 million Microsoft shares every quarter, proceeds going to private investment vehicle Cascade more than half of net worth now outside of Microsoft. Company spent $6 billion to land Web ad firm Aquantive last May. Would-be rival to Apple s iPod, the Zune, not yet a hit.

Believes Microsoft's far-flung bets, including 10-year affair with Internet-based television, may soon pay off; says next 10 years will be the "most interesting" in software history.

Lakshmi Mittal - Net Worth: $45.0 billion.

Heads world's largest steelmaker, $105 billion (sales) ArcelorMittal, which accounts for 10% of all crude steel production. Just delivered 580 tons to be used in construction of the World Trade Center memorial in New York. With 44% stake, is the company's largest shareholder.

Longtime resident of London is Europe's richest resident.

Mukesh Ambani - Net Worth: $43.0 billion.

Asia's richest resident heads petrochemicals giant Reliance Industries, India's most valuable company by market cap. His fortune is up $22.9 billion since last year, making him the world's second biggest gainer in terms of dollars.

The biggest gainer was his estranged brother Anil, who ranks 6th in the world just behind his older brother. The sons inherited their fortune from their late father, renowned industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. But they couldn't get along and in 2005 their mother brokered a peace settlement breaking up the family's assets.

Mukesh is using some of his money to build a 27-story home.

Anil Ambani - Net Worth: $42.0 billion.

The year's biggest gainer, Anil Ambani, is up $23.8 billion in the past year, and is closing gap with estranged brother, Mukesh, who ranks one spot ahead of him in the world at number five. The sons inherited their fortune from their late father, renowned industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. But they couldn't get along and in 2005 their mother brokered a peace settlement breaking up the family's assets.

A marathon runner, his biggest asset is his 65% stake in telecom venture Reliance Communications. He recently raised $3 billion from the highly anticipated initial offering of his Reliance Power, the biggest in India's history.

Despite the hype, the stock tumbled 17% immediately after its February listing. In a bid to appease investors, company's board recently approved the issue of bonus shares. Still feuding with brother Mukesh: battling him in court over a gas-supply agreement.

Ingvar Kamprad & family - Net Worth: $31.0 billion.

Peddled matches, fish, pens, Christmas cards and other items by bicycle as a teenager. Started selling furniture in 1947. Now his company Ikea, which sells hip designs for the cost conscious, is one of the most beloved retailers in the world, with an almost cultlike following. Ikea now has stores in 40 countries, from Sunrise, Florida, to Guangzhou in China.

As egalitarian as his brand, Kamprad avoids wearing suits, flies economy class and frequents cheap restaurants. Has been quoted as saying that his luxuries are the occasional nice cravat and Swedish fish roe. Says his home is furnished mostly with his own Ikea products.

Last May was awarded the Global Economy Prize by the University of Kiel for his contributions to society.

Kushal Pal Singh (KP Singh) - Net Worth: $30.0 billion.

Singh is now the world's richest real estate baron after listing his real estate development company DLF in 2007. The offering helped triple his fortune to $30 billion this year, up from $10 billion.

A former army officer, known as K.P., he joined his father-in-law's Delhi Land & Finance in 1961. Singh later built DLF City in Gurgaon, his showpiece township on the outskirts of Delhi, by acquiring land from farmers. Over time, he transformed it into one of India's biggest real estate developers. Group plans to raise another $1.5 billion by listing a subsidiary in Singapore.

A keen golfer, he now leaves son Rajiv, daughter Pia to run operations.

Oleg Deripaska - Net Worth: $28.0 billion.

Former metals trader survived the gangster wars in the post-Soviet aluminum industry. His holding company, Basic Element, now owns Russian Aluminum (UC Rusal), automobile manufacturer GAZ, aircraft manufacturer Aviacor and insurance company Ingosstrakh.

In 2006 Rusal, SUAL and Glencore International, of Switzerland, merged their aluminum assets into the United Company Rusal, the world's largest aluminum producer.

Married to a relative of Yeltsin, Deripaska has been busy expanding UC Rusal's activities in Russia and abroad, moving it into aluminum production in Nigeria and China. To integrate vertically, has signed agreements to produce coal in Kazakhstan and invest in a nuclear power plant in eastern Russia. Attempting to get a stake in Norilsk Nickel, which co-owner (and fellow billionaire) Vladimir Potanin is fighting.

Karl Albrecht - Net Worth: $27.0 bil.

Germany's richest man. After World War II Karl and his younger brother, Theo, developed their mother's corner grocery store into discount supermarket giant Aldi, which now has more than 8,000 stores and $67 billion in sales. They eventually split ownership and management of the chain into North and South regions.

Now retired, Karl used to manage more profitable southern half of Aldi's business in Germany. Fiercely private: Little known about him other than that he apparently raises orchids and plays golf.

Li Ka-shing - Net Worth: $26.5 billion.

Once a poor immigrant, Li got his start selling plastic flowers in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Now Hong Kong's richest person. His fortune is centered on conglomerates Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa.

Through them, he is the world's largest operator of container terminals, world's largest health and beauty retailer, a major supplier of electricity to Hong Kong and a real estate developer.

Hutchison Essar sold its stake in an Indian mobile business for $11 billion in 2007; the group still has other telecom interests. Li also has a $12 billion stake in Canadian oil company Husky Energy. He has announced plans to donate one-third of wealth over time. Eldest son Victor helps him run his massive empire; son Richard struck out on his own in early 1990s and is a billionaire in his own right.

Sheldon Adelson - Net Worth: $26.0 billion.

Cabdriver's son borrowed $200 from uncle to sell newspapers at age 12. Studied voice in teens, later dropped out of City College in New York City to become court reporter.

Made first fortune in trade shows. Created computer industry's marquee event, Comdex, mid-1980s; sold show to Japan's Softbank for $862 million 1995.

Then Vegas: bought Sands Hotel & Casino for $128 million, demolished it to build the $1.5 billion all-suites Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the 1.2-million-square-foot Sands Convention Center. Changed the way casinos do business by enticing conventioneers to Sin City midweek, taking emphasis off gambling. Sold suites for $250 a night, added high-end retailers, celebrity-chef restaurants. Took Las Vegas Sands public December 2004.

In January opened $1.9 billion Palazzo resort next to nemesis Steve Wynn's Wynn Las Vegas.

All in on Asia: opened $265 million Sands Macau Casino May 2004, recouped entire investment in one year. Unveiled $2.4 billion Venetian Macau in August; 10.5-million-square-foot mega-resort features 3,400 slots, 800 tables, 3,000 suites and a convention center. Won coveted Singapore gaming license last year; building $3.6 billion Marina Bay Sands on 51-acre site with a view of city's skyline.

Bernard Arnault - Net Worth: $25.5 billion.

Arnault put up $15 million from his family's midsize construction firm to buy Christian Dior in 1985. Since then he has built the world's largest luxury goods empire, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton whose brands also include Dom Perignon, Fendi and Tag Heuer. LVMH, which he still heads, acquired premier French financial daily "Les Echos" from the Pearson group last December.

Son Antoine, 28, and daughter, Delphine, 32, sit on LVMH1s board. Arnault has also set up an investment fund with his good friend and fellow billionaire, Albert Frere, in 2006; the pair own two wineries together. Via his investment arm, Groupe Arnault, owns French tour operator Go Voyages and a stake in French retail chain Carrefour.

Arnault often spends New Year's Eve in his four-star hotel, Le Cheval Blanc, in ski resort Courchevel, France. He is also said to be a skilled pianist.

Lawrence Ellison - Net Worth: $25.0 billion.

Oracle titan reshaping the software industry via acquisition; has purchased 21 firms for more than $19 billion since the beginning of 2006. Forging into retail, business intelligence software; determined to squeeze out German rival SAP.

Biggest challenge: making the myriad applications work together for the release of Oracle Fusion later this year. Chicago bred tech tycoon studied physics at U. of Chicago; didn't graduate. Started Oracle in 1977. Took public in 1986, a day before Microsoft. Companies have been fiercely competitive since.

Side bet: invested $125 million in Web software outfit NetSuite. Still yearning to win yachting's most prestigious trophy, the America's Cup. Lost last year to Luna Rossi. Also owns 453-foot Rising Sun; building a smaller leisure boat because megayacht is hard to park.

Roman Abramovich - Net Worth: $23.5 billion.

Orphaned as a child, Abramovich dropped out of college, then made a fortune in a series of controversial oil export deals in early 1990s. His fortune took off in 1995 when he teamed up with Boris Berezovsky (now also a billionaire) to take over oil giant Sibneft at a fraction of its market value. (When Berezovsky fled Russia in 2000 to escape fraud charges, he sold out to Abramovich.)

In 2003 to 2004 he sold stake in Russian Aluminum to fellow billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who is now ranked 9th in the world. In 2005 Abramovich liquidated his biggest asset, selling 72.6% stake in Sibneft to gas titan Gazprom for $13 billion.

In 2006 he bought stake in the country's largest steelmaker, Evraz Group, and early in 2008, a piece of Highland Gold, a U.K. mining company with operations in Russia. He also spent some of his cash buying U.K. soccer club, Chelsea.

He recently finalized divorce from the mother of his five children, Irina, but largely stays out of public eye, except for occasional spottings with rumored girlfriend Daria Zhukova.

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