Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Young Billionaires

Whoever said youth was wasted on the young probably wasn't talking about the youngest members of our billionaires list.

Sure, a bunch of them were lucky enough to inherit their wealth. China's richest woman, Yang Huiyan, owes her $7.4 billion fortune to her generous father, Yeung Kwok Keung, the media-shy chief of real estate outfit Country Garden, who transferred all his shares to her in 2005, the same year she graduated from Ohio State University.

So too Hind Hariri, 24, the daughter of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri. A recent graduate of the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Hariri is a fashionista who frequents Paris shows and reportedly favors designer Chanel.

But many actually made their own fortunes. The Ukraine's youngest billionaire, Kostyantin Zhevago, was only 19 when he started out as a finance director at a bank. He later gained a majority stake in its holding company. Today the 34-year-old is worth $3.4 billion and is a deputy in Ukraine's parliament.

Then there is the Chinese billionaire nicknamed Light: Xiaofeng Peng, 33, who got into solar energy in 2005 and took his company, LDK Solar, which makes silicon wafers used in solar panels, public on NYSE Euronext, two years later.

Nothing beats being young and rich. In our annual ranking of the world's richest people, I found 20 billionaires aged 35 years or younger. Eleven of them made their own fortunes, like Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The rest, like China’s richest woman Yang Huiyan, inherited it. Here are 10 of the most interesting.

Sergey Brin (U.S.) Age 34

$18.7 billion, self-made

The richest of the under-35 set, Brin emigrated from Russia. He met partner Larry Page (a tad older and a tad poorer) while both were students in the computer science Ph.D. program at Stanford. The duo dropped out to start Google in a garage they sublet from the sister of Brin’s now wife, Anne Wojcicki, whom he married in 2007. Brin now serves as Google's president of technology.

Larry Page (U.S.) Age 35

$18.6 billion, self-made

The Google co-founder grew up in Michigan, the son of a professor. He met partner Sergey Brin at Stanford, where they dropped out and started the search engine together. Page now heads the company’s products division. He and Brin were considered two of the world’s most eligible bachelors until 2007, when they both married within months of one another. Page’s wedding was held at British billionaire Richard Branson’s Necker Island.

Yang Huiyan (China) Age 26

$7.4 billion, inherited

China’s richest is also one of the world’s youngest billionaires, and a daddy’s girl. Yang earned her degree from Ohio State University in 2005, the same year her father Yeung Kwok Keung, the media-shy chief of real estate outfit Country Garden, transferred his stake in the company to her (not a bad graduation gift). Gold-diggers beware: She’s already married--her wedding video is posted on YouTube.

Kostyantin Zhevago (Ukraine) Age 34

$3.4 billion, self-made

Ukraine's youngest billionaire started out as finance director of bank Finance & Credit in 1992. He eventually gained a majority stake in its holding company, Finance & Credit Group. Zhevago is currently revamping the group's major asset, iron pellet producer Poltavsky GOK, in anticipation of a public offering. He also serves in Ukraine's parliament.

Xiaofeng Peng (China) Age 33

$2.5 billion, self-made

It’s easy being green for Peng. The relative youngster got into solar energy in 2005. Only two years later, he took his company LDK Solar, which makes silicon wafers used in solar panels, public on the NYSE Euronext.

Shivinder Singh (India) Age: 32

$2.5 billion, inherited

Singh and his older brother Malvinder, 35, both Duke University grads, inherited control of generic drug maker Ranbaxy Laboratories. We list the duo as sharing a $2.5 billion fortune, as they won’t break down the ownership details for us. What we know: Malvinder heads Ranbaxy, while Shivinder runs hospital chain Fortis Healthcare, which went public in 2007.

Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Germany) Age: 24

$2.3 billion, inherited

The German prince appeared briefly on our billionaires list at age 8, but he officially inherited his fortune on his 18th birthday. He lives in a family castle with his mother and older sister. A racecar driver, he tours with an Italian auto-racing league.

Xian Yang (China) Age 34

$1.6 billion, self-made

The graduate of the People's Police School of Sichuan and former customs officer earned his fortune trading coal and coal byproduct coke. He listed his Hidili Industry in September 2007 in Hong Kong.

John Arnold (U.S.) Age 34

$1.5 billion, self-made

Raised by a lawyer dad and accountant mom, Arnold whizzed through Vanderbilt University in three years. He then became an oil trader for Enron, supposedly earning $750 million for the company in 2001, when he was just 27. He went into business for himself after Enron collapsed a year later. He currently runs the Centaurus Energy hedge fund.

Hind Hariri (Lebanon) Age 24

$1.1 billion, inherited

The daughter of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri inherited a stake in her family’s construction, media and banking holdings after her father was assassinated in 2005. She fell off our billionaires list last year but now returns, making her the world’s youngest female billionaire. Hariri is a fashionista who recently attended the Paris fashion shows and reportedly favors the designs of Chanel.

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