Who are the world’s billionaires and how do they make their money?

Despite the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19, the majority of the world’s richest have continued to see their net worth climb. Discover the top ten richest people and the companies behind their wealth.

FOREX 4

Who is the world’s richest person?

Rank

Name

Company

Net worth*

1

Elon Musk

Tesla

$202b

2

Jeff Bezos

Amazon

$192b

3

Bill Gates

Microsoft

$133b

4

Bernard Arnault

LVMH Moet Hennessy

$112b

5

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook

$104b

6

Zhong Shanshan

Nongfu Spring

$88.9b

7

Warren Buffet

Berkshire Hathaway

$88.4b

8

Larry Page

Google

$88.4b

9

Sergey Brin

Google

$85.5b

10

Larry Ellison

Oracle

$81.6b

Data was collected from Bloomberg Billionaires Index on 25/01/2021. Please note that rankings will change based on market movements.

1. Elon Musk

Elon Musk became the world’s richest man in early January 2021, overtaking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who had held the spot since October 2017.

A large portion of Musk’s wealth comes from Tesla (TSLA) – which he owns a 20.7% stake of – and his company SpaceX. The companies added over $140 billion to his net worth in 2020 alone.

Tesla stock experienced a rise of nearly 750% in 2020, closing out the year above $700 per share. Then, in early January 2021, shares of TSLA ­­­increased by a further 4.8% on hopes that a Democrat-controlled Senate would boost the green agenda. The move saw Musk’s net worth increase to $186b – $1.5bn more than Bezos. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, his net worth reached $202 billion as of 13 January.

It’s worth noting that Tesla’s stock saw significant volatility throughout 2020 due to conflicting opinions on the company’s future. Tesla bulls believe it could reach $1500 per share before 2021 is over, while sceptics believe the bubble will ultimately burst.

Musk’s net worth is likely to fluctuate throughout 2021. In fact, within a week of taking the top spot on this list, he’d dropped to second and regained first place again.

2. Jeff Bezos 

Jeff Bezos founded e-commerce giant Amazon (AMZN) in 1994, and remains CEO of the firm. According to a November SECO filing, Bezos owns approximately 11% of Amazon. Previously he’d held 16%, but he transferred a 4% stake to his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos in their 2019 divorce.

In 2020, his shares in Amazon, The Washington Post and Blue Origin added $72.4 billion to his fortune, which works out at an estimated daily income of $321 million. In fact, in August 2020, Bezos became the world’s first person to hold a fortune of $200 billion. This milestone came as online sales via Amazon surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Musk and Bezos belong to the exclusive centibillionaire club, being two of just four people in the world to have a net worth of over $100 billion. It's likely the two men will continue to jostle for the top spot throughout 2021 as Tesla and Amazon experience market fluctuations.

3. Bill Gates

Bill Gates is worth approximately $133 billion as of January 2021. Most of this fortune comes from his tenure as founder, CEO, chairman and chief architect of the software firm Microsoft (MSFT). Gates used to hold the No.1 position on this list, before Bezos took it in 2017.

Bill Gates has gradually stepped down from his positions in the company and has given away over $35.8 billion worth of his Microsoft stock to the Gates Foundation – a non-profit he owns with his wife. However, he still owns just over 1% of Microsoft’s stock – accounting for more than 100 million shares.

The rest of his net worth comes from other investments. The company Gates uses to manage his portfolio declared a range of holdings including Berkshire Hathaway and Coca-Cola.

4. Bernard Arnault

Bernard Arnault is the Chairman and CEO of luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which is comprised of 70 global brands including Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co and Sephora. Arnault holds a 41% stake in LVMH, while his family collectively owns a further 6%.

During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arnault’s wealth plummeted as demand for luxury goods declined. However, in October 2020 shares of LVMH were trading at pre-pandemic levels again and surpassed this level going into 2021.

Arnault’s position on the Bloomberg index has fluctuated over the last two years, rising and falling between No.4 and No.2. He is one of only seven people to reach second place, the others being Bezos, Musk, Gates, Warren Buffet, Zara co-founder Amancio Ortega and Mexican businessman Carlos Slim.

5. Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook (FB) co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth is approximately $97 billion as of January 2021. Most of his wealth comes from his 13% stake in Facebook.

The coronavirus pandemic pushed more people online onto social media platforms, which helped add over $22 billion to Zuckerberg’s net worth in 2020. In August 2020, his net worth exceeded $100 billion following optimism about Facebook’s new video function Reels – a competitor to TikTok. At just 36, this made Zuckerberg the youngest person to reach centibillionaire status.

However, his net worth did subsequently fall as Big Tech came under increasing levels of scrutiny in the US, which is predicted to deepen under a Democratic senate. Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are all targets of US Senator Bernie Sanders’s efforts to introduce the ‘Make Billionaires Pay Act’ which would tax 60% of their income.

6. Zhong Shanshan

Zhong Shanshan is a Chinese businessman who chairs Nongfu Spring, a Chinese bottled water company, and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise – a vaccine and hepatitis testing business. Nongfu Spring became the largest bottled water provider in China in 2020, while Shanshan’s pharmaceutical venture has found success providing COVID-19 test kits.

Both companies went public in 2020, on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shanghai Stock Exchange respectively. Nongfu shares have risen 155% since their IPO, while Wantai's are up more than 2000%.

Shanshan’s net worth currently stands at just over $92.1 billion after his wealth grew by more than $70 billion in 2020. This is considered one of the fastest accumulations of wealth in recent history.

7. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet’s net worth stems from his renowned successful investment strategies, which have earned him the nickname the ‘Oracle of Omaha’. He is CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns more than 60 companies – including battery maker Duracell and the restaurant chain Dairy Queen.

Buffett’s net worth dropped by more than $20 billion to $67.6 billion in the first three months of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Berkshire Hathaway’s range of investments took a hit in the initial stages of the global crisis, especially their airline holdings. Buffett has since regained these losses – which saw him fall to eighth on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index for the first time since 2021 – but hasn’t regained his position in the top five.

However, Buffett’s falling wealth isn’t necessarily a surprise. He co-founded the Giving Pledge with Bill Gates, committing to donating 99% of his wealth. So far, it’s estimated he’s donated $41 billion to the Gates Foundation and other charitable causes.

8. Larry Page

Larry Page became one of the world’s billionaires in 2004 at age 30, when Google’s IPO sent his net worth over $1 billion.

Page co-founded Google in 1998 with fellow Stanford student – and our next billionaire – Sergey Brin. He was CEO of Google until 2001, when he stepped down, and took over as CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet (GOOGL) in 2015. As of December 2019, Page is no longer the CEO of Alphabet, but remains a board member and retains his controlling interest in the company.

As well as various businesses under the Alphabet umbrella, Page’s other sources of income have come from his investments in space-exploration company Planetary Resources and flying vehicle start-ups Kitty Hawk and Opener.

9. Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin, together with Larry Page, co-founded Google – later Alphabet – the world’s largest search engine. Like Page, Brin has stepped down from his position as President of the company but remains a controlling shareholder and board member.

Despite moving away from Alphabet’s daily operations, it’s estimated that both Page and Brin have each added approximately $4 billion to their wealth in 2020. As majority shareholders, the pair benefitted from more people using Google for shopping, work and leisure amid stay-at-home restrictions.

10. Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer is a former employee of Microsoft. He dropped out of Stanford business school to become a business manager for his friend Bill Gates. Ballmer later served as CEO of Microsoft from 2000 to 2014, during which time he steered the company through the dot-com bubble and 2008 financial crisis.

When Ballmer retired from Microsoft in 2014, he bought the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA for £2 billion and invested a further $2 billion into a fund focused on lifting American’s out of poverty. In 2018, he invested $59 million into Social Solutions, which makes software solutions for non-profit organisations.

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