1 secret skill every billionaire masters

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Bezos, Cuban, Buffett, Gates, and Zuckerberg all share this one skill.

Well, there's hire great people and also fire fast. There is know thy customer but build great product, too. Create a great business plan but also experiment and test everything. There is lead by example with openness and transparency but we know you can't share everything . . . I guess.

PHOTOS: Billionaires who inherited their fortune

16 billionaires who inherited their fortunes
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1 secret skill every billionaire masters

16. Laurene Powell Jobs

Net worth: $14.4 billion

Age: 52

Country: US

Industry: Media

The widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs inherited his wealth and assets, which included 5.5 million shares of Apple stock and a 7.3% stake in The Walt Disney Co., upon his death. Jobs' stake in Disney — which has nearly tripled in value since her husband's death in 2011 and comprises more than $12 billion of her net worth — makes her the company's largest individual shareholder.

Though she's best recognized through her iconic husband, Jobs has had a career of her own. She worked on Wall Street for Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs before earning her MBA at Stanford in 1991, after which she married her late husband and started organic-foods company Terravera. But she's been primarily preoccupied with philanthropic ventures, with a particular focus on education. In 1997, she founded College Track, an after-school program that helps low-income students prepare for and enroll in college, and in September she committed $50 million to a new project called XQ: The Super School Project, which aims to revamp the high-school curriculum and experience.

Last October, Jobs spoke out against "Steve Jobs," Aaron Sorkin's movie about her late husband that portrays him in a harsh light, calling it "fiction." Jobs had been against the project from the get-go, reportedly calling Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale to ask them to decline roles in the film.

(Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

15. Azim Premji

Net worth: $16.5 billion

Age: 70

Country: India

Industry: Technology

In 1966, 21-year-old Azim Premji dropped out of Stanford in the wake of his father's death to take the helm of his father's company Western India Vegetable Products — later renamed Wipro. It was under Premji's leadership that the company diversified into toiletries and bath products and, eventually, IT, and the company grew exponentially. Now India's third-largest IT giant, Wipro generated revenues of $7.6 billion in its most recent fiscal year.

Just days into the new year, Premji named Abidali Neemuchwala, a Dallas-based consultancy executive, the new CEO of Wipro, citing him as the best leader to take Wipro into "its next phase of growth." Neemuchwala had been brought on to Wipro as chief operating officer last April after years of working for rival Tata Consultancy Services.

Premji is known for his generosity. He signed the Giving Pledge, committing to donate at least half of his wealth to charity, and in 2015 was named "the most generous Indian" on the Hurun India Philanthropy list for the third year in a row.

(Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images)

14. Dieter Schwarz

Net worth: $20.9 billion

Age: 76

Country: Germany

Industry: Retail

Dieter Schwarz joined his father's food-wholesaling business in 1973 and opened the company's first discount supermarket shortly thereafter. He took over as CEO when his father died in 1977 and rapidly expanded the business outside Germany, rebranding the company as Schwarz Gruppe.

The parent company umbrellas Lidl, a successful grocery-store chain and the second largest in Germany behind Aldi, and Kaufland, a chain of "hypermarket" stores similar to Walmart. Lidl has nearly 10,000 stores across 26 European countries and is set to break ground on US soil in 2018. Schwarz Gruppe now pulls in $85 billion in annual sales.

The German billionaire lives a quiet life out of the spotlight with his wife and two kids in their hometown of Heilbronn. He's reportedly a generous donor to educational causes.

(Photo by Ashok Saxena, Alamy)

13. Georg Schaeffler

Net worth: $22.2 billion

Age: 51

Country: Germany

Industry: Manufacturing

Georg Schaeffler served in the German military and held a short career in corporate law in the US before jumping aboard his father's company, Schaeffler Group, the nearly $11 billion (in sales) ball bearings and auto-parts maker that Schaeffler now co-owns with his mother.

The company made a splash in 2008 with its $17 billion hostile takeover attempt of tire and auto-parts maker Continental AG, which went south and left Schaeffler Group saddled with debt that it's managing to this day. It still owns a nearly 50% stake in Continental.

Schaeffler Group has recently invested nearly $550 million in its electric and hybrid car parts business, and it expects to double the number in the next five years.

(Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

12. Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al Saud

Net worth: $22.5 billion

Age: 60

Country: Saudi Arabia

Industry: Diversified investments

Prince Alwaleed comes from royalty — he is the grandson of Abdul Aziz al Saud, the first ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — but he also built his fortune with savvy investments in a range of companies across the US and the Middle East. He founded Kingdom Holding Co. in 1980 and has since invested in everything from real estate to entertainment to education, with stakes in companies like Twitter, The Four Seasons, Time Warner, and Motorola.

Recently, Prince Alwaleed also made a play for ride-hailing service Lyft, reportedly grabbing a 2.3% stake by putting up $105 million of a nearly $250 million round of funding the company raised in December.

Prince Alwaleed has an enigmatic relationship with his money. In 2013, he sued Forbes for allegedly underestimating his wealth. But last summer he announced plans to donate his entire fortune to charity anyway.

(Photo by Pool Interagences/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

11. Mukesh Ambani

Net worth: $24.8 billion

Age: 58

Country: India

Industry: Petrochemicals, oil, and gas

Mukesh Ambani took over as chairman of Reliance Industries when his father, the company's founder, died in 2002. The enormous industrial conglomerate generates $62 billion in annual revenue from its interests in energy, petrochemicals, textiles, natural resources, retail, and, more recently, telecommunications.

Ambani is the richest person in India with a personal fortune of over $24 billion. He owns a 27-story Mumbai mansion that cost $1 billion to build.

And if Ambani's projections for India's economy prove correct, expect that net worth to soar. Four years ago, Ambani predicted that India would grow from a $1.4 trillion economy in 2011 to a $30 trillion economy by 2030 — a bullish estimate considering that India's GDP today stands at $2.2 trillion.

(Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)

10 through 8. Forrest, Jacqueline, and John Franklyn Mars

Net worth: $28.6 billion each

Age: 84, 76, and 80

Country: US

Industry: Candy

Siblings Forrest, Jacqueline, and John Franklyn "Frank" Mars inherited a stake in the iconic candymaker Mars Inc. when their father, Forrest Sr., died in 1999. The notoriously private trio co-own but don't actively manage the maker of M&M's and Milky Way bars, which their grandfather started in 1931 as a confectionary business in his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington.

In 2008, Mars Inc. branched out from chocolate to gum, when it acquired the Wrigley Jr. Co. for $23 billion. Since then, it's delved into pet food, buying Iams and two other brands in 2014 from Procter & Gamble for close to $2.9 billion.

Together the three siblings run the Mars Foundation, which gives primarily to educational, environmental, cultural, and health-related causes. In March 2015, Frank Mars was made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth II.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

7. Bernard Arnault

Net worth: $28.9 billion

Age: 66

Country: France

Industry: Luxury goods

Bernard Arnault's LVMH houses 70 luxury brands from Louis Vuitton to Hennessy to Dom Perignon, all controlled by family parent company Groupe Arnault. By the 1980s and '90s, Arnault, who started out as a civil engineer, had assumed control of the family business and proceeded to buy high-end fashion house Christian Dior, reviving it from the brink of bankruptcy. Like most LVMH brands today, Dior once again thrives as an industry standard bearer, helping the firm haul in a record $33 billion in revenue in 2014.

This year, the French chairman and CEO is joining US-based private-equity firm Catterton to form an investment firm with a consumer focus. The new firm, to be named L Catterton, is targeting $12 billion in assets under management and will be 40% owned by LVMH and Groupe Arnault.

(Photo by ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

6. Liliane Bettencourt

Net worth: $29 billion

Age: 93

Country: France

Industry: Cosmetics

The heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune and the company's largest shareholder, Liliane Bettencourt is the richest woman in Europe and the second-richest woman in the world, with a net worth of $29 billion. She no longer has a hand in business operations, but L'Oreal and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation she cofounded with her late husband continue to prosper. She's an avid art collector, owning pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Munch.

In recent years, Bettencourt became a household name in France as the central figure in an infamous trial in which judges examined whether the billionaire was taken advantage of by those close to her. The trial closed in May 2015 when eight people, including trusted friends and financial advisers, were convicted of exploiting the heiress.

Bettencourt was back in the news again late last year after accusations were made against her former butler and five journalists for recording meetings with the billionaire and thus violating her right to privacy. The butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, claimed that he made the recordings to show Bettencourt's fragile state — all six were acquitted in early January.

(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)

5. Alice Walton

Net worth: $33.2 billion

Age: 66

Country: US

Industry: Retail

The daughter of late Walmart founder Sam Walton, Alice Walton holds a major piece of the company fortune, making her the richest woman on earth. Though she never took an active role in running the superstore like her brothers, she's become the target of pushback from minimum-wage Walmart employees who view her highfalutin lifestyle as insensitive and ignorant to the plights of many workers.

Instead of spending time at Walmart, Walton has become a patron of the arts. Her immense personal collection includes pieces from Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Georgia O'Keefe. In 2011, she opened the $50 million Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, where a number of her famous paintings are on display.

Walton also recently donated 3.7 million of her Walmart shares to the family's nonprofit and put her Texas ranches — one a working horse ranch, the other a luxurious vacation spot — on the market for a combined $48 million.

(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

4. Rob Walton

Net worth: $33.5 billion

Age: 71

Country: US

Industry: Retail

Samuel Robson "Rob" Walton is the oldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton. He started working at the iconic retail behemoth in 1969, holding positions from senior vice president to general counsel to chairman, a role he stepped down from in June after 23 years on the job. His son-in-law was named as his successor.

Despite Walmart's reputation as a greedy corporation that underpays its employees, the Walton family — the richest in America — has a philanthropic streak. Regulatory filings on New Year's Eve revealed that he and his brother each gave away 1.5 million Walmart shares to the family charity, Walton Family Holdings Trust, while sister Alice gave away 3.7 million shares, for a total family donation of $407 million. It's an incredible amount, but it's also ultimately a drop in the bucket for the Waltons, whose stake in the company — about 50% — is worth nearly $100 billion.

(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

3. Jim Walton

Net worth: $34.8 billion

Age: 67

Country: US

Industry: Retail

James "Jim" Walton's parents, Helen and Sam Walton, purchased a controlling stake in Arkansas' Bank of Bentonville the year before opening the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962 — when Jim was just 14. Within five years, the family owned 24 of the retail stores and in 1972 listed Walmart on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1975, after working in Walmart's real-estate department for a few years, Jim joined his parents' bank, later renamed Arvest Bank Group. He's now chairman and CEO of the regional community bank, which has $15 billion in assets.

The businessman is also director of Walton Enterprises, the holding company for the Walton family assets, and chairman of Community Publishers, an Arkansas-based newspaper firm. After the death of his brother John in 2005, Jim joined the board of Walmart, where he serves as a director today.

While America's richest family remains incredibly private, the Walton Family Foundation, of which Jim is secretary and treasurer, has donated millions to charitable causes. In December 2015, Jim and his siblings donated $407 million worth of Walmart shares to a newly formed trust that funds the Walton's philanthropy, which focuses on educational, cultural, community development, and social causes.

(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

2. Charles Koch

Net worth: $46.8 billion

Age: 80

Country: US

Industry: Diversified investments

Charles Koch is chairman and CEO of multifaceted conglomerate Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in America which their father founded. His younger brother David is the executive vice president. The company employs 100,000 people and generates $115 billion in sales from its diverse company, which makes everything from petrochemicals and Dixie Cups to raw clothing materials.

Outspoken in the world of conservative politics, the Koch brothers, who have a combined net worth of $94.2 billion, wield a heavy influence over the upcoming 2016 US presidential race. The two at one point favored Republican candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, but have since said that they won't support any of the current candidates in the primary. But they, along with their vast donor network, plan on pitching in some $750 million during the 2016 election cycle.

Recently surfaced documents revealed that Charles Koch's plans to reshape American politics date back 40 years, when he began strategizing and developing a libertarian movement.

(Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)

1. David Koch

Net worth: $47.4 billion

Age: 75

Country: US

Industry: Diversified investments

Along with his brother Charles, David Koch runs Koch Industries as executive vice president. The second-largest private company, $115 billion (in sales) Koch Industries manufactures everything from fertilizer and Dixie Cups to asphalt and biodiesel.

Famously conservative, the brothers also maintain immense political influence and pledged to spend, along with their vast donor network, some $750 million on 2016 campaigns and causes. David tends to stay out of the spotlight more than his brother Charles, who announced in November that the brothers would not be backing any of the current GOP candidates in the primaries, a sign that they aren't confident in the state of the party.

David has had two brushes with death. He survived a plane crash in 1991 in which everyone else in first class died, and he also won a battle with prostate cancer. He's become one of the world's most generous givers since, pledging to contribute more than $1.2 billion to cancer research, hospitals, education, and cultural institutions over his lifetime through his David H. Koch Charitable Foundation.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)


There is so much advice out there to consume but I will believe that there is one and I mean just one common skill that every successful self-made billionaire shares.

My best mentor taught this to me in 1995, when I had been asked to lead a corporate venture arm of our $6 billion company. The internet was just starting to emerge; I had just helped launch MapQuest and now the company wanted me to leverage its relationships with every print publisher dreaming about this new content distribution platform. "Content is king" was the mantra. But the content was locked away in proprietary systems, so I would invest in companies that would help unlock and distribute the content gold.

How many companies did you visit or talk to this week?

What are the average Series A valuations you are seeing?

Where are your best investment leads coming from?

How much is it costing us to maintain these partner relationships in Boston and on Sand Hill Road?

My mentor then shared a piece of advice that his father had shared with him and, in question form, it went like this: "Do you know your numbers?" You can't make great decisions without knowing your critical numbers like you know your kids birthdays. For a general manager of a typical business unit, it is your basic P&L statement line by line. For me, as the president of 77 Capital, it was the investment funnel as well as the high level P&L for each of our portfolio companies.

Warren Buffett once said, "Accounting is the language of business." I would add that accounting is the way we measure business success. Knowing your numbers and being able to talk about them at a moment's notice without cue cards or a glance at your phone or tablet is a skill every billionaire shares.

Think Mark Cuban does not know his average attendance or merchandise sales for the Dallas Mavericks? Wonder if Larry Ellison has his sales trends for every business unit at the ready? I would bet that Bill Gates could recite his numbers regarding his philanthropic endeavors at a level of detail that would surprise you.

Knowing your numbers is a fundamental skill that signals your employees, partners, vendors, and investors that you are on your game.

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