Software engineer Ma Huateng (aka Pony Ma) founded China's largest internet portal, Tencent Holdings, in 1998. He was 26. Ma's company has a number of successful and widely used platforms in its portfolio, including QQ, its instant-messaging service, which is one of the world's 10 largest websites; a mobile-texting service (WeChat) with over 800 million users; a mobile-commerce product (WeChat Wallet); and an online-gaming community (Tencent Games), the largest in China.
Ma's wealth has increased by $4.7 billion in the past year.
After a stint in the US Army, and with a Stanford MBA under his belt, Phil Knight convinced Tiger-brand shoemaker Onitsuka in the early 1960s to allow him to distribute Tiger shoes under the name Blue Ribbon Sports — the name Knight picked that predated his swoosh-logo-clad company Nike. Knight worked full-time as an accountant as he launched his new brand, and by 1968 he had built up enough of a rapport with customers that he was able to leave the CPA life behind. Knight now serves as chairman emeritus of Nike.
Nike has built its success on celebrity and athlete endorsement deals, starting with running prodigy Steve Prefontaine in 1973 and continuing with one of the most successful shoe marketers of all time in Michael Jordan, whom Nike signed to a five-year endorsement deal in 1984 worth roughly $500,000 per year. The biggest NBA star today is still under the Nike roof, with LeBron James signing a lifetime contract with the brand in 2015 reportedly in excess of $1 billion.
Knight's wealth has decreased by $1 billion over the last year.
Source of wealth: Inheritance/self-made; Reliance Industries
Mukesh Ambani took over as chairman of Reliance Industries when his father, the company's founder, died in 2002. The enormous industrial conglomerate has interests in energy, petrochemicals, textiles, natural resources, retail, and, more recently, telecommunications.
And if Ambani's projections for India's economy prove correct, expect that net worth to soar— it has already grown by $6.3 billion in the last year. Five years 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 $2.4 trillion.
Wang Wei founded China's largest package-delivery company by revenue, S.F. Express. It recently debuted on the stock exchange, catapulting Wang onto the world's richest list for the first time. Over the past year, his fortune has swelled by nearly $22.7 billion.
The son of a Russian interpreter for the People's Liberation Army Air Force, Wang grew up in Hong Kong and later returned to his birthplace in China in the 1990s to launch his delivery service, according to Bloomberg. At the time, his business was considered part of the "black delivery" market and he risked being caught and fined by the country's postal officers. The company had $7.4 billion in sales in 2015, outpacing its domestic competition, and now operates in more than 50 countries with a fleet of 15,000 vehicles and 36 aircraft.
Steve Ballmer dropped out of business school at Stanford in 1980 to join Harvard friend Bill Gates at Microsoft as the company's first business manager, earning a $50,000 salary and a stake in the company. During his tenure, Ballmer held positions as vice president of marketing, vice president of systems software, and executive vice president of sales and support, and was often referred to as "the numbers guy."
He became CEO of the company in 2000 after Gates stepped down, and he remained in charge of the software giant until Satya Nadella replaced him in 2014. While running Microsoft, the company's revenue grew by 294% and profits by 181% — although its market share was surpassed by Google and Apple during the same period. Still, the early stake Ballmer acquired in the company made him immensely wealthy.
After stepping down as CEO, Ballmer fulfilled his dream of owning an NBA franchise, paying $2 billion in a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers, now his main venture.
Ballmer's net worth has increased $4.8 billion in the last year.
The "King of Las Vegas" first hit the jackpot in 1995 when he was 61 and running Computer Dealers' Exhibition (COMDEX), one of the largest trade shows in Las Vegas. That year, Adelson sold the company to Japan's Softbank for $860 million and used the cash to finance his purchase of the Sands Casino. He quickly demolished it and in its place built the Venetian Casino Resort and the Sands Expo Convention Center. After further expansion, he took his gambling conglomerate, Las Vegas Sands, public in 2004.
Adelson, a former reporter and mortgage broker and the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, was hit hard during the financial crisis in 2008, reportedly losing $25 billion and needing to bolster his company's balance sheet with $1 billion of his own cash. Though the Sands had a rough 2015 — the stock tumbled 25% during the year — his fortune has recovered from the dark days of 2008. His overall net worth rose by $3.2 billion in the last year. He still runs the Sands and is CEO of China Sands, a subsidiary that opened its fifth casino in Macau last year.
The casino magnate, who owns 13 private jets, is a staunch supporter of the Republican Party, famously donating tens of millions of dollars to past candidates like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. He reportedly donated $25 million to aid Donald Trump's presidential bid.
In late 2015, he purchased Nevada's largest newspaper for $140 million.
At the end of 2014, Lemann created a fast-food giant, with the help of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, by merging Burger King with Canadian brand Tim Hortons in a series of deals worth over $11 billion. In 2015, 3G and Berkshire Hathaway teamed up again to invest $10 billion into the megamerger of Kraft and Heinz, which created the fifth-largest food and beverage company in the world.
In November 2015, 3G's Anheuser-Busch InBev orchestrated a mammoth $108 billion deal to take over SABMiller, becoming the most dominant beer producer in the world. Earlier this year he initiated a takeover bid of food and household goods behemoth Unilever — a deal that would be worth some $250 billion.
His net worth has increased by $2.9 billion over the last year.
Source of wealth: Self-made; CK Hutchison Holdings
Despite humble beginnings, business magnate Li Ka-shing has become the wealthiest man in Hong Kong. After his father died of tuberculosis, Li dropped out of school at 16 to support his family, working in a factory making plastic flowers. Six years later, he opened his own factory, the predecessor to what's known today as CK Hutchison Holdings, a vast business empire with interests in real estate, manufacturing, energy, telecommunications, and technology.
A savvy investor, Li and his venture-capital fund Horizon Ventures have backed companies like Facebook, Skype, Spotify, and the egg-replacement food startup Hampton Creek.
Two years ago, Li reorganized his business affairs under two new listed companies, one entity for property holdings and another for all other global assets. The move is most likely in preparation to hand over control of his sprawling fortune to his son, but the 88-year-old doesn't have any plans of slowing down just yet. In August 2015, he opened the 12,000th location of AS Watson, CK Hutchison's health and beauty-products retailer, now the largest in the world. Li's net worth rose by $4.1 billion over the past year.
Real estate mogul Wang Jianlin, who served in the Chinese military from 1970 to 1986 before going into business, has his hands in dozens of sectors and his name on hundreds of companies through his conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group. That includes British yacht maker Sunseeker and US-based AMC Entertainment. Some of Wang's largest investments are overseas, including upscale real-estate development projects in Sydney and Madrid. Since this time last year, his wealth has grown by $4.8 billion.
From 2014 to 2015, Wang saw his fortune more than double from $13.2 billion to $30 billion after Wanda Commercial Properties and Wanda Cinema Line, China's largest property developer and Asia's largest movie-theater operator, completed initial public offerings. During that time he also purchased a 20% stake in the Spanish soccer club Atlético Madrid for $52 million and bought the World Triathlon Corp., parent company of the iconic Ironman triathlon, for $650 million.
Wang has said that his future investments lie in the culture industry, a sector he claims has no brand or profit ceilings. The Chinese businessman purchased Legendary Entertainment, the producer of "Jurassic World" and "The Dark Knight," a year ago for $3.5 billion in cash. The acquisition gives him immeasurable power in Hollywood and is the first step in his plan to control the world's biggest film company by revenue.
19. and 20. John and Jacqueline Mars
Net worth: $32.4 billion each
Age: 77 and 81
Source of wealth: Inheritance; Mars Inc.
Siblings Jacqueline and John 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 siblings run the Mars Foundation, which gives primarily to educational, environmental, cultural, and health-related causes. In March 2015, John Mars was made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth II.
Their combined net worth has risen by $2.6 billion over the last year.
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.
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. Over the last year, Walton's has increased by $2.7 billion.
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.
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 2015 after 23 years on the job. His son-in-law was named as his successor.
Regulatory filings on New Year's Eve revealed that Walton 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.
His wealth has increased by $3.3 billion in the past year.
The richest person in China, Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma reportedly started China's first internet company in 1988: China Yellowpages. He lost control of that company to a state-owned telecom in 1996 and started Alibaba three years later with just $60,000. Fifteen years after its inception, the e-commerce company broke records with a $25 billion initial public offering — the world's largest ever.
Post-IPO, however, Alibaba's good fortune began to slip. The company's shares dropped 22% in 2015, most likely because of China's slowing economy and concerns over counterfeiters using the company's platform. Ma didn't worry, though. He acknowledged that 2016 would be a trying time for the Chinese economy, but remained confident in Alibaba's long-term success.
Ma's wealth has increased by $8.4 billion over the past year.
Source of wealth: Inheritance/self-made; L'Oreal Group
The heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune and the company's largest shareholder, Liliane Bettencourt is the richest woman in the world, with a net worth of $36.8 billion, an increase of $3 billion in the last year alone. 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 in late 2015 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 January 2016.
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 EUR 37.6 billion ($39.5 billion) in revenue in 2016.
Arnault's wealth has increased by $6.8 billion in the past year.
Along with cofounder Larry Page, Sergey Brin helped facilitate Google's massive restructuring, which the company announced in 2015. The move put Google under the auspices of a holding company called Alphabet, run by Brin as president and Page as CEO. Google's other ventures, such as Nest and Google X, are separate companies also under the Alphabet umbrella.
The restructuring allowed Brin to focus on exploring inventive new "moonshot" projects and ideas. With top talent and an abundance of resources at its disposal, Alphabet has already made automated homes and self-driving cars a reality.
Brin, who emigrated from Moscow to the US as a child, connected with Page in 1995 at Stanford, where they were each pursuing a PhD. Three years later they founded Google, now one of the most powerful companies on the planet.
Over the past year, Brin's wealth has increased by $4.1 billion.
As a Stanford PhD student in 1998, Larry Page teamed up with classmate Sergey Brin to create BackRub, an early search engine. The project eventually morphed into Google — now called Alphabet — one of the largest and farthest-reaching companies in the world, worth more than $581 billion. Over the past year, Page's personal net worth has increased by $4.3 billion.
Page oversaw major changes to Google's business structure in 2015, starting with the creation of Alphabet, the holding company that manages Google and all of its related ventures, including Nest, Calico, and Google X. Previously the chief executive of Google, Page moved up to helm Alphabet, which has its hands in everything from home automation to self-driving cars to prolonging human life.
Page doesn't make a lot of splashy purchases, but the alternative-energy advocate does own an eco-friendly mansion in Palo Alto that uses geothermal energy and rainwater capture. He's also an avid kiteboarder.
At 17, Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA, now the world's largest furniture retailer with revenue of nearly EUR 34.2 billion ($36 billion). Kamprad's plan from the beginning was to set up "eternal life" for IKEA, which meant keeping it off the stock market and securing it within a complex corporate structure that includes a charitable arm and a retail and franchise arm, collectively known as Stichting INGKA Foundation. While the Swedish business magnate is no longer directly involved in day-to-day decision-making operations, he still sits in on meetings as senior adviser to the supervisory board.
Among his peers, the 90-year-old founder is incredibly frugal despite his massive net worth. He reportedly flies economy, stays in cheap hotels, and has driven the same Volvo for more than two decades. He also infamously moved IKEA and his family out of Sweden in the 1970s to avoid its onerous tax rates. He returned to live in his home country in 2013 after a long spell in Switzerland.
But Kamprad has also been generous with his wealth, donating to child rights, immunization, environment and wildlife, education, and medical research, with personal lifetime giving of $300 million.
Kamprad's personal wealth increased by $2.6 billion in the past year.
In 1977, Larry Ellison teamed up with two colleagues from an electronics company to start their own programming firm, which landed a contract not long after to build a relational database-management system for the CIA under the project code Oracle. The project grew into what is known today as Oracle Corp., which produced $37 billion in revenue last year. In 2010, Ellison reduced his annual salary from $1 million to $1, but he still takes in more than $60 million in total compensation thanks to generous stock awards. Ellison stepped down as CEO in 2014 after 38 years on the job and took on the role of chief technology officer.
The tech tycoon is also a generous philanthropist through partnerships with wildlife conservation groups and the Lawrence Ellison Foundation, which supports organizations that research aging and global infectious diseases. He's also a member of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge, committing to give away at least half of his fortune.
In the last year, Ellison's wealth has increased by $5.2 billion.
Source of wealth: Inheritance/self-made; Koch Industries
Along with his brother Charles, David Koch runs Koch Industries as executive vice president. The second-largest private company, $100 billion (in sales) Koch Industries manufactures everything from fertilizer and Dixie Cups to asphalt and biodiesel. David's personal wealth has decreased by $1.2 billion billion in the past year.
Famously conservative, the brothers also maintain immense political influence and routinely spend, along with their vast donor network, hundreds of millions on political campaigns and causes.
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.
Source of wealth: Inheritance/self-made; Koch Industries
Charles Koch is chairman and CEO of multifaceted conglomerate Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in America. His younger brother David is the executive vice president. The company employs 100,000 people and generates $100 billion in sales from its diverse holdings, which make 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 $95.8 billion, routinely fund political campaigns, although they took a step back during the 2016 election cycle.
The richest man in Mexico owns more than 200 companies in his home country through a conglomerate called Grupo Carso — also known as Slimlandia. The son of Lebanese-Mexican entrepreneurs, Carlos Slim Helú gained control of his father's retail and real-estate businesses upon his death. After earning a civil-engineering degree, Slim built a diversified portfolio throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s that now dominates the Mexican economy.
A savvy investor with a knack for well-timed deals, in 1990 Slim took Grupo Carso public, and shortly thereafter he capitalized on Mexico's decision to privatize its telecom industry. Grupo Carso acquired state phone company Telmex, which now owns 80% of the telephone lines in Mexico. In 2008, Slim bought a 6.4% stake in The New York Times for $127 million after the stock had cratered, making him the largest shareholder. He has since increased his ownership to 17%, a stake worth about $391 million thanks to The Times' resurgence.
Slim still has aspirations to grow his empire — which includes interests in the financial, industrial, telecommunications, and media sectors — especially in his home country, where he invested $4 billion in 2015. However, over the past year, his net worth has decreased by $1 billion.
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, then a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard, launched TheFacebook.com, a rudimentary version of the now ubiquitous social network known as Facebook. Zuckerberg dropped out of college to work full-time as Facebook's CEO, and the site quickly exploded in popularity. Today, it attracts more than a billion users daily and is worth nearly $400 billion. At 32, Zuckerberg is by far the youngest of the 50 richest people in the world. His wealth has increased by $11.1 billion in the past year.
In December 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan pledged give away 99% of their wealth in their lifetimes through an organization called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, though some critics noted the organization wasn't a nonprofit charity itself and found the announcement misleading.
But this isn't the couple's first foray into philanthropy. They donated $25 million in the fight against Ebola in 2015, and they gave $100 million worth of Facebook shares toward improving a New Jersey public-school system.
Amancio Ortega is the fourth-richest man in the world thanks to his control of the Spanish fashion behemoth Inditex, which Ortega — who started out as a delivery boy for a local clothing store at 14 — turned from a small-town dress shop into one of the largest fashion empires on the planet. However, in the past year Ortega's wealth has decreased by $800 million.
Much of Inditex's success can be attributed to fast-fashion giant Zara, the company's biggest brand. The chain is changing the landscape of retail as its chic yet affordable designs continue to appeal to demanding customers who constantly crave new styles at low prices.
Yet despite Ortega's immense wealth, he lives humbly. The billionaire still eats lunch with his employees in the company cafeteria, and though he's the richest person in the fashion industry, he sticks to a simple uniform of a white shirt and blue blazer.
Jeff Bezos earned his massive fortune by introducing e-commerce to the world. After spending time in finance on Wall Street, Bezos founded Amazon.com in the garage of his Seattle home in 1994 and operated it exclusively as an online book retailer. The company went public three years later and has since grown to include everything from furniture to food to Amazon's own consumer-electronics products, generating $136 billion in revenue in 2016.
Bezos also has interests outside of Amazon, including investments in his privately owned space company Blue Origin, which successfully launched its first spacecraft in 2015, and The Washington Post, the newspaper he bought in 2013.
Bezos' wealth has increased by $21.9 billion in the last year.
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett started his prodigious investing career at a young age. As a child he delivered newspapers on his bike, and by 11 the precocious Nebraska native had purchased his first shares in the stock market — Cities Service Preferred at $38 apiece — and sold them for a $5 profit. He was rejected from Harvard Business School, so Buffett went to Columbia Business School instead and learned under iconic value investor Benjamin Graham, who would become a mentor to the budding financier. Buffett worked as a securities analyst in the early-1950s before starting his own investment firm. He bought textile company Berkshire Hathaway in 1969, transforming it into a holding company that would house the many lucrative investments that helped build his massive fortune and earn the nickname "The Oracle of Omaha."
The array of portfolio companies and investments that made him rich may appear random — he's bet on companies including Coca-Cola, American Express, Geico, Fruit of the Loom, Dairy Queen, and General Motors — but they're all cash-generating machines that offer long-term value. In the past year, his net worth has increased by $13.1 billion.
At just 20, Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen. Months before his 31st birthday, the company went public, making Gates a billionaire. He served as CEO of the software titan until 2000 and was its chairman and largest shareholder until 2014. Though he still sits on the company's board, Gates is no longer actively involved in Microsoft.
Gates is not only the richest man in the world — his net worth increased by $10.6 billion in the last year alone — but he's also the most generous. Since 1999, Gates and his wife have helmed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the most powerful charities in the world. The foundation — which controls an endowment of more than $40 billion — aims to lift millions of people out of poverty, with a heavy focus on eliminating HIV, malaria, and other infectious diseases. The couple is also working on a plan to bring mobile banking to the 2 billion adults who don't have a bank account.
He's also cofounder of the Giving Pledge, which he launched in 2010 with good friend and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett as a promise to donate 50% or more of their fortunes. The Giving Pledge now counts Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk among its 156 members.
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Zuckerberg is up $20.1 billion on the year, and his $70.1 billion fortune makes him the fifth-richest person on earth.
The secret to their riches is pretty straightforward: Both of their net worths are tied heavily to tech giants they founded and run, each of which is having a strong performance in 2017.
For Bezos, 93% of his net worth, or $81.7 billion, is tied up in Amazon stock, dwarfing other high profile investments like rocket company Blue Origin ($3 billion) and The Washington Post ($250 million), according to Bloomberg data. Amazon stock is up 36% year-to-date.
Zuckerberg has nearly all of his fortune in Facebook stock as well — $67.6 billion, or 96%. The rest is comprised of cash, real estate, and other miscellaneous assets. Facebook stock is up 41% in 2017.