In this paper, we analyze the wealth creation amongst the 50 wealthiest individuals in the world, eventually narrowing its focus to the ones that are both self-made and entrepreneurs. Since those who are self-made might not necessarily be entrepreneurs considering both are of vital importance. For example, Warren Buffet is both self-made and entrepreneurial, but not an entrepreneur by definition we have opted for and will expand on in this paper. Similarly, Steve Ballmer, the ex-CEO of Microsoft, is self-made but was essentially an employee of the company. He is the only “employee” amongst the top 50.
We begin the analysis of the scale, source, and characteristics of wealth today. We then go on to tackle the highly contested title of “self-made,” eventually recognizing the relativism of the term and settling for a scale to measure it, as opposed to the binary thinking generally employed; that is, “people either are or are not self-made,” which is untrue. Next, we analyze the ones that aren’t self-made, amongst whom there is a varying degree of success post-inheritance. Then, the paper analyses the Forbes billionaire index to identify the top 50 self-made entrepreneurs and share their notable characteristics and insights into their success. After this, we compare the wealth of the list members to a metric that underlines the scale of money being discussed – countries’ GDPs. Moving forward, the report analyzes not just the individual, but the organizational wealth generated by the diverse range of entrepreneurs using the market capitalization of their companies. Ratios are created to identify the entrepreneurs’ wealth for the other stakeholders in their companies and those who use their products. The report concludes by identifying entrepreneurship as the direct or indirect source of the wealth generated by most members of the top 50.
Identifying and Understanding the Wealthy:
Table A presents the top 50 wealthiest individuals as of November 27th, 2020 (all story and financial data were sourced from Forbes on this date) . Some of the most important highlights of the table are as follows:
The number of centi-billionaires continues to grow, from 2 in 2019 to 5 in 2020. The exclusive club consists of four technology entrepreneurs from the United States, supporting the fact that technology-entrepreneurship is the most explosive vehicle of wealth creation. The single outlier was LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, a French Citizen and in the luxury goods space. His power in France was recently put on display when he managed to get the French Government involved in Tiffany’s turbulent acquisition.
|More at Bloomberg: LVMH’s Arnault Leaned On Government to Exit Tiffany Deal|
Nearly half the list is from the United States (23). China claims 11 spots; France and Japan are claiming three spots each; Germany and Hong Kong are claiming two spots each; and Spain, India, Austria, Italy, Canada, and Mexico are claiming one spot each. Notably, all three French nationals on the list generated/inherited their fortunes in the luxury cosmetics (Bettencourt – L’Oreal) and luxury goods (Arnault – LVMH and Pinault – Kering) industry, capitalizing on France’s historical designation as the global center of fashion.
The average age of the members of the list was 66. The youngest member was Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (36), while the oldest spot was shared by both the Hong Kong billionaires on the list – CK Hutchinson’s Li Ka-Shing (92) and Henderson Land Development’s Lee Shau-kee (92). While the Asian billionaires’ wealth stems from traditional industries like ports and properties, their heirs are preparing to take over soon and displaying their business acumen via more modern and exciting bets through family-funded VC arms and SPACs. The most notable is Richard Li’s SPAC bet with Peter Thiel.
|More at Bloomberg: Li Ka-Shing’s Rebel Son Teams Up With Peter Thiel on SPAC Bet|
Together, the group controls an estimated $2.863, T, with the average member worth $57.26 B. This represents approximately 30% of the total 9.435 T owned by the 1.8% of the world’s 2,825 billionaires (2019 figures from Wealth-X’s 2020 Billionaire Census)
|More at Wealth-X: 2020 Billionaire Census|
The wealthiest individual on the list was Amazon’s Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, at $186.5 B.
Entry into the top 50 required a whopping net worth of $26.9 B. The lowest position is currently occupied by Giovanni Ferrero, the scion and executive chairman of his family’s namesake Ferrero Group, the confectionery giant behind hits such as Nutella, Kinder, and Tic-Tacs.
|1||Jeff Bezos||$186.5 B||56||Amazon||USA||No|
|2||Bernard Arnault & family||$141.9 B||71||LVMH||France||No|
|3||Elon Musk||$132.1 B||49||Tesla, SpaceX||USA||No|
|4||Bill Gates||$119.4 B||65||Microsoft||USA||No|
|5||Mark Zuckerberg||$102.0 B||36||USA||No|
|6||Warren Buffett||$87.4 B||90||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||No|
|7||Larry Ellison||$78.9 B||76||software||USA||No|
|8||Larry Page||$78.7 B||47||USA||No|
|9||Amancio Ortega||$77.1 B||84||Zara||Spain||No|
|10||Sergey Brin||$76.5 B||47||USA||No|
|11||Mukesh Ambani||$73.7 B||63||diversified||India||Yes|
|12||Steve Ballmer||$73.2 B||64||Microsoft||USA||No|
|13||Francoise Bettencourt Meyers & family||$72.5 B||67||L’Oreal||France||Yes|
|14||Alice Walton||$70.4 B||71||Walmart||USA||Yes|
|15||Jim Walton||$70.1 B||72||Walmart||USA||Yes|
|16||Rob Walton||$69.8 B||76||Walmart||USA||Yes|
|17||Jack Ma||$62.8 B||56||e-commerce||China||No|
|18||Zhong Shanshan||$62.4 B||66||beverages, pharmaceuticals||China||No|
|19||MacKenzie Scott||$60.5 B||50||Amazon||USA||No|
|20||Carlos Slim Helu & family||$59.2 B||80||telecom||Mexico||No|
|21||Ma Huateng||$57.1 B||49||internet media||China||No|
|22||Michael Bloomberg||$54.9 B||78||Bloomberg LP||USA||No|
|23||Colin Zheng Huang||$50.8 B||40||e-commerce||China||No|
|24||Phil Knight & family||$50.6 B||82||Nike||USA||No|
|25||François Pinault & family||$46.6 B||84||luxury goods||France||No|
|26||Charles Koch||$44.9 B||85||Koch Industries||USA||Yes|
|27||Julia Koch & family||$44.9 B||58||Koch Industries||USA||Yes|
|28||Daniel Gilbert||$42.8 B||58||Quicken Loans||USA||No|
|29||Beate Heister & Karl Albrecht Jr.||$41.4 B||NA||supermarkets||Germany||Yes|
|30||Tadashi Yanai & family||$40.2 B||71||fashion retail||Japan||No|
|31||David Thomson & family||$39.2 B||63||media||Canada||Yes|
|32||Michael Dell||$39.1 B||55||Dell computers||USA||No|
|33||He Xiangjian||$36.5 B||78||home appliances||China||No|
|34||Li Ka-Shing||$36.0 B||92||diversified||Hong Kong||No|
|35||Dieter Schwarz||$35.8 B||81||retail||Germany||No|
|36||Sun Piaoyang||$35.6 B||62||pharmaceuticals||China||No|
|37||Sheldon Adelson||$35.0 B||87||casinos||USA||No|
|38||Masayoshi Son||$34.7 B||63||internet, telecom||Japan||No|
|39||Hui Ka Yan||$29.6 B||62||real estate||China||No|
|40||Takemitsu Takizaki||$29.6 B||75||sensors||Japan||No|
|41||Wang Wei||$29.3 B||NA||package delivery||China||No|
|42||Yang Huiyan & family||$29.2 B||39||real estate||China||Yes|
|43||John Mars||$28.9 B||85||candy, pet food||USA||Yes|
|44||Jacqueline Mars||$28.9 B||81||candy, pet food||USA||Yes|
|45||William Lei Ding||$28.7 B||49||online games||China||No|
|46||Lee Shau Kee||$28.3 B||92||real estate||Hong Kong||No|
|47||Zhang Yiming||$27.7 B||36||software||China||No|
|48||Dietrich Mateschitz||$27.6 B||76||Red Bull||Austria||No|
|49||Len Blavatnik||$27.0 B||63||music, chemicals||USA||No|
|50||Giovanni Ferrero||$26.9 B||56||Nutella, chocolates||Italy||Yes|
Problem: Who holds the “self-made” title and who doesn’t?
The term “self-made” has been the cause of much controversy over the last few years as its definition isn’t fixed. Most notably, when then 21-year-old Kylie Cosmetics founder Kylie Jenner was named the world’s youngest self-made billionaire in 2019. She threw the media into a frenzy over how someone that had capitalized on her family’s fame could ever be considered “self-made.” Another notest by assigning self-made scores – a scale from 1 to 10, which indicates the degree to which a person qualifies as self-made. A 10 means you’re entirely self-made, whereas a one means you inherited your wealth and did nothing to grow it. So, yes, turning an upper-middle-class upbringing and $250,000 into a $186 B fortune classifies you as self-made, with a score of 8. Kylie Jenner, who was discussed earlier, was given a 7. However, Georgable but less contested example is the world’s wealthiest individual, Jeff Bezos, who got his parents to invest approximately $250,000 in Amazon in 1995.
Solution: The Self-Made Score
In reality, the concept of being self-made is very relative. In truth, the concept of being self-made is very relative. This is best explained through Forbes’s explains this be Soros “who survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest, fled Hungary under Communist rule and worked his way through the London School of Economics as a railway porter and a waiter,” is a perfect ten on the scale. Interestingly, Soros is worth $8.3 B today but would have made the top 50 list had he not donated $32 B to the Open Society Foundations.
On the other hand, Charles Koch ($44.9 B), the Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries (a company he inherited from his father), received a score of 5, indicating that he was involved in growing his wealth but isn’t self-made by any stretch of the imagination. Comparatively, Julia Koch ($44.9 B), the widow of Charles’ brother David, received a score of 1 as she had done little to grow her inherited wealth yet. The term “yet” is critical in the previous sentence as scores can change, provided the person goes on to generate wealth. Lukas Walton ($17.5 B), the grandson of Sam Walton (Walmart’s Founder), currently has a score of 1, but at the age of 34, he has his life ahead of him to change that.
|Read more about the Forbes Self-Made Score (awarded to those on the Forbes 400) here.|
An excerpt from the article above about the Forbes Self-Made Score reads as follows:
“The score ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 through 5 indicating someone who inherited some or all of his or her fortune; while 6 through 10 are for those who built their company or established a fortune on his or her own.”
In line with the statement above, to identify self-made, we looked for a score of 6 and higher. Since Forbes only awards a score to those in the US, identifying self-made US citizens was simple. For non-US members of the list, we identified Founders who didn’t inherit a sizable/identifiable fortune ($100M +) as self-made.
We see that amongthe top 50, 37 individuals are self-made, whereas 13 inherited their wealth.
The Non Self-Made Wealthiest Individuals
1 – Mukesh Ambani: The most exciting inclusion in the top 50 who isn’t self-made is Mukesh Ambani ($73.7 B), the wealthiest man in Asia, who is currently competing with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for the digital market of the world’s largest democracy, India. Mukesh Ambani inherited half of Reliance, the conglomerate his father Dhirubhai Ambani founded, while his brother Anil Ambani took the other half. The fairness of the firm’s division is up for debate as the brothers’ fortunes, which once stood at approximately $40 B a-piece, have diverged to the point where Mukesh has nearly doubled his wealth, while his brother Anil is filing for bankruptcy. Mukesh Ambani is arguably the most successful of those who weren’t self-made, managing to diversify his fortune away from petrochemicals to retail and technology (via Jio, India’s largest technology venture). Today, he is essentially the gatekeeper of all meaningful foreign investments in India.
2 to 13 – Other Family Business Heirs: After Ambani, the wealthiest heir on the list is the heiress to the L’Oreal fortune, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers ($72.5 B). She is followed by three members of the Walton clan, who collectively form the world’s wealthiest family with a combined net worth of approximately (and ever-fluctuating) $215 B. After them come the two Kochs, the Albrecht siblings (heirs to the Aldi retail fortune), and David Thomson, the head of the media and publishing empire founded by his grandfather. The most notable holding in the Thomson clan’s portfolio is Thomson Reuters. Next, in the 42nd spot is Yang Huiyan, the heiress to Chinese real-estate firm Country Garden Holdings. She is closely trailed by two Mars fortune members, whose assets stem from success in the confectionery industry. Finally, the last spot on the list is occupied by a long-time industry rival of the Mars family, the Ferrero family’s head, Giovanni Ferrero.
|More at Bloomberg: These are the World’s Richest Families.|
The Top 50 Wealthiest Self-Made Entrepreneurs
The top 50 wealthiest self-made entrepreneurs were defined as the individuals who have created their wealth (not purely inherited) and categorized as entrepreneurs (identified as a founder of the source company or a significant contributor to launching a start-up idea). The following table, Table B, illustrates the top 50 wealthiest (self-made) entrepreneurs according to Forbes’ data as of November 27th, 2020, showing the net worth of each self-made entrepreneur to this date.
The worth of the top 50 self-made entrepreneurs combined is $2,255.6 B. Their average age is 55.8 years old. Approximately 68% of the top 50 individuals represent countries outside the United States. The top three geographic regions represented include the following: United States (32%), China (24%), and France and India (4%) each. The top 50 self-made entrepreneur billionaires are generally from the United States and made their money in the technology industry. Out of the top 50 individuals, only one is female – Wu Yajun, CEO of Longfor Properties. However, it is critical to note that below the top 50, there are relatively more women joining the self-made entrepreneur wealth creation path than ever before.
Most notably, the billionaires enjoy a high degree of achievement relating to innovative technology, including recent disruptive innovations such as cloud computing and e-commerce. All the top 10 self-made entrepreneur billionaires have brought innovation that binds their wealth creation success. Other achievements include getting welfare and employment despite the shift to advanced technology. For example, many companies, including Amazon, have hired more employees than ever during the world’s time of need during the pandemic that has left many jobless. They have also achieved great success in diversification and maintaining the wealth that they have created. Many of these self-made entrepreneurs continue to develop and adapt to innovations. They have also achieved the ability to work in a wide range of geographic regions while working under global regulations.
Certain controlled factors contributing to their success are their skills, expertise, and background in their fields before founding their successful businesses. This includes the ability to receive the appropriate education in the field to gain work experience that fits with their passion. A critical uncontrollable variable that has contributed to self-made entrepreneurs’ success is the ability to take risks and start a venture of their own.
The Self-made Entrepreneurs with Unique Stories
A. Jeff Bezos
|#1||Jeff Bezos||$186.5 B||56||Amazon||United States||M|
Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of e-commerce Amazon since 1994. He started this out of his garage in Seattle. He currently holds the highest net worth in the world in real-time. He is also known for being the Washington Post owner and founder of the space exploration company Blue Origin. He always showed a great interest in how things work, such as transforming his parents’ garage into a laboratory as a child. His success runs from a diversified realm of business ventures, making him one of the world’s wealthiest. He began his education at Princeton University and afterward worked on Wall Street, later becoming the youngest Senior VP at D.E. Shaw investment firm. It was only a few years after that he decided to quit his job, and start his own online bookstore business, Amazon.com. He took a risk when he decided to leave his finance career at D.E. Shaw and get into the world of e-commerce. Bezos consistently created wealth through his diversification of Amazon’s offerings for users and major acquisitions such as Whole Foods grocery chain for $13.7 billion in cash. He has also worked to bring donations and help bring more jobs despite the vast innovations of e-commerce. During the current pandemic, Amazon hired approximately 175,000 additional employees.
B. Elon Musk
|#3||Elon Musk||$132.1 B||49||Tesla, SpaceX||United States||M|
Elon Musk is a South African-born American self-made entrepreneur who founded SpaceX and Tesla. He became a multimillionaire in his late 20s after selling his start-up company Zip2 to Compaq Computers. Elon Musk has worked to revolutionize the current innovation in history both on Earth and in space. Although he grew up with a family full of entrepreneurs that are now successful on their own, he created his own success at the time without enough money to provide for himself when he immigrated to Canada at age 17 and later to the US. Musk changed his plans considerably by deferring his attendance to Stanford and launching the first business venture, Zip2. He used the money he earned from sales, approximately $22 million, to found X.com merged with a company now known as PayPal.
C. Amancio Ortega
|#8||Amancio Ortega||$77.1 B||84||Zara||Spain||M|
Ortega began his career manufacturing textiles through a small family company in 1963. He is one of the top self-made retail entrepreneurs who launched the brand Zara in Spain. He has invested his dividends into real estate in many countries, including the major city-states in the United States. He highlights an exciting and innovative way to approach the retail reserve in Spain. He has always stayed away from the media for several years while working to amass a personal net worth of approximately $77 billion (as of November 27th, 2020 net worth). His unique success stands with his ability to upend the retail world aggressively and effectively by getting clothes on racks faster than anyone within the market, starting what is currently known as “fast fashion.” His self-made success begins with being born to a low-income family, due to which he had to leave school at the age of 14 to start making money. He is known for the continuation of innovation and believes that success is never guaranteed, so it is critical not to focus on innovating.
D. Eric Yuan
|#37||Eric Yuan & family||$20.7 B||50||video conferencing||United States||M|
Eric Yuan is another notable wealth profile that has recently gained a tremendous amount of wealth through his company, Zoom Video Communications. He is the founder and CEO of this video conferencing company that heavily runs on cloud computing technologies. He saw success by starting with an idea while finding better ways to communicate with his friends and family. He helped build WebEx as VP before starting his own company, Zoom. He had the necessary skills and expertise in this industry before launching Zoom. His net worth moved 112% to approximately 7 billion dollars in the last three months of 2020 due to the current pandemic. He continues to incorporate new technologies and fix issues such as privacy and security issues immediately at hand before continuing to innovate its features. Zoom has demonstrated Yuan’s success by being a top cloud computing technology provider that began with an idea to address his own needs.
Understanding the Scale of Wealth Generated by the Self-Made Entrepreneurs:
To understand the scale of the assets generated by the top 50 self-made entrepreneurs, we compared their wealth and business impact to a scale that would force perspective – the IMF’s top 50 countries by GDP, from the United States ($20.8 T) to Peru ($195B). We compared these entrepreneurs and countries through four different methods.
- If the top 50 entrepreneurs were a country, where would they rank in terms of GDP? The combined wealth of these top 50 entrepreneurs identified was $2,225 billion. This amount would rank as the 8th largest country by GDP– surpassing Italy’s tally of $1,848 and shy of France’s $2,551 billion.
- How many countries’ GDP would the entrepreneur’s combined wealth equate to? It would take the nine nations with the lowest GDP on this list (of the top 50 countries) to edge past the combined wealth of these 50 billionaires. The combined GDP was $2,244 billion and included South Africa, Pakistan, Finland, Colombia, Romania, Chile, Czech Republic, Portugal, and Peru.
- What percentage of their GDP do the entrepreneurs (grouped by origin) make up? These 50 entrepreneurs come from 15 different countries – 7 of which had only one representative. The only GDP comparisons of note are the US and China. The United States has the most entrepreneurs, with their 17 billionaires reaching a combined $1,099 billion relative to the country’s GDP of $20,807 billion or roughly 5% of the total. China has the second most with 13 entrepreneurs amassing $465 billion compared to the country’s GDP of $14,860 billion or 3% of the total.
- Given that GDP is not the money made by a country but just the domestic product’s value, it is more akin to a company’s revenue. Hence, how do the revenues of some of the entrepreneurs’ companies compare to GDPs? Amazon’s revenue of $280 billion is just shy of South Africa’s 40th ranked GDP of $282 billion. Another intriguing comparison is between Google’s revenue of $162 billion and Kazakhstan’s GDP of $165 billion (which is not in the top 50 countries; it is 54th).
How Much Wealth (Personal and Organizational) has been Created by Top 20 Entrepreneurs?
To fully understand wealth creation, it is essential to recognize how much wealth is being created by these world-renowned entrepreneurs, including those they don’t make for themselves. From Table B, we can identify the Top 20 wealthiest entrepreneurs ranked by net worth. From American Jeff Bezos and his Amazon empire to Chinese He Xiangjian and his home appliance powerhouse, enormous wealth is being created in both personal and organizational means. For simplicity, we will define personal wealth as wealth that contributes to their net worth, and organizational wealth contributes to their company’s market capitalization.
The total net worth of the top 20 entrepreneurs adds up to $1.54 trillion. Over a third of this total is contributed by these five centi-billionaires: Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bernard Arnault (LVMH), Elon Musk (Tesla), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). While the total net worth is an important indicator of these entrepreneurs’ wealth, it does not show the full picture. To see it, we need to take a look at the wealth that their companies are generating. Table C below shows the market capitalization of each of these top 20 entrepreneurs’ ventures. To keep this model simple, we are only including the primary entrepreneurial company associated with each person. In total, these entrepreneurs’ venture valuations amount to $19.55 trillion. This is almost 12 times the amount of wealth that these entrepreneurs have created for themselves.
|Source||Market Cap ($B)|
|Fast Retailing (Uniqlo)||$8,588|
|Name||Wealth Created for others ($B)||% Made for Them||% Made for Others|
|Bernard Arnault & family||$108||56.78%||43.22%|
|Colin Zheng Huang||$122||29.45%||70.55%|
|Phil Knight & family||$160||24.01%||75.99%|
|François Pinault & family||$29||61.49%||38.51%|
|Tadashi Yanai & family||$8,548||0.47%||99.53%|
*Bloomberg LP is a private company, and hence the values are estimates.
Taking a deeper dive into these numbers, we can subtract the $1.54 trillion that the entrepreneurs personally created to be left with a total of $18.01 trillion created for others by this group of entrepreneurs. Looking at Table D above, we can see the exact numbers of how much wealth has been created by each individual through their company for themselves and others. The column “Wealth Created” takes the market cap of each entrepreneur’s primary venture and subtracts out their net worth to see how much excess wealth is generated. An interesting feature of this data is that 12 of these 20 entrepreneurs have created over 75% of their company’s wealth for others. This serves as evidence that forming partnerships and finding good investors generates more wealth for everyone in the long run, as opposed to running a company alone (without partners or investors) to hoard the equity.
These entrepreneurs create not only personal and organizational wealth but also compound wealth. For example, Jeff Bezos’s Amazon enables others to sell on their platform, allowing them to generate wealth. Third-party sellers on Amazon contributed to more than half of the firm’s 2019 revenue at $280 billion. Another entrepreneur-built platform that is seen in this top 20 list is Facebook. Facebook, which owns Instagram, enables influencers to make a living through the marketing and sales and their sponsor’s products. By simply appreciating these platforms’ scale, we can see how they create wealth for their parent companies and founders and their users.
Entrepreneurship is indeed the singule best vehicle for wealth creation, whether the wealth is directly or indirectly created. Among the list of the world’s 50 wealthiest individuals, 30 of them were entrepreneurs. However, we find that even those that weren’t entrepreneurs often have indirectly benefited from entrepreneurship; those from family businesses often have the entrepreneurial spirit of their previous generations to credit for their enormous wealth today; those who were investors tend to bet on entrepreneurial companies to generate value; those who were employees were led by entrepreneurs and encouraged to operate as start-ups do; even those who were divorced and widowed happened to be in the lives of those who had found wealth, directly or indirectly, from entrepreneurship.
The pursuit of entrepreneurship will continue to be the single greatest wealth creation source, enabling those with grit, drive, and other such characteristics to out-do any pre-existing wealth generated. To conclude, we would like to share an example of the previous statement: Today, the Waltons, who hold the title of the wealthiest family in the world (excluding monarchies and hyper-fragmented families), are worth $215 B. Jeff Bezos is worth $186.5 B. It is only a matter of time before he surpasses the collective Walton family, simply through wealth generation via the success brought by entrepreneurship ahead.