In Focus

Top billionaires: who are the richest people in the world?

Jeff Bezos tops the Forbes Billionaires List for the fourth year running

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person for the fourth year in a row, according to Forbes. 

In the magazine’s 35th Annual World’s Billionaires List, Bezos takes top spot with a fortune of $177bn (£128.2bn) - an increase of $64bn (£46.3bn) from a year ago “as a result of surging Amazon shares”.

Elon Musk is the world’s second richest person. The Tesla CEO is worth $151bn (£109.4bn), a “whopping $126.4bn (£91.6bn) more than a year ago, when he ranked No. 31 and was worth $24.6bn (£17.8bn)”, Forbes said. The main reason for his financial success was a “705% climb in Tesla shares”. 

Despite the economic uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was “a year like no other” for the world’s richest. 

Forbes revealed that the number of billionaires on its list “exploded” to an unprecedented 2,755 - that’s 660 more than a year ago. Collectively, the men and women on Forbes’s rich list are worth $13.1trn (£9.49trn) - up from $8trn (£5.8trn) on the 2020 list. 

“The top ten richest are worth $1.15trn (£830bn), up by two-thirds from $686bn (£497bn) last year,” said Forbes’ Kerry A. Dolan. “Altogether, Europe’s billionaires are $1trn (£720bn) richer than a year ago.” There are a “record high” 493 newcomers on the Forbes list, “roughly one new billionaire every 17 hours”. 

With a fortune of £32bn (£23.19bn), Len Blavatnik is Britain’s richest person and comes in at No.46 on the Forbes list. Through his conglomerate company, Access Industries, Blavatnik has a diverse range of business interests, including chemicals and music. 

World’s richest people

According to the Forbes World’s Billionaires List (as of 7 April 2021)

1. Jeff Bezos: $177bn

The former hedge fund manager started Amazon in his garage in 1994. Bezos has invested heavily in space technology too, and also owns The Washington Post newspaper. It was announced that he will step down as Amazon CEO in Q3 2021 and transition to a new role of executive chair.

2. Elon Musk: $151bn

Musk is the CEO of Tesla and the founder and CEO of SpaceX. He divides his time between SpaceX, Tesla and projects like Hyperloop, a proposed ultra-high-speed train line.

3. Bernard Arnault & family: $150bn

Arnault is the wealthiest European on the list. The Frenchman oversees an empire of more than 70 brands including Louis Vuitton and Sephora.

4. Bill Gates: $124bn

The Microsoft founder has been a permanent fixture near the top of the rich list for the past 20 years, despite selling and then giving away much of his stake in the company. He now owns just 1% and focuses predominantly on his philanthropic work.

5. Mark Zuckerberg: $97bn

Zuckerberg made his fortune after launching Facebook in 2004 at the age of 19, while studying psychology and computer science at Harvard University.

6. Warren Buffett: $96bn

Now in his ninth decade, the Berkshire Hathaway chief executive, known as the “Oracle of Omagh”, is one of the most successful investors of all time. Like Gates, he has pledged to give away more than 99% of his fortune to charity.

7. Larry Ellison: $93bn

The American business magnate is co-founder, chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle. He owns around 35.4% of the software giant.

8. Larry Page: $91.5bn

Internet entrepreneur Page is one of the co-founders of Google. He stepped down as CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. in December 2019 but remains a board member.

9. Sergey Brin: $89bn

Along with Larry Page, Brin was a co-founder of Google. Until December 2019, he was president of Alphabet Inc.

10. Mukesh Ambani: $84.5bn

Indian businessman Ambani is chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd - India's most valuable company by market value.

Who is the richest person of all time?

With a fortune of around $400bn, Mansu Musa 1 of Mail, the first king of Timbuktu, may not be a household name, but by most estimates is the richest person who ever lived.

Deriving his wealth from his country’s vast salt and gold deposits, which at one time accounted for half the world’s supply, Musa ruled West Africa’s Malian Empire in the early 14th century, constructing hundreds of mosques across the continent, many of which survive to this day.

With a fortune estimated at between $300-$400bn in today’s money, Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov (Nicolas II) of Russia was deposed and subsequently executed by the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

The Independent notes that, following his canonisation by the Russian Orthodox Church, he is also the richest saint in history.

Excluding kings, princes and those who inherited their wealth, the list of the world’s richest-ever men - and they are always men - is dominated by the so-called robber barons of 19th and early 20th century America.

Often cited as the richest person who ever lived, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller was the first person to have a net worth of over $1bn in the money of the time.

At the time of this death his estate was worth an estimated $340bn in today’s money, almost 2% of total US economic output.

With an estimated fortune of $310bn in today’s money, steel magnate and Rockefeller contemporary Andrew Carnegie sold his Carnegie Steel Company to JP Morgan for $480m in 1901, and later made his name with his philanthropic donations.

Automobile pioneer Henry Ford, who perfected the production line and has become a by-word for American entrepreneurship, had a fortune of around $199bn at the time of his death in 1947.

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