In Focus

Who are the richest people in the world?

Elon Musk surpasses Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to take top spot

Tesla owner Elon Musk has claimed the title of the world’s richest man after his net worth soared beyond $185bn.

The South Arica-born entrepreneur ended Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ three-year reign in the top spot on the global rich list after Tesla’s share price rose yesterday.

Musk’s electric car company is now valued at $700bn - more than Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, GM and Ford combined. Celebrating his newly acquired richest status in typically eccentric style, Musk tweeted “how strange”, followed by “well, back to work”. 

Despite the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was a good year for the world’s wealthiest individuals. Data compiled by Swiss bank UBS shows that 31 new people joined the billionaires’ club, with the total number worldwide rising to 2,189, up from 2,158 in 2017.

jeff bezos

Alex Wong/Getty Images

World’s richest people

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (as of 8 December)

World’s richest people

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (as of 8 January)

1. Elon Musk: $195bn

Musk is the CEO of Tesla and the founder and CEO of SpaceX.

2. Jeff Bezos: $185bn

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.

3. Bill Gates: $134bn

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.

4. Bernard Arnault & family: $116bn

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

5. Mark Zuckerberg: $102bn

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

6. Zhong Shanshan: $93.1bn

A recent entry to the Top Ten richest list, Shanshan is founder and chair of Nongfu Spring, the largest drinks company in China, and also owns pharma giant Wantai. He is the richest person in China and the wealthiest person in Asia as of December 2020.

7. Warren Buffett: $88.2bn

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.

8. Larry Page: $83.6bn

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: $81bn

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

10. Larry Ellison: £80bn

Another recent entry to the richest list, Ellison is co-founder, executive chair and chief technology officer of Oracle Corporation, an American multinational computer technology company.

James Dyson, poses next to the model of an engine.

Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

What about the UK?

James Dyson and his family are the richest people in the UK, according to The Sunday Times 2020 Rich List. The founder of the household appliances company that bears his name has a reported net worth of £16.2bn.

Close behind Dyson on the rich list are the billionaire Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja brothers, who control the Hinduja Group conglomerate, and are worth £16bn combined. The Hinduja Group family business, founded in Mumbai in 1914, “has interests around the world including in oil and gas, banking, IT and property”, the BBC reports.

James Ratcliffe, the founder, chair and majority owner of chemical powerhouse Ineos Group, was formerly the richest person in the UK, but has slipped to No.5 in the rankings. Ratcliffe has a net worth of £12.15bn, according to latest estimates, putting him behind metal and real-estate magnates David and Simon Reuben (£16bn) and petrochemicals investor Leonard Blavatnik (£15.781bn). 

The richest woman in the UK is Sweden-born industrialist Kirsten Rausing. Along with her brothers, Jorn and Finn, she owns all the shares in holding company Tetra Lavallongside, the Swiss-headquartered packaging group founded by their grandfather Ruben, along with stakes in other businesses.

She and Jorn - who both live in the UK - have a net worth of £12.1bn.

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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