In 2020, there were reportedly 2,095 billionaires on Earth, with an estimated total net worth of $8 trillion. Of this amount, the top 10 wealthiest people in the world account for $1,153 billion, or roughly 14.41%, which is impressive when you consider that they represent around 0.48% of billionaires. Below are the 10 individuals currently considered the wealthiest at the time of updating this article—May 2021—according to the Forbes World’s Billionaires List.
- Jeff Bezos is the CEO and founder of both Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, and Blue Origin. With an estimated net worth of $177 billion, he is the richest man in the world.
- Elon Musk is the CEO and co-founder of Tesla; CEO, chief designer, and founder of SpaceX; CEO and founder of Neuralink; and founder of The Boring Company. His estimated net worth is $151 billion.
- Bernard Arnault is the chair and CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods business, and chair of its holding company, Christian Dior SE. His estimated net worth is $150 billion.
- Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft, the largest software company in the world, and the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His estimated net worth is $124 billion.
- Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO, chair, and co-founder of Facebook, the world’s largest social networking service, as well as co-CEO and co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. His estimated net worth is $97 billion.
1. Jeff Bezos
- Age: 57
- Residence: Seattle
- Founder and CEO: Amazon (AMZN)
- Net Worth: $177 billion
- Amazon Ownership Stake: 11% ($174 billion)
- Other Assets: Blue Origin ($7.15 billion private assets), The Washington Post ($250 million private assets), and $9.75 billion in cash
In 1994, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com in a garage in Seattle, shortly after he resigned from the hedge fund giant D.E. Shaw. In fact, he had originally pitched the idea of an online bookstore to his former boss David E. Shaw, who wasn’t interested.
Though Amazon.com originally started out selling books, it has since morphed into a one-stop shop for everything under the sun, and is arguably the world’s largest retailer. At any rate, it is hard to dispute its self-description as the “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Its pattern of constant diversification is evident in some of its unexpected expansions, which include acquiring Whole Foods in 2017 and launching its own branded over-the-counter drugs in February. 2018. In 2020, Amazon’s share price skyrocketed on the heightened demand for online shopping as lockdowns forced consumers to stay home.
Bezos originally took Amazon public in 1997 and went on to become the first man since Bill Gates in 1999 to achieve a net worth of more than $100 billion. Bezos’s other projects include aerospace company Blue Origin; The Washington Post, which he purchased in 2013; and the 10,000-year clock, also known as the Long Now.
2. Elon Musk
- Age: 49
- Residence: Austin, Texas
- Cofounder and CEO: Tesla (TSLA)
- Net Worth: $151 billion
- Tesla Ownership Stake: 20% ($114 billion)
- Other Assets: Space Exploration Technologies ($29.8 billion private assets) and The Boring Company ($101 million private assets)
Elon Musk has had his hands in several different companies over the years. Originally enrolled at Stanford University, Musk deferred his attendance to launch Zip2, one of the earliest online navigation services. A portion of the proceeds from this endeavor was then reinvested to create X.com, an online payment system that later became PayPal. While both of these systems were eventually sold to other companies, Musk has maintained his status as CEO and lead designer of his third project, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which aims to make space exploration more affordable.
In 2004, Musk became a major funder of Tesla Motors (now Tesla), which led to him being retroactively declared a cofounder and his current position as CEO of the electric vehicle company. In addition to its line of electric automobiles—which include sedans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and the “Cybertruck” announced in 2019—Tesla also produces energy storage devices, automobile accessories, merchandise, and, through its acquisition of SolarCity in 2016, solar power systems. In 2020, Tesla’s stock price experienced an astronomical surge, having risen 705% from the start of the year to mid-December. It joined the S&P 500 that same month, the largest company added thus far.
In 2016, Musk founded two more companies, Neuralink and The Boring Company, with him serving as the CEO of the former. Neuralink is developing brain-machine interface devices to help individuals suffering from paralysis and potentially allow users to mentally interact with their computers and mobile devices. The Boring Company, meanwhile, develops boring machines for the purpose of drilling tunnels for underground public transportation systems, which would mitigate traffic congestion in major cities. It also (briefly) sold a handheld flamethrower.
3. Bernard Arnault
- Age: 72
- Residence: Paris
- CEO and Chair: LVMH (LVMUY)
- Net Worth: $150 billion
- Christian Dior Ownership Stake: 97.5% ($109 billion)
- Other Assets: Moelis & Company equity ($21.4 billion public assets), Hermès equity ($2.23 billion public assets), Carrefour equity ($1.26 billion public assets), and $4.50 billion in cash
French national Bernard Arnault is the chair and CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company. This business owns some of the biggest brands on Earth, including Louis Vuitton, Hennessey, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, and many more. The majority of his wealth, however, actually comes from his massive stake in Christian Dior SE, the holding company that controls 41.2% of LVMH. His shares in Christian Dior SE, plus an additional 6.2% in LVMH, are held through his family-owned holding company, Group Arnault SE.
An engineer by training, Arnault’s business chops became apparent while working for his father’s construction firm, Ferret-Savinel, which he would take control of in 1971. He later converted Ferret-Savinel to a real estate company named Férinel Inc. in 1979.
Arnault remained Férinel’s chair for another six years, until he acquired and reorganized luxury goods maker Financière Agache in 1984, eventually selling all of its holdings other than Christian Dior and Le Bon Marché. He was invited to invest in LVMH in 1987 and became the majority shareholder, chair of the board, and CEO of the company two years later.
4. Bill Gates
- Age: 65
- Residence: Medina, Wash.
- Cofounder: Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
- Net Worth: $124 billion
- Microsoft Ownership Stake: 1.3% ($25.8 billion)
- Other Assets: Canadian National Railway equity ($11.8 billion public asset), John Deere equity ($11.8 billion public asset), Republic Services equity ($11.1 billion public asset), Ecolab equity ($6.59 billion public asset), Givaudan equity ($4.39 billion public asset), FEMSA equity ($2.22 billion public asset), Waste Management equity ($1.93 billion public asset), Berkshire Hathaway equity ($1.72 billion public asset), AutoNation equity ($1.67 billion public asset), Diageo equity ($1.56 billion public asset), Arch Capital Group equity ($1.39 billion public asset), Sika AG equity ($1.26 billion public asset), Signet Jewelers equity ($760 million public asset), Televisa equity ($300 million public asset), Vroom equity ($260 million public asset), Western Asset/Claymore Inflation-Linked Opportunities & Income Fund equity ($229.4 million public total assets), Liberty Global equity ($225 million public asset), Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas equity ($187 million public asset), Otter Tail Corporation equity ($160 million public asset), Coca-Cola FEMSA equity ($121 million public asset), Owens Corning equity ($38.4 million public asset), and $57.2 billion in cash
While attending Harvard University in 1975, Bill Gates went to work alongside his childhood friend Paul Allen to develop new software for the original microcomputers. Following this project’s success, Gates dropped out of Harvard in his junior year and went on to found Microsoft with Allen.
In addition to being the largest software company in the world, Microsoft also produces its own line of personal computers, publishes books through Microsoft Press, provides email services through its Exchange server, and sells video game systems and associated peripheral devices. Originally Microsoft’s chief software architect, Gates later transitioned to the role of chair in 2008. He had joined Berkshire Hathaway’s board in 2004. He stepped down from both boards on March 13, 2020.
In 2000, Gates’s two philanthropic organizations—the William H. Gates Foundation and the Gates Learning Foundation—were merged to create the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of which he and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Melinda Gates, are co-chairs. Through the foundation, he has spent billions to fight polio and malaria. Additionally, he pledged $50 million in 2014 to help fight Ebola. In 2020, the foundation promised to spend $300 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2010, alongside Warren Buffett, Bill Gates launched the Giving Pledge, a campaign encouraging rich individuals to commit to donating the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
5. Mark Zuckerberg
- Age: 36
- Residence: Palo Alto, Calif.
- Cofounder, CEO, and Chair: Facebook (FB)
- Net Worth: $97 billion
- Facebook Ownership Stake: 13% ($115 billion)
- Other Assets: $2.93 billion in cash and $225 million in real estate
Mark Zuckerberg first developed Facebook alongside fellow students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes while attending Harvard University in 2004. As Facebook began to be used at other universities, Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to focus entirely on his growing business. Today, Zuckerberg is the CEO and chair of Facebook, which had more than 2.8 billion monthly active users as of Q3 2020.
Facebook is the world’s largest social networking service, enabling its users to create a personal profile, connect with friends and family, join or create groups, and much more. As the website is free to use, most of the company’s revenue is generated through advertising. Facebook (the company) is also host to several other brands, including photo-sharing app Instagram, which it acquired in 2012; cross-platform mobile messaging service WhatsApp and virtual-reality–headset producer Oculus, both acquired in 2014; Workplace, its enterprise-connectivity platform; Portal, its line of video-calling devices; and Novi, its digital wallet for the Diem payment system.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, founded the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2015, with each of them serving as co-CEO. Their charity seeks to leverage technology to fix societal ills, such as improving the access and quality of education, reforming both the criminal justice system and the U.S. immigration system, improving housing affordability, and eventually eradicating all diseases.
6. Warren Buffett
- Age: 90
- Residence: Omaha, Neb.
- CEO: Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)
- Net Worth: $96 billion
- Berkshire Hathaway Ownership Stake: 38.001% ($98.503 billion total)
- Other Assets: Wells Fargo & Co. equity ($76.6 million public assets), U.S. Bancorp equity ($50.2 million public assets), Seritage Growth Properties equity ($38 million public assets), and $1.05 billion in cash
The most famous living value investor, Warren Buffett filed his first tax return in 1944 at age 14, declaring his earnings from his boyhood paper route. He first bought shares in a textile company called Berkshire Hathaway in 1962, becoming the majority shareholder by 1965. He expanded the company to insurance and other investments in 1967. Now, Berkshire Hathaway is a half-trillion-dollar company, with a single share of stock trading at more than $390,000 per share in early 2021.
Widely known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” Buffett made the majority of his fortune through purchasing shares in companies with easy-to-understand business operations. While many investors have been piling into tech companies, Buffett has opted for a more cautious approach, only buying from well-established companies that are easier to understand, such as IBM and Apple. He is also a noted Bitcoin skeptic. Additionally, Buffett has also outright purchased a lengthy list of companies over the years, including Dairy Queen, Duracell, GEICO, and Kraft Heinz.
Outside of investing, Buffett has directed much of his wealth toward philanthropic endeavors. Between 2006 and 2020, Buffett gave away $41 billion—the majority of which went to either the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or his children’s charities. Buffett launched the Giving Pledge alongside Bill Gates in 2010.
7. Larry Ellison
- Age: 76
- Residence: Lanai, Hawaii
- Cofounder, CTO, and Chair: Oracle (ORCL)
- Net Worth: $93 billion
- Oracle Ownership Stake: 35.4% ($61.8 billion)
- Other Assets: Tesla equity ($10.1 billion public assets) and $14.9 billion in cash
After dropping out of the University of Chicago in 1966, Larry Ellison moved to California and worked as a computer programmer for several companies over the years. First, in 1973, he was an employee of the electronics company Ampex, where he met future partners Ed Oates and Bob Miner. Three years later, Ellison joined Precision Instruments, serving as the company’s vice president of research and development.
By 1977, Ellison had founded Software Development Laboratories (SDL) alongside Oates and Miner, which, two years later, released Oracle, the first commercial relational database program to utilize Structured Query Language. The database program proved so popular that SDL would change its name to Oracle Systems Corporation in 1982. Additionally, Ellison joined Tesla’s board in December 2018.
Oracle is the second-largest software company and provides a wide variety of cloud computing programs as well as other software, such as Java and Linux, and the Oracle Exadata computing platform. The business has also grown through the acquisition of several major companies, including human resources management systems provider PeopleSoft in 2005, customer relationship management applications provider Siebel in 2006, enterprise infrastructure software provider BEA Systems in 2008, and hardware-and-software developer Sun Microsystems in 2010.
Ellison has spent millions in luxury real estate over the last decade, predominantly in California. Likely his most impressive expenditure, Ellison bought nearly the entire Hawaiian island of Lanai for $300 million, building a hydroponic farm and luxury spa there. He has also donated millions of dollars to charitable causes over the years, particularly to medical research. Most recently, in 2016, Ellison gave $200 million to the University of Southern California for a new cancer research center.
8. Larry Page
- Age: 48
- Residence: Palo Alto, Calif.
- Cofounder and Board Member: Alphabet (GOOG)
- Net Worth: $91.5 billion
- Alphabet Ownership Stake: 6% ($89.7 billion total)
- Other Assets: $12.6 billion in cash
Like several tech billionaires on this list, Larry Page’s claim to fame got its start in a college dorm room. While attending Stanford University in 1995, Page and his friend Sergey Brin came up with the idea of improving data extraction capabilities while accessing the Internet. The duo devised a new type of search engine technology they dubbed “BackRub,” named after its ability to analyze “backing links.” From there, Page and Brin went on to found Google in 1998, with the former serving as CEO of the company until he stepped down in 2001.
Google is one of the largest Internet search engines on the planet, accounting for more than 70% of global online search requests. In 2006, Google (the company) expanded by purchasing YouTube, the biggest platform for user-submitted videos. Then, 2008 saw the release of the first mobile phone utilizing the Android operating system, which was originally developed by Android Inc. prior to Google acquiring the company in 2005. Today, Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet, a holding company for which Page served as CEO from 2015 to 2019.
Page is also a founding investor of Planetary Resources, a space exploration and asteroid-mining company. Originally established in 2009, the company was acquired by blockchain firm ConsenSys in 2018 amid funding problems. He has also shown an interest in “flying car” companies, having invested in both Kitty Hawk and Opener.
9. Sergey Brin
- Age: 47
- Residence: Los Altos, Calif.
- Cofounder and Board Member: Alphabet (GOOG)
- Net Worth: $89 billion
- Alphabet Ownership Stake: 5% ($86.2 billion total)
- Other Assets: $12.7 billion in cash
What makes Google unique, compared to the other companies featured on this list, is that its co-founders are relatively close in terms of total wealth. Sergey Brin’s involvement in Google follows a similar path to Page’s. After the duo founded the company in 1998, Brin served as copresident alongside Page until Eric Schmidt took over as CEO in 2001. Similarly, after founding Alphabet in 2015, Brin acted as the holding company’s president before stepping down in 2019 when Sundar Pichai took over as CEO.
In addition to being a highly popular search engine, Google also offers a suite of online tools and services, known as Google Workplaces, which includes Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Meet, Google Chat, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and more. In addition to software, Google also deals in a wide variety of electronic devices, including its Pixel smartphones, its Pixelbook computers and tablets, its Nest smart home devices, and its Stadia gaming platform.
Brin spent much of 2019 focusing on X, Alphabet’s “moonshot” research laboratory, which is responsible for innovative technologies like the Waymo self-driving cars and Google Glass smart glasses. He has also donated millions of dollars toward researching a cure for Parkinson’s and partnered with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to devise new drugs against LRRK2, one of the greatest genetic contributors to the disease.
10. Mukesh Ambani
- Age: 63
- Residence: Mumbai, India
- Chair and Managing Director: Reliance Industries
- Net Worth: $84.5 billion
- Reliance Industries Ownership Stake: 42% ($73.79 billion total)
- Other Assets: Mumbai residential property ($410 million private assets) and $1.60 billion in cash
Reliance Industries was originally founded as a small textile manufacturer by Dhirubhai Ambani in 1966. In 1979, Dhirubhai’s son Mukesh moved to Palo Alto, Calif., to attend Stanford Business School. A year later, Mukesh returned home at the behest of his father to oversee the construction of a new polyester mill, during which time he also joined Reliance Industries’ board. Rather than moving back to the U.S. to finish his university program, Mukesh remained in India to lead Reliance’s backward integration initiative. During the 1990s, he spearheaded the company’s efforts to create—as well as acquire—multiple petrochemical plants and petroleum refineries.
In 2002, Dhirubhai suffered a stroke and passed away. The lack of a will resulted in a feud between Mukesh and his brother Anil over how their father’s empire would be distributed. Three years later, as the result of a settlement brokered by their mother, the siblings agreed to split the business, with Mukesh retaining control over refining, petrochemicals, oil and gas, and textile operations. This didn’t completely ease the tension between the two brothers, as they would neither settle a legal dispute over sharing natural gas nor dissolve their noncompete agreements until 2010. In 2013, Mukesh and Anil seemingly buried the hatchet with the announcement of a $220 million pact to share a fiber-optic network between their two companies.
Reliance Industries has established several highly successful subsidiaries under Mukesh’s leadership, including Reliance Retail and telecommunications company Jio. He is also a member of The Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, an elected Foreign Member of the United States National Academy of Engineering, a member of the Global Advisory Council of Bank of America, and a member of the International Advisory Council of The Brookings Institution.
The Bottom Line
If you want to get a little closer to making Bloomberg’s richest billionaires list, you might need to become a technological innovator or a retail king. Or you can keep it simple and focus on value investing. It also wouldn’t hurt to start out by coming from wealth, as Arnault, Ambani, and some other super-wealthy individuals did—think Jim Walton (#18 on Forbes’ list) and Charles Koch (#27). However, the greatest fortunes on this list started as great ideas from people with the creativity, drive, and connections to make them take off.