Billionaires play a key role in helping influence the world, from political decisions to social and economic reforms. Forbes puts the list of billionaires in the world at 2,755. However, only a handful—10 to be exact—currently have $100 billion or more in net worth each. Many of these billionaires are founders of technology companies, with much of their wealth wrapped up in the companies they started.
Note that many billionaires are taxed differently or not at all on their wealth given that much of their gains are unrealized—meaning they haven’t sold any stock or equity, and thus, haven’t had to pay taxes yet. As well, while some billionaires hold several billion dollars in cash, many also have investments in private assets, such as private companies, real estate, or other public companies.
But since much of the top billionaires’ wealth is wrapped up in public equity, their net worth can fluctuate a lot from year-to-year. For example, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and the richest person in the world as of Jan. 19, 2022, saw his net worth surge in 2021 thanks to the increase in Tesla shares (where he owns 23% of the company)—with shares of Tesla rising over 32% in 2021.
Below are the 10 individuals currently considered the wealthiest at the time of updating this article—Jan. 19, 2022—according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
- Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, is the richest person in the world with a $269 billion net worth.
- Behind Musk is the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, with an estimated net worth of $187 billion.
- Billionaires that saw the largest increases in their wealth in 2021 include Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault (LVMH Chair and CEO), Google co-founder Larry Page, and Francoise Bettencourt Meyers.
- Eight of the top 10 billionaires operate in the technology space, with only LVMH’s Bernard Arnault and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett being the outliers.
1. Elon Musk
- Age: 50
- Residence: Texas
- Co-founder and CEO: Tesla (TSLA)
- Net Worth: $269 billion
- Tesla Ownership Stake: 18% ($186 billion)
- Other Assets: Space Exploration Technologies ($40.3 billion private assets), $4 billion in cash
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 co-founder and his current position as CEO of the electric vehicle company.9 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—rising over 740%, helping push Musk to the top spot among billionaires. In December 2020, Tesla 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 drilling tunnels for underground public transportation systems, which would mitigate traffic congestion in major cities. It also (briefly) sold a handheld flamethrower.
On Oct. 25, 2021, shares of Tesla spiked 12.7% and surpassed a $1 trillion market cap after car rental company Hertz announced its plan to order 100,000 of the automaker’s electric vehicles. As a result, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s fortune grew by over $36 billion in a single day.1617 Thanks to the surge in Tesla shares and a deal with investors in October 2021 that boosted the valuation of SpaceX, Musk’s lead as the richest person in the world continues to grow. As of Jan. 19, 2021, Musk’s net worth had grown by $72 billion over the last year.
2. Jeff Bezos
- Age: 58
- Residence: Washington
- Founder and Executive Chair: Amazon (AMZN)
- Net Worth: $187 billion
- Amazon Ownership Stake: 10% ($162 billion)
- Other Assets: Blue Origin ($9.15 billion private assets), The Washington Post ($250 million private assets), and $16.1 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.19 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.”21 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 Aug. 2017.
In 2020, Amazon’s share price skyrocketed on the heightened demand for online shopping as lockdowns forced consumers to stay home. Shares were up 76% in 2020. On July 5, 2021, Bezos stepped down as CEO of the e-commerce giant and transitioned to his new role as its executive chair.
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.
On July 20, 2021, Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and Dutch student Oliver Daemen completed Blue Origin’s first successful crewed flight, reaching an altitude of just above 62 miles before landing safely
3. Bernard Arnault
- Age: 72
- Residence: Paris, France
- CEO and Chair: LVMH (LVMUY)
- Net Worth: $164 billion
- Christian Dior Ownership Stake: 97.5% ($137 billion total)
- Other Assets: Moelis & Company equity ($24.6 billion public assets), Hermès equity (undisclosed stake), and $11.2 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, and Sephora.
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, Groupe Familial Arnault.
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: 66
- Residence: Washington
- Cofounder: Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
- Net Worth: $133 billion
- Microsoft Ownership Stake: 1.3% ($31.9 billion)
- Other Assets: Cascade Investment LLC ($60 billion public and private assets), $56.5 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 during 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 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 2004.44 He stepped down from both boards on March 13, 2020.
Bill Gates has much of his net worth wrapped up in Cascade Investment LLC. Cascade is a privately-held investment vehicle that owns a variety of stocks—such as Canadian National Railway (CNR), Deere (DE), and Republic Services (RSG)—as well as private investments in real estate and energy.
In 2000, Gates’ 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 ex-wife, Melinda Gates, are co-chairs.4748 Through the foundation, he has spent billions to fight polio and malaria.49 Additionally, he pledged $50 million in 2014 to help fight Ebola.50 As of 2021, the foundation has spent more than $1.9 billion 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.52 Of note, Bill and Melinda Gates announced plans to divorce on May 3, 2021—it remains to be seen how Bill Gates’ net worth will be affected post-divorce.
5. Larry Page
- Age: 48
- Residence: California
- Co-founder and Board Member: Alphabet (GOOG)
- Net Worth: $124 billion
- Alphabet Ownership Stake: 6% ($107 billion total)
- Other Assets: $14.4 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 92% of global online search requests.56 In 2006, Google (the company) expanded by purchasing YouTube, the biggest platform for user-submitted videos.57 Then, 2008 saw the release of the first mobile phone utilizing the Android operating system, which was originally developed by Android Inc. before Google acquired the company in 2005.5859 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.6162 He has also shown an interest in “flying car” companies, having invested in both Kitty Hawk and Opener. Shares of Google soared almost 50% in 2021, helping push both Page and Brin up the billionaire list