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The billionaires you don’t know

18 Jun

The billionaires you don’t know

He’s picked off Warren Buffett; can Bill Gates be next? A low-profile Mexican tycoon is now the world’s second-richest person. He is just one of several under-the-radar billionaires worldwide.
By Forbes.com

You know about Gates. You know about Buffett. But do you know about Slim?

Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú quietly slipped past value investor Warren Buffett in late March to become the second-richest man in the world.

Slim is worth $53.1 billion, compared with Buffett’s $52.4 billion, according to our rankings. He is also breathtakingly close to passing Bill Gates, currently worth $56 billion. Gates, who co-founded Microsoft (the publisher of MSN Money) in 1975, has been the world’s richest man for a record 13 years.

Slim added $4 billion to his fortune through stock-market gains in the two months before we locked in net worths for our annual billionaires rankings. It’s an amazing run for the 67-year-old tycoon. He added $23 billion to his fortune in just over a year. The surge was fueled largely by a strong Mexican economy and a stock market that jumped 49% in 2006.

Yet surprisingly, many outside of Wall Street or business don’t know him. Like many other fantastically rich people, he has slipped under the general public’s radar. Unlike Slim, that’s often because they built their wealth through privately held companies. Take the extra-secretive Cargill family. The descendants of William W. Cargill, who started an agricultural empire with one grain elevator in post-Civil War Iowa, keep a low profile.

Private wealth

That’s because they can. The largest private company in America, Cargill is still 90% family-owned, and employees own the rest. Unlike Gates, who must disclose his Microsoft stock holdings in public filings, the Cargills are under no such obligation.

There are two branches to the Cargill family. After William W. Cargill’s death, his son-in-law, John MacMillan, rescued the company from a debt crisis. Today, Forbes estimates that the MacMillans are worth $1.2 billion each. Last year, the fortunes of James and Margaret Cargill were estimated at $1.8 billion each, but both passed away in 2006, as did W. Duncan MacMillan.

Of course, most billionaires are well-known within some communities, so we can’t promise that you’ve never heard of the rich people on this list. Wall Streeters undoubtedly know about Abigail Johnson, whose family controls Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund company in the United States. Johnson graduated from college in 1984 and started working at the family company four years later. She ran her first diversified fund in 1993 and became president of the company’s mutual fund division in 2001. Net worth: $12.5 billion.

And Albert von Thurn und Taxis, the youngest billionaire in the world, is well-known in his home country of Germany. He inherited a fortune on his 18th birthday in 2001. His assets now include an art collection, a tech company and one of the largest parcels of forest land in Europe. He lives in one of his family’s castles. And yes, ladies, as far as we know, he’s single.

Global-economy giants

Then there are the emerging-market billionaires, who are well-known in their home countries and will soon be making headlines all over the world. Take Vijay Mallya, who may be the Indians’ answer to Richard Branson. Right now, the flamboyant liquor mogul is worth only about $1 billion. But Mallya is growing his fortune by expanding his liquor business and, more recently, by starting an airline.

His UB Group recently acquired archrival Shaw Wallace, becoming the third-largest spirits producer by volume. Top brands include Bagpiper whiskey and Kingfisher beer, and he launched Kingfisher Airlines last year. He has a fleet of vintage cars, a stud farm with 200 horses and an 18-year-old son, Sidharta, who has been anointed his successor.

As for Slim, no doubt he’s headed toward becoming a household name. The Mexican magnate’s rising fortune has caused a good deal of controversy because it has been amassed in a nation where per-capita income is less than $6,800 a year and half the population lives in poverty. Critics claim he is a monopolist, pointing to Telmex’s control of 90% of the Mexican landline telephone market. Slim’s wealth is the equivalent of roughly 7% of Mexico’s annual economic output. If Gates had a similar proportion in the United States, he’d be worth $874 billion.

Slim says he is unfazed by the criticism. "When you live for others’ opinions, you are dead. I don’t want to live thinking about how I’ll be remembered," he said this year. He also claims indifference about his ranking and says he has no interest in becoming the world’s richest person.

When asked to explain his sudden increase in wealth at a press conference soon after Forbes’ annual billionaire rankings were published, he reportedly said, "The stock market goes up . . . and down," and noted that his fortune could quickly drop.

11 billionaires you never heard of

Billionaire                         

Net worth                                                                      

Carlos Slim Helú

$53.1 billion

Albert von Thurn und Taxis

$1.6 billion

Lily Safra

$1 billion

The Cargill family

$1.2 billion each (MacMillans); $1.8 billion each (Cargills)

Vijay Mallya

$1 billion

Paul Riegel

$1.4 billion

Barbara Piasecka Johnson

$2.6 billion

Ruth Parasol

$1.8 billion

Anurag Dikshit

$3.3 billion

Michael Price

$1.4 billion

Abigail Johnson

$12.5 billion

More from MSN Money and Forbes.com

cash stack © Steve Cole/Photodisc Green/Getty Images

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Posted by on June 18, 2007 in Business

 

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