Business Unusual

What 30 years of data tells us about the past and future of the super wealthy

In 1987, Forbes published the list of what it determined were the 10 richest people in the world. They did not include dictators or monarchs but rather those that had either created or inherited the amazing wealth.

In 30 years the lists have reflected the significant change in the world as some industries and countries have risen and fallen.

A brief history

In 1987 the top of the list was Yoshiaki Tsutsumi from Japan who amassed $20 billion in real estate. There were 24 Japanese billionaires that year including four of the top five. The US had 41 slots and have had the most every year since then.

Tsutsumi would remain number one for four of the next years, but his fortune grew smaller. In 1995 Bill Gates took the top spot for the first time and would occupy it for 18 of the 23 years he has been on the list.

The US has always had the most billionaires, exceeding 100 in 1992. There are still only four nations that have over 100: The US (565), China (319), Germany (114) and India with 101 for the first time.

In 1987 there was a total of 140 on the list. By 2017 that number stood at 2043.

The richest anyone was has been was in 1999 when Bill Gates was worth $90 billion dollars. He was still the richest the following year, although $30 billion poorer. He has regained it to stand at $86 billion for this year's list, but passed the $90 billion mark during the year.

The Walton family would be number one if combined, with over $100 billion.

South Africa has eight places on the list ranging from position 199 with $7 billion to number 1940 with $1 billion. All eight are men; only one is black.

Three of the top five made their money in technology and this group makes up almost 10% of all the billionaires.

It was not all good. The dotcom bubble at the turn of the century saw 83 billionaires lose that title in 2002.

The biggest fall came in 2009. With a combined wealth of $4.4 trillion in 2008; of the 1125 billionaires that year only 793 remained in 2009.

1997 marked the rise of the Russian oligarchs, with four joining the list that year. Today Moscow is home to 73 billionaires, the 3rd most after Hong Kong (75) and New York (82).

The eight South Africans worth more than a billion dollars.

The 1%

The super wealthy are often referred to as the one percent, however global income inequality suggest 1% is being kind.

The global population is now 7.5 billion. There are 32.6 million dollar millionaires. While that is an increase of 20 million since 2000, it still only represents 0.43% of the population.

Billionaires represent just 0.000027% of the global population. They possess $7.67 trillion of the $256 trillion total, 2,99% of the total.

While inequality is a significant issue, the report suggests that it has not got worse, but rather as the world becomes more wealthy more individuals move into the millionaire and billionaire category.

The Top 5 (according to the Forbes list published in March 2017)

1

William Henry Gates III, or Trey as his was known to his parents as he was Bill Gates the third which is also french for "three".

He hacked a computer for the first time aged 13 to get more time on it, was barred from using it, before being hired to prevent others from doing it in exchange for more computer time. His and Microsoft’s first big break came when he adapted a version of the operating system 86-DOS for IBM for a once-off fee of $50 000 as PC DOS, but kept the copyright believing others would copy the IBM hardware. They did, allowing him to sell the same version as MS-DOS and launched his empire.

2

Warren Buffett has made a fortune by choosing which companies will give the best returns based on a share price that is less than their value. He started in the early 70s and took the name Berkshire Hathaway from a textile company he had acquired. He has topped the list a few times and has Bill Gates serve on his board. He has chosen to give away most of his fortune rather than leave it to his family. The 10 million shares in his company donated to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest charitable donation in history, valued in 2006 at $30 billion.

3

Jeff Bezos is a computer science graduate with a love for space, but built Amazon in part because of a tax exemption for mail orders. Amazon first sold books, but has since expanded into almost all products with a highly efficient logistics and delivery system. He founded a space company which has also seen him feature in a Star Trek movie and was an early investor in companies such as Google, Twitter, Uber and AirBnb. He was briefly the world’s richest after the Amazon results in July.

4

Amancio Ortega is the founder of Inditex which owns the fashion brand Zara. He started Zara in 1975 and has managed its growth to over 6000 stores for multiple brands and almost 100 000 staff. Despite his wealth, he remains private having reportedly only giving three interviews ever. The first picture of him was only published in 1999. He has been in the top 10 for 10 of the last 11 years.

5

Mark Zuckerberg joined the top 10 last year aged 32, the youngest ever on the top 10. The idea to build a social network to connect the students at Harvard has grown to have over 2 billion users. Although he never completed his time at Harvard he was awarded an honorary degree in May 2017. His career has some similarities to Bill Gates as both were advanced computer programmers that dropped out of Harvard. Zuckerberg has also opted to sign the Giving Pledge which would see him donate at least half his wealth to charity.

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