What a difference a decade makes

To strike it rich, it helps if you're in an old-fashioned field, in a new economy, and young(ish)

It's never been so easy to become a billionaire – though it helps to come from a newly emerging economy and to be involved in an old-fashioned industry. And being under 60 is a big advantage.

In 1918, John D Rockefeller, the American behind Standard Oil, was the only member of the world's billionaire club and his $1.2bn wealth was almost six times as large as the next richest person's. Even in 1984, America had just a dozen people with 10-digit fortunes, but last week Forbes magazine put the US tally at 413.

But with almost 800 billionaires in other countries, the US is no longer the centre of world wealth. At the latest calculation, Russia boasts 101 entrepreneurs worth at least $1bn, but even that is beaten by China with 115.

Ten years ago, only eight Russians were on the Forbes list and just one person from mainland China – Rong Yiren, the chairman of the Citic Pacific conglomerate, whose assets were valued at $1.3bn. Only four Indians were on that 2001 list too, while now there are 55, with two in Forbes' top-10 – including Lakshmi Mittal, who runs his steel empire from London.

In 2001, there were only 538 global billionaires, most of them American: inflation and rising investment values have more than doubled that to 1,210. But, a decade ago, the tech bubble ensured entrepreneurs in the technology, media and telecoms industries dominated the Forbes list.

Media accounted for more than a fifth of the top-50 then, including names such as German television tycoon Leo Kirch and CNN-founder Ted Turner. Silvio Berlusconi was 29th on the list, worth $10bn, before he became Italy's Prime Minister. Now, media magnates account for half as many top billionaires, despite the growth of giants such as Google and the creation of Facebook.

Technology is still an important producer of billionaires, but they are growing more slowly. Bill Gates topped the list 10 years ago with his Microsoft colleague, Paul Allen, two places behind, followed by Larry Ellison of Oracle. Gates and Ellison remain in the top 10 – with only two other billionaires from the class of 2001 – but they have slipped, philanthropy has cut Gates's wealth from $59bn to $56bn.

They have been overtaken by Carlos Slim, the Mexican entrepreneur whose empire stretches from telecoms to financial services, retailing and much more. In 2001, his $10.8bn wealth made him only the 25th richest man in the world; last year, although already top of the list, he added another $20bn to reach $74bn.

Retailing remains a source of wealth, but even in this sector there are changes. Sam Walton, whose Wal-Mart group owns Asda, once regularly topped the Forbes list and his family remains well represented. But while even in the early 1990s the Sainsbury family was in the global top 10 just behind Bill Gates, David Sainsbury's $1.2bn only just got him into the top 1,000 this time.

Inside the top 10, ahead of the highest Walton, Amancio Ortega, the Spanish founder of the Zara clothes chain, represents the new face of retailing. Close behind are Karl Albrecht of Germany's Aldi supermarket group and Stefan Persson, the head of Sweden's H&M fashion group.

Oil used to be the route to making billions, and it explained most of the dozen billionaires in 1984; Five came from Dallas alone, many of them from the Hunt family. Yet a year later, when the oil price collapsed, the Hunt firms were facing bankruptcy and their owners were out of the lists.

Now, despite soaring oil prices, Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has slipped from sixth to 26th place as his $20bn value has stagnated, reflecting some poor investments in property and banking.

Indeed, apart from Warren Buffett, now 80 and holding his place one slot behind Bill Gates, finance provides few billionaires. George Soros scrapes into the top 50; US hedge-fund manager John Paulson is only just ahead of him. Financier Eli Broad made the 2001 list after selling his insurance firm to AIG.

And while Japanese real-estate investors topped the Forbes list two decades ago, property is another casualty of the latest recession, even if it does back Britain's biggest billionaire – the Duke of Westminster, whose $12bn (£7.5bn) places him at 56 on the list. The next best Britons are the Reuben brothers, also property investors, at 114 and retailer Sir Philip Green and his wife in 132nd position with $7.2bn.

As Western investors are pushed down or off the list – there are 56 fewer US billionaires than three years ago – those in emerging markets take their place. The Brics – Brazil, Russia, India and China – now boast more than 300 billionaire businessmen but their sources of wealth are not all software or technology but old-fashioned industries that the West has abandoned.

India's Lakshmi Mittal makes money from steel, Brazil's Eike Batista, another of the world's 10 richest men, makes it from mining and oil. While among the Russians, steel accounts for Vladimir Lisin's $24bn; Oleg Deripaska's wealth is based on aluminium; Vagit Alekperov owes his wealth to Lukoil while coal and steel put Ukrainian Rinat Akhmetov higher up the list than US computer giants such as Michael Dell and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer.

Ten years ago, Johanna Quandt, whose family owned half of BMW, had the nearest claim to being a major manufacturing billionaire: now, thanks to the newcomer nations, the list includes pharmaceutical entrepreneurs, poultry farmers, shipbuilders, chemical refiners and paper-makers.

And the age of the new rich is falling. The average US billionaire is 66 – even after Google co-founder Dustin Mosk-ovitch, at 26, brought the mean down. The UK average is three years lower, but the average Chinese billionaire is just 51 – and most Russians are not even 50. The trend is clear: the world's wealth is moving east, and passing into younger hands. Carlos Slim, at 71, should watch out.

Top 10 Billionaires

2011

1 Carlos Slim, Mexico, telecoms: $74bn

2 Bill Gates, US, Microsoft: $56bn

3 Warren Buffett, US, investor: $50bn

4 Bernard Arnault, France, luxury goods: $41bn

5 Larry Ellison, US, Oracle: $40bn

6 Lakshmi Mittal, India, steel: $31bn

7 Amancio Ortega, Spain, Zara: $31bn

8 Eike Batista, Brazil, mining and oil: $30bn

9 Mukesh Ambani, India, chemicals: $27bn

10 Christy Walton, US, Wal-Mart: $27bn

Compared with 2001

1 Bill Gates, US, Microsoft: $59bn

2 Warren Buffett, US, investor: $32bn

3 Paul Allen, US, Microsoft: $30bn

4 Larry Ellison, US, Oracle: $26bn

5 Theo & Karl Albrecht, Germany, Aldi: $25bn

6 Prince Alwaleed, Saudi Arabia, oil: $20bn

7-11 Walton Family, US, Wal-Mart: $19bn each

12 Johanna Quandt, Germany, BMW: $18bn

13 Steve Ballmer, US, Microsoft: $17bn

14 Kenneth Thomson, Canada, media: $16bn

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Junior Database developer (SQL, T-SQL, Excel, SSRS)

£20000 - £30000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Junior D...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition