It happens every year. The Forbes 400 issue comes in, listing, naturally, the 400 wealthiest people in America.
The first thing I do is look through the list to see if my name is there. This is probably the 30th year in a row, or however long they’ve been publishing the 400 edition, that they’ve overlooked me. My wife Clare reminds me that Forbes is not listing the people who owe the most money, but people who have the most money.
It should be no surprise that the names at the very top have not
changed very much. Most of us could probably name them without looking.
Bill Gates, now 57, is still number one with a net worth of $72 billion. Gates has been at the very top for 19 years, even though he – and his wife Melinda – have given away $28 billion. Warren Buffett, now 83, has given away almost $20 billion, but had a $12.5 billion portfolio increase last year. His purchase of ketchup maker H.J. Heinz for more than $23 billion hardly dented his available cash.
If you paid attention to the just-concluded America’s Cup races that took place on San Francisco Bay, you’ll know that the winning boat was owned by Larry Ellison. Ellison made his money by building Oracle into a tech giant. The 69-year-old Woodside resident recently bought Hawaii’s Lanai Island, which still left him with a net worth of $41 billion.
I guess with that kind of money he can afford to spend the tens of millions of dollars it takes to sponsor an America’s Cup sailboat.
So far, the names on the Forbes list didn’t get there by inheriting money. They did it the hard way: They earned it.
The top names on the inheritance list are four of the children of the late Sam Walton. Hard to believe, but it was only 50 years ago that Walton senior founded the company. The four children, Christy, Jim, Alice and Robson Walton, each have a net worth of about $33 billion.
Forbes points out that Christy, with a net worth of $35.4 billion, is the richest woman in the world. She is the widow of John Walton, who served as a medic and Green Beret in Vietnam, and was killed in a 2005 plane crash.
What motivated Michael Bloomberg to spend 12 years as mayor of New York we’ll never know, but he accumulated $31 billion after being fired by brokerage firm Salomon Brothers.
Bloomberg invented a financial quote terminal that revolutionized getting access to bond prices. For the record, he owns 10 homes, mostly in the New York area. He has given away almost $3 billion, including $100 million to the effort to eradicate polio.
Maybe next year I’ll be on the list.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at Bsteven254@aol.com.