The 10 Richest People in the World

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. Many of these billionaires are founders of technology companies, with much of their wealth wrapped up in the companies they started.12

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 Dec. 8, 2021, has seen his net worth increase by $122 billion year-to-date (as of Dec. 8, 2021), thanks in large part to the increase in Tesla shares (where he owns 23% of the company)—with shares of Tesla up over 46% year-to-date (as of Dec. 8, 2021).314

Below are the 10 individuals currently considered the wealthiest at the time of updating this article—Dec. 8, 2021—according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, is the richest person in the world with a $278 billion net worth.
  • Behind Musk is the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, with an estimated net worth of $202 billion.
  • Billionaires that have seen the biggest 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

1. Elon Musk

  • Age: 50
  • Residence: Texas
  • Co-founder and CEO: Tesla (TSLA)
  • Net Worth: $278 billion
  • Tesla Ownership Stake: 23% ($233 billion)
  • Other Assets: Space Exploration Technologies ($43.6 billion private assets)5674

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.8

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.1011

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.12

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.13 The Boring Company, meanwhile, develops boring machines for drilling tunnels for underground public transportation systems, which would mitigate traffic congestion in major cities.14 It also (briefly) sold a handheld flamethrower.15

Elon Musk
Image courtesy Getty Images/Saul Martinez.

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.16 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.17 As of Dec. 8, 2021, Musk’s net worth had grown by $122 billion year-to-date.1

2. Jeff Bezos

  • Age: 57
  • Residence: Washington
  • Founder and Executive Chair: Amazon (AMZN)
  • Net Worth: $202 billion
  • Amazon Ownership Stake: 11% ($173 billion)
  • Other Assets: Blue Origin ($9.15 billion private assets), The Washington Post ($250 million private assets), and $16.1 billion in cash18

     

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.20

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. 2017.2223

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.24

Jeff Bezos
Image courtesy Getty Images/Alex Wong.

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.2526 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.2728

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.2930

3. Bernard Arnault

  • Age: 72
  • Residence: Paris, France
  • CEO and Chair: LVMH (LVMUY)
  • Net Worth: $170 billion
  • Christian Dior Ownership Stake: 97.5% ($133 billion total)
  • Other Assets: Moelis & Company equity ($24 billion public assets), Hermès equity (undisclosed stake), Carrefour equity ($749 million public assets), and $9.05 billion in cash3132

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.33 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.34 His shares in Christian Dior SE, plus an additional 6.2% in LVMH, are held through his family-owned holding company, Groupe Familial Arnault.32

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 1979.35

Bernard Arnault
Image courtesy Getty/Christophe Morin.

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.36 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.3735

 

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