Bill Gates is the richest American for the 20th year in a row and has reclaimed the title of world’s richest person from Mexico’s Carlos Slim with a net worth of $72 billion. Warren Buffett, again number two, was the year’s biggest dollar gainer, having added $12.5 billion to his fortune. Facebook’s hot stock pumped up Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune by $9.6 billion and put him back into the top 20 after missing the top cut last year; Carl Icahn lost his battle to stopDell DELL +0.11% from going private but he had a great year and moves back in the top 20 for the first time since 2008. The biggest percentage gainer was Workday’s David Duffield, whose fortune more than tripled to $6.4 billion, and just behind him in terms of percentage jumps was the entrepreneur Elon Musk, now worth $6.7 billion and ranked 61st.
Five years after the financial crisis sent the fortunes of many in the U.S. and around the world tumbling, the wealthiest as a group have finally gained back all that they lost. The 400 wealthiest Americans are worth just over $2 trillion, roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia. That is a gain of $300 billion from a year ago, and more than double a decade ago. The average net worth of list members is a staggering $5 billion, $800 million more than a year ago and also a record. The minimum net worth needed to make the 400 list was $1.3 billion. The last time it was that high was in 2007 and 2008, before property and stock market values began sliding. Because the bar is so high, 61 American billionaires didn’t make the cut.
There are 20 newcomers to the list. Among the notables are Michael Rubin, whose online sports merchandise retailer Fanatics, recently attracted venture capital investors at a sky-high valuation; Jeff Sutton, who owns a number of the priciest store fronts on Fifth Avenue and Times Square, and 35-year-old Robert Pera, one of just nine under 40, whose wireless networking gear maker Ubiquiti Networks surged after a strong earnings announcement in August. At the time he tweeted this lyric from a Jay-Z song: “And as for the critics, tell me I don’t get it. Everybody can tell you how to do it, they never did it.”
Only 30 people from last year’s list are poorer than a year ago. Twenty-eight people dropped out of the ranks and six people died, including surround sound pioneer Ray Dolby. Of those 28, only 15 saw their fortunes drop, including T. Boone Pickens, whose costly bets on wind energy lost him his billionaire status, and Manoj Bhargava, whose 5-Hour Energy drink firm has been hit by lawsuits and falling revenues. The rest simply couldn’t keep up with the rising tide. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is one of the billionaires who didn’t qualify and, in his case, even with a rise in his fortune, just didn’t have enough to stay in the club.
This is the 32nd year of the flagship Forbes 400. Even though we’ve been at it a long time, it is always a challenge. Our reporters dig deep. This year we started with a list of 600 individuals considered strong candidates and then got to work. When possible we met with list candidates in person; we spoke with nearly 100 billionaires this year. We also interviewed their employees, handlers, rivals, peers and attorneys. We pored over thousands of Securities & Exchange Commission documents, court records, probate records, federal financial disclosures and Web and print stories. We took into account all assets: stakes in public and private companies, real estate, art, yachts, planes, ranches, vineyards, jewelry, car collections and more. We also factored in debt. Of course, we don’t pretend to know what is listed on each billionaire’s private balance sheet, although some candidates did provide paperwork to that effect.
Some billionaires who preside over privately held companies were happy to share their financial figures, but others were less forthcoming. A few even threatened to sue. To value these businesses we coupled estimates of revenues or profits with prevailing price-to-revenue or price-to-earnings ratios for similar public companies.
We did not include dispersed family fortunes (like the Du Ponts) when individual net worths were below our minimum. But we did include wealth belonging to a member’s immediate relatives if the wealth could be traced to one living individual; in that case, you’ll see “& family” on our list as an indication.
Our estimates are a snapshot of each list member’s wealth on Aug. 23, when we locked in net worth numbers and rankings. Some of The Forbes 400 will become richer or poorer within weeks—even days—of publication.
Special thanks to Orbis by Bureau van Dijk, Privco, Real Capital Analytics and dozens of other sources who helped us with our reporting and valuations.
Wealth Editors: Kerry A. Dolan and Luisa Kroll
Wealth Channel Editor:Bruce Upbin
Wealth reporters: Erin Carlyle, Liyan Chen, Edwin Durgy, Ryan Mac, Alex Morrell, Andrea Murphy, Andrea Navarro, Caleb Melby, Harrison Smith, Brian Solomon
Reporters: Chris Helman, Laura He, Joann Muller, Jeff Bercovici, Steve Bertoni, Morgan Brennan, Meghan Casserly, Scott Decarlo, Kathryn Dill, Dan Fisher, Agustino Fontevecchia, Russell Flannery, Tomio Geron, Dorothy Pomerantz, Nathan Vardi, Elena Berezanskaya, Monte Burke, J.J. Colao, Clare O’Connor, Zina Moukheiber, Robert Olsen, Susan Radlauer, Halah Touryalai
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Product: Christian Wolan, Audrea Soong, Katheryn Thayer
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Database Management: Dmitri Slavinsky, Louie Torres, Vadim Supitskiy
Software Engineering: Alexander Shnayderman, Ken Barney, Benjamin Poon, Phoebe Yu