Elon Musk is working to revolutionize transportation both on Earth, through electric car maker Tesla – and in space, via rocket producer SpaceX. He owns 21% of Tesla but has pledged more than half his stake as collateral for loans; Forbes has discounted his stake to take the loans into account. He stepped down as chairman in 2018, after making alleged “false statements” about a plan to take Tesla private, triggering an SEC probe. SpaceX, Musk’s rocket company, is now valued at $46 billion. He grew up in South Africa, then immigrated to Canada at age 17. He landed in the U.S. as a transfer student to the University of Pennsylvania.
2. Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos founded e-commerce colossus Amazon in 1994 out of his garage in Seattle. He runs it as CEO and owns an 11.1% stake. Between March and April 2020, amid the pandemic, Amazon said it hired 175,000 additional workers. In April 2020, Bezos said he would give $100 million to Feed America, a nonprofit that operates food banks and food pantries across the country. Amazon has faced criticism from U.S. senators and the general public for its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic. He divorced his wife MacKenzie in 2019 after 25 years of marriage and transferred a quarter of his Amazon stake to her. In 2019, Amazon notched $280.5 billion in revenues and a record $11.5 billion in net profit. Bezos owns The Washington Post and Blue Origin, an aerospace company that is developing rockets for commercial use.
3. Bernard Arnault & family
One of the world’s ultimate taste-makers, Bernard Arnault oversees an empire of 70 brands including Louis Vuitton and Sephora. In November 2019, LVMH struck a deal to buy American jeweler Tiffany & Co for $16.2 billion, believed to be the biggest luxury brand acquisition ever. LVMH spent $3.2 billion in 2019 for luxury hospitality group, Belmond, which owns or manages 46 hotels, trains and river cruises. His father made a small fortune in construction; Arnault got his start by putting up $15 million from that business to buy Christian Dior in 1985. Four of Arnault’s five children work in corners of the LVMH empire: Frédéric, Delphine, Antoine and Alexandre.
4. Bill Gates
With his wife Melinda, Bill Gates chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable foundation. In May 2020, the Gates Foundation said it would spend $300 million to fight the coronavirus pandemic, funding treatment, detection and vaccines. Gates has sold or given away much of his stake in Microsoft — he owns just over 1% of shares — and invested in a mix of stocks and other assets. In mid-March 2020, Gates stepped down as a board member of Microsoft, the software firm he founded with Paul Allen (d. 2018) in 1975. The foundation works to improve global health and to create equal opportunity for people around the globe. To date, Gates has donated $35.8 billion worth of Microsoft stock to the Gates Foundation.
5. Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook, the social network Zuckerberg runs, has become a go-to communications tool during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. More than 1,000 advertisers joined boycott in June to protest Facebook’s lax policing of hate speech and misleading posts from politicians. Zuckerberg started Facebook at Harvard in 2004 at the age of 19 for students to match names with photos of classmates. He took Facebook public in May 2012 and still owns about 15% of the stock. In December 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook stake over their lifetimes.