Almost one-fourth of the 50 richest people on earth made their extraordinary fortunes founding and building today’s largest tech companies.
Together, the 13 billionaires have a net worth of about $450 billion. That includes Microsoft visionary Bill Gates, the richest person on earth with a fortune of $87.4 billion, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the richest tech CEO in the world with a fortune of $56.6 billion.
This comes from new data provided to Business Insider by Wealth-X, a company that conducts research on the super-wealthy. Wealth-X maintains a database of dossiers on more than 110,000 ultra-high-net-worth people, using a proprietary valuation model to discern the size of their fortunes.
Although the American tech scene is home to the most billionaires on our list — nine of the top 50 — the emerging economies in China and India are starting to churn out enormously rich tech moguls of their own.
Read on to learn about the richest tech titans in the world.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
Net worth: $14.4 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Xiaomi
Like several of his fellow 21st-century Chinese billionaires,
Lei Jun earned his $14.4 billion fortune in tech. His smartphone maker, Xiaomi, became the fourth-largest smartphone vendor in the world, and the largest in China, within about three years of its founding.
Lei got his start in tech shortly after college when he joined Kingsoft, a Chinese software company similar to Microsoft, as an engineer. During his tenure at Kingsoft, Lei served as chief technology officer, president, and CEO, succeeding in taking the company public in 2007 before resigning. In 2010, after spending a few years as a venture capitalist, the already-wealthy Chinese entrepreneur founded Xiaomi with a former Google China executive. Lei was appointed chairman of Kingsoft in 2011 and forged a partnership between the two companies to provide cloud-storage capabilities for his phones.
Xiaomi, often referred to as 'the Apple of China,' is now the second most valuable private-tech company in the world, with a $46 billion valuation. But as sales growth has slowed, experts are contemplating the sustainability of Xiaomi's business model in overseas markets.
Net worth: $17.1 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Tencent Holdings
Softward engineer Ma Huateng founded China's largest internet portal, Tencent Holdings, in 1998. He was 26. Ma's company has a number of successful and widely used platforms in its portfolio, including QQ, its instant-messaging service, which is one of the world's 10 largest websites; a mobile-texting service (WeChat) with 600 million users; a mobile-commerce product (WeChat Wallet); and an online-gaming community (Tencent Games), the largest in China.
Last year Ma made two big deals. In April, he bought a $400 million stake in Chinese classified-listings platform 58.com, of which Tencent already owned a 25% share. That same month he also bought a 15% stake in mobile-game maker Glu Mobile for $126 million.
Net worth: $18.3 billion
Industry: Diversified investments
Source of wealth: Self-made; Microsoft
Alongside his cofounder Bill Gates, Paul Allen credits Microsoft for his fortune. Although Allen left the company before it went public in 1986, he remained a board member until 2000 and today holds a less than 5% stake. The college dropout went on to found Vulcan, his private-investment vehicle, shortly after leaving the software giant.
With lifetime donations exceeding $2 billion, Allen's philanthropic efforts make him one of the most generous people in the world. The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation gives to global health causes, including $5 million to Seattle BioMed, $4 million to Global FinPrint -- a conservation project focused on the preservation of sharks worldwide -- and $7 million in grants to Alzheimer's research. During West Africa's Ebola pandemic in 2014, Allen gave more than $100 million to develop solutions to stem the outbreak. In October 2015, the foundation announced seven new grants totaling $11 million to prevent future widespread Ebola outbreaks.
The self-made billionaire also counts an extravagant lineup of cars, World War II fighter jets, real estate, and two sports teams -- the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers -- among his luxurious array of assets.
Net worth: $18.9 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Dell
While he was a premed student at the University of Texas at Austin in 1984, Michael Dell started a company called PC Ltd., the predecessor to Dell Inc., with a seed fund of $1,000. Dell soon dropped out of college to build computers full-time and found himself at the helm of one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, with $6 million in sales in its first year of business.
By the time he was 23, the company went public and raised $30 million -- $18 million of it going to Dell personally. Four years later, the CEO became the youngest man to ever lead a Fortune 500 company. Aside from a brief hiatus as CEO between 2004 and 2007, Dell has been the chairman and CEO of Dell Inc. since its inception. After a furious battle with Carl Icahn, Dell took his computer company private again in 2013 in a deal valued at nearly $25 billion.
Despite spending millions on fancy toys and impressive real estate, Dell is generous. He's given more than $1.1 billion through the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which primarily supports education, social- and human-services, arts and culture, and community-development causes. A year ago, the foundation pledged $25 million to fund the construction of
a new teaching hospital, set to open in Austin in 2017.
Net worth: $26.3 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Microsoft
Steve Ballmer dropped out of business school at Stanford in 1980 to join Harvard friend Bill Gates at Microsoft as the company's first business manager, earning a $50,000 salary and a stake in the company. During his tenure, Ballmer held positions as vice president of marketing, vice president of systems software, and executive vice president of sales and support, and was often referred to as 'the numbers guy.'
He became CEO of the company in 2000 after Gates stepped down, and he remained in charge of the software giant until Satya Nadella replaced him in 2014. While running Microsoft, the company's revenue grew by 294% and profits by 181% -- although its market share was surpassed by Google and Apple during the same period. Still, the early stake Ballmer acquired in the company made him immensely wealthy. He's only the second person, not including founders and their family, to ever become a billionaire from employee stock options, according to Wealth-X.
After stepping down as CEO, Ballmer fulfilled his dream of owning an NBA franchise, paying $2 billion in a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers, now his main venture. And last fall Ballmer revealed that he purchased a 4% stake in Twitter.
Net worth: $26.5 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Alibaba
The second-richest person in China, Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma reportedly started China's first internet company in 1988: China Yellowpages. He lost control of that company to a state-owned telecom in 1996 and started Alibaba three years later with just $60,000. Fifteen years after its inception, the e-commerce company broke records with a $25 billion initial public offering -- the world's largest ever.
Post-IPO, however, Alibaba's good fortune began to slip. The company's shares dropped 22% in 2015, most likely because of China's slowing economy and concerns over counterfeiters using the company's platform. Ma isn't worried, though. He acknowledges that the next year will be a trying time for the Chinese economy, but he remains confident in Alibaba's long-term success. The company is dominant in one of the world's biggest markets, and he says the West's concern over China's economic slowdown is an 'overreaction.'
Additionally, Ma plans to push Alibaba outside of China and significantly expand its ventures abroad. He got in US President Barack Obama's good graces after being interviewed about climate change and entrepreneurship by the president at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in November.
Net worth: $37 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Google
Along with cofounder Larry Page, Sergey Brin helped facilitate Google's massive restructuring, which the company announced in August. The move put Google under the auspices of a new holding company called Alphabet, run by Brin as president and Page as CEO. Google's other ventures, such as Nest and Google X, are now separate companies also under the Alphabet umbrella. The tech giant generated $66 billion in sales in 2014, up more than $10 billion from the year before.
The restructuring allows Brin to focus on exploring inventive new 'moonshot' projects and ideas. With top talent and an abundance of resources at its disposal, Alphabet has already made automated homes and self-driving cars a reality.
Brin, who emigrated from Moscow to the US as a child, connected with Page in 1995 at Stanford, where they were each pursuing a PhD. Three years later they founded Google, now one of the most powerful companies on the planet.
Net worth: $38.5 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Google
As a Stanford PhD student in 1998, Larry Page teamed up with classmate Sergey Brin to create BackRub, an early search engine. The project eventually morphed into Google -- now called Alphabet -- one of the largest and farthest-reaching companies in the world, worth more than $500 billion.
Page oversaw major changes to Google's business structure last year, starting with the creation of Alphabet, the new holding company that now manages Google and all of its related ventures, including Nest, Calico, and Google X. Previously the chief executive of Google, Page moved up to helm Alphabet, which has its hands in everything from home automation to self-driving cars to prolonging human life. In 2016, analysts expect to see a slew of acquisitions, a greater focus on mobile and the cloud, and the genesis of even more long-term 'moonshot' projects.
Page doesn't make a lot of splashy purchases, but the alternative-energy advocate does own an eco-friendly mansion in Palo Alto that uses geothermal energy and rainwater capture. He's also an avid kiteboarder.
Net worth: $42.8 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Facebook
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, then a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard,
launched TheFacebook.com, a rudimentary version of the now ubiquitous social network known as Facebook. Zuckerberg dropped out of college to work full-time as Facebook's CEO, and the site quickly exploded in popularity. Today, it attracts more than a billion users daily and is worth more than
$275 billion, hitting all-time stock highs in November after beating earnings expectations. At 31, Zuckerberg is by far the youngest of the 50 richest people in the world.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, welcomed a daughter, Max, into the world in November, and Zuck took two months off from work to spend time with her, setting an example of Facebook's strong paternity-leave policy.
The pair also pledged in December to give away 99% of their wealth in their lifetimes through a new organisation called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, though some critics noted this new organisation wasn't a nonprofit charity itself and found the announcement misleading. But this isn't the couple's first foray into philanthropy. They donated $25 million in the fight against Ebola last year, and they gave $100 million worth of Facebook shares toward improving a New Jersey public-school system.
Net worth: $45.3 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Oracle
In 1977, Larry Ellison teamed up with two colleagues from an electronics company to start their own programming firm, which landed a contract not long after to build a relational database-management system for the CIA under the project code Oracle. The project grew into what is known today as Oracle Corp., the second-largest software maker behind Microsoft. In 2010, Ellison reduced his annual salary from $1 million to $1, but he still takes in more than $60 million in total compensation thanks to generous stock awards. Ellison stepped down as CEO in 2014 after 38 years on the job and took on the role of chief technology officer.
Included in Ellison's $45 billion fortune is an expansive global real-estate portfolio that features an entire Hawaiian resort island and an accompanying airline that he's rumoured to be selling. He's a tennis fan -- his current passion project is to revive the sport through investments in a 'fifth grand slam' site in Indian Wells, California, and as lead sponsor for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
The tech tycoon is also a generous philanthropist through partnerships with wildlife conservation groups and the Lawrence Ellison Foundation, which supports organisations that research ageing and global infectious diseases. He's also a member of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge, committing to give away at least half of his fortune.
Net worth: $56.6 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Amazon.com
Jeff Bezos earned his massive fortune by introducing e-commerce to the world. After spending time in finance on Wall Street, Bezos founded Amazon.com in the garage of his Seattle home in 1994 and operated it exclusively as an online book retailer. The company went public three years later and has since grown to include everything from furniture to food to Amazon's own consumer-electronics products, generating $89 billion in sales in 2014.
While Bezos, chairman and CEO, faced a barrage of negative media attention last year for reports that Amazon's warehouses are high-pressure, toxic work environments -- claims he disputed -- the internet retailer continues to thrive with the growth of Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing branch, and a bold plan to conquer India's 'trillion dollar' online-retail market.
Bezos also has interests outside of Amazon, including investments in his privately owned space company Blue Origin, which successfully launched its first spacecraft in 2015, and The Washington Post, the newspaper he bought in 2013. And early this month he invested millions in a company that's creating a simple blood test to detect every form of cancer.
Net worth: $87.4 billion
Source of wealth: Self-made; Microsoft
At just 20, Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen. Months before his 31st birthday, the company went public, making Gates a billionaire. He served as CEO of the software titan until 2000 and was its chairman and largest shareholder until 2014. Though he still sits on the company's board, Gates -- whose net worth sits a league above the rest at $87.4 billion -- is no longer actively involved in Microsoft.
Gates is not only the richest man in the world, but he's also the most generous. Since 1999, Gates and his wife have helmed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the most powerful charities in the world. The foundation -- which controls an endowment of more than $40 billion
-- aims to lift millions of people out of poverty, with a heavy focus on eliminating HIV, malaria, and other infectious diseases. The couple is also working on a plan to bring mobile banking to the 2 billion adults who don't have a bank account. Plus, Gates recently invested alongside Jeff Bezos in Grail, the company that's creating a blood test to detect every form of cancer.
He's also cofounder of the Giving Pledge, which he launched in 2010 with good friend and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett as a promise to donate 50% or more of their fortunes. The Giving Pledge now counts Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk among its 137 members.
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