Gyration at the Very Top of the Forbes Billionaire List
The fluidity at the top of the list of the richest people in the world is still something I am trying to get used to.
In a little over a year, we have had three people lay claim to the title of richest person in the world.
At the beginning of September 2021, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was the undisputable champion. But on September 27, 2021, Elon Musk pushed him over to become the world’s richest person for the first time. There were a few days of racing between these two, but eventually Musk ran away with the trophy and he has held it since then.
But yesterday, around 2:15pm, Nigerian Time, he had to relinquish his position for a brief period to Bernard Arnault, the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy — Louis Vuitton SE, the world’s largest luxury goods company.
Worth $185.4 billion at the time and Musk off by just around $200 million, both men have been periodically trading places ever since, thanks in part to the downward trend of Musk’s Tesla stock. The dramatic collapse of Tesla’s share price has pushed down the Tesla CEO’s net worth, which peaked at $320 billion in November 2021 and has been under $200 billion for most of the year. Tesla shares are down nearly 50% for the year, and it is not surprising that Musk, who owns nearly 25% of Tesla between stock and options, is now worth 43% less than his peak in November 2021.
If the market continues to lose trust in Musk’s ability to steer the ship of Tesla, whose performance has been hampered by supply chain issues, particularly due to China’s zero-Covid policy, as well as the distraction he’s been having with his new toy, Twitter, then we may have the 73-year-old Bernard Arnault holding forth for a while before someone else comes along.
Perhaps it will soon be the turn of the Indian infrastructure magnate, Gautam Adani, who briefly became the world’s second-richest person in September. In just a few years, from being a regular billionaire, he has now risen to become the face of the world’s third-richest individual, a feat that no Indian or Asian has ever achieved. At the time that Bernard and Musk were slugging it out, Adani was worth $141 billion. Anyone who has read James Crabtree’s book, “The Billionaire Raj,” which I promoted here in 2020, may be familiar with the man Gautam Adani.
Even then, I would not begrudge anyone who has forgotten about him or which chapter he featured prominently in. His growth has been phenomenal. Adani’s wealth was less than $8.9 billion when COVID-19 first became a global phenomenon in March 2020. $65 billion has been added to his wealth so far in 2022, more than any other billionaire around the globe. For context, Bezos’ fortune has shrunk by $45.5 billion. Elon Musk has lost $100 billion. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has lost $87.3 billion. Even Bernard Arnault has lost $38.2 billion. Bloomberg has reported that the 500 wealthiest people in the world have cumulatively lost $1.4 trillion in 2022 alone. It is in this ocean of loss that Adani’s wealth has been surging. So don’t be surprised when you see Mr. Adani become the world’s richest man.
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And this is why all these movements are a surprise to me. This chaos was nonexistent when I first had access to track these statistics. Bill Gates made it so. He was so dominant in the 1990s and 2000s that he became synonymous with the title “World’s Richest Man.” He ruled unchallenged from 1995 to 2010, and then from 2013 to 2017. We may never see the likes of him again, and we will certainly not see him again on the list. On July 13, 2022, he vowed to “drop off” the world’s rich list altogether by activating his pledge to give virtually all of his wealth to the foundation, which is focusing on eradicating diseases such as malaria, improving education, and tackling poor sanitation.
I will get used to these fluctuations at the top. The era of Bill Gates is gone. As an unabashed advocate of capitalism, I say, “Long live the era of the value-adding billionaires jostling for the very top of the Forbes’ Billionaires rankings.”