Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates's net worth swelled to $56 billion, making him the world's richest person, followed by Warren Buffett, at No. 2, according to Forbes magazine's annual survey of billionaires.
Gates's fortune climbed 12% from last year, while that of Buffett, 76, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., surged 24% to $52 billion. Gates, 51, has been at the top of the Forbes list for the last 13 years. The remaining three billionaires in the top five all are from outside the US: Mexico's Carlos Slim Helu, 67, whose companies include mobile-telephone carrier America Movil SA, remained in third place for a second year, with $49 billion. Sweden's Ingvar Kamprad, 80, founder of Ikea, the world's biggest home furnishings retailer, held fourth place for a second year with $33 billion; and India's Lakshmi Mittal, 56, chairman of Mittal Steel Co., held fifth place, at $32 billion.
The magazine counted 946 billionaires around the globe, with a total net worth of $3.5 trillion, up 35% from last year's $2.6 trillion, in part because of booming stock markets and a surge in wealth in nations such as Russia. Among the rest of the top 10, is Sheldon Adelson, 73, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world's biggest casino-operator by market value, with a $26.5 billion fortune who is ranked at No. 6. France's Bernard Arnault, 58, chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, the world's largest luxury-goods maker, held seventh place, with a $26 billion net worth. Hong Kong investor Li Ka-shing, 78, rose to ninth place with $23 billion.
There are two newcomers to the top 10, Spain's richest man, Amancio Ortega, whose fashion clothing chain Zara, helped him rise to No. 8 from No. 23 last year, with a fortune valued at $24 billion. Toronto-based David Thomson and family, Canada's richest, are No. 10, replacing the late Kenneth Thomson and family. The family owns the Westlaw legal research and First Call stock-market data service, with $22 billion.
The billionaires' club added 178 new members this year, and two-thirds of those on the list last year are richer this year, with net worth climbing for every member of the top 50, with a few exceptions. These include, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, 54, who lost $4 billion, and dropped out of the top 10. Michael Dell, founder of personal-computer maker Dell Inc., lost $1.3 billion over the past year, and dropped to No. 30 on the list, down from 12 last year.
Both Dell and the heirs to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Jim Walton, and Christy Walton and her family, slipped out of the Top. 20 list this year, Forbes said. Restrictions and new laws governing online gambling took away billionaire status for Ruth Parasol and Russell DeLeon, founders of PartyGaming Plc, and Calvin Ayer, Forbes said.
While there are 53 nations represented this year, along with entries from Hong Kong and Monaco, the US dominates, Forbes said. There are 415 billionaires from the US, representing about 44% of the list. New faces include Howard Schultz, the founder of coffee chain Starbucks Corp. at No. 840, Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Walt Disney Co. at No. 891, and Canadians Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, maker of the Blackberry e-mail phone. Russia has seen a surge in wealth, adding 19 new billionaires, and after two decades of dominating Asia's top spot for billionaires, Japan is being overtaken by India. India has 36 billionaires with a total of $191 billion, followed by Japan with 24, with a total net worth of $64 billion.
Of the 946 billionaires on the list, about 60% are described as self-made, meaning they didn't inherit their money, and of those, 10 are women. There are 83 women on the list, worth a total of $309.9 billion, up from 78 in 2006, Forbes reported. China's Yan Cheung, chairman of manufacturer Nine Dragons Paper, which she co-founded with her husband, makes history as one of three self-made women born in China to debut on this year's list, Forbes said. She is also China's richest woman.
Among other self-made women on the list are US television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey at No. 664, British writer J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling series about the schoolboy wizard Harry Potter, at No. 891, and EBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman at No. 754. The youngest billionaire on the list is Germany's Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis of Germany, age 23, after Hind Hariri, daughter of the assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, slipped off the list this year. (Bloomberg)