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Big money: the 22 richest people in tech

If, like Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy, you “wanna be a billionaire so frikkin’ bad” then it looks like tech is still a good way to go. Even your company’s IPO flops, as was the case with Facebook, you can still end up being one of the richest people on the planet.

Yup, despite losing around USUS$6.8-billion since January Mark Zuckerberg is still in the top 100 of the world’s 200 richest people. In fact, out of the 200 people on Bloomberg Marketsinaugural rich list, 22 made their fortunes from technology.

Some are mainstays of rich lists like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, while others are less well-known. Wirpro’s Azim Premji for instance. Premji is also the only non US citizen in the top 10 of the list. Other emerging market players are however beginning to make their mark, with tech billionaires from Taiwan, China, and India all finding places among the world’s richest 200 people.

That said, India and China are the only two BRICS countries with tech players on the list. That could however change in the coming years, particularly with a growing number of innovation hubs in all five countries. Investments by the likes Russia’s Mail.ru and South Africa’s Naspers in big tech products could also see their executives find spots on the list.

1. Bill Gates
Gates may have surrendered his title as the world’s richest man a few years ago, but he’s still top of the tech pile. These days the Microsoft founder spends his time funding efforts to kill malaria with lasers, but the company still trots him out to promote the odd product, most recently Windows 8.

Net worth: USUS$64.4-billion
Source of wealth: Microsoft
Citizenship: US
Age: 57

2. Larry Ellison
Ellison began work on Oracle as a database for the Central Intelligence Agency (FBI) in the 1970s. It gradually moved into software and became the multi-billion dollar company it is today (albeit with a few hiccups along the way).

Ellison, America’s third-richest person, is also keen on tennis (he owns a 50% stake in one of the US’ top tournaments) and yachting (there’s a reason BMW Oracle has been such a dominant force in the America’s Cup).

Net worth: USUS$37.2-billion
Source of wealth: Oracle
Citizenship: US
Age: 68

3. Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s story is now the stuff of legend. Bezos started the company as an online book retailer from his garage in 1994. Today, it’s one of tech’s biggest companies with plays in hardware, cloud infrastructure and, of course, ecommerce. The billionaire is also the founder of Blue Origin — a private space exploration company.

Net worth: US$24.2-billion
Source of wealth: Amazon.com
Citizenship: US
Age: 48

4. Larry Page
Page has come a long way since he and Sergey Brin developed the PageRank algorithm, which would form the backbone of Google, during their time as PhD students at Stanford University in the late 1990s. Last year he returned as chief executive at Google, making the decision to cull a few products in a “more wood behind fewer arrows” approach. He is also an active investor in electric car company Tesla.

Net worth: USUS$23.0-billion
Source of wealth: Google
Citizenship: US
Age: 39

5. Sergey Brin
Page’s partner in crime Sergey Brin has also remained involved at Google. He’s shown particular interest in Project Glass, leading the company’s astonishing demo of the product earlier this year. Brin also has a serious philanthropic side. Along with his wife Anne Wojcicki, he runs The Brin Wojcicki Foundation and is involved in Google.org, the company’s charitable arm.

Net worth: USUS$22.8-billion
Source of wealth: Google
Citizenship: US
Age: 39

6. Azim Premji
Premji is the only non US citizen in the top 10. His company Wipro started out in 1945 as a food manufacturer. Today it still has diverse interest, but most of its income comes its role as a multinational provider of information technology services, consulting and outsourcing services.

Net worth: US$15.5-billion
Source of wealth: Wipro
Citizenship: India
Age: 67

7. Steve Ballmer
Since taking over the CEO seat left vacant by Bill Gates in 2000, Ballmer has had a few low points — think Vista and that time he called open source a “cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches” — but under his leadership Microsoft has regained some of its cool.

Net worth: US$15.0-billion
Source of wealth: Microsoft
Citizenship: US
Age: 56

8. Paul Allen
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is much less of a public figure than Bill Gates. Despite resigning from the Microsoft Board of Directors in 2000, Allen still has a reported 138-million shares in the company. His investment portfolio also includes stakes in real estate holdings, and stakes in other technology, media, and content companies. Oh and he owns two professional sports teams — the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL), and the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Net worth: US$14.6-billion
Source of wealth: Microsoft
Citizenship: US
Age: 59

9. Michael Dell
Yes that Dell. The computer company took its first steps into the world, with Dell fresh out of university, in 1984 with a VC cost of US$1 000. In 1992 Dell became the youngest ever CEO to have his company ranked in Fortune magazine’s list of the top 500 corporations. In 2011 Mother Jones ran an article contrasting his lavish lifestyle, with his pursuit of tax breaks.

Net worth: US$12.9-billion
Source of wealth: Dell
Citizenship: US
Age: 47

10. Jim Goodnight
When it comes to analytics software, SAS pretty much reigns supreme. Its software is used by about 79% of Fortune 500 companies and the man at the helm of the company is still active in building software for it. He also holds a doctorate in statistics from North Carolina State University, where he was a member of the faculty at North Carolina State University from 1972 to 1976.

Net worth: US$11.6-billion
Source of wealth: SAS Institute
Citizenship: US
Age: 69

11. Mark Zuckerberg
Ah, the hoodied one. While Facebook’s IPO might not have gone exactly to plan, 2012 has still been a good year for the Facebook CEO and founder. He got married to his long time girlfriend, with his Facebook post announcing the marriage garnering over a million likes. Outside of its rocky IPO, Facebook continues to be wildly popular, reaching one-billion users in October.

Net worth: US$10.7-billion
Source of wealth: Facebook
Citizenship: US
Age: 28

12. Lee Kun Hee
The Samsung CEO left the company for two years in 2008, after accusations that the company was responsible for a slush fund used to bribe influential prosecutors, judges, and political figures in South Korea. He returned in 2010 however and under his guidance, the company has become the number one mobile manufacturer. Just don’t expect to see him cosying up to Apple’s Tim Cook any time soon.

Net worth: US$10.3-billion
Source of wealth: Samsung Electronics
Citizenship: South Korea
Age: 70

13. Hasso Plattner
Tech-savvy entrepreneurs will most likely recognise the name Hasso Plattner from the VC fund which he founded in 2005 with the goal of supporting young entrepreneurs in transforming their ideas into marketable products. Together with its African affiliate, the fund has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in companies around the world. The primary source of Plattner’s wealth however is software giant SAP AG, which he co-founded.

Net worth: US$9.6-billion
Source of wealth: SAP
Citizenship: Germany
Age: 68

14. Masayoshi Son
Masayoshi Son is the CEO and cofounder of multi-faceted internet and telecommunications company Softbank and Softbank Mobile.

In response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, Masayoshi Son criticized the nuclear industry for creating “the problem that worries Japanese the most today” and engaged in investing in a nation-wide solar power network for Japan.

Net worth: US$9.6-billion
Source of wealth: Softbank
Citizenship: Japan
Age: 55

15. Robin Li
If you want an indication of just how rapidly the Chinese tech scene has grown, you need look no further than the fact that Baidu founder Robin Li is the country’s second wealthiest person. The search engine is the most popular in China and with big plans for mobile, and overseas expansion its only going to get bigger as a business.

Net worth: US$8.4-billion
Source of wealth: Baidu
Citizenship: China
Age: 44

16. Eric Schmidt
A software engineer by trade, Schmidt was CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, when Larry Page came back into the fold. Schmidt is still chairman of the company, and appears to be the sensible face of the company. That doesn’t mean he’s missing a fun side though, something he demonstrated when he got down with Korean pop sensation Psy for an impromptu rendition of Gangnam Style earlier this year.

Net worth: US$8.3-billion
Source of wealth: Google
Citizenship: US
Age: 57

17. Pierre Omidyar
The French-born Pierre Morad Omidyar is the founder of online auction giant eBay. Once the site went public and made him a billionaire, Omidyar concentrated his efforts elsewhere. One of his most well-known projects is the Omidyar Network, which he established with his wife Pam in 2004. The philanthropic investment firm is dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives.

Net worth: US$8.0-billion
Source of wealth: eBay
Citizenship: US
Age: 45

18. Klaus Tschira
German entrepreneur Klaus Tschira co-founded software giant SAP AG in 1972 together with Hans-Werner Hector, Dietmar Hopp, Hasso Plattner (who you might remember from earlier in the list) and Claus Wellenreuther. Given that his background in physics, it’s hardly surprising that the non profit he set up in 1995 is dedicated to supporting projects in natural and computer sciences as well as mathematics.

Net worth: US$7.8-billion
Source of wealth: SAP
Citizenship: Germany
Age: 71

19. Ma Huateng
Nicknames Pony, Ma founded Tencent — arguably China’s largest online social networking company — in 1998. The company, which is now part-owned by emerging markets media and internet giant Naspers, has expanded into ecommerce, search and multiplayer online games. In 2007, Time Magazine names Ma one of its most influential people.

Net worth: US$7.0-billion
Source of wealth: Tencent Holdings
Citizenship: China
Age: 41

20. Terry Gou
Gou is the CEO of Hon Hai Precision. If the words “Hon what now?” are running through your head, you might be more familiar with the name it more commonly goes by: Foxconn. Yup that’s right, the company with the dodgy labour practices that makes all your iDevices has an actual person at its head. Before you write him off as pure evil though, bear in mind that Gou intends to eventually give away one-third of his wealth to charity.

Net worth: US$6.0-billion
Source of wealth: Hon Hai Precision Industry
Citizenship: Taiwan
Age: 62

21. Shiv Nadar
Shiv Nadar’s first tech venture was Microcomp, which sold teledigital calculators in the Indian market under the brand name “Televista”. In the mid 1970s, he co-founded HCL. The was company was focused on addressing the IT hardware market in India for the first two decades of its existence. It has since become an enterprise comprising HCL Technologies (to address the global IT services market) and HCL Infosystems (to address the Indian and APAC IT hardware market). Nadar also founded a college of engineering and reportedly takes an active role in college activities.

Net worth: US$5.9-billion
Source of wealth: HCL Technologies
Citizenship: India
Age: 67

22. John Sall
A part of the founding team behind software behemoth SAS, Sall was particularly close to Jim Goodnight, who was his mentor at university. Sall designed, developed, and documented many of the earliest procedures of the SAS language. He also led the development of JMP, designed to perform simple and complex statistical analyses. Despite his immense wealth, Sall is still working, doing programming, and leading a team of developers.

Net worth: US$5.8-billion
Source of wealth: SAS Institute
Citizenship: US
Age: 64

Author | Stuart Thomas

Stuart Thomas
Stuart is the editor-in-chief of Engage Me Online. After pursuing an MA in South African literature, he spent five years reporting on the global technology scene. Intrigued by the intersection of technology and work, he joined Engage Me as the editor-in-chief. He is a passionate runner, and recently ran... More


  1. MonkeyMarcel

    December 3, 2012 at 10:57 am

    What about South Africa’s own, Koos Bekker? :-)

  2. Pingback: hellogoodmorning- it’sthelinks « yonkinto

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