By Jennifer Calfas
Updated: December 14, 2018 10:32 AM ET | Originally published: May 25, 2017

The richest people in the world have a staggering amount of wealth — comparable to the GDP of small countries for some. Many of the world’s richest, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, are self-made and turned an idea into a billion-dollar fortune. For others, like the Koch brothers of Koch Industries, their businesses were inherited, but their control of the company led to overwhelming amounts of wealth.

Many billionaires donate a large percentage of their money to charity. In fact, several of the world’s richest including Gates and Warren Buffet have made “The Giving Pledge,” which means they have vowed to give away at least half of their wealth to charity.

There are more than 2,200 billionaires in the world, Forbes reports, and that number is only expected to grow. Based on the most recent estimates from Forbes, the world’s richest people range from tech CEOs to heiresses to expert investors. Read on to find out how and why these people got so rich.

Who is the richest man in the world?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos surpassed Bill Gates in July 2017 to become not only the world’s richest man, but the richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $112 billion, according to Forbes’s 2018 Billionaires List.

Bezos’s fortune jumped in 2017 amid a remarkable year for the retail giant, in which the company bought Whole Foods in June 2017 and had another record-breaking Amazon Prime Day.

Bezos, who bought The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million, owns about 17% of Amazon.com, which is part of what buoyed him to the world’s richest man. At the beginning of 2018, Morgan Stanley analysts predicted the company would soon be worth $1 trillion — and they were right. In September 2018, Amazon briefly hit a $1 trillion market cap, becoming the second U.S. company to do so.

Who is the richest woman in the world?

Following the death of French heiress Liliane Bettencourt of L’Oréal fortune in 2017, two women regularly trade the title of richest woman in the world. One is Walmart heiress Alice Walton, who has a net worth of about $43 billion at the end of 2018, according to Forbes. And the other is Bettencourt’s daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the 65-year-old heiress who now has a net worth of $46.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Walton is the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton. The heiress has not been heavily involved in the family business, but is an active art patron who opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., in 2011.

Though she rarely gives interviews or appears in front of the media, Bettencourt’s daughter is known as an academic and an avid pianist, according to Bloomberg. Bettencourt passed away at age 94 in September 2017 at a time when she was worth about $39.5 billion and among the top 20 richest people in the world overall, according to Forbes. Her father, Eugene Schueller, founded the iconic cosmetics company L’Oréal in 1907, and Bettencourt owned a third of the makeup brand with her children.

List of the 10 Richest People in the World

1. Jeff Bezos

Industry: Technology

Net worth: $136 billion

Responsible for the growth of online shopping and e-commerce, Jeff Bezos made his fortune by founding Amazon.com. The 54-year-old CEO of Amazon, launched the retail giant in 1994 after leaving his New York hedge fund job. Initially an online book retailer operated out of Bezos’s garage in Seattle, Amazon.com grew to become the world’s largest online shopping retailer, now worth over $800 billion.

Bezos also owns a private space company Blue Origin and purchased The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million. Amazon bought the upscale grocery chain Whole Foods in June 2017 for an estimated $13.7 billion. And 2018 brought even more change for the company. On top of having another record-breaking Prime Day, Amazon hit a $1 trillion market cap for the first time, not long after Apple became the first U.S. company to do so. The retail giant also announced a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour — setting a new standard in the industry — and chose Long Island City, N.Y., and Crystal City, Va., as the locations for its next two offices after an extensive, country-wide search for its second headquarters.

Bezos’s parents, Jackie and Mike Bezos, operate the Bezos Family Foundation, which supports youth education.

2. Bill Gates

Industry: Technology

Net worth: $95 billion

Born in Seattle, Gates used his first computer in 1967 while a kid in school. And about a decade later, he and his childhood friend Paul Allen, who also developed an interest in computers at their school, co-founded Microsoft together in 1975.

He was Microsoft’s CEO until 2000, and was the company’s chairman and largest shareholder until 2014. Gates is still a member of the board and serves as a technology adviser for the company.

Gates and his wife, Melinda, co-chair the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the world’s largest private charity. The foundation, launched in 1999, focuses on ending infectious diseases around the world, including HIV and malaria.

Outside of Microsoft, Gates is a public figure who, along with Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, founded “The Giving Pledge” to encourage other billionaires to donate a hefty amount of their wealth to charity. His charitable foundation focuses on health and development issues across the world.

An influential figure, the 63-year-old also releases a list of his favorite books each year.

3. Warren Buffett

Industry: Finance and investments

Net worth: $84 billion

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett is an iconic figure and investment genius who bought his first stock when he was just 11 years old and filed his first taxes at age 13. Nicknamed the Oracle of Omaha, Buffett owns more than 60 companies.

One of the world’s best investors, Warren is also known for his cheap spending habits. In the recently released HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, the 88-year-old billionaire said he typically pays under $4 for breakfast from McDonald’s each morning.

Like his peers, Buffett is a philanthropist and has vowed to give away 99% of his wealth.

4. Bernard Arnault

Industry: Retail

Net worth: $68 billion

Bernard Arnault is responsible for many of the world’s most fashionable brands, including Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon and Sephora. The French billionaire is the chairman and CEO of LVMH, which is the largest luxury goods company in the world.

The 69-year-old began his career as a civil engineer and gained control of his family parent company, Groupe Arnault. In the 1980s, he bought fashion brand Christian Dior — a move that avoided bankruptcy for the brand.

Though he hasn’t cracked the top 10 in several other rankings, Arnault’s wealth grew by more than $5 billion in late April 2017 when he announced he would take full control of Christian Dior, Forbes reported, resulting in a mammoth boost to his personal net worth.

Arnault is an art collector and created the Paris-based Foundation Louis Vuitton, which supports artistic creation in France.

5. Amancio Ortega

Industry: Retail

Net worth: $62 billion

Amancio Ortega is a Spanish self-made billionaire best known for founding Inditex fashion group, which includes Zara clothing stores. The richest man in Europe, Ortega co-founded Inditex in 1975 with his ex-wife Rosalia Mera, who passed away in 2013.

Ortega, 82, is also the wealthiest retailer in the world and owns 59% of Inditex, which operates 7,000 stores worldwide. He stepped down as chairman of the company in 2011.

His approach to his company’s success can be attributed to two factors: speed and customers. Oretga’s “fast fashion” philosophy included refreshing the stock at Zara stores twice a week, CNBC reported. And instead of focusing on what’s in at fashion shows, the company follows bloggers and customers for what they’re wearing to inform what is sold, Fortune reported.

Unlike other billionaires, Ortega has stayed out of the public eye. In fact, no photograph of him was ever published until 1999.

6. Larry Ellison

Industry: Software

Net worth: $58 billion

Larry Ellison, the founder, chairman and former CEO of software company Oracle, came from humble beginnings.

The 74-year-old billionaire founded his company in 1977, having never taken a computer science class in his life, according to the Smithsonian. He moved from Chicago to California after dropping out of college (twice), and worked several jobs where he learned about computer programming, including one where he helped build a database for the CIA.

He and two co-workers left the company to found Oracle, which became the world’s most popular database. He was the highest-paid executive in the United States before he stepped down as CEO in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ellison has already given millions to charity and education, and plans to give away billions.

But he’s also spent his wealth in more luxurious ways as well. He has millions of dollars worth of real estate around the world, including the entire island of Lanai in Hawaii.

7. Carlos Slim Helu

Industry: Telecommunications, banking, retail

Net worth: $57 billion

Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim Helú is the richest person in Mexico, and owns more than 200 companies in industries ranging from banking to retail to telecommunications. The 78-year-old owns America Movil, the largest mobile phone company in Latin America, as well as the Grupo Carso conglomerate company, which includes a host of retailers and restaurants, among other companies.

Slim’s father immigrated to Mexico from Lebanon with his family before Slim was born and had several successful retail and real estate businesses, Business Insider reported. Slim inherited the businesses after his father’s death in 1953, and founded his his first company, insurance company Inversora Bursatil, after he graduated from college in the early 1960s.

His influence extends outside of Mexico as well. He now owns 17% of the New York Times — the largest individual shareholder of The Grey Lady.

Slim is a philanthropist, but has criticized other billionaires for giving their money to charity. Instead, Slim has said company leaders need to “create companies” rather than “give away companies.”

8. Mark Zuckerberg

Industry: Technology

Net worth: $54 billion

Mark Zuckerberg was only a sophomore at Harvard University when he created the first version of Facebook in 2004. The social media powerhouse, which first began on college campuses, now has more than 1.2 billion users and dozens of offices located around the world. The company is now worth around $400 billion.

The tech CEO saw his net worth fall dramatically in 2018 as his company was embroiled in a slew of major controversies over consumer protection and data breaches, among other issues. Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress in April 2018 regarding data privacy issues amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Zuckerberg, the youngest of the world’s top billionaires at 34, is the chairman and CEO of Facebook in addition to being its co-founder. The 2011 award-winning film The Social Network was based off of Zuckerberg’s founding of Facebook while in school, and the subsequent drama that came as a result.

Like other billionaires, Zuckerberg is a philanthropist who has donated millions to charitable causes. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to donate 99% of their wealth through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

9 and 10. Charles and David Koch (tied)

Industry: Conglomerate

Net worth: $48 billion each

Charles Koch, 83, is the CEO, chairman and co-owner of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States.

Both he and his brother, 78-year-old David —the company’s executive vice president — each own 42% of the conglomerate, which produces brands like Dixie Cup, Quilted Northern paper towels and Stainmaster carpet cleaner. The two brothers inherited the Wichita, Kansas-based company from their father.

The conservative Koch brothers use their deep pockets to influence politics and public policy through an expansive network. Koch-aligned networks like Americans for Prosperity gave rise to the libertarian movement, and the brothers have spent hundreds of millions backing politicians and influencing policy.

In fact, their network planned to spend $889 million just on the 2016 election, the New York Times reported. In 2012, the network spent under $400 million.

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