After two years of declining values, the rich finally got richer. In the 21st annual edition of The Forbes 400, the aggregate net worth of the nation's wealthiest 400 citizens leapt 10% in the past year, to 5 billion -- just one Bill Gates away from trillion.
Leading the charge: Internet stocks. Jeff Bezos added more than billion to his net worth with a tripling of Amazon.com's (AMZN, news, msgs) share price. Yahoo!'s (YHOO, news, msgs) David Filo and Jerry Yang nearly tripled their wealth, while the fortunes of eBay's (EBAY, news, msgs) Pierre Omidyar and Meg Whitman rose almost 50%. With help from a fin-challenged clown fish named Nemo, Steve Jobs moved up 44 places in our rankings to 78th.
Financiers also fared well: Carl Icahn moved up .5 billion, a third of it stemming from his takeover of XO Communications (XOXO, news, msgs). Investor Bruce Kovner made 0 million betting on the bond and currency markets.
Smarter, faster and easier
Other fortunes were not so fortunate. A rising price of admission -- 0 million -- pushed 20 members off the list, including wrestling's Vince McMahon and Global Crossing's (GBLXQ, news, msgs) Gary Winnick. Their places were filled by newcomers like hedge fund managers Steve Cohen and Ken Griffin, both of whom would prefer we keep them out of our club. Their lack of enthusiasm is more than made up for by oil tycoon Patrick Taylor, who is proudly using his 0 million to send hundreds of kids to college.
Meet the richest people in America:
1. William H. Gates III
billion, Microsoft (MSFT, news, msgs)
Medina, Wash.; 47. Married, three children
Microsoft has been acting more mature -- paying out dividends, nixing stock options -- but is no less formidable: "We're just at the beginning of what we can do with software," proclaimed Gates at the company meeting in July. Microsoft's chief software architect is pushing to move the company beyond PCs into TVs, cell phones, cars, even wristwatches. Its flagship Windows operating system runs 94% of the world's desktop computers, but the company is facing heated pressure from Linux, whose open-source system for servers is growing more quickly than Microsoft's. Expectations are high for Windows successor, dubbed Longhorn, which might surface in 2005. Outside the office, the world's biggest philanthropist is devoting billions to eradicating infectious diseases (polio, AIDS) and developing vaccines through the billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates is methodically diversifying: He sells 20 million shares a quarter and reinvests it via Cascade Investments with stakes in Cox Communications (COX, news, msgs), Canadian National Railway (CNI, news, msgs), Republic Services (RSG, news, msgs). (Note: Microsoft publishes MSN Money.)
2. Warren Buffett
billion, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, news, msgs)
Omaha; 73. Married, three children
The Oracle of Omaha has assumed a Delphic role as Arnold's economic adviser in the California governorship race. Maybe that's because he's so dismayed with governance in the corporate sphere: "Accountability and stewardship withered in the last decade." He takes some of the blame personally. "Too often I was silent when management made proposals that I judged to be counter to the interests of shareholders." Otherwise he has an impeccable track record. Buffett studied under investment guru Benjamin Graham at Columbia. He applied value investing principles to build Berkshire Hathaway into a 6 billion (market cap) holding company: insurance (General Re, Geico), with substantial stakes in American Express (AXP, news, msgs), Coca-Cola (KO, news, msgs), Gillette (G, news, msgs) and Wells Fargo (WFC, news, msgs). It also includes a wide assortment of operating companies that tickle Warren's fancy: Fruit of the Loom (FTLAQ, news, msgs), Pampered Chef, NetJet. Buffett believes Berkshire should be a "fortress of financial strength." It has been just that: Over the past 38 years, Berkshire's per-share book value has grown from to ,727, a rate of 22.2% compounded annually.
3. Paul Allen
billion; Microsoft, investments
Seattle; 50. Single
The Microsoft co-founder's "wired world" vision is not looking visionary just yet, but Allen still has plenty of room for risk thanks to a billion Microsoft stake. He oversees investments through his Vulcan Ventures, which increased its stake in cable company Charter Communications (CHTR, news, msgs) despite indictment of four former senior execs for inflating results; and dumped its big investment in drug company Vaxgen, maker of a failed AIDS vaccine. Dozens of other technology projects are not quite ready for prime time. Perhaps he'll have better luck in bricks and mortar. He plans to develop a 50-acre "bioscience hub" in Seattle with commercial and residential space; Merck (MRK, news, msgs) already has signed on as a tenant. Other projects: a science fiction museum alongside his Experience Music Project in Seattle. Among the collection: the original captain's chair from the "Star Trek" television show. Allen is a collector of vintage military airplanes, including WWII-era Spitfire and Zero. He joined Bill Gates in 1975 to start Microsoft and left in 1983 to fight Hodgkin's disease. He has been a slow but steady seller of Microsoft ever since.
4-8. The Waltons
Helen R. Walton
.5 billion; Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, news, msgs)
Bentonville, Ark.; 84. Widowed, 4 children
S. Robson Walton
.5 billion; Wal-Mart
Bentonville, Ark.; 59. Divorced, three children
John T. Walton
.5 billion; Wal-Mart
Bentonville, Ark.; 57. Married, one child
Jim C. Walton
.5 billion; Wal-Mart
Bentonville, Ark.; 55. Married, four children
Alice L. Walton
.5 billion; Wal-Mart.
Fort Worth, Texas; 54. Twice divorced
These are the widow and children of Sam Walton (d. 1992), who opened his first general store in Rogers, Ark. in 1962. Wal-Mart is now the world's largest retailer: 4,000-plus stores around the globe. The family controls 38% of Wal-Mart, but prefers a passive role: Robson serves as chairman; his younger brother, John, a director. Other siblings keep close to their Arkansas roots. Jim is president of Arvest, the state's biggest bank. Alice raises horses on a Texas ranch. The family last year donated 0 million-plus, much to education, including 0 million to the University of Arkansas. But family largesse has not been enough to quell accusations that Wal-Mart wields too much clout. If Sam were alive today, he would be worth twice as much as Bill Gates.
9. Larry Ellison
billion; Oracle (ORCL, news, msgs)
Redwood Shores, Calif.; 59. Thrice divorced, 2 children
The Oracle chief turned Silicon Valley into a war zone in June, announcing a .3 billion bid for business-software rival PeopleSoft (PSFT, news, msgs). Decorum was not part of the deal: He initially threatened to not sell PeopleSoft products to new customers and to fire employees. PeopleSoft, headed by ex-Oracle exec Craig Conway, is still putting up a fierce fight. Any deal will have to pass scrutiny of the Department of Justice. Chicago native Ellison took Oracle public in 1986, one day before Microsoft, and has fired shots over Gates' bow ever since. Latest salvo: an alliance with Sun Microsystems (SUNW, news, msgs) to run Oracle software on Sun's Linux machines. His personal net worth is down sharply from its billion peak in 2000, but he finds no irony prophesying doom for all but the biggest in the computer industry.
10. Michael Dell
billion; Dell Computer (DELL, news, msgs)
Round Rock, Texas; 38. Married, 4 children
The soft-spoken Texan continues to dominate the brutal market for personal computers by clawing his way into servers, storage and services: "I think of us as the hunter, not the hunted." That's just the attitude needed to keep Dell the world's biggest seller of PCs. Latest prey: Hewlett Packard (HPQ, news, msgs) and Apple Computer (AAPL, news, msgs). He plans to challenge them in printers and gadgets. Though Dell's build-to-order business model had little fat to trim, lean times forced him to find a way. The company lowered operating costs to 10% of sales, down from 12% in 2000. The result: Earnings are up 31%. Dell started selling computers from his dorm room in 1984 and dropped out to start Dell Computer, which he took public in 1988. He's recently been selling shares and diversifying his portfolio via MSD Capital.
COMMENT: Here are your UNELECTED cast of characters that really run this country and hire (vote) themselves in their new employee that carries the title of "President".
Also isn't it funny that the rich are getting richer. Anyone with a "brain" should be able to see that these are the same cast of characters that write and pass tax laws to get YOU to pay their taxes and the taxes for their corporations. What dumb American suckers.