31-SIR RICHARD BRANSON /VIRGIN | BIOGRAPHY
One of the most iconic billionaire entrepreneurs alive, Sir Richard Branson is a master at promoting himself and the companies he created. Born on July 18, 1950 in London, Richard Branson grew up in a middle-class family. Going through a rough time in High School with dyslexia and poor grades, he dropped out at sixteen years old to start his first venture. Richard founded a newspaper called “Students.” Targeting students, the business model banked on generating revenue through advertising. From the profits of the newspaper, Richard Branson entered the mail-order business to sell records. This next company was called Virgin. The name Virgin was suggested by a friend and associate of Richard Branson reflecting on how young and inexperienced they were in this industry.
The company became profitable because Branson undercut retail stores with higher expenditures by selling records at a cheaper price. Eventually, the success of the Virgin mail order business lead to expanding into having a physical store. As Richard Branson’s experience in the music industry grew, so did his entrepreneurial spirit. In 1972, he opened his own record label. With a recording studio built in a Manor, Virgin Records’ signed artists other record labels didn’t give a chance. The following year after Virgin Records opened, his artist Mike Oldfield topped the charts and catapulted the label in the the British public scene. Virgin was labelled as a refreshing record company who took risks.This early success of Branson’s artists attracted talented artists. Virgin Records correctly identified, signed and marketed them worldwide. The Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, Paul Gabriel and many others made Virgin Records a household name. What separates Richard Branson from other entrepreneurs on this list is the amount of companies he started in various industries. Some failed and some were very profitable, fortune favors the brave!
In 1984, Richard Branson created Virgin Airways, with the goal of offering competitive prices with amazing services. A couple of years later, he expanded the Virgin music store into a megastore before selling his record empire to THORN EMI for $1 billion. After the new millennium, the Virgin Group branched out with more than 100 companies under control, from Virgin Galactic, Virgin fitness gyms, Virgin mobile to the Virgin Hearth Challenge. Currently residing on his private island, Sir Richard Branson has an estimated net worth of $5 billion.
32-STEVE WYNN / WYNN RESORTS| BIOGRAPHY
How did a kid from Connecticut with dreams of becoming a doctor became the biggest real estate entrepreneur in Las Vegas? Steve Wynn was born Stephen Alan Weinberg on January 27, 1942 in Connecticut. His father Michael, a gambler and bingo parlor owner, changed their family name to Wynn to avoid Jewish prejudice.In 1952, Michael Wynn relocated the entire family to Las Vegas with the goal of operating bingo parlors. Unfortunately, they had to move back to the East coast because of crumbling debt his father collected from gambling. After finishing high school, Steve enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to study English literature. During his undergraduate years, he would often work at his father’s bingo parlor, learning how to run the business.
Tragically, during Steve’s last year in college, his father died at just forty-five years old. Steve Wynn managed to finish his undergraduate degree, but instead of entering law school, he took over his father’s bingo business. Wynn immediately found out that his father owed more than $300,000. This unlucky turn of events forced him and his wife to work extra hard to make the bingo business profitable. Steve Wynn repaid his debtor within a year of taking over the business and made friends with many of his father’s contacts. In 1967, he decided to relocate with his family to Las Vegas and with $45,000 purchased a small equity in the Frontier Hotel. The same year, Steve met the most important banker in town, E. Parry Thomas. This new connection was a pivotal moment in Steve Wynn’s business career because from that point on,he was able to borrow capital to increase his investment in the hotel industry of Las Vegas.
In the back of his mind, Steve always remembered how much money his father lost in gambling and understood that the real money was to be made from owning casinos. By 1973, Wynn Resort company majority stake in the Golden Nugget made Steve the youngest casino owner in Las Vegas. From there on, Steve Wynn revolutionized Las Vegas with magnificent, state of the art hotels. One after another, Wynn Resort set new standards in the Hotel industry. Wynn never feared investing large capital to develop hotels he and his team envisioned. They set records for the building of the Mirage in 1989 at $650 million, Treasure Island in 1993 at $450 million, the Bellagio in 1998 at $1.6 billion, Wynn in 2005 at $2.7 billion and Encore in 2008 at $2.3 billion. Today, Steve Wynn aged 75 has a net worth estimated at 2.7 billion. He is still in charge of the corporation he created.
33-SHELDON ADELSON/ LAS VEGAS SANDS |BIOGRAPHY
Perhaps the vacuum left in Las Vegas in the 1970s after the mafia left created an environment where only bold entrepreneurs were able to succeed. In this list of top entrepreneurs of all time, three places go to successful business personalities who made their fortunes in Las Vegas. Out of the three, Sheldon Adelson is the apex entrepreneur of Las Vegas. Sheldon was born on August 4, 1933 in Boston. Raised in a relatively poor household, his father was a taxi driver and his mother ran a knitting store. Adelson had the entrepreneurial bug from the start, prompting him to create over fifty businesses in his lifetime.At age twelve, he borrowed a few hundred dollars from his uncle to sell newspapers in Boston. He saved his profits to fund his first business selling toiletries. Again, four year later, the sixteen-year-old borrowed money from his uncle to purchase a candy vending machine. After finishing high school, Sheldon Adelson entered the City College of New York to study finance, but dropped out his sophomore year to join the Army. Used to be on his own, Adelson didn’t like being in the Army’s rigid structure. He decided to quit the Army to become an investment adviser and mortgage broker.
This career change was the right move, earning him his first million in the mortgage industry. Adelson eventually moved back to Boston and used his acquired financial knowledge to invest in various companies. One of them turned to be significantly profitable, earning him millions. In less than 10 years, he went from getting out the Army to making his first million, losing it and becoming a millionaire again. Another business idea Sheldon envisioned came up after buying a publishing company with a computer magazine in their portfolio. Adelson’s insight was to create a trade show similar to the Condo trade conventions he had attended before. He realized that no trade shows focused on the emerging computer business. Sheldon launched the Comdex trade show in 1979, which became the go to show in the computer industry throughout the 1980s.Comdex was later sold in 1995 for $862 million to Softbank corporation. Adelson cashed out with $500 million. Aside from the trade show, Sheldon was very active in other business ventures during the 1980s. He invested in real estate condominiums, travel agencies and in the hotel business.
In 1988, the opportunity to buy the Sands Casino Hotel presented itself to Adelson and his partners. After buying the Sands for $128 million, Sheldon and his corporate team renovated it and added more revenue streams to make it more profitable; a shopping mall and a convention center. Next, while visiting Venice in Italy, Adelson was inspired to build a hotel with the same architecture and design in Las Vegas. With his fortune around $500 million at the time, Sheldon Adelson had a net worth big enough to deal directly with the banks. He raised $1.5 billion to build the Venetian resort casino after destroying the legendary Sands hotel. The Venetian featured a modern casino, shops, high end restorations venues and diverse entertainment attractions welcoming clients of all taste. The Venetian hotel opened in 1999 and instantly became the hottest resort in Las Vegas. Always on the lookout for new business opportunities, when Adelson heard of the possibility to enter the Macau peninsula in China, he seized it. This large appetite for risk is what separated Adelson from his competitors in Las Vegas. Opened in 2004, the Venetian Macau surpassed everyone expectation to the point where Sheldon recouped his investment in just one year. Without resting on their laurels, the Adelson Group obtained the license to build another hotel in the Marina Bay of Singapore in 2006. The Marina Bay Sands Resort topped everything Sheldon had built before, costing $5.5 billion. Now eighty-four-years old with an estimated net worth of $34 billion, Sheldon Adelson continues to oversee the empire he built, valued at $50 billion.
34-LI KA-SHING / CK HUTCHISON HOLDINGS | BIOGRAPHY
How did a high school dropout, born during political turmoil and the Japanese invasion of China became the 18th richest person in the World? Born July 29, 1928 in China, Li Ka-Shing grew up in a modest household. Li’s father was the director and teacher of a local high school in the Guangdong province, but it didn’t stop him from dropping out of school. When the Japanese invasion of China became imminent in 1940, Li Ka-Shing and his family fled the country to Hong Kong then under Britain’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, just three years after their arrival in Hong Kong, Li Ka- Shing’s father died of tuberculosis. Li had no other choice than to start working at 15 to support his family. His first job was in a company selling plastic watch bands and belts up to sixteen hours a day. After a few years of valuable experience, Li founded his own company, Cheung Kong Industries, to initially sell artificial flowers.
With his own factory and after hiring some of the best technicians he could afford, Ka-Shing was able find customers in the US. With good management practices and a lean business, Cheung Kong Industries scaled and sold plastic flowers worldwide. By 1958, Li Ka-Shing had enough capital to purchase the land his factory was built on. This was the beginning of his venture in real estate. From that point onward, Li started purchasing a large amount of land and properties at discount (prices dropped during the 1967 riots). Similarly to Las Vegas tycoon Steve Wynn, to reduce his risk, Li raised most of the capital needed to fuel his expansion. He often sold apartments to friends before the construction was even finished to reduce his risks. The business was renamed Cheung Kong Holdings in 1971 before going public the following year. By the end of the seventies, the success of Cheung Kong Holdings made Li the largest private land owner in Hong Kong.
The next decade saw the expansion of Cheung Kong Holdings in diverse industries, from owning and operating major ports, to properties, hotels and a variety of retail stores around the world. Through his Holding company, Li Ka-Shing made amazing returns on investments in companies he later sold. In 1999, CK holding sold Orange for a profit of $15 billion as well as $11 billion after selling interests in Hutchison Essar to Vodafone. Today, the once plastic flower company turned into one of the largest holdings worldwide with $150 billion assets into management. Li Ka-Shing is the second richest person in Asia with an estimated net worth of $31.2 billion.
35- CARL ICAHN / ICAHN ENTERPRISE| BIOGRAPHY
How did a philosophy student become one of the most feared corporate raiders on Wall Street? Carl Icahn was born on February 16, 1936 in Queens and raised in a middle-income family. Both of his parents were school teachers. Not sure of what career path to choose, Ichan studied philosophy while attending Princeton university. After completing his Bachelor degree in 1957, he headed to NYU to fulfill his mother’s wish of becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, Icahn dropped out of med school two years after and enrolled in the Army as a reservist.
In 1961, Icahn started his career on Wall Street as a stockbroker for Dreyfus & Co. Learning the ins and out of Wall Street and developing his investment philosophy, by 1968, Icahn was able to raise enough capital to launch his own security firm, Icahn & Co. This marked the inception of the corporate raider he is known for today. His active investing style started when his firm purchased a large number of shares of Tappan, a family operated business, until he became the majority shareholder.
Ichan and his team applied pressure on the managing team of Tappan to the point where they capitulated and got acquired by Electrolux. As a result, share owners of Tappan doubled their profits. Now in full throttle, Icahn took control of the Airline company Trans World Airlines and with enough shares, took them private. His next step was to sale some of Trans World Airlines routes to American airline, earning a profit of $469 million in the process. For the next twenty years, Icahn took strong positions in companies such as XO Holding for $700 million in 2005, $20 billion in Time Warner in 2006 or the successful takeover of Lear Corporation in 2007.
Although Carl Icahn has a reputation of being a corporate raider, a term with a negative connotation attached to it, stocks of companies his firm purchases tend to immediately go up. The Icahn lift as some call it is due to shareholders’ belief in his ability to restructure companies he invests in. From the start, his vision has always been the same, identify weak companies he could restructure, control enough shares to force them to go private, merge or be acquired by a bigger company.
This investment strategy enabled Icahn’s personal net worth to reach $16.6 billion in 2017. This makes him the 26th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. Like most top entrepreneurs on this list, he donated a large part of his fortune to charities and his alma maters. Icahn also joined Warren Buffet pledge by promising to give away half of his net worth.
36-BERNARD ARNAULT / LVMH| BIOGRAPHY
Nicknamed the Pope of Fashion, French CEO Bernard Arnault is known for being the most powerful man in the world of luxury brands. Born March 5, 1949 in France, Arnault studied engineering at the renown Ecole Polytechnique located in Paris. After graduating, he joined his father’s construction company Ferret-Savinel. Quickly, Bernard Arnault pivoted the business into real estate and revitalized the business model by building timeshare vacation houses in the South of France. He succeeded his father as the company CEO in 1979 before emigrating to the United States to expand their real estate business.
With the cash earned from selling off brands not aligned with his strategy, close to $400 million, Bernard Arnault forced a takeover of LVMH in 1989. By purchasing a large number of shares of LVMH over time, he obtained enough control of the company before going to court against the chairman at the time. After winning in court, Bernard Arnault, now in full control of LVMH was a step closer to his goal. LVMH was already comprised of the best luxury brands in the world such as Dior, Givenchy, Celine and Berluti. In the nineties, Bernard continued to execute his business strategy of amassing luxury brands and revitalizing them with the best creative direction and management he could find, from John Galliano, Alexander McQueen to Marc Jacobs.
Today, LVMH is still growing strong and acquiring the best luxury companies in diverse industries; clothing, cosmetic, fashion accessories, jewelry, spirits and wine. Bernard Arnault fortune is estimated at around $55 billion.
37-ELON MUSK / PAYPAL; TESLA; SPACEX; SOLARCITY | BIOGRAPHY
Nicknamed Ironman due to similarities with the comic book billionaire Tony Starks, Elon Musk is one of the few entrepreneurs today creating the future with his bold ideas. Born on June 28, 1971 in South Africa, Elon was a voracious reader who loved to build all sort of things like his father, an electromechanical engineer. At ten years old, Elon Musk became interested in computer technologies, starting with the Commodore 8bit home computer. He taught himself programing to the point where he coded a game later sold to a magazine.
After graduating high school, Elon left for Canada to attend the University of Ontario but transferred to University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in Economics and Physics. Next, he moved to the West coast to complete a Ph.D. in energy physics from Stanford University. Just two days after starting school, he dropped out to venture on his own with the help of his brother Kimbal Musk. His first business idea was to create a software (Zip2 founded in 1995) to serve as a city guide for newspapers. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Knight Ridder and Hearst corporation struck deals with Zip2 and by 1998, the company had around 160 newspapers as clients. The following year, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq computer for $307 million, Musk equity was $22 million.
Forever bold, Elon decided the same year to create a new company with $10 million earned from the sale of Zip2. The business model was to disrupt the banking industry by creating an online money transfer service named X.com. His company became PayPal in 2001 after merging with another young startup in the same industry. Unfortunately, Elon Musk was pushed out of his CEO role, but remained involved in the company. He owned 11.7% equity on PayPal.
After the early success of PayPal, the company was purchased by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Now worth north of $150 million, Elon musk created three companies in the span of 5 years in aerospace with SpaceX, renewable energy with SolarCity and in the car industry with Tesla Motor. As of today, Elon is worth $21 billion. Tesla electric cars are leading the way in the electrical automobile industry.
38-WALT DISNEY/ DISNEY | BIOGRAPHY
A cultural icon, Walt Disney built a company whose global reach and consistency over time went beyond what many taught a cartoonist could ever accomplish. Born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, the Disney family moved to Missouri in 1906. The young Walt Disney discovered his interest in drawing at an early age by getting paid to draw his neighbor’s horses and developing his skills copying cartoons of local newspapers.
He was also introduced to motion pictures by a school friend whose family worked in the theater industry. Going to middle school while studying drawing, motion pictures and delivering newspapers twice a day was intense for Walt. Eventually, his school grades suffered. Back in Chicago in 1917, Disney attended high school where he became the newspaper cartoonist in addition to taking night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
After coming back from France where he worked for the Red Cross during the first World War, Walt Disney started a couple of ventures in animation, but all of them failed. His first businesses did not generate enough revenue to support expenses. In 1923, Walt moved to Hollywood where he was able to land a deal with a film distributor for six episodes of Alice in Wonderland. This was the beginning of the Walt Disney Company. Later, the company stroked a partnering with Columbia Pictures to distribute Mickey Mouse, the cartoon he created. This animation became an international success, followed by the animation of The Three Little Pigs. Both animations used the latest production techniques and Walt’s perfectionist touch.
Deemed the Golden Age of Animation, the 1930s saw the Disney corporation take the whole industry by storm with budgets that critics called ridiculous, too expensive and which would lead the company to bankruptcy. Nevertheless, Walt Disney’s vision was not finished, in 1955, the Disney theme park was launched. Inaugurated on live television, the first Disney park was an instant success. By the time of his death in 1966, Walt Disney’s company reputation was cemented as an American institution. Today, valued at $160 billion, Disney continues to apply Walt’s vision and perfectionist approach to business with park themes, animation series, TV channels and movies.
39-JEFF BEZOS / AMAZON| BIOGRAPHY
Similarly to how Carnegie, John D Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt were considered the Titans of their times, Jeff Bezos along with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerberg are today’s robber barons. Bezos was born January 12, 1964 in New Mexico from a young mother of seventeen years old. Early on, while leaving in Houston, Jeff showed interest and aptitude in everything related to technology, constantly dismantling and rigging electronics around the house.
His family moved to Florida where he attended high school and graduated with honors. After high school, he enrolled at Princeton University to study electrical engineering and computer science. Once he was done with college in 1986, Bezos worked at different companies on Wall Street. He eventually became vice president at the investment firm D.E Shaw. Even though Jeff Bezos’ career in finance was successful, he risked it all in 1994 when he moved to Seattle to start a company.
Out of a two-bedroom house, him and some friends launched Amazon.com in 1995. The business model was to sell books online by connecting to willing vendors globally. This is a business model called platform operator. Amazon was an instant success, within a month, revenue reached $20,000 a week and went public two years after. Still, Bezos had bigger plans for his Ecommerce website nicknamed “the everything store.” Once Amazon controlled a strong portion of the online book selling segment, they diversified by offering video DVDs, CDs, clothing, toys and electronics. After successfully maneuvering the end of the nineties with the burst of the Dot.com bubble, Bezos entered the new millennium aggressively.
Amazon grew into an internet giant with: Amazon Web Service, Prime, the popular Kindle reading devices, Amazon videos and Amazon food and groceries. In parallel, Amazon made strategic acquisition of companies on the ground such as Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.4 billion or the Washington Post for $250 million in 2013. Like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos founded an aerospace company in 2000 named Blue Origin with the goal of providing access to anyone looking to go to space. Today, at fifty-three, Jeff Bezos is worth $87 billion and the company Amazon he created from his apartment is valued at $462 billion.
40-MARK ZUCKERBERG / FACEBOOK | BIOGRAPHY
Known for creating Facebook, many people don’t know that Mark Zuckerberg created successful software back when he was still in high school. Zuckerberg was born in White Plains New York in 1984. From an early age, Mark was drawn toward computers, showing impressive skills, he kept developing throughout his teenage years. In his early teens, Zuckerberg programmed a communication network for his father, who was a dentist. His parents eventually hired a programmer to improve Zuckerberg’s skills. In high school, he developed a software called Synapse, similar to Pandora. Synapse received a lot of media praise and drew the interest of tech giants AOL and Microsoft. After receiving offers to sell his software and work for AOL and Microsoft, he rejected them and enrolled at the prestigious Harvard University.
By his sophomore year in college, he was a full-blown software developer. Before creating an early version of Facebook, Zuckerberg created a website named Course Match enabling college student to select classes. Next, he launched a very popular program, Facemash, where people would vote on the best-looking students at Harvard. Face Smash went viral over a weekend and was shut down by the university for maxing out the campus servers and infringing on college students whose pictures were used without compliance. His next project was supposed to be a partnership with two other students in developing a dating website for Harvard students.
Instead of developing Harvard Connection, Mark Zuckerberg shifted his focus to creating his own website called The Facebook. A social networking website similar to myspace. This later created friction between Mark and the two students who came up with the idea for Harvard Connection. They eventually went to court to settle the case. Launched in 2004, Facebook was an instant success, drawing early investors such as Peter Thiel of PayPal and Sean Parker founder of Napster.
In June, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and relocated Facebook to Silicon Valley to raise capital for growth and hire top talents. After securing another investment round of $12.7 million, Facebook scaled quickly to all universities and educational institutions. In 2006, Facebook opened worldwide rapidly to become a dominant force in the tech industry. The company went public in 2012.
Facebook’s business model is based on advertising like Google. By advertising on Facebook, advertisers can customize offerings using advanced metrics and segmenting target customers. With two billion active members, Facebook is valued at $487 billion. The staggering growth of Facebook made Mark Zuckerberg one of the youngest billionaires ever with a now estimated net worth of $79 Billion.