The ultra-rich have lifestyles most of us can’t imagine. From buying smaller yachts for their superyachts to funding a private space race, the idea of having that much money is downright alien to the rest of us. Love them or hate them, America clearly has a fascination with billionaires. There’s just something so darn interesting about the lives (and personalities) of people who are so rich that they don’t really even live in the same reality. Maybe we just enjoy thinking about how we would spend such vast sums of money ourselves.
However, these fortunes weren’t built overnight. Some of these billionaires won the birth lottery, and were born into ultra-wealthy families already. Others started out from humbler beginnings. Whether they made their billions in technology, media, or commerce, lets take a look at some of the richest people in the United States and where their money came from.
Wealth can be fickle though — especially when it’s tied to the whims of stock prices. This article was written in January 2022 and reflects the current by-the-billions ranking of the richest people in the country. Of course, the rankings could easily change next month based on the stock prices of companies like Google, Walmart, Microsoft, Tesla, or Amazon.
12. S. Robson “Rob” Walton
Rob Walton is the son of Sam Walton, founder of the popular department store chain Walmart. Put in simple terms, he’s one of three Walmart heirs. Together, the three of them own about half of Walmart’s stock. Rob, in particular, has a track record of understanding the family business. He served as chairman on the Walmart board of directors from 1992 (following his father’s death) to 2015 — giving him a solid 23 years on the job.
Rob spends some of his time in retirement to try and help the environment. Most notably, he’s on the board of directors for Conservation International. Rob’s current net worth is estimated to be $65.5 billion.
11. Jim Walton
The second Walmart heir on our list is the younger brother to Rob Walton, Jim. He also has major shares in the company, just like his siblings. Like Rob, Jim has been heavily involved in the company and held a board seat for about a decade. Additionally, he is the majority owner and CEO of Arvest Bank, which manages about $20 million worth of assets.
He previously attended the University of Arkansas, which is also the state he currently resides in. Jim’s net worth is estimated to be similar to his brothers, at $66 billion.
10. Alice Walton
Alice Walton is the current tenth-richest person in the United States. She is, as you probably guessed, the third living Walmart heir, along with her brothers Rob and Jim. She shares management of just over 50% of the company stock with them, which makes up most of her $66 billion net worth.
Unlike her brothers, however, Alice has dedicated her time to being a patron of the arts. She founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in her home state of Arkansas (although she now resides in Texas). The museum came with a hefty $1.2 billion price tag. However, it’s an active non-profit with a goal of increasing the accessibility of fine art. General admission is free.
9. Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980 as an employee. By 2000, Ballmer had risen to become the company’s CEO. He held the position until 2014, after which he retired to focus on philanthropy and owning the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team. Ballmer also invests in developing software for non-profits, helping organizations with fewer resources stay up to date.
The 65-year-old Ballmer is married, with three children who may end up on this list themselves someday. The majority of his net worth comes from long-term investing, with his former salary and stock options from Microsoft leading the pack. Ballmer is currently worth roughly $98 billion.
8. Sergey Brin
Not everyone can claim they invented a verb, but Sergey Brin can. This Google co-founder is another tech magnate on our list. He’s partly responsible for kickstarting the search engine revolution. Originally born in the Soviet Union in 1973, Brin’s parents immigrated to the U.S. when he was just a child. After studying computer science in school, Brin committed to perfecting the search engine product that would later become Google (along with business partner Larry Page).
Today, Brin takes a less active role in Google’s parent company Alphabet to focus on other projects, including developing near-future transportation technology. He remains a controlling shareholder though, and sits on Alphabet’s Board of Directors. His current net worth is $113 billion.
7. Larry Page
Larry Page co-founded Google with Brin in 1998. For many years, he worked as the company’s president. He and Brin met as PhD students at Stanford University, before pausing their studies in order to turn their tech startup into a tech giant. Like many of the other billionaires on this list, he is committing his tech-generated fortune to space exploration, as well as more down-to-Earth projects.
Page also removed himself from daily control of Google/Alphabet. However, like Brin, he remains a majority stockholder. The 48-year-old tech giant currently holds a net worth of about $117 billion.
6. Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison was born in 1944, shortly before the end of WWII. Although he famously never completed college, Ellison developed a database tool for the CIA that would later form the foundation of his company, Oracle. After incorporating, he worked as CEO of Oracle Corporation for 37 years before recently stepping down. Presently, Ellison sits on the board of directors for Tesla Motors.
Ellison still owns about 35% of Oracle, providing much of his $117 billion net worth. In 2012, he purchased almost the entirety of the Hawaiian island Lanai for $300 million, where he resides full-time.
5. Warren Buffet
One of the most successful investors in the world, Warren Buffet made his fortune as CEO of the investment company Berkshire Hathaway. Buffet is known for savvy, long-term investments in a variety of industries from retail to railroads to utilities — and more. He’s also a tycoon that doesn’t live like a tycoon. Buffet is reportedly very thrifty relative to his net worth.
Along with Bill Gates (stay tuned for more on him), Buffet has committed himself to humanitarian causes. He has pledged to divest at least half of his net worth over the course of his life to charitable causes. That will be a good chunk of money, since his net worth sits around $118 billion (depending how the stock market is doing on any given day, that is).
4. Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg was just 19 when he developed the website that would later become Facebook. While it wasn’t the first social media network, it quickly became the largest and most popular. It also helped transformed the internet from a place of relative anonymity to the profile tracking hellscape it is today.
At 37, Zuckerberg is one of the youngest billionaires in the world. Whatever you think of Facebook’s business tactics, Zucks is truly a self-made man. His net worth hovers around $118 billion, depending on the price of Facebook’s stock. For better or worse, Facebook (and copycat social media sites) have changed the way people connect on a global scale.
3. Bill Gates
Bill Gates is the founder of Microsoft. Certain 90s kids might remember him as the one-time richest man in the world. While he’s fallen to the third spot today, Gates was the original billionaire geek. He’s known for his philanthropy and contribution to global public health, via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which he still co-chairs with his ex-wife, Melinda. To date, he’s donated roughly $36 billion of Microsoft stock to the Foundation.
Gates has a net worth of roughly $134 billion. He has also invested in the Canadian National Railway, AutoNation, and owns large swaths of farmland across the United States. He also spends his retirement investing in zero-carbon technologies. In 2021, Bill and Melinda announced they were amicably ending their 27-year marriage.
2. Elon Musk
As the CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk is a billionaire gambler that has invested heavily in both green tech and space travel. So far, the gambit seems to be paying off, with SpaceX generating about $74 billion in funding in 2021. He also founded the Tesla Solar Roof project and, more recently, his Starlink company promises satellite internet for remote locations. He’s one of the more colorful characters on this list, frequently stirring up controversy via social media.
Most of Musk’s $261 billion fortune is tied up in Tesla stock. He famously barely takes a salary from the electric vehicle company, but is awarded huge stock grants every time Tesla hits major performance milestones. He also seems to waste plenty of money, attempting to “solve traffic” in Los Angeles with his Hyperloop tunnel or by shipping not-a-flamethrowers to customers.
1. Jeff Bezos
This probably comes as no surprise, but the richest person on this list — and in the world — is Jeff Bezos. At about $185 billion in net worth, he’s the ultra-rich of the ultra-rich. If you haven’t heard his name before, based on the way things are going, can I just say, “what rock are you living under?” And “can I join you?”
From his ownership of the retail juggernaut that is Amazon and Bezos’ prominent role in the private space-race opposite Musk, to his ownership of the Washington Post, he exists at the center of significant discourse both as a powerful public figure and a symbol of the wealth a tech empire can bring.