“Elephant bumping.” That’s how Warren Buffett refers to meeting other tycoons in Alice Schroeder’s biography of him.
Who has enough wealth and global economic influence to be part of the world’s elephant herd? The Saudi prince who is News Corp.’s (Fox’s parent company’s) biggest shareholder, for one. Or the Ethiopian Arab who has half his fortune in Swedish investments. Such global players collectively employ millions of people around the world through their conglomerates. They sit a the very top of their respective corporate pyramids; in most cases, they or their families actually built those pyramids in the first place.
Who are the global tycoons who run the world? There are hundreds of them, many listed in Forbes’ billionaire list. We extracted some of the tycoons with the most global influence, via their conglomerates and/or political ties, and listed them here.
25. Jorge Paulo Lemann
Image: Creative Tools/Flickr
This self-made billionaire launched his career by founding “Brazilian Goldman Sachs” Banco Garantia in 1971. 27 years later, Lemann and partners Carlos Alberto Sicupira and Marcel Telles sold Banco Garantia to Credit Suisse First Boston for $675 million.
Lemann and his partners used the money to buy the Brazilian brewery that eventually became AmBev, then InBev, then Anheuser-Busch InBev. Lemann is one of the latter’s biggest shareholders, according to Forbes. The Lemann-Sicupira-Telles triad also owns major Brazilian discount retailer Lojas Americanas and significant shares in America Latina Logistica, Brazil’s biggest railroad operator.
Most recently, Lemann and his buddies bought the Burger King restaurant chain via their private equity fund, 3G Capital, which had invested in Wendy’s in the past. In case that isn’t impressive enough, Lemann was also a five-time Brazilian tennis champion and played at Wimbledon.
24. Warren Buffett
Image: Mark Hirschey/Wikimedia
America’s pet tycoon has a portfolio made up mostly of national companies, but his power diffuses internationally. BRK subsidiary General Re is one of the world’s biggest reinsurers. Buffett’s major stakes in Coca-Cola, American Express, and global medical supply company Becton Dickinson give him a global presence by association (and income); his stakes in Wells Fargo and North America’s biggest gypsum products producer don’t hurt, either. He used to own shares in PetroChina, but divested those because of the Sudan conflict. Don’t think that will stop him from finding a good global deal again.
23. Oleg Deripaska
Image: World Economic Forum/Flickr
It’s hard to rate Russian oligarchs on a global power scale, since they tend to work together and share ownership stakes. That said, Oleg Deripaska is still one of the biggest cheeses in the fondue pot.
Through his Basic Element conglomerate, Vladimir Potanin’s main rival owns significant companies in five global industries: manufacturing, energy, aviation, financial services, and construction. Those companies include Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminum supplier; the GAZ group of Russian automobile plants, whose latest joint venture is in heavy trucks with China, and major Russian airplane manufacturer Aviacor.
After the 2008 economic crash pummeled Russia’s former richest man with debt, Deripaska personally negotiated with the Russian government and banks to have his credit restructured, writes Forbes. His marriage to a Boris Yeltsin senior official’s daughter and the fact that Deripaska sees Vladimir Putin as “more like a manager” surely didn’t hurt during those talks.
22. Amancio Ortega
Selling fashion can make you a billionaire. Just ask the Inditex Group’s Amancio Ortega, whose fashion conglomerate makes up the world’s biggest clothing retailer. Inditex runs Zara, Stradivarius, and six other global brands. It has 4,500 stores in 73 countries, according to Forbes. Forbes also writes that Ortega “owns a luxury apartment complex in Miami; properties in Madrid, Paris, London and Lisbon, a horse-jumping circuit, an interest in a soccer league; has investments in gas, tourism and banks.”
Like closest competitor H&M, Inditex has the ability to design and produce garments in a two-week time frame, making it a threat to luxury brands—and the two or three other tycoons who own those brands.
21. Vladimir Yevtushenkov
Sistema owns major Russian toy store Detsky Mir. Image: Simon Law/Flickr
Yevtushenkov owns The System–literally. His holding company AFK Sistema
(“The System”) owns about 200 companies “ranging from microchips to toy stores,” according to Forbes. Sistema calls itself “the largest public diversified financial corporation in Russia and the CIS.” For a less vague interpretation of The System, consider what it owns:
* The Detsky Mir (“Children’s World”) retail chain
* Russia’s biggest mobile operator and major Indian mobile provider MTS
* Massive global tourist operator Intourist
* Many of the payphones and phone stations in Russia
* A number of Russian cable TV stations and advertising networks
* A film studio
* A real estate development company
* A retail bank
* Private hospitals, clinics and ambulances
* A company providing non-government pensions
* A telecom and IT solutions tech company
* A radar and aerospace controls company
* A pharma holding company that produces both high-margin drugs and generics
* An oil network comprised of producers, refiners, oil storage, and filling stations
Yevtushenkov may not be the richest man in the world, but he’s definitely one of its emperors.
The Indian brothers run a $15 billion steel, energy, communications, construction, power, and shipping logistics conglomerate called Essar Group. It owns steel mines and petroleum refineries around the world.
Essar also runs one of the biggest power companies, cellular companies, and port operators in India. Essar also runs one of Asia’s biggest construction banks, whose projects include pipelines in Qatar and a cold rolling mill in Indonesia. Other kingdom properties include a realty company, a financial services company, a publisher, an American coal mining operation, and an agribusiness known for its rose cultivation. Most recently, the brothers have been dipping their fingers in Ugandan oil, which, given their track record, they’ll soon build a refinery, pipeline, and real estate company around, too.
Vladimir Potanin, along with fellow oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, built up the holding company Interros, which ran Prof-Media, Russia’s biggest media company, as well as Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel producer, a real estate development company, and the development company for Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics ski resort. After splitting up their conglomerate, Potanin kept Prof-Media and Norilsk Nickel.
The son of a wealthy, well-connected Communist family, Potanin has dabbled in politics, serving as deputy prime minister to Viktor Chernomyrdin, co-engineering Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign, actually creating the loans-for-shares program that, in turn, created today’s Russian oligarchy, writes Jezebel. Other Potanin honors? Hosting “Kandidat” (Russia’s “Apprentice”), snapping up the Ford Models company, and paying singer George Michael $4 million to perform at his birthday party (according to Jezebel).
He’s no Carlos Slim, but Ricardo Pliego, like Slim, owns a fair chunk of Mexico. His holding company Grupo Elektra runs TV Azteca, the world’s second-largest Spanish language media network. Pliego’s oligarchic stable also includes controversial Mexican bank Banco Azteca, an insurance company, a pension service “for the working class,” and a credit reporting company “aimed at the working poo” [SIC]. He owns one of Mexico’s biggest retailers, Elektra, which sells everything from bus tickets to furniture to motorcycles.
Perhaps Pliego’s success with Elektra inspired him to invest in Circuit City before it went bankrupt. Pliego lost $40 million–disastrous to some, but for Pliego, it was probably more like letting a $100 bill fly out the car window.
17. Sheldon Adelson
Image: Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr
Gambling pays. Just ask casino king Sheldon Adelson, the world’s 13th richest man, according to Forbes. Sheldon got his start developing COMDEX, one of the world’s first computer trade shows. Adelson poured his COMDEX earnings into Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel and Casino, building the Sands Convention Center, still one of Las Vegas’ biggest.
Adelson later razed the original Sands to build the Venetian, the Venice-themed adult playground that is still one of Vegas’ biggest attractions. After selling COMDEX, Adelson built Sands and Venetian resorts in Macao, and a Sands in Singapore. When the Las Vegas Sands went public in 2004, Adelson hit it big, accumulating a net worth of $17.5 billion over the next 2 years, according to the New York Times. He plans to develop a massive resort city, a Vegas counterpart of sorts, in Macau. The taxi driver’s son spends his spare time suing people, lobbying conservatives, pushing for a unified Israel, and publishing a free Israeli daily newspaper.
Ethiopia’s main oligarch is also one of the world’s richest Arabs. This truly global billionaire is the son of a Yemeni father, was raised in Saudi Arabia, and has significant investments in Sweden, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and of course Ethiopia, where he funds the national soccer team. His conglomerate, made up of four holding and operating companies, employs around 40,000 people worldwide and has a tagline: “Investment with a Mission to be SECOND-TO-NONE.” He has major holdings in oil, construction, real estate, and a gold mine; other companies include an air transport company, a tour company, Addis’s Home Depot (not affiliated with the Western one), and a university.
15. Charles & David Koch
Kansas-based Koch industries is the kind of company that quietly owns your life. The second-largest private company in the US employs 70,000 people in 60 countries, according to Forbes.
Koch’s Georgia-Pacific makes your Brawny and Dixie cups; its Invista provides the fabric behind your Lycra workout gear; its nitrogen fertilizer feeds the produce you buy; its oil refineries and pipelines (including part of the Trans Alaska Pipeline) make sure that your car and other goods are working as desired. To top off the vertical monopolization—err, integration—other Koch subsidiaries provide filtration, wastewater treatment, boiler burners, and more systems geared at oil refineries and chemical plants. They also seem to own their own recreation, running three hunting ranches in the US, including the Yellowstone area’s Matador Ranch. Oh, and CEO Charles co-founded libertarian think tank The Cato Institute.
14. Azim Premji
Image: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia
Wipro Limited, Premji’s holding company, runs India’s biggest IT outsourcing company. When Premji inherited Wipro, it was a cooking fats company. Premji grew Wipro, Borg-like, until it dealt not only in cooking fats, but in hydraulic cylinders, light bulbs, personal care products, and computers. When outsourcing fever hit the West in the early 2000s, Wipro’s IT services division gobbled up the chance—and the margins—as one of the boom’s main beneficiaries.
Premji’s next venture? His very own university.
Francois Pinault’s holding company Artemis SA is named after the Greek goddess of the hunt. If Pinault’s ownership of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Christie’s auction house, and Puma is any evidence, Pinault is a fine hunter indeed.
His catches don’t stop at luxury brands. For those of more modest means, Artemis’ $4 billion company Redcats runs 14 global home shopping brands, from The Golf Warehouse to Jessica London. Artemis also dabbles in insurance, energy infrastructure, construction, toll roads and parking garages, investment, real estate, mobile communications, and the media.
To prove that his personal tastes match his company’s style, Pinault runs renowned winery Chateau Latour and shows off his $1.4 billion personal art collection in Venice. His son, also a man of refinement, married the gorgeous Salma Hayek a couple of years ago.
(Image: Brandon Baunach/Flickr)
12. Mukesh & Anil Ambani
Image: L.C. Nottaasen/Flickr
“Polyester Prince” Dhirubhai Ambani built the multibillion dollar Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries from scratch. After a heart attack, Ambani passed on the empire, which had interests in polyester, petrochemicals, energy, oil and other businesses, to his sons Anil and Mukesh.
A squabble between the brothers resulted in the empire being split into two—by their mother, of course. Mukesh kept Reliance Industries, India’s biggest private company, with its vast textile, oil and petrochemicals interests. His brother Anil named his portion, which includes holdings in telecom, infrastructure, entertainment, financial services, and power, the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group. Together, the brothers hold the purse strings to an awful lot of India, as well as several other parts of the world.
11. Nasser Al-Kharafi
The Kuwaiti oligarch chairs M.A. Kharafi & Sons (MAK Group), which runs more than 100 business in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, according to Forbes. MAK has massive holdings in construction, manufacturing, investment, telecom, hotels, food, manufacturing, fertilizers, and several other industries.
Through its Americana goods group, MAK runs brands including KFC, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s, and Krispy Kreme http://www.makharafi.net/share1.html in the Middle East. MAK used to own a major stake in Kuwait’s biggest mobile phone company, Zain, but it’s trying to sell. It also owns significant stakes in Krispy Kreme Donuts and the National Bank of Kuwait. Maybe donuts will be a reception feature at one of its latest projects is a massive tourist resort in Egypt.
10. Bernard Arnault
Image: Jeff Kung/Flickr
You may know Arnault’s name from brands like Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Dior, Hennessy, Marc Jacobs, Tag Heuer, Moet & Chandon. Heck, the man might as well own the entire population of Beverly Hills. His LVMH holding company owns more than 50 brands, as well as a yacht builder, a tour operator, the five-star Le Cheval Blanc hotel in Courchevel, and a significant stake in the massive Carrefour supermarket chain.
If there’s an oil tanker or drilling rig on the ocean, chances are good that John Fredriksen owns it. His massive oil tanker fleet includes natural gas shipping company Golar and the 80-odd crude tanker fleet run by Frontline, which his website claims is the world’s largest.
The ocean magnate also has major stakes in international offshore drilling ship company SeaDrill, farmed fish company Marine Harvest, oil tanker giant Overseas Shipholding Group, and dry bulk shipper Golden Ocean. Although not as dramatic and public as Aristotle Onassis was, Fredriksen, whose shipping empire is big-to-bigger than Aristotle’s, but whose drama seems limited to forsaking his Norwegian citizenship in favor of a Cypriot one, has been compared.
8. The Cargill Family
Image of Cargill’s Bay Area salt evaporation ponds by Doc Searls/Flickr
Cargill defines agribusiness. America’s biggest private company is owned by a family, the namesake Cargills. Founder William Wallace Cargill founded the company as a grain storage provider the end of the Civil War. Today, Cargill describes itself as “an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services.”
Translation: Cargill has its fingerprints all over your pantry and fridge. Cargill is the world’s biggest agricultural commodities trader, one of the country’s biggest corn ethanol producers, a plastics and foams producer, maker of modern health marvels like Omega-3-laden shortening and the Stevia-based Truvia natural sweetener, a harvester of salt and palm oil, a cotton and meat processor, a McDonald’s supplier of eggs, cooking oil, beef trim for patties, “salt, sauces, and risk management services…” and much, much more. Forbes estimates that each member of the secretive Cargill family is worth up to $1.8 billion.
Through his appropriately-named Kingdom Holding Company, King Abdullah’s nephew has major holdings in Citigroup, the Four Seasons and Fairmont hotel chains, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. He also owns the Arab media giant Rotana, which, incidentally, News Corp. owns a 9% stake in, according to Forbes. The “Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia’s” four airplanes, $3 billion in real estate, and inheritance surely don’t hurt. Last year, bin Talal filled Harvard’s Islamic Studies department’s coffers with a cool $20 million donation.
6. Mikhail Prokhorov
This self-made global metals czar caught the fat-cat bug when he teamed up with Vladimir Potanin to buy nickel mining and smelting company MMC Norilsk Nickel, now the world’s biggest nickel and palladium producer. The duo eventually built up Interros, a conglomerate that included not only Norilsk Nickel, but leading Russian bank Rosbank, Russia’s biggest media company, Prof-Media; a real estate investment and development company, and the ski resort development company that will build a resort for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
After getting caught up in a prostitution scandal, Prokhorov unloaded his 25% stake in the company to fellow oligarch Oleg Deripaska two years ago, gaining a stake in Deripaska’s Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminum company, and some cash, in exchange.
Prokhorov and Potanin split up Interros as well; Prokhorov now runs the conglomerate Onexim, which absorbed from Interros a majority stake in Polyus Gold, Russia’s biggest gold mining company, as well as the real estate developer, and Rosbank. Onexim also runs an insurance company, a media company, and three energy companies. Prokhorov also owns 80% of the New Jersey Nets, as part of a New York real estate development deal. Yet another of Prokhorov’s projects involves “designing a city car of a new type”—much better than the Lada, we hope.
5. Carlos Slim
Mexican tycoon Carlis Slim Helu’s “empire…accounts for nearly half of the Mexican stock exchange’s $366 billion value,” according to BusinessWeek. “his fortune represents 7% of the country’s annual economic output….’Slim is Rockefeller, Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan all rolled up into one person,’” writes the Wall Street Journal.
Slim, 2010’s richest man in the world, owns 92% of Mexico’s landlines and 73% of its cellphones, according to the WSJ, which says he makes $27 million a day. A monopolist in action but not rhetoric, Slim also runs departments stores, mining and railroad companies, a cigarette manufacturer, financial services, a construction company, and owns a handsome portion of Saks Fifth Avenue.
During the past three lucrative months (July-Sept.), Slim has raked in US$3.7m every hour, according to the Financial Times. That’s about a million times the average Mexican’s minimum wage, but who’s counting?
4. Lakshmi Mittal
One of the most powerful men in the West happens to come from India. Mittal, the fifth-richest man in the world and richest man in London, is chairman and CEO of the world’s biggest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, which he owns with his family. Mittal also runs the biggest artistic commission in the world, serves on the boards of Goldman Sachs, Airbus parent company European Aeronautic Defense & Space (EADS) and huge Indian private lender ICICI Bank.
Mittal is also the biggest shareholder of west London’s Queens Park Rangers football club, and has the same marble as the Taj Mahal in his mansion (the “Taj Mittal”). Megha, his daughter-in-law, now owns the fashion company Escada, according to Forbes.
In case you ever forget who Mittal is, he has commissioned a nearly 400-foot-high steel sculpture in London, right in time for the 2012 Olympics.
3. Rupert Murdoch
Image: World Economic Forum/Flickr
Best known in the US for owning the Fox network of television stations, News Corporation’s Murdoch is a man on a media mission. Between movie and TV studios, its Fox TV broadcasting company, cable channels, global satellite TV broadcasting, marketing company that delivers direct mail, online, and in-store advertisements; 36 global newspapers, and ownership of the international publishing house HarperCollins, News Corp. has a serious stake in your mind space.
That’s not all. Murdoch also has stakes in major websites including Hulu, AskMen.com and MySpace. One of Murdoch’s more interesting recent moves was a stake-swap with Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s Rotana media company. The purveyor of Fox now owns a 9% stake in one of the biggest media networks in the Middle East; in turn, Alwaleed Bin Talal now owns a major stake in News Corp. (and, by association, Fox). One has to marvel at Murdoch’s politics.
2. Li Ka-Shing
Li Ka-Shing’s name sounds is almost a homonym for “cha-ching,” the sounds a cash register makes when you open it. Perhaps that’s no coincidence.
The Hong Kong billionaire, Forbes’ 14th wealthiest man in the world, chairs Cheung Kong Holdings, which itself owns conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Limited—a conglomerate within a conglomerate. That puts Li in charge of one of Hong Kong’s biggest real estate developers, a major global infrastructure developer, Hong Kong’s first electricity company, a major biotech company, one of China’s main media companies, “the world’s biggest operator of container terminals, world’s largest health and beauty retailer by number of outlets” (that’s A.S. Watson company; largest claim by Forbes), a telecom company that owns broadband and 3G networks in Asia, a Canadian oil company, and more.
Not bad for someone who dropped out of school at 15 to support his family (Forbes). “Superman” is also a generous philanthropist—he has donated $1.4 billion of his fortune.
Tata runs his namesake conglomerate, India’s biggest. Tata Group runs companies in the steel, auto manufacturing, consulting, mobile and cable telecom, power, chemicals, finance, and many more. The company permeates all five continents with its wide swath of products and services. Tata brands common in the West include Virgin Mobile, Tetley Tea, the ultraposh Taj hotel chain, Jaguar, and Land Rover. Ratan Tata is what Forbes calls “India’s best brand ambassador”.
Family members who run different units are constantly exploring new business opportunities. Up next: Tata footwear stores.