May the Force be with America’s richest celebrity

A diamond trader throws mass weddings for fatherless brides, a charitable act to help poor women, and a business partner of Donald Trump may take a run for Indonesia’s presidency. Our biweekly look at the world of billionaires.

The Star Wars creator George Lucas has been named the richest celebrity in America by Forbes. Wong Maye-E / AP Photo
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A diamond trader throws mass weddings for fatherless brides, a charitable act to help poor women, and a business partner of Donald Trump may take a run for Indonesia’s presidency. Our biweekly look at the world of billionaires

George Lucas

The creator of Star Wars is America’s richest celebrity, according to a new ranking from Forbes.

The magazine has pegged George Lucas's net worth at US$4.6 billion, placing him light-years ahead of his sometimes collaborator Steven Spielberg, who sits second with a stash of $3.7bn. Forbes attributed the bulk of Lucas' wealth to his $4.1bn sale of Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012.

Lucas did not set out to become rich.

As a boy growing up in Modesto, California, he read comics and adventure stories such as Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. In high school he liked to race cars but was deterred from that path in life by a bad crash in his Fiat. He then went to film school at the University of Southern California where he made a short sci-fi film, THX 1138, which he later turned into a full-length film. It was a flop.

Next he made American Graffiti on a tight budget, which was produced for under a million dollars. It earned a hundred times that. Then came Star Wars. Then, with himself as producer and Spielberg as director, the Indiana Jones series.

Today Lucas lives on Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, about a two-hour drive from his boyhood home town.

Besides Lucas and Spielberg, two other American celebrities rank as billionaires – Oprah Winfrey at $2.8bn and Michael Jordan at $1.2bn.

Forbes said it compiled the list using stock prices of public companies as of December 5 and assessing private companies with the help of outside experts. It also tried to work in the value of any other assets, such as art or property, that the celebrities own. The magazine said that some of the celebrities cooperated in compiling the list and some did not.

Mahesh Savani

An Indian diamond trader, described in news reports as a billionaire, threw a mass wedding for 236 fatherless brides and gave each of them gifts worth tens of thousands of dirhams. Mahesh Savani performed the Hindu wedding ritual of Kanyadaan – giving away one’s daughter in marriage – at the mega-wedding event in the western state of Gujarat at Christmas. He wanted to help poor women start a new life.

Mr Savani, who believes that giving away brides is a blessing from God, has been organising mass weddings every year since 2012.

“With Sunday’s mass wedding, I have become a proud father to have performed Kanyadaan of over 700 girls,” he said in an interview.

Hundreds of brides in colourful attire and ornate jewellery performed their wedding rituals in front of thousands of guests in the city of Surat, a hub for the diamond polishing industry. Mr Savani also gave gifts of gold and household items, including sofas and beds, worth 500,000 rupees (Dh27,070) to each of the brides.

Two of the grooms at the mass wedding were his own sons.

Mr Savani said he began his charitable campaign in 2008 when one of his employees died just days before his daughter’s wedding.

Ken Griffin

Among the emails made public as the result of a legal dispute in Chicago is one in which a local billionaire worries about a bicycle path safety.

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, in late December released 2,700 pages of his emails that he considers private but that a watchdog group and the Chicago Tribune newspaper believe are public records.

In one of the emails, the hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin complained to Mr Emanuel about a path on the lakefront that is used by pedestrians and bikes and asked whether the city could “accept private funding” to make it safer. Mr Emanuel responded that Mr Griffin’s idea to paint white the speed bumps on the path was a good one.

Last month, Mr Griffin pledged $12 million to create separate paths for runners and bikers.

Mr Griffin began investing in his student days at Harvard, with backers including his grandmother. His pile had reached $1m by the time he graduated in economics in 1989. He started the Citadel hedge fund a year later with $4.6m. It now manages about $7.3bn and he is worth an estimated $6.6bn. He likes to collect art and in 1999 bought a Cézanne for $60m. He has also paid $300m for a de Kooning and $200m for a Jackson Pollock.

Chip Wilson

The yoga-pants impresario Chip Wilson owns what is probably the most expensive home in Vancouver.

According to a report on January 1 on Global News, Mr Wilson’s mansion in the city’s Kitsilano district has been assessed at about C$75.8m ($209.4m), up by C$12m from its assessment a year earlier. The latest assessed value for the house means he is probably paying C$239,594 a year in property taxes, Global said.

An aerial picture of the mansion shows that it has a tennis court, outdoor pool, big lawn, and trees to hide it from passersby.

According to a 2006 profile in Canadian Business magazine, Mr Wilson began practising yoga in the mid-1990s and noticed that nobody in his classes had comfortable workout clothes. “So,” the profile said, “Wilson spent nearly two years working with fabric developers to create Luon, Lululemon’s signature performance fabric. At 86 per cent nylon and 14 per cent Lycra, Luon feels a lot like cotton but can wick sweat away while remaining relatively dry.”

In 2007, Mr Wilson took Lululemon public. He sold half of his remaining 28 per cent stake in 2014 to Advent, a private equity firm, for US$845m.

In recent years he has squabbled with Lululemon, in part because he has been advising his wife’s company, which also makes leisurewear.

Forbes estimates Wilson’s net worth at $2.2bn.

Hary Tanoesoedibjo

Donald Trump’s Indonesian business partner has revealed he may follow the example of the brash US billionaire and run for president.

Hary Tanoesoedibjo, who is building two Trump Organisation projects, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he was considering becoming a candidate in Indonesia’s 2019 presidential elections for the sake of the country.

“If there is no one I can believe who can fix the problems of the country, I may try to run for president,” said the media mogul and property developer, who has his own political party. “We need a leader with integrity who can bring a solution for the country.”

Mr Tanoesoedibjo is working on a Trump project outside Jakarta and one on the resort island of Bali, with both in the early stages.

The project close to Jakarta is a 700-hectare development that includes a luxury hotel, a golf course, a country club and villas, according to the Trump Hotels website.

The Bali resort will be built on a clifftop overlooking a famous Hindu temple.

Mr Tanoesoedibjo has long had political ambitions. He made an unsuccessful attempt to win nomination as a vice-presidential candidate for 2014 elections and has now started his own party, United Indonesia.

According to Forbes, Mr Tanoesoedibjo is just barely a billionaire at $1.09bn of net worth. That compares with $3.7bn for Mr Trump.

Terry Gou

The Taiwanese tech supplier Foxconn plans to build an $8.8bn factory in China, amid reports its billionaire boss is cooling off on future US investments.

Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, will spend the sum on an industrial complex in the sprawling southern city of Guangzhou. The factory will make large-screen liquid crystal displays (LCD) and be up and running by 2019.

“We have in China a government that knows how to be efficient and supports new technology,” said Terry Gou, Foxconn’s president, in an interview with China’s 21st Century Business Herald. “As to whether we’ll invest in the US in the future I’ve no idea. As a matter of fact, the new administration isn’t in office and its new policies aren’t in place.”

Foxconn employs a million workers across China and has operations in more than 10 countries.

In the US, it has a plant in Virginia for packaging and engineering that employs more than 400 people.

Mr Gou has $6.7bn, says Forbes.

Andrej Babis

The Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, whose political party is leading in the polls ahead of the election in October, wants the government to use its biggest ever budget surplus to pay off debt.

Mr Babis is the finance minister in the government of the Social Democrat prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who is struggling to bolster sagging support before the vote and wants to roll the surplus money from 2016 into the 2017 budget.

The 62bn-koruna (Dh8.86bn) surplus eclipsed the original plan for a 70bn-koruna deficit and resulted from less government spending than expected, economic growth that boosted tax receipts, better tax collection and the drawing of more EU funds than had been envisioned.

Mr Babis’s conservative economic approach has resonated with cost-conscious Czechs and helped propel his ANO party to the top of popularity rankings.

Mr Sobotka and Mr Babis, who embrace opposing fiscal doctrines, have shared a ruling coalition for three years. Despite bickering over spending, their parties have agreed to increase pensions, welfare payments and the minimum wage, helping fuel the country’s recovery from a long recession.

Mr Babis made his fortune by building up the agriculture and chemicals group Agrofert. At $2.5bn he is the second-richest Czech, behind Petr Kellner ($11.3bn), who started out selling Rich photocopiers, then borrowed $1m to start an investment fund and later moved into telecoms.

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