Billionaires: Who is the world's wealthiest person this week?

In our fortnightly round-up of the world’s super-wealthy, ChatGPT's Sam Altman has a net worth of about $2bn and Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff donates $150m to hospitals in Hawaii

From left, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have each been ranked as the world's wealthiest person over the past week. AFP / Reuters
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It’s been a game of musical chairs in the world of billionaires of late, as the planet’s top three wealthiest men – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bernard Arnault – jostle to retain the top spot on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

It started last Wednesday, when Mr Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and the owner of social media platform X, was knocked off his perch as the world’s richest person for the first time in nine months after the electric vehicle maker’s shares tumbled.

In the span of only one day, Mr Musk, 52, lost $17.6 billion from his personal fortune, pushing him out of the $200 billion club and into second place on the index with a net worth of $197.7 billion.

Wednesday’s winner of musical chairs was Mr Bezos, the 60-year-old founder of Amazon, who was catapulted into the top ranking for the first time since 2021 with a net worth of $200.3 billion.

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While Mr Bezos has struggled to reclaim the richest title over the past four years – at one stage, he trailed Mr Musk by $142 billion – nothing can take away from him being the first person in the world to cross the $200 billion net worth threshold, which he achieved on August 26, 2020.

But back to musical chairs. As the top two spots changed hands, Mr Arnault, 74, the chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy, remained steadfast in third place with a personal fortune of $197 billion – only $700,000 behind Mr Musk.

Come Thursday, however, there was another change at the top – and Mr Bezos’s reign as the world’s wealthiest person was short-lived.

The winner of this round? It was Mr Arnault – despite his fortune remaining unchanged at $197 billion.

Mr Bezos slipped back to second place with a net worth of $196 billion, as Mr Musk found himself floundering in third spot after his personal fortune dropped to $189 billion.

Which brings us to Friday: Mr Arnault remains the world’s wealthiest person after his net worth surged to $201 billion.

Mr Bezos is snapping at his heels in second place with $198 billion to his name and Mr Musk remains in third with $189 billion.

Mr Musk is no stranger to the roller-coaster ride of a billionaire’s net worth – which is typically tied to the equity of their companies and can live and die on the back of volatile global stock markets.

At the peak of his wealth in November 2021, Mr Musk was worth a staggering $338 billion.

Perhaps the most tumultuous year for Mr Musk's net worth was 2022, when his wealth dropped amid the sell-off of technology stocks and the controversy related to his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter.

This culminated in him breaking the world record for the biggest wealth loss in history, after shedding $182 billion from his net worth between November 2021 and January 2022, according to a report by Guinness World Records.

What happens next remains to be seen – for all we know, Meta Platforms chief executive Mark Zuckerberg could be the world's wealthiest person this week after his rise back into the top five since the beginning of the year.

Mr Zuckerberg is currently the richest he's ever been, with a net worth of $184 billion. But whatever happens, it's a game worth watching.

Sam Altman

One person who is not playing games with his net worth is ChatGPT chief executive Sam Altman.

Mr Altman, 38, is worth at least $2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which has valued his fortune for the first time.

That figure does not include any stake in OpenAI, which was recently valued at $86 billion.

Mr Altman has repeatedly said he does not own equity in the company. Rather, much of his traceable wealth is in a web of venture capital funds and start-up investments, and is set to grow with the initial public offering of Reddit, where he is among the largest shareholders.

As OpenAI’s ChatGPT turbocharged a stock market rally, his profile grew – and his recent time in the spotlight has included bouts of intrigue and controversy.

Mr Musk, a co-founder of OpenAI, sued Mr Altman and the start-up last Thursday for violating its founding mission by prioritising profit over benefiting humanity.

Late last year, Mr Altman was suddenly ousted from OpenAI after the board said he had not been “consistently candid in his communications” – but he was reinstated days later.

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The sources of his wealth are relatively opaque. Mr Altman invests in an array of closely held companies, such as Mr Musk’s Neuralink, that do not disclose his precise stake and are not included in Bloomberg’s wealth calculation.

The bulk of his traceable net worth comes from $1.2 billion invested in a set of VC funds with variations on the name Hydrazine Capital, according to regulatory filings and Bloomberg estimates.

He has an additional $434 million in funds at Apollo Projects, which invests in “moonshots”, according to its website.

Some of those VC funds are among the entities affiliated with Mr Altman that own 8.7 per cent of Reddit, the popular message-board site that recently filed for an initial public offering.

Mr Altman also lavished money on two lesser-known start-ups. He led a $500 million investment round in nuclear fusion company Helion Energy in 2021 and invested $180 million in Retro Biosciences, which is working on lengthening the average human lifespan by 10 years.

“It’s a lot,” Mr Altman told the MIT Technology Review last year. “I basically just took all my liquid net worth and put it into these two companies.”

Marc Benioff

Billionaire Salesforce co-founder and chief executive Marc Benioff has donated $150 million to two Hawaii hospitals, among the billionaire’s biggest charitable gifts.

Hawaii Pacific Health on O'ahu will receive $100 million and Hilo Medical Centre on Big Island will receive $50 million, matching a previous sum from the state.

The donations were made in partnership with The University of California, San Francisco, and together make up the largest gift in the state’s history, a UCSF statement said.

Mr Benioff, 59, has made $300 million in total commitments to UCSF and its health programmes, including its multiple Benioff Children’s Hospitals and the Benioff Centre for Microbiome Medicine.

For his gifts in Hawaii, the facilities will be renamed the Hilo Benioff Medical Centre and the Straub Benioff Medical Centre, according to the statement.

The charitable donation comes as the billionaire has been buying up large tracts of land on the Big Island, raising concerns from Hawaiians about how his growing presence will affect property prices and local culture.

Mr Benioff is worth $10.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He and his wife, Lynne, have given away almost three quarters of the land they have purchased in Hawaii over the past 25 years and more than 90 per cent of what they have purchased since 2020, a representative for the couple said in a statement.

Mr Benioff is not the only tech founder who has made the Aloha State his home in recent years. Oracle’s Larry Ellison owns 98 per cent of the island of Lanai, while Mr Zuckerberg owns swathes of Kauai and Mr Bezos has property on Maui.

After Maui’s devastating wildfires in August, Mr Bezos promised $100 million to help the island’s recovery but it is unclear where the money spent so far has gone. Mr Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have also donated millions to Kauai charities over the past five years.

Vijay Shekhar Sharma

Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma has voiced confidence that his digital payments pioneer will overcome regulatory setbacks in India this year and stage a comeback as a stronger company.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learnt is that many times your teammate and adviser may not be getting it correct,” Mr Sharma said at a financial technology conference in Tokyo last week, his first public appearance since Indian regulators ordered his banking affiliate to halt certain activities.

“And it is important for you, yourself, to be taking care of it versus just letting a teammate or an adviser suggest what should it be.”

Mr Sharma, who has a net worth of $1.2 billion, is fighting to put his digital payments company back on stable footing after regulators placed severe curbs on the banking affiliate, the backbone for much of its financial and payments services.

The biggest thing that I’ve learnt is that many times your teammate and adviser may not be getting it correct
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm

Both Paytm and Paytm Payments Bank are part of the billionaire’s FinTech empire but the bank isn’t controlled by the publicly traded mobile wallet pioneer.

Mr Sharma, 45, resigned from the Paytm Payments Bank’s board in February, less than a month after India’s banking regulator prohibited the bank from accepting new deposits in its customer accounts or wallets.

The watchdog imposed the curbs after years of warning the flow of money and data traffic between the tightly regulated bank and the rest of the Paytm universe created accounting and supervisory problems.

Despite the setbacks, Mr Sharma said he valued the role regulators play in creating a healthy environment for start-ups in India.

“Things become very big and systematically important, very fast,” he said. “We have been able to very happily see our regulator engage.”

Shares of Paytm, publicly traded as One97 Communications, have plunged about 45 per cent since the regulators imposed the prohibitions on the bank on January 31.

Still, they’ve recovered from their lows after Paytm struck a deal with Axis Bank, tapping the lender to handle some of the tasks previously handled by Paytm Payments Bank. Paytm is currently working to add more banks as partners.

“Asia has an opportunity to build a financial system for the next generation,” Mr Sharma said. “Make Paytm an Asia leader – in my lifetime, I would like to do that.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

Updated: March 11, 2024, 5:00 AM