How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (2024)

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How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (1)

There are more billionaires in 2024 than at any point in history. Even as the world grapples with economic and political instability, the wealthiest people alive continue to accrue wealth at record numbers.

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This is especially true among the upper echelons of the extremely wealthy. The 20 richest people in the world added $700 billion to their collective net worths in 2023, according to a Forbes analysis.

While there are many industries in which it is possible to achieve financial success, the world’s wealthiest people share several similarities. Seven of the top 10 earned their fortunes through technology and social media, while the other three did so through running massive conglomerates. Most were born into relatively affluent American families and all are men.

In spite of these similarities, however, the specific paths that the richest people in the world took to success do look different.

Read on to learn how the 10 richest people in the world became so wealthy.

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10. Larry Page

10. Larry Page

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (2)

Google co-founder Larry Page is the son of two Michigan State University academics: His father was a computer science professor and his mother was a computer programming instructor. Page majored in computer engineering at the University of Michigan before attending Stanford for graduate school.

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While at Stanford, he met fellow computer scientist Sergey Brin. The pair became fascinated by the idea of a search engine that could connect web pages to each other — eventually leading to the creation of Google. Page served as the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet until 2019. He remains a controlling shareholder and board member. Page’s estimated net worth is $144 billion, according to Forbes.

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9. Mukesh Ambani

9. Mukesh Ambani

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (3)

Reliance Industries director Mukesh Ambani was born into an Indian family in what is now Yemen. His father, Dhirubhai, founded Reliance as a textile company in 1966. In the ensuing decades, Reliance entered several other industries, including petrochemicals and telecommunications.

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By the time of Dhirubhai Ambani’s death in 2002, Reliance was the largest company in India. After Dhirubhai Ambani died, the company was divided between his two sons Mukesh and Anil. Mukesh Ambani is worth an estimated $115 billion, according to Forbes.

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8. Steve Ballmer

8. Steve Ballmer

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (4)

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was born into a middle class family in Detroit, Michigan. He was raised in an affluent suburb and attended prep school before becoming the first person in his family to go to college. While studying at Harvard, Ballmer met future Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the pair became close friends.

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Ballmer would later become the 30th employee hired at Microsoft. He held a variety of positions within the company before replacing Gates as CEO in 2000. He retired from Microsoft in 2014 and purchased the Los Angeles Clippers later that year. Ballmer’s estimated net worth is $130 billion, according to Forbes.

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7. Bill Gates

7. Bill Gates

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (5)

Microsoft founder Bill Gates was born into an affluent family: His father was a prominent lawyer, while his mother was on the board of directors for a financial holding company. Gates first became interested in programming while attending a Seattle prep school. After briefly attending Harvard University, Gates dropped out to co-found Microsoft in 1975. Five years later, IBM approached Microsoft regarding software development after Gates’ mother mentioned the company to IBM’s CEO.

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The IBM partnership boosted Microsoft’s reputation and contributed to it growing into a major software company. In the early days of Microsoft, Gates was directly involved in coding but he subsequently took on a more executive role. His estimated net worth is $128 billion, according to Forbes, but he has given a substantial portion of his fortune to charity.

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6. Warren Buffet

6. Warren Buffet

Berkshire-Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett is the son of Republican Congressman and stock broker Howard Buffett. From a young age, Buffett was fascinated by entrepreneurship. He briefly attended the Wharton School of Business before transferring to the University of Nebraska.

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Under Buffett’s management, Berkshire-Hathaway grew into a major holding conglomerate with significant shares in GEICO, Duracell, AltaLink and dozens of other companies. Buffett is worth an estimated $133 billion, according to Forbes, but has pledged to give the majority of his fortune to charity.

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5. Larry Ellison

5. Larry Ellison

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (7)

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was in the 1944 and was subsequently adopted by his aunt and uncle. He was raised in a walk-up apartment in a middle class neighborhood in Chicago. He attended the University of Illinois but dropped out after his adoptive mother died during the middle of his sophom*ore year final exams.

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Ellison studied at the University of Chicago for one semester before dropping out and moving to Berkeley to work as a computer programmer. He founded the software company that would become Oracle in 1977. In the ensuing decades, Oracle has grown through its sales of enterprise software and cloud computing. In addition to his tech endeavors, Ellison also owns 98% of the Hawaiian island Lānaʻi. His estimated net worth is $141 billion, according to Forbes.

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4. Mark Zuckerberg

4. Mark Zuckerberg

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (8)

Meta co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is the son of a psychiatrist and a dentist. He attended the elite prep school Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and subsequently studied at Harvard. As an undergraduate, he co-created Facebook to share photos of and information about classmates. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard during his sophom*ore year to continue building the nascent social media platform.

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In 2012, Facebook went public and acquired Instagram. Two years later, the company also bought the messaging platform WhatsApp and the virtual reality company Oculus. The company rebranded as Meta in 2021 and continues to acquire and develop new platforms. Zuckerberg is worth an estimated $177 billion, according to Forbes.

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3. Jeff Bezos

3. Jeff Bezos

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (9)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was born to two teenaged parents who struggled financially during his early childhood. When he was four years old, his mother married Miguel Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who subsequently adopted her son. Bezos attended Princeton University and worked in hedge funds after graduating from college.

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In 1994, after reading about the growth of the internet, Bezos and his then-wife Mackenzie Scott left their jobs and started Amazon — then an online bookstore. Bezos received a $300,000 investment from his parents and smaller investments from his friends and siblings. Though most of Bezos’s wealth is derived from Amazon, he also co-founded several smaller companies and owns the Washington Post. His estimated net worth is $194 billion, according to Forbes.

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2. Elon Musk

2. Elon Musk

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (10)

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk was born into an affluent South African family. His mother was a model and his father was an engineer and real estate developer. Musk’s father also reportedly received portions of the profits of Zambian emerald mines, though he has given contradictory statements about the mines’ existence.

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In 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services provider that would eventually become PayPal. Musk was ousted from his position as CEO in the early days of the company but retained 11.72% of the company’s shares. He is the co-founder of six companies, most notably Tesla and SpaceX. In 2022, he purchased Twitter for $44 billion and now owns an estimated 74% of the company. Musk’s estimated net worth is $213 billion, according to Forbes.

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1. Bernard Arnault

1. Bernard Arnault

How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (11)

French businessman Bernard Arnault is the owner of luxury goods purveyor LVMH. Arnault’s father, Jean, owned the civil engineering company Ferret-Savinel. Arnault persuaded his father to shift the company’s focus to real estate before spending $15 million to acquire Christian Dior in 1984.

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Three years later, he worked with the heads of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy to form LVMH. Today LVMH’s portfolio includes Tiffany & Co, Dior, Marc Jacobs and Sephora, among other luxury brands. Arnault is worth an estimated $233 billion, according to Forbes.

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How the 10 richest people in the world made their fortunes (2024)

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