A new billionaire every 17 hours: Here are the most notable newcomers on Forbes’ 2021 World’s Billionaires list.
Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the spread of billionaires, who multiplied at an astounding rate over the past year. A record 493 people joined Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list this year—meaning the world on average gained a new billionaire every 17 hours since Forbes last took a snapshot of billionaire wealth on March 18, 2020. The previous record for most new billionaires in a year was 290 in 2015.
The average net worth of these 493 newcomers: $2 billion. Their average age: 54 (vs. 63 for the overall list of 2,755 billionaires). A full 84% of them are self-made billionaires, who founded their companies rather than inherited them (vs. 72% for the overall list).
No country put more names on the Forbes list this year than China, which gained 205 new billionaires. Notable Chinese newcomers include its richest newcomer, 45-year-old Chen Zhiping (worth $15.9 billion), who is chairman and CEO of vaping device-maker Smoore International, and Kate Wang ($5 billion), CEO of Chinese vaping company RLX Technology. At 39, she is one of the world’s youngest self-made female billionaires.
Kate Wang got the idea for RLX Technology when trying to persuade her father to quit smoking. “I tried out all the [vaping] products,” she says. “Most of them were terrible.”
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The United States has the second highest number of newcomers, with 98. That includes famous faces like Kim Kardashian West ($1 billion), whose beauty and shapewear empire pushes her over the ten-digit mark; Hollywood mogul Tyler Perry ($1 billion); and Apple CEO Tim Cook ($1.3 billion). The richest newcomer is also an American: Miriam Adelson, who is worth $38.2 billion after inheriting the gambling empire built by her late husband, Sheldon Adelson, who died in January.
Germany added the third most billionaires this year, with 26, followed by Canada and India, with 19 apiece. In all, 36 countries have at least one new billionaire this year.
The youngest fresh face on the list is Kevin David Lehmann ($3.3 billion), heir to Germany’s leading drugstore chain, dm-drogerie markt. He is just 18 years old. The youngest self-made billionaire to join the billionaire ranks this year is Austin Russell ($2.4 billion), the 26-year-old founder of laser lidar startup Luminar, which makes sensors that help self-driving cars see in 3D.
Russell is one of ten new billionaires who have gotten super-rich cashing in on the SPAC boom over the past year. Short for “special purpose acquisition companies,” SPACs are blank check companies that go public in search of a private company to acquire and thus take public. Russell merged Luminar with a SPAC in December 2020. Other newcomers include serial SPAC sponsors Chamath Palihapitiya ($1.2 billion) and Bill Foley ($1.9 billion).
Others created new wealth an old fashioned way: by taking their companies public through a traditional IPO. Whitney Wolfe Herd ($1.3 billion) took Bumble, the woman-centric dating app she cofounded in 2014, public on the Nasdaq in February—becoming the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at age 31. The richest new woman on the list also debuts after an IPO. Pan Dong, who chairs laundry detergent maker Blue Moon Group Holdings, took her company public in Hong Kong in December. She’s worth $8.3 billion.
Before launching Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd cofounded Tinder in 2012. That relationship turned sour, and she settled a sexual-harassment lawsuit with Tinder in 2014.
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Then there are the crypto billionaires. With cryptocurrencies booming yet again—Bitcoin skyrocketed 800% between mid-March 2020 and mid-March 2021, while Ripple’s XRP rose 200%—nine new members of the three-comma club have emerged. The richest is 29-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, who has amassed an $8.7 billion fortune as the founder of two crypto firms. His quantitative trading firm Alameda manages $32 billion in Bitcoin, other major cryptocurrencies and other derivatives. He also founded the FTX exchange, which achieved unicorn status in January 2020, less than a year after its launch. Most of his wealth is tied up in FTX’s equity and its FTT tokens.
Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange is set to become the next naming-rights sponsor of the home arena of the NBA’s Miami Heat.
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Other notable crypto billionaires include Silicon Valley scion Tim Draper—whose purchase of $18.7 million worth of Bitcoin confiscated by U.S. Marshals from the shuttered Silk Road black market in 2014 is now worth $1.5 billion (as of March 2021)—and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss ($3 billion each), who famously used some of their settlement with Facebook to snatch up Bitcoin in the early days. The twin brothers own an estimated 70,000 Bitcoin, plus the crypto exchange Gemini, which processes about $200 million a day in trades.
Another route to riches that was especially lucrative during the pandemic year: healthcare. Forbes found 61 new billionaires from the healthcare field this year—and at least 40 join the ranks thanks to their involvement in the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes Sergio Stevanato ($1.9 billion), an Italian billionaire whose family-owned Stevanato Group produces many of the glass vials used to house Covid-19 vaccines. He stepped down as CEO of the business in 2010, but still owns a 68% stake and is chairman emeritus. His son Franco is executive chairman.
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Other new healthcare billionaires on the Covid frontlines include Prathap Reddy ($1.5 billion), an Indian billionaire doctor whose hospital chain has seen a doubling of its stock price amid a shift to focusing on treating and diagnosing Covid-19; Uğur Şahin ($4 billion), the Turkish-born physician who cofounded German firm BioNTech, which developed a vaccine in partnership with Pfizer; Stéphane Bancel ($4.3 billion), the French CEO of U.S.-based firm Moderna, which had its Covid-19 vaccine approved in the U.S. in December—plus two of the company’s cofounders and one of its early investors.