Analysis

The 15 Richest CEOs of the USA (2021)

For most people, the COVID-19 crisis has brought economic uncertainty. At the same time, the net worth of many of the super-wealthy has skyrocketed, driven by pandemic-boosted profits. The richest CEOs have only grown richer.

At the same time, almost 10% of US citizens are out of work. Household wealth decreased by an average of 5.6% during the first quarter of 2020, the largest drop since the 1950s.

Elon Musk, however, has multiplied his fortune since the start of the virus outbreak. He is now head to head with Jeff Bezos, who briefly cracked the $200 billion barrier. According to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies, the 12 richest Americans taken together are now worth more than $1 trillion.

To keep track of whose wealth has soared highest, and who is currently heading the list of the super-rich, here are the 15 richest CEOs of the United States as of January 2021.

NB: This list only includes current CEOs. Retired CEOs, like Bill Gates, are not included. 

#1 – Jeff Bezos (Amazon)

Jeff Bezos - Amazon

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (57) held the title of richest person alive from 2017 until January 2021. Since then, Elon Musk has pulled ahead repeatedly. Both currently enjoy a net worth of just under $200 billion, with a slim margin in Bezo’s favor.

In August 2020, Bezos broke another record: He became the first person ever whose wealth tallied in at over $200 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That was a 65% increase since March 18.

Bezos owns 11% of Amazon’s stock, which has soared as a result of pandemic-driven online sales. He is also the owner of Blue Ocean, a commercial rocket developer and rival of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and The Washington Post.

Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 with $250,000 in funding from his parents. The company went public in 1997. In 2005, Bezos launched Amazon’s web service (AWS) division, which came to dominate the cloud market.

#2 – Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX)

Elon Musk - Tesla and SpaceX

Since the start of the pandemic, Elon Musk’s personal fortune has skyrocketed. Starting with $27 billion in early 2020, he now holds nearly 7 times that: $185 billion.

Musk (49) co-founded the electronic payment-provider PayPal and aerospace company SpaceX. He is the current CEO and major shareholder of electric car manufacturer Tesla.

After Tesla’s addition to the S&P 500, Musk’s net worth rose by $35 billion in the first week of January alone, at times overtaking Jeff Bezos. 

#3 – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Mark Zuckerberg - Facebook

The youngest CEO on this list at 36, Mark Zuckerberg, is co-founder and controlling shareholder of Facebook. His net worth is now nearly $110 billion, up from $78 billion at the start of 2020. He first crossed the $100-billion mark in August 2020.

In 2004, Zuckerberg founded Facebook in his college dorm at Harvard, together with his roommates. Three years later, he became the youngest self-made billionaire at 23. By the time Facebook went public in 2012, the social network could boast more than a billion users globally.

#4 – Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway)

Warren Buffet - Berkshire Hathaway

Warren Buffett is the long-time CEO of the multinational conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. Recovering from an multi-billion decline in his personal wealth in early 2020, he still comes in fourth on this list. His net worth is now just over of  $100 billion, and close to Zuckerberg’s.

Buffett, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, has become known as an investing icon. Nicknamed ‘The Oracle of Omaha’, after his hometown in Nebraska, he has acquired a large following of aspiring investors. Buffett started investing in the stock market in 1942, at only 11 years old.

From childhood hustles like selling chewing gum and delivering newspapers to graduating from Columbia Business School, Buffett consistently pursued wealth. After first investing in Berkshire Hathaway – then a New England textile manufacturer – in 1962, he became chairman in 1965. He holds the role to this day, with Berkshire now established as a holding company for a multitude of businesses.

#5 – Jim Walton (Arvest Bank)

Jim Walton - Arvest Bank

Heir to the Walmart fortune, and CEO of Arvest Bank Group, Jim Walton (72) can boast a net worth of $64 billion, up from $53 billion in February 2020. 

Unlike other entries on this list, Walton owes the largest part of his wealth not to his activities as a CEO but to his family fortune. He is one of the four Walton siblings, heirs to the Walmart corporation, and served as a Walmart board member for over ten years until 2016.

His sister Alice Walton and brother Rob Walton are similarly wealthy, at over $60 billion each. They’re not on our list of the richest CEOs, though, because they don’t hold any such position.

#6 – Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg L.P.)

Michael Bloomberg (79) is one of America’s richest CEOs – and one of the most visible, owing to his 12-year run as New York mayor. Additionally, his wealth derives from a media powerhouse, Bloomberg. He founded it in 1981 after getting sacked by an investment bank.

Fun fact: Despite his immense wealth, you won’t find Michael Bloomberg on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. The reason: The company has a policy of not covering its founder.

Forbes puts his current net worth at $59 billion. This means it has more than recovered from dipping well below $50 billion in early 2020.

Bloomberg is known for his political activities. For his term as mayor, he resigned from his post as CEO. He also was one of the primary candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. 

#7 – Michael Dell (Dell Technologies)

Michael Dell - Dell

Founder, chairman, and CEO of Dell Technologies, Michael Dell (56) can boast a private fortune of $51 billion. Dell is another self-made businessman on this list. When he was a freshman at the University of Texas, he started a business selling upgrade kits for PCs from his dorm room. 

In 1984, he founded his own company, Dell. Only eight years later, at 27, he became the youngest-ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In 2016, Dell merged with EMC, an American computer store giant.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dell has seen his net worth more than double. In early 2020, his fortune was worth $22 billion.

#8 – Charles Koch (Koch Industries)

Charles Koch - Koch Industries

With a fortune of $46.4 billion, Charles Koch (85) currently ranks as the 26th-richest person alive. Since 1967, he has served as chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, the largest private company of the U.S., with ventures ranging from oil refineries to ranching.

Koch owns a 42% share in the company founded by his father in 1940.

#10 – Stephen Schwarzman (Blackstone Group)

Stephen Schwarzman - Blackstone Group

The CEO of The Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm, Stephen Schwarzman (74) is worth $26.7 billion. His company manages more than $554 billion in assets worldwide.

With business interests ranging from debt financing and hedge fund management to real estate acquisitions, Schwarzman is one of Wall Street’s most influential players.

#11 – Pierre Omidyar (Honolulu Civil Beat and Peer News)

Pierre Omidyar - Honolulu Civil Beat and Peer News

At $23.5 billion, Pierre Omidyar (53), firmly ranks amongst America’s richest entrepreneurs. He currently serves as the CEO of Honolulu Civil Beat, as well as Peer News. However, Omidyar made his fortune as co-founder and former chair of eBay.

Born to Iranian parents in France, Omidyar moved to the US at age 6. He founded the online auction company eBay in 1995. When it went public three years later, he became a self-made billionaire at 31. Currently, Omidyar owns 5% of eBay and 6% of PayPal, which was acquired in 2002 and spun off in 2014. Largely owing to those two, his private fortune has roughly doubled since April 2020.

#12 – Abigail Johnson (Fidelity Investments)

Abigail Johnson - Fidelity Investments

The only woman on this list, Abigail Johnson (59) is CEO of Fidelity Investments, a premier financial services corporation in the U.S. Her private fortune amounts to around $20 billion, after dipping to $10 billion in April of last year and recovering to $15 billion by early 2021.

Johnson has been Fidelity’s CEO since 2014, when she took over from her father. The company was founded in 1946 by Edward Johnson II, her grandfather.

Abigail Johnson became involved in the family business early on. She worked at the company throughout college and became a full-time analyst after receiving her MBA from Harvard. Under her leadership, Fidelity has notably embraced cryptocurrencies.

#13 – Robert Pera (Ubiquiti)

robert pera

Robert Pera (43) founded wireless technology company Ubiquiti Networks in 2005 after a stint in Apple’s wireless department. Besides serving as CEO, he owns nearly 75% of the stock-listed corporation.

Currently, his net worth clocks in at $16.4 billion. Owing to the massive demand on network equipment during the pandemic, he has more than doubled his wealth during its course, starting out at around $7 billion in early 2020.

#14 – Kenneth Griffin (Citadel)

Kenneth Griffin - Citadel

Kenneth Griffin (52) makes the list of the richest CEOs as the head of the investment firm Citadel, and with a net worth of $16 billion. Citadel manages more than $34 billion in assets.

Griffin first began trading from his dorm room at Harvard. In 1990, he founded Citadel Securities. Thirty years later, Citadel manages one in five stock trades in the US, and is one of Wall Street’s central market-making firms.

#15 – Steven Cohen (Point72)

Today, Steve Cohen (64) is CEO of the hedge fund Point72 Asset Management. A large share of the estimated $16 billion the company manages is his own.

Cohen is better known for his leading role in SAC Capital Advisors, formerly a major hedge fund. It was closed in 2013 after insider trading accusations.

His own net worth is just under $16 billion. It has been growing steadily over the last years. The pandemic had no real effect on it initially, but now seems to increase it. In September of last year, he spent over $2 billion to acquire the New York Mets.

#15 – Eric Yuan (Zoom)

Eric Yuan - Zoom

At the start of March 2020, the net worth of Eric Yuan, founder of the video conferencing company Zoom, tallied in at $5 billion. A mere six months later, it had nearly quadrupled to over $19.4 billion

There have been few companies that have profited as massively from the pandemic as Zoom. Between sales meetings, college classes, doctor’s appointments, and yoga sessions, countless daily interactions shifted to Zoom during lockdowns. Yuan now ranks firmly amongst America’s top – and richest – tech CEOs

When the company reported its stellar quarterly results at the beginning of September, Yuan made $5 billion in a single day. However, Zoom’s stock has been cooling off somewhat. Today, Yuan is worth $14.7 billion – still triple his pre-pandemic wealth.

Honorable Mentions

Sheldon Adelson (Las Vegas Sands)

Sheldon Adelson - Las Vegas Sands

Sheldon Adelson was the 9th richest CEO on this list until his death in January 2021. His wealth – around $30 billion – has passed on to his wife Miriam.

Like Buffett, he started his business career young. At age 12, he borrowed $200 from his uncle to buy a newspaper selling license. It was the first of a long line of entrepreneurial ventures. 

Adelson is best known as the CEO and chairman of the Las Vegas Sands casinos. The foundations for it were laid when Adelson bought the prominent Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in 1989. 

Final Thoughts

The stories of America’s richest CEOs vary wildly. Some are heirs to family empires who have taken their reins. On the other extreme, there are businessmen who started from scratch with nothing but an idea. 

What they do have in common, though, is that their fortunes have so fatr weathered the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, a recent analysis found that all billionaires’ collective wealth skyrocketed by $1.9 trillion in 2020 – U.S. ones especially.

 

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