In America, billionaires is in control of lives. The president of the United States is a billionaire. One of the biggest and most famous philanthropists, Bill Gates, is a billionaire. The man who runs Amazon, the online giant that sells almost everything, is the is the richest of them all. The world’s most popular, and equally detested, social network was created by the fourth-richest person in the U.S. And it wouldn’t be the U.S. without junk food: The family behind one of the world’s largest candy companies, Mars Inc., is composed of a handful of billionaires.
The members of 2019 edition of The Forbes 400 list—the wealthiest people in America—have a collective net worth of $2.96 trillion and have made their fortunes in all kinds of ways, from buying sports teams decades ago to building successful companies from scratch. And while there are many ways to make a pile of money, some industries are linked to more billionaires than others.
This year, the most common way to make a ten-digit fortune was in the finance and investments industry. Ninety-three billionaires, or 23.5% of members of The Forbes 400, made their money through investing, like Warren Buffett and Carl Icahn, through private equity like Robert F. Smith, who pledged to pay the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, and through hedge funds like Jim Simons and like Ray Dalio, who founded the world’s largest hedge fund. Like last year, the finance and investments industry yielded the most billionaires on the list. It pays well to play the stock market, make megadeals and grow the portfolios of well-heeled clients.
Creating a hot new social network, software product or revolutionary technology is also a good way to make billions. With 69 tech billionaires, including Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Snapchat’s Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel, the richest self-made woman in tech Judy Faulkner, and more, the industry is tied to 17.25% of the list. The richest man in America is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has a $114 billion fortune. (He’s down from $160 billion last year, largely due to his record-setting divorce settlement earlier this year; his ex-wife Mackenzie Bezos is No. 15 with $36.1 billion.) The largest fortunes—seven out of the top 10 richest people in America—were made in the tech industry.
Harvesting, processing, manufacturing, selling and marketing food and drinks is another good way to gain admission to the elite club of the ultrarich. The logic behind this is simple: People gotta eat, and there’s money to be made by feeding them. About 10% of the list, 41 billionaires, created their wealth by feeding the masses, including Stewart and Lynda Resnick, whose Wonderful Co. is the world’s largest producer of almonds and pistachios and also owns brands Fiji Water and Halo mandarin oranges. Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, made his $4.7 billion fortune by turning the Seattle beanery into a global top brand. (He also briefly considered running for president in 2020.) Tilman Fertitta, who owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets, made his money in restaurants including Landry’s Seafood House, Saltgrass Steak House and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Real estate is another tried and true way to make a buck. With 34 billionaires in real estate, the industry represents 8.5% of the list. President Donald Trump, No. 275 with a $3.1 billion net worth, is perhaps the most well known billionaire in the sector, but Donald Bren is the most successful real estate mogul with a $17 billion fortune. Bren’s Irvine Co. owns over 115 million square feet of real estate, mostly in Southern California, but also a 97% stake in Manhattan’s MetLife Building.