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The Billionaire Next Door

Forget Branson and Buffett. Like Carlos Slim, many of the world's wealthiest people operate in the shadows of the global economy. Meet the tycoons you don't know but should.

Suleiman Kerimov
Nationality:
Russian
Net worth:
$14.4 billion

Kerimov is the world’s richest elected representative. Although the State Duma prohibits its members from working in the private sector, it didn’t stop Kerimov from gobbling up shares in government-owned corporations such as Gazprom and Sberbank. Today, Kerimov is more than twice as rich as when he debuted on the Forbes list in 2006. While his business ties remain mysterious, Kerimov’s lifestyle has become legendary. He owns a 300-foot yacht and hired Christina Aguilera to sing at his birthday.


Mukesh and Anil Ambani
Nationality:
Indian
Net worth:
Mukesh, $20.1 billion; Anil, $18.2 billion

The Ambani brothers once lived in the same house, running a formidable multinational conglomerate. But when each accused the other of dirty dealing, blood wasn’t thicker than money. They had mom divide the empire between them. Mukesh got the oil, gas, and petrochemical businesses. Anil walked away with the telecom, electricity, and banking operations. Both made more than $10 billion last year.


Naguib Sawiris
Nationality:
Egyptian
Net worth:
$10 billion

Egyptian telecom pioneer Naguib Sawiris is nothing if not gutsy. The Orascom telecom chief gambled big last year by buying an Italian telecom provider. It paid off — Sawiris increased his net worth by $7.4 billion in 12 months. A supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, his firm landed the contract to operate Iraq’s first mobile-phone network. Another gutsy position that is already paying dividends.


Li Ka-Shing
Nationality:
Hong Kong
Net worth:
$23 billion

Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-Shing’s ubiquity in the Asian financial press is comparable to Carlos Slim’s in Latin America. Despite being East Asia’s richest man, Li is known for his thrift, particularly his penchant for wearing cheap watches. He is a hero to many Hong Kongers, who call him "Superman" for his business acumen. The 79-year-old’s international business empire includes banking, construction, real estate, telecom, television, retail, hotels, airports, power plants, ports, and shipping. The high school dropout has made major donations to the University of California, Berkeley; Oxford; and universities throughout China. Li says he plans to donate one third of his fortune to charity.


Yang Guoqing and Yang Huiyan
Nationality:
Chinese
Net worth:
$9 billion

Yang Guoqing’s rags-to-riches story could only happen in the new China. Born in Shunde, a village in Guangdong Province, Yang worked as a farmer and bricklayer before he began buying property in the early 1990s. Riding China’s housing boom, Yang turned his small company, named Country Garden, into a real estate empire. In 2005, Yang transferred his shares of the company, worth $9 billion, to his daughter, Yang Huiyan. When Country Garden went public last April, its shares rose more than 35 percent on the first day of trading, making her the richest person in mainland China at the tender age of 25.


Joseph Safra
Nationality:
Brazilian
Net worth:
$6 billion

Safra’s family has been in finance since the early 19th century, when they began trading currencies in Aleppo, Syria. In 1952, Safra’s father moved the family to Brazil. One of South America’s richest men is now the primary owner of the family’s massive conglomerate, which includes Banco Safra in Brazil, Safra National Bank of New York, and Banque Safra-Luxembourg, among others. The company also has interests in timber and telecom. Safra was shown up in 2003 when a Brazilian cell-phone venture he coowned defaulted on its debts and was snatched up by Carlos Slim.


Chaleo Yoovidhya
Nationality:
Thai
Net worth:
$3.5 billion

Yoovidhya has reaped the benefits of globalization from both ends. He founded T.C. Pharmaceutical Industries Co. in 1962, which for decades locally produced products developed in the West. T.C. also turned a small profit from a highly caffeinated beverage it sold called Krating Daeng (Red Water Buffalo). In 1982, an Austrian marketing executive named Dietrich Mateschitz tried Krating Daeng to cure his jet lag on a business trip to Thailand. Combining forces, Yoovidhya and Mateschitz renamed the drink Red Bull. It became an international megabrand. When ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets were frozen earlier this year, Yoovidhya officially became Thailand’s richest man.


Ion Tiriac
Nationality:
Romanian
Net worth:
$1.1 billion

Romania’s first billionaire is also a local sports legend. Tiriac competed on Romania’s ice hockey team in the 1964 Winter Olympics, then later played and coached professional tennis, including European greats Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiriac plowed his tennis earnings into investments in banking, insurance, and auto retail businesses. Almost two decades later, Tiriac Bank, TiriacAIR, and Tiriac Leasing are among Romania’s largest companies. The well-connected Romanian is popular among his compatriots, but he took heat last year when a hunting party he led killed more than 150 wild boars.

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