8 Biggest Lost Fortunes: We Follow the Trail From Timbuktu to Iceland
Economic downturns are hard on everyone. But for billionaires, they can be catastrophic. When people have that kind of money, it isn’t stored as cash in a safe somewhere.
It is in the form of things like real estate and business holdings. And exactly how much money any given person is worth depends upon what other people think those holdings are worth. And those valuations can change by the day, hour, or even minute.
Sometimes it isn’t a matter of simply losing everything. Seán Quinn, for example, was the richest man in Ireland at the start of 2008 — estimated to be worth $6 billion.
Although he started off in the 1970s selling gravel, he built a business empire that spanned construction, real estate, and insurance. But when the financial crisis hit, his business empire crumbled.
Not only did he lose the $6 billion he was thought to be worth, he ended up over $3 billion in debt before declaring bankruptcy. Of course, it isn’t always bad economies that cost fortunes.
Sometimes it’s bad business decisions. And sometimes, it’s because the fortunes were based on fraud. The most famous recent example of this is Bernard Madoff. But there are others — many others, in fact.
In the infographic below, we discuss Allen Stanford, who lost his entire $2.2 billion fortune when he was convicted of operating a massive Ponzi scheme.
And speaking of Ponzi schemes: Charles Ponzi had managed to accumulate the equivalent of almost a quarter billion dollars before it all vanished, and led to a prison stay of over three years.
Wealth is a fickle thing. It isn’t as tangible as people like to think. The cash in your pocket is, after all, just paper that’s only absolute value is that it must be accepted by the government for the payment of taxes.
Just ask Mansa Musa — the 14th-century king of Mali. Whether your wealth is in the form of ivory, gold, or salt, it can all vanish — and fast. Check out these 8 enormous fortunes and how they were lost.
8 of the Biggest Fortunes Ever Lost
For most people, building a fortune is an elusive task. But once they have a fortune, many people find that they have a hard time hanging onto it. Below we discuss the 8 biggest fortunes ever lost.
The reasons are diverse. But usually, it’s the same forces that built those fortunes in the first place. Economics is a fickle beast.
8. The Icelandic Billionaire Who? Björgólfur Guðmundsson Total size of fortune: $1.1 billion in 2008
Source of wealth: A majority share in Landsbanki, an Icelandic bank
Cause of loss: Icelandic banking collapse of 2008 How much was lost? His entire fortune Guðmundsson filed for bankruptcy in 2009 He was $750 million in debt at the time
Did you know? Guðmundsson’s bankruptcy was the largest personal bankruptcy in Iceland’s history
7. The Fraudster Who? Allen Stanford Total size of fortune: $2.2 billion in 2008
Source of wealth: Real estate Insurance Stanford Financial Group: Stanford started this company on the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat in the West Indies in the 1980’s
Cause of loss: Stanford Financial Group was revealed to be operating a Ponzi scheme He was convicted of 13 charges, including: Fraud Conspiracy Obstruction How much was lost? All of it Stanford is currently serving a 110 year sentence for his role in the $7 billion Ponzi scheme his business was involved in
Did you know? In 2006, Stanford was the first American ever knighted by the island nation of Antigua His knighthood was revoked in 2010 In 2008: Stanford was the the largest private employer in Antigua His personal wealth exceeded Antigua’s GDP by $1.5 billion He staged a cricket match between his own team and England with a $20 million prize
6. The Celtic Construction Tiger Who? Séan Quinn Total size of fortune: $6 billion in 2008
Source of wealth: Construction Insurance Real estate
Cause of loss: Collapse of Irish property bubble in 2008 Nationalization of Anglo Irish Bank in 2009
At the time, Quinn and his family secretly owned a quarter stake in the bank When the bank was nationalized, the Quinn family investment was wiped out
How much was lost? His entire family fortune When Quinn filed for bankruptcy in 2012, he was over $3 billion in debt As of January 2015, however, Quinn has been discharged from his debts Ireland’s High Court determined that he will have to pay €10,000 a year for the next two years
Did you know? After the bankruptcy proceedings, Quinn and his family were left with $15,000
5. The Richest American Who? John D. Rockefeller Total size of fortune: $360 billion in 2015 dollars
Source of wealth: Oil Cause of Loss: The Great Depression
How much was lost? Approximately $709 million in 1929 dollars $10 billion, adjusted for inflation
Did you know? Rockefeller is considered the wealthiest American ever by many sources, and was one of the richest people in history
A religious man, Rockefeller tithed 10% of his earnings Modern-day companies that were originally parts of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil include: Conoco Phillips BP Chevron Exxon-Mobil
4. The (Would-be) Brazilian Oil Magnate Who? Eike Batista Total size of fortune: $34.5 billion in 2012 At his peak, he was the 8th richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg He was the richest man in Brazil Source of wealth: Mining Utilities Oil
Cause of loss: Bidding aggressively on oil land that failed to produce In 2007, Batista’s OGX oil company leased land at several times the rates of other companies at the time
The oil in the area was difficult to pump Batista oversold how easily and expansively the oil would be produced Investors lost confidence in OGX, Batista’s oil business In 2013, OGX had debts totalling 11 times its market value
How much was lost? Everything, and more In September 2014, Batista reported a net worth of negative $1 billion
Did you know? Batista often boasted that he would become the richest man in the world In 2012, he told Bloomberg TV that his company had underlying assets worth $1.5 trillion
3. Japan’s Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Who? Yasumitsu Shigeta Total size of fortune: $42 billion in 1999-2000 During periods of volatility in the height of the dotcom boom, Shigeta’s wealth could fluctuate by as much as $5 billion in 24 hours
Source of wealth: Mobile phones Stock in his mobile phone company, Hikari Tsushin, traded for $2,300 at its peak
Cause of loss: The Japanese IT bubble burst Over a few month’s, Shigeta’s stock in Hikari Tsushin decreased $40 billion in value In 2009, his stock was worth $600 million How much was lost? Roughly $41 billion
Did you know? He started Hikari Tsushin in 1988 In 1999, Shigeta was Japan’s youngest self-made billionaire Shigeta was the youngest CEO of a publicly-traded company when it later registered its shares with the JASDAQ
2. The “Bill Gates” of Japan Who? Masayoshi Son Total size of fortune: $78 billion
Source of wealth: Software distribution Mobile networks CEO of SoftBank, a telecom company
Cause of loss: The Japanese tech bubble of the 1990s burst How much was lost? Roughly $70 billion SoftBank’s stock traded for 198,000 yen (~$2,680) in 2000 By 2002, it had fallen to 1,542 yen (~$20) in 2002
Did you know? One of Son’s first businesses was importing Space Invaders and Pac Man game cabinets and leasing them around the campus at Berkeley in California SoftBank owned more than one third of Yahoo when the company went public in 1996 SoftBank invested $20 million in Alibaba in 2000, and now owns one third of the company’s shares Due to Alibaba’s IPO, Son is Japan’s wealthiest man at $16.6 billion as of 2014
1. The Golden King Who? Mansa Musa I, ruler of Mali Ruled from 1321-1337 Total size of fortune: Adjusted for inflation, roughly $400 billion
Source of wealth: Kola nuts Ivory Gold Salt
In the 1300’s, Mali produced approximately half of the world’s gold and salt Cause of loss: Invasion Civil war
How much was lost? All of it, eventually Within two generations of Musa’s death in the 1330’s, his vast wealth had almost completely disappeared
Did you know? On his pilgrimage to Mecca, Musa distributed so much gold on his way through Egypt that he caused its value to plummet — precipitating decades of depression in Cairo, Medina, and Mecca Musa fixed the gold market by borrowing a large amount of gold at high interest rates Musa paid an Andalusian architect over 400 pounds of gold to construct a mosque in Timbuktu
Even the greatest of fortune is destined to be destroyed eventually. But the end comes sooner for some than for others. Very often, that end has nothing to do with with the individuals involved, but is just the vagaries of the world.
Regardless, nothing is permanent in this world.
Sources: oddee.comm, bloomberg.com, icelandreview.com, notendur.hi.is, forbes.com, bloomberg.com, reuters.com, huffingtonpost.com, bbc.com, belfasttelegraph.co.uk, books.google.com, neatorama.com, usinflationcalendar.com, eng.hikari.co.jp, hottopics.ht, arestechnica.com, lostislamichistory.com, wysinger.homestead.com, blackpast.org Sources Stanford Financial Group Icelandic Billionaire has a Net Worth of Zero Iceland’s Lost Billionaires Unmourned as Riches Draw Ire Privatization of Banks Draws Heavy Fire Iceland: How Could This Happen? (pdf) #1014 Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson 10 Billionaires Who Lost Billions Broke, sick and lonely, Allen Stanford heads to court Crazy for Cricket Allen Stanford sentenced to 110 years in prison U.S. seeks $5.9 billion from indigent Allen Stanford How Ireland’s Richest Man Went From $6 Billion To -$3.5 Billion Sean Quinn, Once Ireland’s Richest Man, Declares Bankruptcy With Debts Exceeding $2.7 Billion Former billionaire Sean Quinn to be discharged from bankruptcy Sean Quinn told to pay back just £15,000 of his debts The 20 Richest People Of All Time Correspondence of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Horace Albright J.W. Ernst The Rockefellers: The Legacy Of History’s Richest Man 10 Richest People of All Time and How They Made Their Fortunes US Inflation Calculator Former Billionaire Eike Batista Bemoans His Return To The Middle Class Brazil’s Eike Batista, Onetime The World’s 7th Richest, Is No Longer A Billionaire Eike Batista How Brazil’s Richest Man Lost $34.5 Billion Fifteen Years of Ups and Downs for Yasumitsu Shigeta Billionaire Blow-Ups: Eike Batista Isn’t The First To Go Belly-Up Hikari Tsushin Company Overview Masayoshi Son: The CEO who lost $70bn in a day before conquering the world How Sprint’s new boss lost $70 billion of his own cash (and still stayed rich) Alibaba Has Already Made Masayoshi Son Japan’s Richest Man Mansa Musa Of Mali Named World’s Richest Man Of All Time; Gates And Buffet Also Make List A Gold Mine in the Desert — the Story of Mali Mansa Musa: Ruler of Ancient Mal Musa’s Money Musa, Mansa (1280-1337)
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