Forbes has been publishing their Rich List for over 25 years. Their most recent edition shows Bill Gates back on top for the first time since 2009, the period of the global slowdown.  So over the period 2009 – 2014 who has really done the best in developing their personal wealth?

According to Forbes in 2014, the top 5 wealthiest individuals are:

Top 5

Figure 1: Forbes Rich List 2014 Top 5 Richest People

To put these staggering amounts of wealth into perspective, Bill Gates’ wealth on his own is equivalent to the GDP of Sri Lanka and the top 5 individuals combined are equivalent to the GDP of Denmark.

But if we were to ask who has increased their wealth the most, in the most challenging economic conditions in modern times, then we could compare the difference between personal wealth value before the recession and now. By looking at the percentage increase over this time against current wealth, we would expect that those who have the most now would also have grown the most during the period. So by looking at the top 30 individuals in the Forbes Rich List who have grown their wealth by the largest percentage over last 5 years compared to their current wealth (see figure 2), we do see the expected trend towards those with the most wealth having grown it the most.
 Growth Rate 2009-14

Figure 2: Percentage Increase in Wealth 2009-2014 from Forbes Rich List

There are two further observations of interest – those who perform better than average and those performing worst. Three of the top 5 wealthiest people are actually firmly below this line, including Bill Gates and Carlos Slim.  But what about the select group of people who perform significantly better than the trend – the top 5 are shown below in table 2. For the wealth they have, they have grown it significantly more over the last 5 years that the average, with the star performer being Amancio Ortega, who breaks into the top 10 wealthiest people.

Wealth Growth 09-14 

Figure 3: Top 5 Percentage Growth across Forbes Rich List 2009-2014

One last thought, how much does age link to personal wealth? After all you need time to amass that much wealth. An analysis of the top 100 shows that the average age is 67 years old, and that the top 16 are 58 years old and above. The chart below shows that there are only a few under 50s with youngest being Mark Zuckerberg at 29.
Age vs Wealth

Figure 4: Wealth vs Age for top 100 Richest People on Forbes Rich List 2014

So if you want the richest person, then Bill Gates comes out on top . However the individual who has grown his assets the most over the last five years is Armancio Ortega. And the one to watch who has amassed his wealth in probably the shortest time – Mark Zuckerberg.

An interesting observation is that Bill Gates is a very active philanthropist via the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, and the driving force behind the Giving Pledge, a pledge for members to give away most of their wealth, which according to Forbes at least 64 of the Forbes 400 Billionaires have signed up to. So Mr Gates manages to combine both a significant growth in personal wealth along with giving away an inspiring amount of his wealth to worthy causes.