Every year FORBES crunches the numbers to find out which Americans rank the richest–and each year it gets harder to join the exclusive Forbes 400 list. But you don’t have to inherit a fortune to become a Forbes 400 billionaire. In fact, the majority of our Forbes 400 members–273 of them–scrapped their way onto our list through their own efforts.
The self-made differ somewhat from their Forbes 400 counterparts in terms of how they gained their wealth. The most obvious difference between the groups, not surprisingly, is that many of the self-made earned fortunes through technology. A whopping 45 tycoons–nearly 25% of the Forbes 400–made their billions in tech, making it the second-most-popular industry overall for launching onto the Forbes 400. Among the self-made tech-rich are Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Reid Hoffman, Jeffrey Skoll. By contrast, only three inheritors of wealth gained their money this way–and two of these are widows of tech titans: Laurene Powell Jobs and Dagmar Dol|, whose husband Ray Dol| passed away September 12.
After technology, real estate produced the next largest group of self-made Forbes 400 members. These billionaires include Sheldon Solow, who owns Manhattan’s prestigious 9 W. 57th tower, home to tenants including Apollo Global Management and KKR, as well as Ted Lerner, who made his fortune building shopping malls in the D.C. suburbs, and John Arrillaga, the Silicon Valley mogul and frequent Stanford donor. A new face among the 17 self-made real estate tycoons this year is Jeff Sutton, who leases his Manhattan retail space to fancy retail clients including Dolce & Gabbana and American Girl, both on Fifth Avenue.
Two industries that ranked highly among the self-made–but not among heirs–are health care and sports, with 11 and 10 self-made billionaires, respectively. This self-made group includes Patrick Soon-Shiong, a South African-born doctor who earned his cash building and selling two successful drug companies for $8.5 billion, and who is now attempting to revolutionize patient care | bringing Big Data to medicine. Reinhold Schmieding, a Florida medical device billionaire, joins the Forbes 400 this year. He popped onto the list thanks to his rapidly growing Arthrex, which makes surgical tools. Perhaps the most colorful of the self-made sports billionaires are Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, known for their mixed-martial-arts league Ultimate Fighting Championship. The sports self-made group also includes Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Among the heirs, only three billionaires made money in health care, and two in sports.
Of course, the self-made and the inheritors share the Number 1 way of getting rich, which has long been “investing”–a catch-all category that describes hedge fund billionaires as well as others, like Warren Buffett, who have stakes in many industries. But there are plenty of other ways to make a fortune. Fashion and retail produced 18 self-made Forbes 400 members, and 17 among the inheritors. The self-made in this industry include Jin Sook & Do Won Chang, the couple behind retailer Forever 21, and newcomer Michael Rubin, whose retail holdings include flash sales website Rue La La and Amazon Prime competitor ShopRunner.
The category also produced a handful of billionaires who didn’t make this year’s cut because their fortunes were under $1.3 billion, this year’s floor for joining the Forbes 400 ranks. Retail queens Tory Burch, who makes $200 ballet flats, and Sara Blakely, whose Spanx shapewear keep women’s rear-ends looking good, are both too poor, at $1 billion, to make this year’s Forbes 400.
Want to join the ranks yourself? Here’s how the self-made are doing it these days:
Top 10 Ways to Become a Billionaire
Self-made Forbes 400 billionaires
1. Investments: 77
2. Technology: 45
3. Real Estate: 22
4. Fashion and Retail: 18
5. Media: 17
6. Food and Beverage: 15
7. Energy: 12
8. Health care: 11
9. Sports: 10
10. Manufacturing: 10