I know this might not be politically correct, but I've always felt a little weird living in a world where the richest person on the planet was not an American. I mean, if there's one thing Americans are good at, it's being really rich. We may never be number one in terms of education or the environment, but let us at least be home to the wealthiest human being on the planet. Throw us a friggin bone here! Right? Well, you can all breathe a sigh of relief today because thanks to the soaring stock price of Microsoft, as of late last night Bill Gates has once again regained the title of richest person in the world. USA! USA! USA! Gates wears the crown for the first time since 2007 when he was first surpassed by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu. How'd he do it? Keep reading…
Bill Gates was declared a certified billionaire for the first time by Forbes in October of 1987, a few weeks before he turned 32 and about a year after the Microsoft IPO. At the time, he was the youngest self-made billionaire in the world with a net worth of $1.25 billion. A year earlier, just before Microsoft went public, Forbes estimated Gates' net worth to be $350 million. Between 1986 and the mid 1990s, the personal computer industry exploded and Microsoft absolutely dominated. Gates was first declared the richest person in the world in 1994 when he surpassed a Japanese real estate billionaire named Yoshiaki Tsutsumi (who subsequently lost his entire fortune and went to jail amid a large accounting scandal). Gates would hold onto the title without interruption from 1994 to 2007 when Carlos Slim first edged him out by a mere $300 million ($53.3 billion vs. $53 billion).
Between 2007 and 2009 Gates and Carlos Slim traded the top spot frequently, but as Microsoft slipped and the Mexican tycoon's company America Movil rose, their net worth gap grew wider. In 2008, as the world economy dipped into a deep recession, Gates saw his net worth decline to the point where he the third richest person in the world behind Carlos and Warren Buffett.
Today Microsoft is experiencing somewhat of a roaring comeback which has allowed Gates to regain the crown of the richest person in the world. Yesterday Microsoft's share price hit a five year high thanks largely to excitement surrounding the next generation Xbox. Year to date, MSFT is up nearly 28% which has boosted Gates' net worth from $62 billion one year ago to $72.7 billion today. Meanwhile, Carlos' company America Movil has had a rough year. The telecom conglomerate's share price has dropped 14% this year alone after Mexican congress began passing laws that may dismantle the tycoon's monopoly. The 14% drop in America Movil's share price has reduced Carlos' net worth from $73 billion to $70 billion which is enough for Bill Gates to officially be the richest person in the world, once again!
Interestingly, Microsoft's 1986 IPO would eventually turn at least four people into billionaires (including insiders Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer) and over 12,000 Microsoft employees into multi-millionaires. When the company went public, the initial share price was $21, it closed later that day at $27.75. Over the next 27 years MSFT would split nine times as the value of the company soared. When you adjust for splits, growth and inflation, the relative price of Microsoft shares on it's IPO day was just nine cents. In other words, if you had bought just one share of MSFT at the IPO for $21, today you would have over $9750. If you bought $10,000 worth of shares, you would have over $3.5 million today.
When Microsoft's stock price peaked in 1999 at $119 per share, Bill Gates saw his net worth top out at $136 billion (when adjusted for inflation to 2013). That was enough to make Gates the 12th richest person of all time. That was also enough to make him the fourth richest American of all time when you adjust for inflation, behind Cornelius Vanderbilt ($185 billion), Andrew Carnegie ($310 billion) and John D. Rockefeller ($340 billion).
How long do you think Bill Gates will hold on to his crown this time?