Hurun Report has published its global rich list for 2023, ranking over 3,112 billionaires worldwide – including five from South Africa.

According to the group, the world has lost hundreds of billionaires over the last 12 months, with the final tally down 8% from 3,381 last year.

In addition to this, total billionaire wealth was also down 10% compared to last year, with the richest people in the world worth a cumulative US$13.7 trillion.

Assessing the fortunes of the world’s elite, Hurun noted that 1,078 billionaires saw their wealth increase over the year, of which 176 were new faces. Meanwhile, 2,479 saw their wealth decrease or stay the same, whereas 445 dropped off the ranking.

A notable change in 2023’s ranking is that French business magnate Bernard Arnault took the title of the world’s richest man, becoming the fifth person to take the title in the last decade.

Others to be named as such include Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Musk was ranked as the richest man in the world in 2022, but at one point during the year lost US$100 billion, as Tesla shed US$700 billion of value. He managed to only recover around US$50 billion by the end of the year.

It was a difficult year for wealth creation in general, Hurun said, noting that many tech ventures ended up flopping.

Meta (Facebook) founder Mark Zuckerberg lost US$35 billion on the failed ‘metaverse’ venture, before aggressively cutting costs and seeing almost US$20 billion come back.

However, some did not come back, the group said, such as Sam Bankman-Fried’s US$21 billion fortune, after the collapse of crypto exchange FTX.

“It’s been a bad year for big tech and electric cars. Jeff Bezos and ex-wife MacKenzie Scott were down over US$100 billion in the year; Google’s founders were down a combined US$85 billion and Elon Musk was down US$48 billion.

“Between these five, they lost US$250 billion,” Hurun said.

Semiconductor billionaires also had a bad year as oversupply shook down valuations. Biotech dropped as a Covid-fuelled rally unwound.

“In the era of ChatGPT and the electric car revolution, it seems incongruous that the world’s richest person made his money from selling luxury,” the group said.

“Despite all the uncertainties with the cost-of-living crisis, the owners of Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Chanel, Cartier, Patek Philippe and Prada have had a record-breaking year, as sales in Europe, the US and Japan have rocketed and well-heeled Americans have taken advantage of the dollar’s strength in the UK and Europe.”

“It has been a good year for billionaires in fertiliser, oil & gas and iron, as well as those able to capitalise on the surge in demand for soft drinks, confectionary, casinos, hotels, sports clubs and luxury.”

South Africa’s billionaires

South Africa’s richest man, Johann Rupert, is one of the global billionaires who reaped the benefits of luxury goods over the last year.

According to Hurun, Rupert’s wealth jumped to US$11 billion in 2023, ranking him as the 187th richest person in the world.

He is incredibly well-known across South Africa and owns shares in various companies.

He is Richemont’s chairman, a Swiss-based luxury goods holding company that owns Cartier, Dunhill, and Mont Blanc, where he also maintains 51% voting power. Richemont’s market cap is R1.47 trillion, and he owns more than 9% of the total shares – meaning he holds over R130 billion in the company.

He is also the chairman of Stellenbosch-based investment holding company Remgro, which invests in healthcare, food, sports, and media.

20222023BillionaireJan-22 net worthJan-23 net worthChange
238187Johann Rupert$10.0 billion$11.0 billion+$1.0 billion
356287Nicky Oppenheimer$8.1 billion$8.3 billion+$0.2 billion
14081226Koos Bekker$2.6 billion$2.7 billion+$0.1 billion
16361682Patrice Motsepe$2.3 billion$2.0 billion-$0.3 billion
22372451Michiel le Roux$1.6 billion$1.3 billion-$0.3 billion

Rupert’s wealth has grown over the last five years, doubling from US$5.5 billion in 2019 (pre-Covid).

South Africa’s second richest man, diamond magnate Nicky Oppenheimer, has also only seen his fortunes swell. Oppenheimer’s wealth grew from US$7.6 billion in 2019 to US$8.3 billion in 2023.

Oppenheimer was ranked as the country’s richest man until 2021. Rupert took the title in 2022 and again in 2023.

The rest of South Africa’s richest people are also familiar faces on billionaire rankings.

Media tycoon Koos Bekker is the country’s third richest man, with a net worth of US$2.7 billion in 2023, ahead of president Cyril Ramaphosa’s brother in law, Patrice Motsepe, whose fortunes totalled US$2 billion.

Motsepe was briefly the third richest person in the country in 2021; however, his wealth has slipped since then.

Rounding off the list for South Africa is Capitec founder Michiel Le Roux, whose net worth has remained fairly stable over the years, sitting at US$1.3 billion in 2023, according to Hurun.

The graph below shows how the billionaires’ fortunes have changed over the years.

Global top 10

1. Bernard Arnault, 74, of LVMH added US$49 billion to become the richest person in the world with US$202 billion. Arnault has overseen LVMH to become the most valuable business in Europe, with its stock up more than 30%, on the back of record US$15 billion in profits and US$86 billion in sales. Arnault appointed daughter Delphine, 47, in January to head up Christian Dior.

2. Elon Musk, 52, is down to the second place with a net worth of US$157 billion, down US$48 billion from last year. This is mainly on the back of a drop in Tesla’s value. He sold US$23 billion of Tesla stock to help with his October purchase of Twitter. Tesla shares are up 65% this year, after losing US$700b illion in value last year.

3. Bertrand Puech & family, 87, of Hermès, up seven places to third place on the back of a 31% growth in his wealth to US$134 billion. Hermès family members agreed not to sell their shares for at least two decades, in a move designed to fend off a hostile takeover bid from LVMH. Hermès posted a US$3.6 billion record profit last year.

4. Jeff Bezos, 60, was fourth with US$118 billion, down by a massive US$70 billion, the largest wealth destruction of the year. This is the first time in six years that Bezos has dropped out of the Top 3. Amazon has lost all of its pandemic-fuelled gains, amid a broader tech sell-off tied to the cost-of-living crisis, a worsening economy and rising interest rates.

5. Warren Buffett, 93, managed to keep a Hurun Top 5 slot, with US$116 billion, down US$3 billion. Berkshire Hathaway’s businesses generated US$31 billion of profit despite rising inflation and supply chain disruptions.

6. Bill Gates, 68, dropped out of the Top 5 for the first time since the inception of Hurun Global Rich List. Gates is 6th with US$110 billion, mainly from his investment company Cascade and this year gave US$5 billion to his foundation.

7. Steve Ballmer, 67, up one spot to become the 7th richest person with US$101 billion. Ballmer owns 4% of Microsoft shares and is the richest sports owner in the world, headlined by the Los Angeles Clippers bought for US$2 billion eight years ago.

8. Larry Ellison, 79, of Oracle is up three spots to eighth, his wealth increasing by 15% to US$100 billion. Ellison re-entered the Hurun Top 10 for the first time in five years, mainly on the back of the growth in Oracle’s cloud business.

9. Mukesh Ambani, 65, of India’s Reliance Industries maintained his 9th spot, despite losing US$21 billion to US$82 billion. That was enough for Ambani to reclaim his title of the richest person in India and Asia from Gautam Adani, who lost US$28 billion in the year. Ambani celebrated 20 years at the helm of Reliance during which the conglomerate saw a 17-fold jump in revenues and a 20-times surge in profit.

10. Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, 69, of L’Oreal broke into the top 10 for the first time, with US$80 billion, up 1%. Bettencourt Meyers is the world’s richest woman, with her wealth derived mainly from her 35% stake in L’Oreal.

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