Steve Ballmer had a strange path to being one of the richest people in the world. He wasn't a founder of a company and didn't inherit his wealth, the two most common ways to become a billionaire. Instead, he got an undergraduate degree from Harvard and happened live down the hall from Bill Gates, who would soon become the richest person in the world. A few years after meeting in the 1970s, Gates convinced Ballmer to drop out of Stanford Graduate School of Business and join him at Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).
At Microsoft, where he built his wealth, he was hired on as the 30th employee at the company in 1980, five years after the company was founded. But he quickly became one of Bill Gates closes lieutenants and took over as CEO when Gates stepped down from the role in 2000. The combination of shares awarded to him when he was hired at Microsoft and stock options accrued over the years has built a $22.2 billion net worth, according to Forbes, making Steve Ballmer one of the richest people in the world.
Microsoft's biggest shareholder
Believe it or not, Steve Ballmer, not Bill Gates, is actually Microsoft's biggest shareholder today. He owns 333,254,734 shares and Gates owns 230,992,934 shares after selling off millions of shares per year for years now to diversify his wealth and to fund his philanthropic endeavors.
Ballmer doesn't appear eager to sell either, maybe in part because he doesn't have to. Microsoft's $0.31 per share quarterly dividend means that Ballmer gets a check for $103.3 million four times every year and the payout has been rising steadily each year.
But Ballmer has been making big plays outside of Microsoft since stepping down as CEO in early 2014 as well.
Steve Ballmer's net worth outside of Microsoft
Outside of Microsoft, not a lot is public about Ballmer's wealth and he's just starting to diversify his holdings outside the tech giant. But since Microsoft started paying a dividend in 2003 he's gotten about $3.5 billion in payouts (assuming today's share count), so he has some cash to spend.
That was enough to write a $2 billion check for the Los Angeles Clippers, which Ballmer bought on August 12, 2014, the highest price ever paid for an NBA team. He's now their No. 1 fan and can be seen dancing in the front row at their games.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Ballmer acquire more sports franchises as well. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who helped convince Ballmer to buy the Clippers, owns the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, and part of the Seattle Sounders FC. With even more wealth than Allen, Ballmer could start collecting sports assets as well.
The fabulous life of Steve Ballmer
All told, Steve Ballmer's net worth is somewhere around $22.2 billion, making him the 21st richest person in the U.S. and the 35th richest person worldwide. Now that he's retired from Microsoft he's moved on to the Clippers in the NBA, but what's next?
Given his energy and passion for business I don't think this is the last we've heard of Steve Ballmer on the big stage of business, especially with the billions of dollars he had to throw around.