Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Who Are The Richest Tech Leaders, and What Are They Doing With Their Money?

By Daniel B. Kline – Mar 12, 2016 at 1:45PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

The names may not surprise you but what they are doing with their wealth might.

It's not surprising that a number of current and former technology company leaders hold top positions on Forbes' 30th Annual World's Billionaires list, but you might be shocked when you learn what most of those who qualify have planned for their money.

Six of the top 15 richest people in the world hail from the technology space on a list that includes 1,810 billionaires (down from 1,826 in 2015). Each has an average net worth of $3.58 billion, which is a drop of $280 million from $3.86 billion in 2015. Forbes also noted that the total net worth for this year's billionaires dropped as well, from $7.05 trillion last year to $6.48 trillion in 2016. 

And all of the tech billionaires in the top 15 are self-made men, which puts them in good company where roughly two-thirds of the billionaires (1,186) created their own fortunes, while 228 inherited their wealth, and another 396 inherited at least a portion but are still growing it, according to Forbes.

The magazine compiled the list using "a snapshot of wealth taken on Feb 12, 2016, when stock prices and exchange rates were locked in from around the world," according to a press release. It's based on individual wealth rather than family fortunes, though couples or siblings are listed together "if the ownership breakdown among them isn't clear."  But they still must be worth a minimum of $1 billion apiece to qualify.

Of course, the six tech names who appear in the top 15 all qualify, and then some.

No. 13, Sergey Brin, $34.4 billion, and No. 12, Larry Page, $35.2 billion: Of course both Page and Brin made their money by creating Google, which now operates under the parent corporation Alphabet (GOOG -0.95%) (GOOGL -0.96%). That new holding company was set up partly to create a way to better organize the "moonhsots," which have been part of the Google business model. Moonshots are pursuits of big ideas that are partly business and partly for the betterment of humanity. 

Larry Page. Source: Google/

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Page talked about Elon Musk's idea of "backing up humanity" by creating a parallel civilization on Mars as an example of an effective way to improve the world through business. "That's a company, and that's philanthropical," he said. In some ways that has Brin and Page using their fortune now for both personal and global gain now instead of donating their wealth to charity, as many on the list have. Neither has spoken much about the topic, but Page has been supportive of innovators like Musk, who he thinks can revolutionize humanity.

Alphabet helps Google pursue those same ideals while also possibly creating future wealth that could be used to do more good going forward. It's a less direct way to pursue public benefit than some of the other billionaires on this last are pursuing, but it's still a way to use a personal fortune, or in this case two, to benefit humanity.

No. 7, Larry Ellison, $43.6 billion: No longer the CEO of the technology company he founded, Oracle (ORCL -4.70%), Ellison remains chairman of the board. Like many of the others on this list, the tech leader has pledged to donate his fortune through the Giving Pledge -- a commitment by the world's wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Ellison posted a short letter on the Giving Pledge site, explaining that he was pledging his fortune to "medical research" and education. He noted that he had long donated to those causes quietly and was only going public because Warren Buffett had asked him to do so, to influence others to give.

No. 6, Mark Zuckerberg, $44.6 billionThe Facebook (META -0.86%) founder and CEO was the biggest gainer on the 2016 list, adding $11.2 billion to his fortune. Like Ellison, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged their fortune to charity through the Giving Pledge. The couple wants their money to be used for long-term commitments to improve education, science, and health from "their local community in the Bay Area to around the world," according to their pledge letter. They also plan that some of their wealth will be used to improve global Internet access, something Facebook has made a priority, and conducting energy research.

Zuckerberg, Chan, and their son, Max, Source: Facebook.

No. 5, Jeff Bezos, $45.2 billion: The (AMZN -3.31%) founder and CEO hasn't signed the Giving Pledge as so many of his billionaire peers have. In a broad sense, "Bezos has demonstrated over the years that he's not very supportive of charity," wrote Shawn McCoy at Inside Sources, who noted that Bezos has backed certain charities, donating "$10 million for an innovation center at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry and $15 million for a center at Princeton named after him."

Even an article in the paper Bezos now owns, The Washington Post, questioned the billionaire's commitment to giving at the time he was purchasing the paper.

"Jeff Bezos' footprint in philanthropy is smaller than one might think, given the size and scope of his personal wealth," Steve Delfin, chief executive of America's Charities told the paper.

No. 1, Bill Gates, $75 billion: Despite having somewhat stepped away from Microsoft (MSFT -1.89%), where he serves as an advisor to CEO Satya Nadella and as a board member, Gates still remains a major shareholder, which has kept him atop the Forbes list for 17 of the past 22 years. The tech titan has been very clear about what will happen to his money both now and after he dies.

Gates, along with his wife, Melinda, and Buffett created the Giving Pledge as a way to inspire charitable giving from other extremely wealthy folks. As you can see from the names on this list, that has worked very well, with a growing number of billionaires taking the pledge.

The former Microsoft boss, however, hasn't waited until his death to begin giving away his money on a large scale. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation already works around the world on projects related to improving health. Specifically, the couple have pledged the vast majority of their assets to work on stopping preventable deaths, specifically among children.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel Kline owns shares of Facebook and Microsoft. If he ever becomes a billionaire, he will take the Giving Pledge. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares),, and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Oracle Stock Quote
$79.43 (-4.70%) $-3.92
Microsoft Stock Quote
$250.20 (-1.89%) $-4.82
Alphabet Stock Quote
$99.48 (-0.96%) $0.96 Stock Quote
$91.01 (-3.31%) $-3.12
Meta Platforms Stock Quote
Meta Platforms
$122.43 (-0.86%) $-1.06
Alphabet Stock Quote
$99.87 (-0.95%) $0.96

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.