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Broke Billionaires: 8 Who Had It All & Lost Almost Everything

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Economic downturns are hard on everyone. But for billionaires, they can be catastrophic.

When people have that kind of money, it isn’t stored as cash in a safe somewhere. It is in the form of things like real estate and business holdings.

Exactly how much money any given person is worth depends upon what other people think those holdings are worth. Those valuations can change by the day, hour, or even minute.

More Than Everything

Sometimes it is much worse than simply losing everything.

Seán Quinn, for example, was the richest man in Ireland at the start of 2008 — estimated to be worth $6 billion. Although he started off in the 1970s selling gravel, he built a business empire that spanned construction, real estate, and insurance.

But when the financial crisis hit, his business empire crumbled. Not only did he lose the $6 billion he was thought to be worth, he ended up over $3 billion in debt before declaring bankruptcy.

Bad Business

Of course, it isn’t always bad economies that cost fortunes. Sometimes it’s bad business decisions. And sometimes, it’s because the fortunes were based on fraud.

The most famous recent example of this is Bernard Madoff. But there are others — many others, in fact.

In the infographic below, we discuss Allen Stanford, who lost his entire $2.2 billion fortune when he was convicted of operating a massive Ponzi scheme.

And speaking of Ponzi schemes: Charles Ponzi had managed to accumulate the equivalent of almost a quarter billion dollars before it all vanished. This led to a prison stay of over three years.

Fortunes Lost

Wealth is a fickle thing. It isn’t as tangible as people like to think. The cash in your pocket is, after all, just paper that’s only absolute value is that it must be accepted by the government for the payment of taxes. Just ask Mansa Musa — the 14th-century king of Mali.

Whether your wealth is in the form of ivory, gold, or salt, it can all vanish — and fast. Check out these 8 enormous fortunes and how they were lost. Biggest fortunes ever lost

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8 of the Biggest Fortunes Ever Lost

For most people, building a fortune is an elusive task. But once they have a fortune, many people find that they have a hard time hanging onto it. Below we discuss the 8 biggest fortunes ever lost. The reasons are diverse. But usually, it’s the same forces that built those fortunes in the first place. Economics is a fickle beast. 8. The Icelandic Billionaire

  • Who?
    • Björgólfur Guðmundsson
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $1.1 billion in 2008
  • Source of wealth:
    • A majority share in Landsbanki, an Icelandic bank
  • Cause of loss:
    • Icelandic banking collapse of 2008
  • How much was lost?
    • His entire fortune
      • Guðmundsson filed for bankruptcy in 2009
      • He was $750 million in debt at the time
  • Did you know?
    • Guðmundsson’s bankruptcy was the largest personal bankruptcy in Iceland’s history

7. The Fraudster

  • Who?
    • Allen Stanford
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $2.2 billion in 2008
  • Source of wealth:
    • Real estate
    • Insurance
    • Stanford Financial Group:
      • Stanford started this company on the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat in the West Indies in the 1980’s
    • Cause of loss:
      • Stanford Financial Group was revealed to be operating a Ponzi scheme
    • He was convicted of 13 charges, including:
      • Fraud
      • Conspiracy
      • Obstruction
  • How much was lost?
    • All of it
      • Stanford is currently serving a 110 year sentence for his role in the $7 billion Ponzi scheme his business was involved in
  • Did you know?
    • In 2006, Stanford was the first American ever knighted by the island nation of Antigua
      • His knighthood was revoked in 2010
    • In 2008:
      • Stanford was the the largest private employer in Antigua
      • His personal wealth exceeded Antigua’s GDP by $1.5 billion
      • He staged a cricket match between his own team and England with a $20 million prize

6. The Celtic Construction Tiger

  • Who?
    • Séan Quinn
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $6 billion in 2008
  • Source of wealth:
    • Construction
    • Insurance
    • Real estate
  • Cause of loss:
    • Collapse of Irish property bubble in 2008
    • Nationalization of Anglo Irish Bank in 2009
      • At the time, Quinn and his family secretly owned a quarter stake in the bank
      • When the bank was nationalized, the Quinn family investment was wiped out
  • How much was lost?
    • His entire family fortune
      • When Quinn filed for bankruptcy in 2012, he was over $3 billion in debt
        • As of January 2015, however, Quinn has been discharged from his debts
        • Ireland’s High Court determined that he will have to pay €10,000 a year for the next two years
  • Did you know?
    • After the bankruptcy proceedings, Quinn and his family were left with $15,000

5. The Richest American

  • Who?
    • John D. Rockefeller
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $360 billion in 2015 dollars
  • Source of wealth:
    • Oil
  • Cause of Loss:
    • The Great Depression
  • How much was lost?
    • Approximately $709 million in 1929 dollars
      • $10 billion, adjusted for inflation
  • Did you know?
    • Rockefeller is considered the wealthiest American ever by many sources, and was one of the richest people in history
    • A religious man, Rockefeller tithed 10% of his earnings
    • Modern-day companies that were originally parts of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil include:
      • ConocoPhillips
      • BP
      • Chevron
      • Exxon-Mobil

4. The (Would-be) Brazilian Oil Magnate

  • Who?
    • Eike Batista
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $34.5 billion in 2012
  • Source of wealth:
    • Mining
    • Utilities
    • Oil
  • Cause of loss:
    • Bidding aggressively on oil land that failed to produce
      • In 2007, Batista’s OGX oil company leased land at several times the rates of other companies at the time
        • The oil in the area was difficult to pump
    • Batista oversold how easily and expansively the oil would be produced
    • Investors lost confidence in OGX, Batista’s oil business
      • In 2013, OGX had debts totalling 11 times its market value
  • How much was lost?
    • Everything, and more
      • In September 2014, Batista reported a net worth of negative $1 billion
  • Did you know?
    • Batista often boasted that he would become the richest man in the world
    • In 2012, he told Bloomberg TV that his company had underlying assets worth $1.5 trillion

3. Japan’s Youngest Self-Made Billionaire

  • Who?
    • Yasumitsu Shigeta
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $42 billion in 1999-2000
      • During periods of volatility in the height of the dotcom boom, Shigeta’s wealth could fluctuate by as much as $5 billion in 24 hours
  • Source of wealth:
    • Mobile phones
      • Stock in his mobile phone company, Hikari Tsushin, traded for $2,300 at its peak
  • Cause of loss:
    • The Japanese IT bubble burst
      • Over a few month’s, Shigeta’s stock in Hikari Tsushin decreased $40 billion in value
      • In 2009, his stock was worth $600 million
  • How much was lost?
    • Roughly $41 billion
  • Did you know?
    • He started Hikari Tsushin in 1988
    • In 1999, Shigeta was Japan’s youngest self-made billionaire
    • Shigeta was the youngest CEO of a publicly-traded company when it later registered its shares with the JASDAQ

2. The “Bill Gates” of Japan

  • Who?
    • Masayoshi Son
  • Total size of fortune:
    • $78 billion
  • Source of wealth:
    • Software distribution
    • Mobile networks
    • CEO of SoftBank, a telecom company
  • Cause of loss:
    • The Japanese tech bubble of the 1990s burst
  • How much was lost?
    • Roughly $70 billion
      • SoftBank’s stock traded for 198,000 yen (~$2,680) in 2000
      • By 2002, it had fallen to 1,542 yen (~$20) in 2002
  • Did you know?
    • One of Son’s first businesses was importing Space Invaders and Pac Man game cabinets and leasing them around the campus at Berkeley in California
    • SoftBank owned more than one third of Yahoo when the company went public in 1996
    • SoftBank invested $20 million in Alibaba in 2000, and now owns one third of the company’s shares
      • Due to Alibaba’s IPO, Son is Japan’s wealthiest man at $16.6 billion as of 2014

1. The Golden King

  • Who?
    • Mansa Musa I, ruler of Mali
      • Ruled from 1321-1337
  • Total size of fortune:
    • Adjusted for inflation, roughly $400 billion
  • Source of wealth:
    • Kola nuts
    • Ivory
    • Gold
    • Salt
      • In the 1300’s, Mali produced approximately half of the world’s gold and salt
  • Cause of loss:
    • Invasion
    • Civil war
  • How much was lost?
    • All of it, eventually
      • Within two generations of Musa’s death in the 1330’s, his vast wealth had almost completely disappeared
  • Did you know?
    • On his pilgrimage to Mecca, Musa distributed so much gold on his way through Egypt that he caused its value to plummet — precipitating decades of depression in Cairo, Medina, and Mecca
    • Musa fixed the gold market by borrowing a large amount of gold at high interest rates
    • Musa paid an Andalusian architect over 400 pounds of gold to construct a mosque in Timbuktu

Even the greatest of fortune is destined to be destroyed eventually. But the end comes sooner for some than for others. Very often, that end has nothing to do with with the individuals involved, but is just the vagaries of the world. Regardless, nothing is permanent in this world. Sources: oddee.comm, bloomberg.com, icelandreview.com, notendur.hi.is, forbes.com, bloomberg.com, reuters.com, huffingtonpost.com, bbc.com, belfasttelegraph.co.uk, books.google.com, neatorama.com, usinflationcalendar.com, eng.hikari.co.jp, hottopics.ht, arestechnica.com, lostislamichistory.com, wysinger.homestead.com, blackpast.org


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