U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett speaks during a news conference in Madrid, Spain on May 21, 2008. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is investing at least US$5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (AP / Paul White)
Being a CEO isn't what it used to be. Crackdowns on corporate frills like private jets and over-the-top offices have become the norm, taking some of the fun -- but none of the stress -- out of running billion-dollar businesses.
While some chief executives' jobs may be in peril, these 10 have stuck it out long enough to partake in what's left of the global economy. These have made our annual list of the world's wealthiest CEOs.
To compile our list for 2009, we looked at chief executive officers and managing directors (a title that sometimes denotes the top leadership position at corporations outside the U.S.) of public companies the world over and ranked them according to the size of their stakes in the businesses they run.
Due to the difficulty of pinning down private holdings in the midst of volatile market swings, we excluded CEOs of private companies from our rankings. We also excluded individuals' private holdings. Full net-worth estimates will be available in March, when we release our annual list of the world's billionaires.
This year's wealthiest chief executive, for the second year in a row, is Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha trounced the competition, his stake in Berkshire Hathaway worth US$35.9 billion, nearly double that of his runner-up, Oracle founder, Larry Ellison. (Fortunately for both, Bill Gates' decision nine years ago to cede control of Microsoft to long-time business associate Steve Ballmer -- also one of our 10 wealthiest -- disqualifies him from our list).
Berkshire's diversification and conservative basket of businesses served it well in 2008. The company's shares fell by 32 per cent last year compared with the S&P 500, which declined 38 per cent.
Ellison lost an estimated $5.3 billion on paper since we locked in prices for our 2008 Forbes 400 rankings in early fall. Still, Oracle is weathering the storm better than most, falling just 15 per cent in the past 12 months and growing its revenues by 10 per cent in the six months ended Nov. 30, 2008. The Chicago native has been Oracle's front man since the software giant was founded in 1977.
Four Indians made it onto our list this year: two industrialists, Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal; and two telecom tycoons, Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal. The Ambani brothers owe their hefty fortunes, in part, to inheritance. Following their father's death in 2002, they took over his industrial empire and attempted to run it together.
The collaboration soon soured. After coming to blows over who ran the company, the two reached a bitter compromise, deciding that they and the company would best be served by spinning off and divvying up its various businesses. Today Mukesh runs petrochemicals giant Reliance Industries Ltd., while Anil oversees an array of companies including Reliance Communications, a phone and Internet outfit with 60 million customers. (Lakshmi Mittal and Sunil Mittal are not related.)
This year's most notable drop-off is one of last year's most high-profile casualties: Sheldon Adelson, who injected $1 billion into Las Vegas Sands last fall in an effort to revive the troubled casino company. He has watched his shares plunge 95 per cent since the beginning of 2008. His stake, worth $35 billion in late 2007, is worth perhaps $1.5 billion today.
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