William Gates III
53. Married, three children
Software visionary regains title as the world's richest man despite losing $18 billion in the past 12 months. Stepped down from day-to-day duties at Microsoft last summer to devote his talents and riches to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Organization's assets were $30 billion in January; annual letter lauds endowment manager Michael Larson for limiting last year's losses to 20%. Gates decided to increase donations in 2009 to $3.8 billion, up 15% from 2008. Dedicated to fighting hunger in developing countries, improving education in America's high schools and developing vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. Appointed Microsoft Office veteran Jeffrey Raikes chief executive of Gates Foundation in September. Gates remains Microsoft chairman. Sells shares each quarter, redeploys proceeds via investment vehicle Cascade; more than half of fortune invested outside Microsoft. Stock down 45% in past 12 months. "Creative capitalist" wants companies to match profit making with doing good.
78. Widowed, remarried; three children
Last year America's most beloved investor was the world's richest man. This year he has to settle for second place after losing $25 billion in 12 months. Shares of Berkshire Hathaway down 45% since last March. Injected billions of dollars into Goldman Sachs, General Electric in exchange for preferred stock last fall; propped up insurance firm Swiss Re in February with $2.6 billion infusion. Admits he made some "dumb" investment mistakes in 2008. Upbeat about America's future: "Our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time. It has unleashed human potential as no other system has, and it will continue to do so." Scoffs at Wall Street's over-reliance on "history-based" models: "If merely looking up past financial data would tell you what the future holds, the Forbes 400 would consist of librarians." Son of Nebraska politician delivered newspapers as a boy. Filed first tax return at age 13, claiming $35 deduction for bicycle. Studied under value investing guru Benjamin Graham at Columbia. Took over textile firm Berkshire Hathaway 1965. Today holding company invested in insurance (GEICO, General Re), jewelry (Borsheim's), utilities (MidAmerican Energy), food (Dairy Queen, See's Candies). Also has noncontrolling stakes in Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo.
Carlos Slim Helú
69. Widowed, six children
Economic downturn and plunging peso shaved $25 billion from the fortune of Latin America's richest man. Global recession testing his ability to live up to the principles he sets for his employees: "Maintain austerity in times of fat cows." Son of a Lebanese immigrant bought fixed-line operator Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex) in 1990; now controls 90% of Mexico's telephone landlines. Would be a billionaire based on his dividends alone. Biggest holding: $16 billion stake in America Movil, Latin America's largest mobile phone company, with 173 million customers. America Movil and Telmex reportedly planning to jointly invest $4 billion to bolster telecom infrastructure in Latin America. Buying up cheap media, energy and retail assets. Last year took stakes in New York Times Co., former billionaire Anthony O'Reilly's Independent News & Media and Bronco Drilling; also increased position in Saks. Baseball statistics aficionado, art collector.
64. Thrice divorced, remarried; two children
Database titan continues to engulf the competition; Oracle has racked up 49 acquisitions in the past four years. Bought BEA Systems for $8.5 billion last year. Company still sitting on $7 billion in cash. Revenues up 11% to $10.9 billion in the six months ended Nov. 30, 2007; profits also up 11% to $2.4 billion. Stock down 25% in past 12 months. Invested $125 million in Web software outfit Netsuite; took public in 2007, stock down 80% since. His shares are still worth $300 million. Chicago native studied physics at University of Chicago, didn't graduate. Started Oracle in 1977. Public in 1986, a day before Microsoft. Owns 453-foot Rising Sun; built a smaller leisure boat because the long yacht is hard to park. Squabbling in court with Swiss boating billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli over terms of next America's Cup. Recently unveiled hulking 90-foot trimaran he intends to use to win it.
83. Divorced, remarried; four children
Peddled matches, fish, pens, Christmas cards and other items by bicycle as a teenager. Started selling furniture in 1947. Opened first Ikea store 50 years ago; store's name is a combination of initials of his first and last name, his family farm and the nearest village. Retired in 1986; company's "senior adviser" still reportedly works tirelessly on his brand. Discount retailer now sells 9,500 items in 36 countries; prints catalog in 27 languages. Revenues up 7% to $27.4 billion in fiscal-year 2008. Opened 10th store in China this February; planning to open first in Dominican Republic later this year. Three sons all work at the company. Thrifty entrepreneur flies economy class, frequents cheap restaurants and furnishes his home mostly with Ikea products.
89. Married, two children
Germany's richest person owns discount supermarket giant Aldi Sud. Retailer faring well amid economic downturn; analysts expect its 2008 sales to be up 9.4% to $33.7 billion. Sales in the U.S. up estimated 20% last year to $7 billion. Plans to open 75 U.S. stores in 2009, including first in New York City. With younger brother, Theo, transformed their mother's corner grocery store into Aldi after World War II. Brothers split ownership in 1961; Karl took the stores in southern Germany, plus the rights to the brand in the U.K., Australia and the U.S. Theo got northern Germany and the rest of Europe. Retired from daily operations. Fiercely private: little known about him other than that he apparently raises orchids and plays golf.
51. Married, three children
Oversees Reliance Industries, India's most valuable company by market cap, despite stock falling 40% in past year. Merging his Reliance Petroleum with flagship Reliance Industries. As part of deal, will exercise right to buy back Chevron's 5% stake in Reliance Petroleum at $1.2 per share--the same price at which he sold it three years ago. Today the stock trades for $1.80 a share. Increased stake in Reliance Industries last October; paid $3.4 billion to convert 120 million preferential warrants into shares. Reliance Petroleum refinery on India's western coast began operating in December despite falling global demand and declining margins. Late father Dhirubhai founded Reliance and built it into a massive conglomerate. After he died, Mukesh and his brother, Anil, ran the family business together for a brief time. But siblings feuded over control; mother eventually brokered split of assets. Brothers may be looking to bury hatchet; played joint hosts at mother's recent 75th birthday bash. Has yet to move into his 27-story home that he's building at a reported cost of $1 billion. Ardent fan of Bollywood films. Wife, Nita, oversees school named after his father.
58. Married, two children
Indian immigrant heads world's largest steel company; ArcelorMittal was formed via hostile takeover three years ago. Stock in company makes up bulk of his fortune; shares at a four-year low, with steel prices down 75% since last summer. Company forced to pay heavy fines after a French antitrust investigation found 10 companies guilty of price-fixing in European steel markets. Arcelor posted $2.6 billion loss in most recent quarter; announced plans to slow acquisitions, cut capital expenditures, pay down debt. Started in family steel business in the 1970s, branched out on his own in 1994. Initially bought up steel mills on the cheap in Eastern Europe. Company bought 19.9% stake in Australia's Macarthur Coal last year. Also owns pieces of Mumbai's Indiabulls Group, London's RAB Capital; owns stake in, sits on board of Goldman Sachs. Holds substantial cash; owns 12-bedroom mansion in London's posh Kensington neighborhood.
87. Married, two children
Runs discount supermarket group Aldi Nord; firm holding up amid economic downturn. Sales expected to hit $31 billion in 2008. After World War II he and older brother Karl transformed their mother's corner grocery into Aldi. Brothers split ownership in 1961; Karl took the stores in southern Germany, plus the rights to the brand in the U.K., Australia and the U.S. Theo got the northern Germany stores and the rest of Europe. Unable to operate Aldi stores in U.S., Theo developed discount food store Trader Joe's; now has more than 320 U.S. stores. Also owns stake in Supervalu. Became a recluse after being kidnapped for 17 days in 1971; said to collect old typewriters, loves golf .
73. Divorced, remarried; three children
Railway worker's son started as a gofer in a shirt store. With then wife Rosalia Mera, also now a billionaire, started making dressing gowns and lingerie in their living room. Business became one of world's most successful apparel manufacturers. Today Inditex has more than 4,000 stores in 71 countries. Sales: $12.3 billion. Ortega is chairman. Company exported its cheap chic Zara stores to four new markets last year: Ukraine, South Korea, Montenegro and Honduras. Stock up 1% in past 12 months, but fortune down because of weak euro. Also has personal investments in gas, tourism, banks and real estate. Owns properties in Madrid, Spain; Paris; London; and Lisbon, Portugal; plus a luxury hotel and apartment complex in Miami, a horse-jumping circuit and an interest in a soccer league. Shuns neckties and fanfare. Daughter Marta works for Inditex; recent speculation suggests she is being groomed to eventually replace her father.