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African Billionaire Fortunes Rise

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Buoyed by rising stock markets and commodity prices, Africa’s billionaires are collectively wealthier than a year ago. The 23 billionaires that Forbes found in Africa – up from 21 billionaires last year – are worth a combined $75.4 billion, compared to $70 billion in January 2017.

The richest African, for the seventh year in a row, is Nigerian cement and commodities tycoon Aliko Dangote, with a net worth that Forbes pegs at $12.2 billion. That’s up $100 million from a year ago. Dangote is looking beyond cement – his most valuable asset – and has been investing in a fertilizer production company and a large oil refinery. Dangote Fertilizer is expected to start operations in the second quarter this year.

Number two on the list is diamond mining heir Nicky Oppenheimer of South Africa, with a net worth of $7.7 billion, up $700 million from last year. Oppenheimer is one of eight South Africans on the list, making it the African country with the most billionaires.

Last year, South Africa and Egypt tied with six billionaires each. Boosting the South African ranks this year: newcomer Michiel le Roux, the founder and former chairman of Johannesburg-listed Capitec Bank Holdings, whose stock has climbed more than 50% in the past year, making Le Roux a new billionaire worth $1.2 billion. South African mining tycoon Desmond Sacco, chairman of listed Assore Group, returns to the list following a stock price surge of some 60% in the past 12 months. Sacco last appeared as a billionaire on the Africa’s Richest list in 2012 with a $1.4 billion fortune. (He also appeared on the 2014 Forbes list of the World’s Billionaires, worth $1.3 billion.)

One South African list member wouldn’t have made the cut a month ago. In December 2017, the share price of retailer Steinhoff International plunged after the company divulged accounting irregularities. That pushed the net worth of Steinhoff’s then-chairman Christoffel Wiese below $1 billion on December 7. (Wiese resigned as chairman in December.) In early January the company said it would restate its financial results as far back as 2015 and the share price rebounded enough to put Wiese back in billionaire territory, at least for the moment. Forbes calculated his net worth on January 5 (the day we measured all the billionaires fortunes) at $1.1 billion, down substantially from $5.5 billion a year ago. (As of Jan. 10, Steinhoff stock dropped again, knocking Wiese’s net worth below $1 billion.)

Zimbabwe gets its first billionaire this year: telecom magnate Strive Masiyiwa, who chairs the Econet Group. Shares of Zimbabwe-listed mobile phone network Econet Wireless Zimbabwe have surged in value over the past year; Masiyiwa owns more than half of that company. He also has a majority stake in fiber optic firm Liquid Telecom, which raised $700 million in a bond offering in July 2017. Forbes estimates Masiyiwa’s net worth at $1.7 billion.

Just two of the 23 list members are women, unchanged from last year. Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s longtime former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is worth an estimated $2.7 billion this year, down from $3.2 billion a year ago. Her net worth dropped in part due to a lower value for Banco BIC, an Angolan bank; its book value plunged in 2016 amid a tough year for the oil producing country.  The other woman is Nigeria’s Folorunsho Alakija, whose estimated $1.6 billion fortune lies in oil exploration firm Famfa Oil, which is partnered with Chevron and Petrobras on a lucrative offshore oil field.

Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania is the youngest on the list, at age 42. He inherited a textile and edible oils group from his father and has expanded its operations. Forbes puts his net worth at $1.5 billion. The oldest list member is Onsi Sawiris of Egypt, age 88; he started Orascom Construction in 1950. It was nationalized by the government of Abdel Nasser and Sawiris created another construction firm from scratch. Two of his three sons are also billionaires, including Nassef Sawiris, who at $6.8 billion is Egypt’s richest man. That’s an increase from $5.3 billion a year ago thanks to upticks in the share price of several of his holdings: shoemaker Adidas, cement giant LaFargeHolcim, and fertilizer maker OCI.

One person dropped off since last year’s list: Anas Sefrioui of Morocco. The share price of his homebuilder, Douja Promotion Groupe Addoha, fell about 30% in the past year, pushing his net worth down to $950 million.

Fortunes rose since last year for 13 of the 23 list members, fell for four people and stayed the same for three people. The list members hail from a total of eight countries: eight from South Africa, six from Egypt, three from Nigeria, two from Morocco and one list member each from Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

METHODOLOGY

Our list tracks the wealth of African billionaires who reside in Africa or have their primary businesses there, thus excluding Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, who is a U.K. citizen, and billionaire London resident Mohamed Al-Fayed, an Egyptian citizen. (Strive Masiyiwa, a citizen of Zimbabwe and a London resident, appears on the list due to his expansive telecom holdings in Africa.) We calculated net worths using stock prices and currency exchange rates from the close of business on Friday, January 5, 2018. To value privately-held businesses, we couple estimates of revenues or profits with prevailing price-to-sales or price-to-earnings ratios for similar public companies. 

We have purposely excluded dispersed family fortunes such as the Chandaria family of Kenya and the Madhvanis of Uganda, because the wealth is believed to be held by dozens of family members. We do include wealth belonging to a member’s immediate relatives if the wealth can be traced to one living individual; in that case, you’ll see “& family” on our list as an indication.

– Written by Kerry A. Dolan

Africa’s Billionaires List

 

1. Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote (Photo by Kelechi Amadi-Obi)

Net worth: $12.2 billion

Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar, flour

Age: 60

Country: Nigeria

Dangote, Africa’s richest man, founded and chairs Dangote Cement, the continent’s largest cement producer. He owns nearly 88% of publicly-traded Dangote Cement through a holding company. Dangote Cement produces 44 million metric tons annually and plans to increase its output 33% by 2020. Dangote also owns stakes in publicly-traded salt, sugar and flour manufacturing companies.

Did You Know?

  • Dangote’s grandfather was a successful trader of rice and oats in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city.
  • Dangote told Forbes that when he was young, he bought sweets, gave them to others to sell, and he kept the profits.

Nigeria is one of the best-kept secrets. A lot of foreigners are not investing because they’re waiting for the right time. There is no right time.

 

2. Nicky Oppenheimer

Nicky Oppenheimer

Net worth: $7.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Diamonds

Age: 72

Country: South Africa

Oppenheimer, heir to his family’s fortune sold his 40% stake in diamond firm DeBeers to mining group Anglo American for $5.1 billion in cash in 2012. He was the third generation of his family to run De Beers, and took the company private in 2001. For 85 years until 2012, the Oppenheimer family had occupied a controlling spot in the world’s diamond trade. Nicky Oppenheimer now owns an estimated 1% stake in Anglo American, which his grandfather founded in 1917.

Did You Know?

  • A passionate conservationist, Oppenheimer owns Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, the largest private game reserve in South Africa.
  • Oppenheimer is a sports fan and plays squash, golf and cricket. Notepads in his office read: “Things I must do before cricket”.

 

3. Johann Rupert

Johann Rupert (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $7.2 billion

Origin of wealth: Luxury goods

Age: 67

Country: South Africa

Johann Rupert is chairman of Swiss luxury goods firm Compagnie Financiere Richemont. The company is best known for the brands Cartier and Montblanc. It was formed in 1998 through a spinoff of assets owned by Rembrandt Group Limited (now Remgro Limited), which his father Anton formed in the 1940s. He owns a 7% stake in diversified investment firm Remgro, which he chairs, as well as 25% of Reinet, an investment holding co. based in Luxembourg. In recent years, Rupert has been a vocal opponent of plans to allow fracking in the Karoo, a region of South Africa where he owns land.

Did You Know?

  • He also owns part of the Saracens English rugby team and Anthonij Rupert Wines, named after his deceased brother.
  • Rupert says his biggest regret was not buying half of Gucci when he had the opportunity to do so for just $175 million.

 

4. Nassef Sawiris

Nassef Sawiris (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $6.8 billion

Origin of wealth: Construction, chemicals

Age: 56

Country: Egypt

Nassef Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His father Onsi and brother Naguib are also billionaires. Sawiris split Orascom Construction Industries into two entities in 2015: OCI and Orascom Construction. He runs OCI, one of the world’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producers, with plants in Texas and Iowa; it trades on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange. Orascom Construction, an engineering and building firm, trades on the Cairo exchange and Nasdaq Dubai. His holdings include stakes in cement giant Lafarge Holcim and Adidas.

Did You Know?

  • A University of Chicago graduate, he donated $20 million to the school in 2015 to fund scholarships in his father’s name for Egyptian students.
  • Bill Gates is also a shareholder in OCI, with a stake of about 7%.

 

5. Mike Adenuga

Mike Adenuga (Photo supplied)

Net worth: $5.3 billion

Origin of wealth: Telecom, oil

Age: 64

Country: Nigeria

Adenuga, Nigeria’s second richest man, built his fortune in telecom and oil production. His mobile phone network, Globacom, is the second largest operator in Nigeria, with 37 million subscribers. His oil exploration outfit, Conoil Producing, operates six oil blocks in the Niger Delta. Adenuga got an MBA at Pace University in New York, supporting himself as a student by working as a taxi driver. He made his first million at age 26 selling lace and distributing soft drinks.

 

6. Issad Rebrab

Issad Rebrab (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $4 billion

Origin of wealth: Food

Age: 74

Country: Algeria

Issad Rebrab is the founder and CEO of Cevital, Algeria’s biggest privately-held company. Cevital owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, with the capacity to produce two million tons a year. Cevital has been buying European companies in distress, such as Groupe Brandt, a French maker of home appliances, and an Italian steel mill. Rebrab has plans to build a steel mill in Brazil to produce train tracks and improve transportation logistics for sugar, corn and soy flour exports. His five children work at Cevital.

Did You Know?

  • Rebrab is the son of militants who fought for Algeria’s independence from France.
  • Cevital helped finance a biopic on Algerian resistance hero Larbi Ben M’hidi, who was executed by the French in 1957.

We [Algerians] have great potential; we can make up for lost time.

 

6. Naguib Sawiris

Naguib Sawiris (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $4 billion

Origin of wealth: Telecom

Age: 63

Country: Egypt

Naguib Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His father Onsi and brother Nassef are also billionaires. He built a fortune in telecom, but in 2017 stepped down as CEO of Orascom Telecom Media & Technology (OTMT). In 2011, Sawiris sold Orascom Telecom to Russian telecom firm VimpelCom in a multi-billion-dollar stock and cash transaction. Sawiris acquired a nearly 20% stake in Australia-listed gold mining firm Evolution Mining. He also owns nearly 20% of Toronto-listed Endeavour Mining, which operates gold mines in West Africa.

Did You Know?

  • Sawiris helped found The Free Egyptians, a liberal political party, at the onset of Egypt’s uprisings in 2011.
  • In 2015, he offered to buy a Greek or Italian island to house Syrian refugees, but Greece and Italy turned him down.

I want to feel good about having done something good. Provide me with the island and I will do the rest.

 

8. Koos Bekker

Koos Bekker (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $2.8 billion

Origin of wealth: Media, investments

Age: 65

Country: South Africa

Bekker is revered as an astute executive who transformed South African newspaper publisher Naspers into an ecommerce investor and cable TV powerhouse. He led Naspers to invest in Chinese Internet and media firm Tencent in 2001 – by far the most profitable of the bets he made on companies elsewhere. Bekker, who retired as the CEO of Naspers in March 2014, returned as chairman in April 2015. During his tenure as CEO, which began in 1997, Bekker oversaw a rise in the market capitalization of Naspers from about $600 million to $45 billion. During that time, he drew no salary, bonus, or benefits and was compensated via stock option grants that vested over time.

Did You Know?

  • His Babylonstoren estate, nearly 600 acres in South Africa’s Western Cape region, features architecture dating back to 1690, a farm, orchard and vineyard and more.
  • Over the summer of 2015 he sold more than 70% of his Naspers shares.

 

9. Isabel dos Santos      

Isabel Dos Santos (Photo by Gallo Images)

Net worth: $2.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Investments

Age: 44

Country: Angola

Isabel dos Santos is the oldest daughter of Angola’s longtime former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down in fall 2017. Her father made her head of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil firm, in June 2016, but Angola’s new president removed her from that role in November 2017. Forbes research found that while president, Isabel’s father transferred to her stakes in several Angolan companies, including banks and a telecom firm. She purchased shares of Portuguese companies, including telecom and cable TV firm Nos SGPS. A spokesperson for Isabel told Forbes that she “is an independent businesswoman and a private investor representing solely her own interests.”

Did You Know?

  • Isabel dos Santos is nicknamed “the princess” in Angola.
  • Dos Santos’ mother, Tatiana Kukanova, met her father while he was a student in Azerbaijan. The couple later divorced.

 

9. Mohamed Mansour

Mohamed Mansour
(Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $2.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Diversified

Age: 69

Country: Egypt

Mohamed Mansour oversees family conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy. Mansour established General Motors dealerships in Egypt, becoming one of GM’s biggest distributors in the world. Mansour Group also has exclusive distribution rights for Caterpillar equipment. He was Minister of Transportation under the Hosni Mubarak regime. His brothers, Yasseen and Youssef, are also billionaires.

Did You Know?

  • Mansour’s father lost his fortune, when Egypt’s then president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, expropriated his cotton trading company in 1964.
  • Mansour worked as a busboy in a pizza parlor while at North Carolina State University to pay for college.

Empowering best in class management teams is the only way to transform a local player into a diversified conglomerate with multinational exposure.

 

11. Patrice Motsepe

Patrice Motsepe (Photo by Brett Eloff)

Net worth: $2.4 billion

Origin of wealth: Mining

Age: 55

Country: South Africa

Motsepe, the founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, became a billionaire in 2008 – the first black African on the Forbes list. In 2016, he launched a new private equity firm, African Rainbow Capital, focused on investing in Africa. Motsepe also has a stake in Sanlam, a listed financial services firm, and is the president and owner of the Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club. He became the first black partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan in Johannesburg, and then started a contracting business doing mine scut work. In 1994, he bought low-producing gold mineshafts and later turned them profitable.

Did You Know?

  • In 2013, the mining magnate was the first African to sign Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half his fortune to charity.
  • He benefited from South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) laws, mandating that companies be at least 26% black-owned to get a government mining license.

 

12. Aziz Akhannouch

Aziz Akhannouch (Photo supplied)

Net worth: $2.2 billion

Origin of wealth: Petroleum, diversified

Age: 57

Country: Morocco

Aziz Akhannouch is the majority owner of Akwa Group, a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate founded by his father. It has interests in petroleum, gas and chemicals through publicly-traded Afriquia Gaz and Maghreb Oxygene. Akhannouch is Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Did You Know?

  • His wife Salwa Idrissi runs her own company, which has franchises for Gap, Zara and Galeries Lafayette in Morocco.

 

13. Yasseen Mansour

Yasseen Mansour (Photo supplied)

Net worth: $1.9 billion

Origin of wealth: Diversified

Age: 56

Country: Egypt

Yasseen Mansour is a shareholder in Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy. Mansour Group is the exclusive distributor of GM vehicles and Caterpillar equipment in Egypt. His brothers Mohamed and Youssef are also billionaires. He’s chairman of Palm Hills Developments, one of Egypt’s biggest real estate developers.

Did You Know?

  • Private equity firm Ripplewood has a stake in Palm Hills Developments.
  • Mansour Group is the sole franchisee of McDonald’s in Egypt.

 

14. Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $1.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Telecom

Age: 56

Country: Zimbabwe

Masiyiwa overcame protracted government opposition to launch mobile phone network Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in his country of birth in 1998. He owns just over 50% of the publicly-traded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is one part of his larger Econet Group. Masiyiwa also owns just over half of private company Liquid Telecom, which provides fiber optic and satellite services to telecom firms across Africa. His other assets include stakes in mobile phone networks in Burundi and Lesotho, and investments in fintech and power distribution firms in Africa. He and his wife Tsitsi founded the Higherlife Foundation, which supports orphaned and poor children in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi and Lesotho.

Did You Know?

  • After studying at university in Britain, Masiyiwa worked at ZPTC, Zimbabwe’s phone company.
  • He left ZPTC to start an engineering services firm, then sold it and founded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, but had to battle the government in court for years.

 

15. Folorunsho Alakija

Folorunsho Alakija (Photo by Ty Bello)

Net worth: $1.6 billion

Origin of wealth: Oil

Age: 67

Country: Nigeria

Folorunsho Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami oil field, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label whose customers included the wife of former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024.

 

15. Othman Benjelloun

Othman Benjelloun (Photo supplied)

Net worth: $1.6 billion

Origin of wealth: Banking, insurance

Age: 85

Country: Morocco

Othman Benjelloun is CEO of BMCE Bank of Africa, which has a presence in more than 20 African countries. His father was a shareholder in RMA Watanya, a Moroccan insurance company; Benjelloun built it into a leading insurer. Through his holding company FinanceCom, he has a stake in the Moroccan arm of French telecom firm Orange.

Did You Know?

  • He co-owns Ranch Adarouch, one of the biggest cattle breeders in Africa.
  • Benjelloun and his wife received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award for building schools in rural Morocco in 2016.

 

17. Mohammed Dewji

Mohammed Dewji

Net worth: $1.5 billion

Origin of wealth: Diversified

Age: 42

Country: Tanzania

Mohammed Dewji is the CEO of METL, a Tanzanian conglomerate founded by his father in the 1970s. METL is active in textile manufacturing, flour milling, beverages and edible oils in eastern, southern and central Africa. METL operates in at least six African countries and has ambitions to expand to several more. Dewji, Tanzania’s only billionaire, signed the Giving Pledge in 2016, promising to donate at least half his fortune to philanthropic causes.

Did You Know?

  • Dewji retired from Tanzania’s parliament in early 2015 after completing two terms.
  • Dewji, who is known as Mo (short for Mohammed), launched Mo Cola several years ago to compete with Coca Cola.

 

18. Youssef Mansour

Youssef Mansour (Photo supplied)

Net worth: $1.4 billion

Origin of wealth: Diversified

Age: 72

Country: Egypt

Youssef Mansour is chairman of Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy. The Group has exclusive GM and Caterpillar dealerships in Egypt. He oversees the consumer goods division, which includes supermarket chain Metro, and sole distribution rights for L’Oreal in Egypt. Younger brothers Mohamed and Yasseen are also billionaires.

Did You Know?

  • Former Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized his father’s original cotton trading business.
  • Mansour is a founding member of the American Egyptian Chamber of Commerce.

 

19. Michiel le Roux

Michiel le Roux (Photo by Jay Caboz)

Net worth: $1.2 billion

Origin of wealth: Banking

Age: 68

Country: South Africa

Michiel le Roux of South Africa founded Capitec Bank in 2001 and owns about an 11% stake. The bank, which trades on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, targets South Africa’s emerging middle class. He served as chairman of the board of Capitec from 2007 to 2016 and has continued on as a board member. Le Roux previously ran Boland Bank, a small regional bank in Cape Town’s hinterland.

Did You Know?

  • The bank has more than 800 branches and over 13,000 employees.
  • Fellow South African billionaire Jannie Mouton’s PSG Group owns a 30% stake in Capitec Bank.

 

19. Stephen Saad

Stephen Saad (Photo by Getty Images)

Net worth: $1.2 billion

Origin of wealth: Pharmaceuticals

Age: 53

Country: South Africa

Stephen Saad founded South Africa’s largest pharmaceuticals maker, Aspen Pharmacare, in 1997. Traded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Aspen Pharmacare markets generic medicines in 150 countries. Saad is the chief executive and head of Aspen’s board. He became a millionaire at age 29 when he sold his share in the drug business Covan Zurich for $3 million. In October 2016, Saad won the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards gala.

Did You Know?

  • In 2012, Saad became chairman of The Sharks, a Durban rugby team.
  • He spends his free time at Exeter, his private game reserve at Sabi Sands, which is adjacent to Kruger National Park, the largest national park in South Africa.

 

21. Desmond Sacco

Desmond Sacco

Net worth: $1.1 billion

Origin of wealth: Mining

Age: 75

Country: South Africa

Desmond Sacco chairs South African mining firm Assore Group, which mines for iron ore, manganese and other ores. Sacco’s father Guido founded the company in 1950, and Desmond joined the group in 1968. Desmond Sacco owns about 32% of Johannesburg-listed Assore Group. Assore has a 50% stake in mining group Assmang, which it shares with billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals group.

Did You Know?

  • Sacco studied geology before joining Assore Group.
  • Sacco collects minerals and published “The Desmond Sacco Collection” highlighting his four decades of collecting.

 

21. Onsi Sawiris

Onsi Sawiris

Net worth: $1.1 billion

Origin of wealth: Construction, telecom

Age: 88

Country: Egypt

Onsi Sawiris is the patriarch of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His sons Nassef and Naguib are also billionaires. He founded Orascom Construction in 1950. Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized it 10 years later. Onsi rebuilt Orascom from scratch and transferred control to his son Nassef in 1995. He also owned shares in Orascom Telecom, which Naguib ran before selling it to VimpelCom in 2011.

Did You Know?

  • Onsi’s third son Samih is a near billionaire; he’s chairman of Orascom Development, which develops resorts.
  • A scholarship at the University of Chicago bears his name, thanks to a $20 million donation by his son Nassef, a graduate of the school.

 

21. Christoffel Wiese

Christoff Wiese (Photo by Jay Caboz)

Net worth: $1.1 billion

Origin of wealth: Retail

Age: 76

Country: South Africa

Christoffel Wiese built his Pepkor retail empire by offering bargain prices in South Africa, and expanded into other African countries. In 2015, South Africa-based furniture retailer Steinhoff International spent $5.7 billion in cash and stock to acquire Pepkor. Wiese stepped down as chairman of Steinhoff International in December 2017 after the company disclosed accounting irregularities. He also owns 18% of publicly-traded Shoprite Holdings, which has supermarkets and furniture stores in 15 countries across Africa. His other assets include stakes in private equity firm Brait, industrial products company Invicta Holdings and mining-sector investor Pallinghurst.

Did You Know?

  • Wiese’s father owned a sheep and cattle farm and a car dealership.
  • Wiese studied law at Stellenbosch University but switched gears to go into business.

The business has basically been built on one slogan: Low prices you can trust. Just very, very low everyday prices.

 

Billionaires

Zuckerberg And Bezos Fortunes Shed Billions Amid Tech Stock Slide

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Mark Zuckerberg Facebook billionaire

After a turbulent few days on the stock market, fueled by rising tension between China and the U.S. over trade agreements as well as hostile attention towards tech companies for its data-use standards, technology shares continued its decline on Tuesday. The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.9%.

The fortunes of two of the world’s biggest tech titans suffered big losses. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg closed Tuesday $3.1 billion poorer while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, ended the day down $4.6 billion, at $124.1 billion.

Since March 17, when news first broke about the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica’s improper use of data gathered via Facebook, Zuckerberg’s fortune has fallen by nearly $13 billion. Forbes pegs his net worth at the close of markets Tuesday at $61.3 billion. He’s ranked seventh richest in the world, down from fifth richest as of mid-February.

READ MORE: After Latest PR Nightmare, Mark Zuckerberg’s Net Worth Drops $5.1 Billion In Hours

Zuckerberg took out full-page ads in several British and American newspapers on Sunday to apologize for the social media giant’s role in Cambridge Analytica data incident. “This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time,” the ad reads. “We’re now taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Amazon’s stock, meanwhile, fell alongside other tech stocks on Tuesday. After closing Monday in the green, Amazon stock dropped 3.7% on Tuesday. Bezos, who founded the e-commerce giant from a Seattle garage in 1994, owns 16% of the company’s stock.

READ MORE: Forbes Billionaires 2018: Meet The Richest People On The Planet

Bezos overtook Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as the richest man on Earth in October 2017. He is also the only centi-billionaire on the Forbes billionaire rankings. – 

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Billionaires

After Latest PR Nightmare, Mark Zuckerberg’s Net Worth Drops $5.1 Billion In Hours

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After another public relations debacle for Facebook—in which a Trump-affiliated data firm was accused of improperly gleaning information on more than 50 million users—the company’s stock plummeted nearly 7%, through 1pm Eastern Time on Monday, erasing $37 billion of market value. The decline had the biggest impact on Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s cofounder and CEO, whose net worth fell $5.1 billion.

Zuckerberg, who owns about 16% of Facebook’s shares, is now worth an estimated $69.5 billion, according to Forbes’ real-time rankings of the world’s billionaires. He is currently the seventh-richest person on the planet, down from fifth, after falling behind Zara cofounder Amancio Ortega and Carlos Slim Helu, Mexico’s richest person.

READ MORE: Forbes Billionaires 2018: Meet The Richest People On The Planet

It’s the latest in a string of bad news for Facebook. Last year it was blamed for, among other things, facilitating misinformation, contributing to polarization in Britain, Austria, Italy and elsewhere and enabling foreign political interference. Already, 2018 has been no less turbulent.

On March 17, news broke that data firm Cambridge Analytica—which worked as a consultant for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—allegedly ”harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.” The report, published in the New York Times, has exacerbated concerns that the social media giant can be exploited for partisan gain. On Sunday, March 18, lawmakers in both the United States and United Kingdom pressed Facebook for more details on the matter.

In the Times report, Facebook’s deputy general counsel, Paul Grewal, called the incident “a scam — and a fraud.” “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” he added. Cambridge Analytica was suspended from the platform soon after.

The data consultancy has been in the headlines since Trump’s victory in November 2016. The firm had targeted voters and helped tailor political messaging for his campaign. Amid the post-election upheaval Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, told Forbes in December 2017 that the company would de-emphasize its political work in the U.S. He further stated that the business had “no involvement with Russians,” an assertion that was also disputed in the Times this week.

READ MORE: Facebook Says Fake Accounts Likely Tied To Russia Bought $100,000 In Political Ads

Zuckerberg, 33, founded Facebook in 2004 as a 19-year-old student at Harvard. He dropped out during his sophomore year to focus full-time on the company, which quickly expanded past its initial niche on college campuses. Today Facebook boasts more than 2 billion monthly active users.

The business’ revenue has swelled in turn, to $40.7 billion in 2017. Together with Google, Facebook accounts for over 60% of online advertising dollars, according to Statista. As the firm’s financial and social power continues to intensify, some have called for regulatory intervention. This week’s tumult will do nothing to ease that pressure. – 

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Billionaires

New Billionaire: How A Poor Immigrant Scored A $4.3 Billion Fortune In Cable

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Rocco Commisso Mediacom

Rocco Commisso darts around his office, gnawing a stick of nicotine gum and playing show-and-tell. “Look at the rates,” he says, holding up a plaque celebrating a $2.4 billion financing round from 2001, his cable firm’s largest ever. Up next are some personal keepsakes: a picture with fellow billionaire Charles Dolan, a golden telescope to take in views of the Catskill Mountains, a signed photo of Pelé, the Brazilian footballer. Every few minutes Commisso calls out to his assistant as if this tour is taking place against his will. “Jen, this guy wants to see all of my personal stuff!” he yells. Then he scans the room for another prize to trot out.

Forgive him the braggadocio. Commisso, 68, has risen farther than nearly anyone in America. The son of a penniless carpenter, he immigrated from Italy at age 12 unable to speak a word of English. A quirky talent for playing the accordion got him into Catholic school, the first step on a prosperous path that included stops at Columbia University and the Royal Bank of Canada before he founded his cable company, Mediacom, in 1995.

Mediacom focused on buying cable assets in rural areas, where prices were low and competition scant. The firm has increased its top line every year since its founding; revenue neared $1.9 billion in 2017. Commisso owns the company outright, and its value constitutes virtually his entire fortune. Thanks to a white-hot mergers-and-acquisitions market, the business is worth an estimated $4.3 billion—and Commisso, who makes his debut on Forbes ‘ Billionaires list this year, seems ready to cash out.

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He founded Mediacom at a time of industry upheaval, when new federal regulations, which both restricted prices and increased competition, were scaring small cable operators into selling. As others jumped ship, he leveraged about $3 million—most of his small fortune—to start buying the cheapest cable lines available, concentrating on secondary markets in states like Iowa and Georgia. Even his offices are far off the beaten path: Mediacom HQ is in Chester, New York, a verdant speck of 12,000 people, 25 minutes from West Point.

Commisso is as much a financier as he is a cable guy—he has an M.B.A. from Columbia and spent nine years as CFO of Cablevision Industries. Mediacom’s rapid growth was enabled by arbitraging differing perceptions of cable assets in the debt and equity markets. Banks, reassured by the sector’s predictable cash flows, were willing to lend at reasonable rates even as investors, spooked by regulation, were willing to sell cheaply. In his first five years in business, Commisso made more than 20 acquisitions. Mediacom at one point accumulated $3 billion in debt, over eight times operating cash flow.

Commisso admits he borrowed to the precipice of insolvency, but he stayed afloat by keeping an eagle eye on costs and by meticulously managing his debt. “You know, we watch the store,” he says.

But now the core business is changing. The broadband generation is increasingly cutting the cord and relying on online services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to entertain themselves. Over the past ten years, the number of subscribers to Mediacom’s television offerings has plummeted 38% to 821,000. This is a faster rate of decline than the 3% the industry as a whole has suffered.

Mediacom’s woes in television are fueled, in part, by its success in broadband. Commisso has aggressively invested in tech upgrades; customers in places like Cecil, Georgia, enjoy Internet speeds on par with those in Seattle and San Francisco. Mediacom’s broadband subscriber base has increased 84% over the last decade, far outpacing the industry average of 54%—and many customers are using their lightning-fast connections to watch TV and movies online.

Hence the temptation for Commisso to cash out soon. In his mind, there is little left to prove. “In the history of Italian immigration, in the business world, I don’t think there’s another one like me in the last 100 years,” he says.

ROCCO COMMISSO GREW UP in Calabria, Italy, as the country reeled from its defeat in World War II. “We were losers,” he says. “Just like the Americans coming back from Vietnam, we came back as losers.” Commisso’s father, Giuseppe, served in North Africa during the war and was captured in 1942 by the British. He spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp in Kenya. When he returned home, work was scarce.

In 1956, Giuseppe sailed to the United States to start anew. “What a great country, America,” Rocco says. “Prisoners of war got preferential treatment to come here.” Rocco, meanwhile, stayed back in Italy with his mother and two sisters. In 1962, when he was 12, they joined his older brother and father in Baden, Pennsylvania, 10 miles from Joe Namath’s hometown. The family moved to the Bronx the following year.

From the outset, New York City brought good luck. Just after Commisso arrived, he spotted an ad for a talent competition. He entered as a solo accordion act and won, which led to a gig playing intermission music at the Wakefield Theatre on East 233rd Street in the Bronx. More important, it drew the attention of the Wakefield’s manager, who wrote a letter to a local Catholic school, Mount Saint Michael Academy, and got Commisso admitted without an entrance exam, which he had arrived too late to take. “I ended up being the only kid that ever got in without taking the test,” he says.

Commisso is now one of the largest benefactors of Mount Saint Michael. But back then he could barely afford to pay his own way. As a teenager he worked long hours at his brother’s diner to come up with the $300 annual tuition.

When college application time rolled around, Commisso again relied on a favor. His gym teacher called the soccer coach at Columbia University and told him about a promising student with good grades. Within a month, Commisso, who hadn’t even played soccer in high school, was accepted to the prestigious college with a full scholarship.

A natural athlete, Commisso had shown a knack for the sport in Italy under starkly different conditions: on cement, with a ball made of rags. That training somehow translated to the Ivy League turf. By his senior year he was co-captain of the varsity squad and was invited to try out for the 1972 Olympic team. The trials went terribly. Commisso arrived out of shape, with the lung strength of a smoker; the other players ran laps around him. Still, his legacy remains strong at Columbia, which named its soccer stadium for him in 2013, in recognition of the millions of dollars he has donated to the university.

After graduating in 1971, Commisso found work at a Pfizer plant in Brooklyn, a job he kept even after beginning an M.B.A. program at Columbia in 1974. Each day he rose at 7 a.m., attended class, then headed to the plant. At midnight, when his shift ended, he spent two hours on the subway getting home to the Bronx.

Commisso graduated with one of Columbia’s top honors, the Business School Service Award, and a plan to go into investment banking. But no offers came in. “There was discrimination,” he says. “I’ll never forget the guy from Kuhn Loeb telling me, ‘Rocco, you know what your problem is? You’re neither Jewish nor Irish. The Italians haven’t arrived on Wall Street.'”

So Commisso took a commercial banking job at Chase Manhattan Bank (now part of JPMorgan Chase). He later moved on to the Royal Bank of Canada, where he led lending to media and communications businesses. “I got attracted in banking to these types of guys and ladies,” he says. “We used to call them ‘the cowboys.’ The cable cowboys. Because they dressed differently than everybody, they talked differently than everybody—and they were entrepreneurs.”

In 1986 Commisso left banking to join one such cowboy—Alan Gerry, the founder of Cablevision—in Liberty, New York, a 50-minute drive from Mediacom’s headquarters. Commisso spent almost a decade as Gerry’s finance chief. “He’s one of the brightest guys I’ve ever known,” says Gerry, now 89 years old.

After the new regulations hit the industry in 1992, Gerry opted out, selling Cablevision to Time Warner for more than $3 billion in 1996. Commisso hated that decision. “This is a phenomenal time to buy as opposed to sell,” he recalls thinking. “And to prove it, I’m going to start my own company.”

Rocco Commisso Mediacom

Commisso poses at Mediacom HQ (Franco Vogt for Forbes)

COMMISSO’S OPTIMISM WAS NOT shared by his peers. That disparity only widened in 1996 when an additional batch of regulations brought new competition from telecom firms, like SBC Communications and Ameritech, that had previously been barred from the cable television space. “The fear was that the phone companies would enter the cable business and, with their stronger balance sheets and brand names, crush the cable companies,” says Craig Moffett, co-founder of the equity research firm MoffettNathanson.

That anxiety made it possible for Commisso to buy cable assets on the cheap, and he went all in. He bought his first network of cable lines, in rural Ridgecrest, California, for $18.8 million in 1996, using a loan from his old friends at Chase Manhattan.

The risk was extreme, and to outsiders Commisso might have seemed a loose cannon. He can be brash and domineering, his Calabrian accent amplifying heated bursts of profanity. But the banks trusted his background in finance.

After Ridgecrest, Commisso went on an acquisition spree, borrowing millions—then hundreds of millions—to buy up cable systems in Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. He closed nine purchases in his first three years. “[I] was viewed as just a crazy buyer who’d buy anything that was for sale,” he says.

Commisso then invested heavily in infrastructure. To date he has spent $2.5 billion upgrading his networks, which has deterred other operators from entering his territory. Historically, Mediacom has instead fought for subscribers against satellite-television firms such as DirecTV. Phone companies, despite the early panic, never posed much of a menace.

By the end of the 1990s, gloomy forecasts for the sector had softened. Commisso seized on that and, with perfect timing, took Mediacom public on Nasdaq at a $2.5 billion valuation in February 2000, just weeks before the dot-com collapse. In all, he raised $380 million to pay down debt, and his Class B shares allowed him to retain majority voting control. “Nobody could kick me out,” he says.

The following July, Mediacom made its largest acquisition ever. After AT&T became strapped for cash, it put some of its cable assets on the market. Commisso snatched up properties in Georgia, Iowa and Missouri for $2.2 billion.

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By late 2002, company debt had exploded to $3 billion. The banks wouldn’t lend another dime, and Commisso was forced to end his buying binge. “What saved us was not doing the next deal,” he says. “It was a great decision to buy when we did. It was an even better decision to stop when we did.”

Through shrewd balance-sheet management and frequent refinancing, Mediacom never missed a loan payment, allowing it to stay afloat until 2009, when it finally began producing enough cash to start paying down the principal debt.

Still, stockholders were not impressed. Mediacom’s share price fell nearly 80% in the decade following its IPO. By 2010, Commisso decided he’d had enough of the public markets. He moved to buy the company outright.

After tense negotiations and a shareholder lawsuit, he acquired the business in March 2011 for roughly $600 million, a 64% premium. Borrowing against the company’s assets, he became its sole owner.

Again, his timing could not have been better.

SINCE COMMISSO TOOK Mediacom private, the company’s value has skyrocketed sevenfold. The question now is when Commisso will lock in his gains and walk away.

The company is an attractive acquisition prospect for larger firms like Altice, which has scooped up several operators in the last several years, driving up valuations across the industry. Mediacom is the dominant broadband provider in much of its territory, and its new gigabit-speed service is on par with the fastest in the country. “For a large portion of their footprint, they’ve got a clear product advantage over their competitors,” says James Ratcliffe, managing director at Evercore ISI.

Commisso is coy about plans to sell but admits he’s taken multiple meetings with investment bankers in the past year. A man who made his fortune on the basis of good timing, he seems to concede that his work is largely finished. “Unless I’m here on earth just to become the biggest, the biggest, the biggest buffoon, I’m very happy with what we have accomplished,” he says. “I’m not Warren Buffett. I’m very content.” – Written by 

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