The Richest Tech Titans: Page 2

This year’s Forbes list of America’s richest people reveals some trends in how vast fortunes are made in technology.
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Beyond Software: a Bold Frontier

But forget the hardware vs. software dichotomy. In a sense it’s old news. A slew of the fortunes listed on the Forbes list – indeed, some of the biggest – come from the Internet. There’s a bucket of gold in the World Wide Web.

The mightiest and the greatest, of course, is the ultra-deep wealth of the Google boys, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who are tied for No. 5 on the list. They’re both 34 years old and each is worth a tidy $18.5 billion.

In fact, compare the nouveau riche of the Google twins with the comparatively old money of the Wal-Mart scions. On the Forbes list, the wealth of founder Sam Walton (who went to discount heaven in 1992) is divided up between four inheritors, for a total of some $65 billion. That’s a whopping sum, but now total up the Google wealth. Brin’s and Page’s combines to $37 billion, add CEO Eric Schmidt’s $6.5 billion, senior VP Omid Kordestani’s $2.2 billion, and early investor Kavitark Shriram’s $1.8 billion: you get somewhere around $47 billion.

Given the trend lines of the two fortunes (Brin’s and Page’s having quadrupled since 2004, Walmart’s relatively stable) it appears that Google will soon claim a bigger presence on the hallowed Forbes list than does America’s most beloved retailer. When you’re richer than Wal-Mart, you’re filthy rich. (And Google pays its employees a lot better than Wal-Mart.)

The Internet, of course, has generated many massive bank accounts beyond the Google fortunate.

Pierre Omidyar, 40, scored $8.9 billion from founding eBay, and Meg Whitman (the only women on the tech portion of the Forbes list) earned $1.4 billion from being its president and CEO.

Mark Cuban, 49, proved that being a first mover counts. He now has $2.6 billion from doing something as modest as founding Broadcast.com, believe it or not. His co-founder Todd Wagner, 47, enjoys a fortune of $1.5 billion.

The fact that Yahoo agreed to buy Broadcast.com for a mind-boggling $5.7 billion may partially explain why the Yahoo fortunes haven’t risen to the stratospheric level of Google’s. Co-founders David Filo, 41, has $2 billion, while Jerry Yang, 38, has to make ends meet on a mere $1.9 billion. (He probably eats a lot of Hamburger Helper.)

Microchips and Potatoes

Then there’s the unlikely story of John “Jack” Simplot, who sits at No. 89, with $3.6 billion. Born in 1909, young Jack had better things to do than listen to teachers, so the Iowa boy quit school at age 14 and went into the potato business. By the 1940s, his company was the top potato supplier in the country. (The firm is one of McDonald’s biggest spud suppliers.)

Not content with his first fortune, in the early 1980s Simplot provided seed money for Micron Technology, an Idaho-based supplier of computer chips. That stroke of genius earned Simplot yet another bundle. He will, almost certainly, be the only person in history to make fortune from both potatoes and microchips.

At age 98, he's the oldest person on the Forbes list, and quite likely one of the smartest. Think about him the next time you eat a French Fry in front of a PC.

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