Billion is starting to become a household term thanks, in large part, to the government. Remember the $700 billion bailout called TARP? Just recently, during the fiscal cliff debates, President Obama commented that each side was only a few hundred billion apart. Billion is the new million!
Make no mistake, a billion of anything is a lot! If the average lifetime earnings of an American is about $2 million, he or she would have to earn 50 times more to reach billionaire status. Forbes has on its list of the world's billionaires only 1,226 entries. With that in mind, what kind of people would make up this list in your mind? Investing tycoons? People who have inherited generations' worth of riches? You're right, but that's not the whole list. Here are a few people that don't exactly fit the mold.
Sure, Oprah is a big name but even with the high salaries of athletes, actors, and TV personalities, Oprah is the only one to join the billionaire club. She also holds the distinction of being America's only African-American billionaire. Worth $2.7 billion, Winfrey rose to fame as host of the Oprah Winfrey show. She later retired from the show to start the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Winfrey's primary residence is a 42-acre California abode that boasts 23,000 square feet of living space and is valued at $100 million. Although she lives like a billionaire, she is an active philanthropist and champion for children's rights.
Does 28 years old seem a little young to be a billionaire? It is, but Dustin Moskovitz made $2.7 billion the way every American twenty-something billionaire does: through Facebook. Moskovitz was a co-founder of Facebook and college roommate of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Moskovitz was Facebook's first chief technology officer but left the company in 2008 to start a new software company, Asana. (Don't feel bad, most people haven't heard of it either.)
He's engaged to Cari Tuna, a former journalist who now heads up Moskovitz's foundation, Good Ventures. Moskovitz, like Buffett, doesn't live like he could. He rides his bike to work and flies commercial.
Steven Spielberg has been entertaining us for decades with his 26 films, including "Jurassic Park," "Schindler's List," "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Jaws." His blockbuster movies have boosted his net worth to $3.2 billion.
With the profits from his movie, "Schindler's List," Spielberg set up the Righteous Persons Foundation which according to its website, is dedicated to forming a diverse and vibrant Jewish community in the United States.
Does the name sound vaguely familiar? James Dyson is the inventor of those space-age vacuums. Best known for inventing the bag-less vacuum, he also invented a fan that doesn't have any blades called the air multiplier. Doesn't sound like something that would make somebody a billionaire, does it? Dyson is worth $4.2 billion, thanks to his many successful inventions and his investment in Ingenious Media, the investment company behind the movies "Avatar" and "Live Free or Die Hard."
The Bottom Line
It's true that most billionaires have spent a lifetime building their fortunes as investors and entrepreneurs, though not all fit the mold. Certainly some people you may assume are billionaires by how large they live are not nearly as rich as these unlikely billionaires!
More From Investopedia