Economy Shakes Up 'Forbes' Billionaires List The richest people in the world are a lot poorer this year. Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's top billionaires has 332 fewer names this time around. Still, all those empty spots made room for 38 new billionaires to make the rankings.
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Economy Shakes Up 'Forbes' Billionaires List

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Economy Shakes Up 'Forbes' Billionaires List

Economy Shakes Up 'Forbes' Billionaires List

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The financial crisis has taken a toll on the world's billionaires. Forbes just came out with its annual list and it shows Bill Gates reclaiming the top spot, though even his net worth dipped by $18 billion. NPR's Robert Smith scanned the list and has some lessons for the rest of us.

ROBERT SMITH: Oh, billionaires - they're just like us. They lost money last year - just like us. Accept their losses added up to $2 trillion. In fact many of them are now non-billionaires. Hey, just like us.

Mr. STEVE FORBES (Forbes): Last year there were 1,125 billionaires; this year it's down to 793. A typical billionaire is down at least one third in their net worth.

SMITH: But wipe away those golden tears, Steve Forbes, because this isn't just gloomy news. It's an opportunity. All those empty spots on the list mean more room for the rest of us to move up. In fact, 38 new billionaires made the rankings this year. And here is how they did it.

Secret number one: Pick you location wisely. During boom times, the big money was in emerging markets. You couldn't toss an over-inflated commodity without hitting a new billionaire in India or Russia. Most of those guys dropped off the list this year. If you want to be a billionaire, Forbes says, the best place to live is…

Mr. FORBES: Still the United States. Even though we took a real hit, we suffered proportionately less than the rest of the world.

SMITH: And you certainly didn't want to be billionaire in, say, Iceland.

Mr. FORBES: In Iceland you would not want to have been a banker, because you would be trying to figure out will McDonalds hire me today.

SMITH: Secret number two: Make your money in something tangible. Hedge funds, private capital billionaires were hit hard. But producing something the world wants can still make you super-rich. Matthew Miller is an editor with Forbes.

Mr. MATTHEW MILLER (Forbes): People like John Paul DeJoria, who owns Paul Mitchell Shampoos, and Patron Tequila - Patron Tequila is a high-end tequila -not as many people are buying it at nightclubs as they used to, but liquor is something that people like in a recession, so he is new to the list this year.

SMITH: The owners of sports teams did well, and so did another newcomer with a recession-proof product. Joaquin Guzman Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo; Mexican drug kingpin, now billionaire, and the only man on list wanted by the U.S. government.

Which brings us two secret number three: Don't go along with the crowd. Billionaire John Paulson has increased his net worth by $3 billion last year. His profession: betting against the stock market as a short seller.

And if you're going to bet like that, it doesn't hurt to have secret four on your side: luck. Take Guy Laliberte, the owner of Cirque du Soleil and one of the rare billionaires to get richer last year. He is a poker player, but his best hand was selling 20 percent of his company in August before the economy tanked. Steve Forbes says sometimes you need more than skill.

Mr. FORBES: A lot of people who are on the list this year sold proportions of their business at the height of the economy, a year or little over a year ago, and they didn't know there was a collapse coming. They just did it. So yes, you need luck. But don't always think you can create your luck; that is called hubris.

SMITH: Forbes then tells me the final secret, secret number five, which is: Don't try and replicate what happened last year; take advantage of it. Forbes predicts the billionaires that will climb up future lists would be the people who will jump into the wreckage of the financial sector and build something new.

Robert Smith NPR News, New York.

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