Hired-hand billionaires: These executives amassed 10-figure fortunes while working for others


The vast majority of U.S. billionaires are founders who started companies or heirs who mostly lucked into their fortunes. A tiny subset got hired into jobs that catapulted them into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest.
Blackstone President Jonathan Gray, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and AMD CEO Lisa Su. PHOTO BY GUERIN BLASK FOR FORBES; RICK DAHMS FOR FORBES; JAMEL TOPPIN FOR FORBES

Think of a typical billionaire and it’s likely to be someone who falls into one of two camps: founders or cofounders–like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos—or heirs, like Jacqueline Mars, granddaughter of the founder of candy company Mars, maker of M&Ms and Snickers bars; and Thomas Pritzker, whose predecessors founded the Hyatt Hotels chain he runs as CEO.

Roughly 69% of the nearly 760 U.S. billionaires listed by Forbes fall into the first category, while just more than 27% inherited a great fortune. Altogether nearly 97% of American billionaires land in these two groups.

A third category is the rarest: those who are neither founders nor heirs. Call them hired-hand billionaires–or corporate-ladder billionaires. Forbes has found just 26 people who were hired as executives–sometimes as junior employees, sometimes as CEOs–who became billionaires. These ultra-wealthy executives work or worked at just 20 companies, nearly all of which are technology or private equity firms. Among the more notable are Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Jonathan Gray, who was hired at Blackstone in 1992 fresh out of college and was named the firm’s president and Chief Operating Officer in 2018.

The richest person to become a billionaire as a non-founder executive is Bill Gates’ Harvard friend Steve Ballmer, who joined Microsoft in 1980 as employee No. 40 and ran the company as CEO from 2000 to 2014. The newest member of this elite group is chip company AMD CEO Lisa Su, who recently became a billionaire amid a runup in AMD’s share price. She is one of five women to make this list. Others include Arista Networks’ Jayshree Ullal, Meta’s former COO Sheryl Sandberg and Meg Whitman–who as the former CEO of eBay took the company from revenue of $5.7 million in 1998 to $5 billion in 2008–accumulated millions of shares in the process, and first became a billionaire in 2003.

Here are the 26 hired-hand billionaires:
Steve Ballmer$120.5 bilMicrosoftFormer CEO1980
Eric Schmidt$20.7 bilGoogleFormer CEO & Chairman2001
Ramzi Musallam$9 bilVeritas CapitalCEO1997
Charles Simonyi$7.3 bilMicrosoftFormer Chief Software Architect1981
Jonathan Gray$7.3 bilBlackstonePresident, COO1992
John Brown$7.4 bilStryker Corp.Former CEO1977
Jeff Rothschild$5.7 bilFacebookFormer Vice President2005
Jeff Skoll$4.3 bilEBayFormer President1995
Hamilton”Tony” James$4.1 bilBlackstoneFormer Executive Chairman2002
Jayshree Ullal$3.6 bilArista NetworksCEO & Chairperson2008
Frank Slootman$3.5 bilSnowflakeCEO & Chairman2019
J. Tomlinson Hill$3.2 bilBlackstoneFormer Vice Chairman1993
Meg Whitman$3 bilEBayFormer CEO1998
Scott Shleifer$2.5 bilTiger Global ManagementFormer head of private investments2003
Tor Peterson$2.4 bilGlencore InternationalFormer head of Coal Trading2011
Tim Cook$2.1 bilAppleCEO1998
Paul Saville$2.1 bilNVRExecutive Chairman2005
Jamie Dimon$2 bilJPMorganChaseCEO2004
Scott Nuttall$2 bilKKRCo-CEO1997
Sheryl Sandberg$2 bilMetaFormer COO2008
Joseph Bae$1.8 bilKKRCo-CEO1996
Safra Catz$1.8 bilOracleCEO2004
Kenneth Hao$1.5 bilSilver LakeChairman2000
Greg Mondre$1.5 bilSilver LakeCo-CEO1999
Lloyd Blankfein$1.2 bilGoldman SachsFormer CEO1982
Lisa Su$1.1 bilAMDCEO2012
All figures are in USD. Source: Forbes reporting. Net worth as of 2/2/2024

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