The Developing World’s Top Billionaires

 » Blog »  The Developing World’s Top Billionaires
The Developing World’s Top Billionaires

Many of the world’s richest individuals built their fortunes in emerging markets.

As the emerging markets of the world see their share of global output continue to rise, many investors from developing economies have earned a spot among the world’s ultrarich. Although the list of global billionaires is still dominated by Americans and Europeans, several billionaires from Latin America, Asia, and Africa have climbed up the rankings.

Below are profiles of 10 of the richest individuals from emerging markets. This list is presented in order of wealth, based on April 2015 figures reported by Forbes.


Carlos Slim Helú

Carlos Slim Helú worked his way up from humble beginnings to become one of the world’s richest men. Although he graduated from college in Mexico with a civil engineering major, Slim began his career as a stockbroker before founding his own investment company. His wealth was accumulated not from any single venture but rather from a string of successful investments in real estate, construction, and telecom. He is known by some as the “Warren Buffett of Mexico.”

Today, Slim is CEO and chairman of América Móvil (AMOV), the largest mobile phone carrier in Latin America. Slim was the world’s richest man at two different points over the last decade, before being topped by Bill Gates in 2014.

  • Born: Mexico
  • Lives: Mexico
  • Wealth: $75 billion
  • Positions: CEO of América Móvil

Li Hejun

Li Hejun is one of the two richest men in China, having accumulated a massive fortune through his ownership in Hanergy. He founded the privately-owned clean energy company, which owns a controlling stake in Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, in 1994. Hanergy started as a hydropower company but has expanded in recent years to focus on solar technologies. Hanergy stock surged in 2015, significantly increasing Li’s wealth.

Li’s company has become the global leader in solar power technology. The publicly traded Hanergy Thin Film Power Group is now worth more than $40 billion. By comparison, the largest U.S.-based company in the industry — First Solar (FSLR) — has a market cap of only $6.4 billion. Li has snapped up several Western companies in recent years, including U.S.-based Alta Devices in 2014.

Li recently said that his company generates $1 billion in free cash flow each year and has been profitable every year since 2010.

  • Born: China
  • Lives: China
  • Wealth: $33 billion
  • Positions: Chairman of Hanergy

Wang Jianlin

Wang Jianlin is one of China’s wealthiest men, having accumulated his fortune through the real estate and entertainment industries. After serving in the army for several years, Wang formed a property company in the city of Dalian using $80,000 of borrowed funds. He has been CEO of the Dalian Wanda Group since 1993, seeing the company through a global expansion that made it one of the largest property owners in the world. Wanda owns 110 shopping plazas throughout China and nearly 100 department stores, and more than 70 luxury hotels. In 2014, the company had more than $38 billion in revenue.

In 2012, Wang made a major push into the U.S. with the purchase of the AMC chain of movie theaters (AMC). He has ownership in many other entertainment assets, including Sunseeker (the manufacturer of yachts seen in James Bond movies), Infront Sports & Media (which holds some rights to the World Cup), and a stake in the Atlético Madrid soccer team. His company also owns properties in the United Kingdom, Spain, and Australia.

As a young man, Wang served in the People’s Liberation Army and joined the Communist Party of China in his early 20s. He reportedly fines employees who violate his company’s conservative dress code.

  • Born: China
  • Lives: China
  • Wealth: $32 billion
  • Positions: Chairman of Dalian Wanda Group

Jorge Paulo Lemann

Born in Brazil to parents with Swiss heritage, Jorge Paulo Lemann was eventually schooled in the United States. He took material ownership interests in some of the most iconic American Brands. After a brief stint at Credit Suisse, Lemann founded one of Brazil’s most successful investment banks in the early 1970s. Lemann and his partners eventually sold Banco Garantia to Credit Suisse for nearly $700 million.

Lemann has continued to amass his fortune through investments that range from fast food to beer. He and his partners bought multiple Brazilian breweries that eventually merged with a Belgian company to form InBev (which, of course, went on to acquire Anheuser-Busch). Lemann remains the controlling shareholder of Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), holding approximately 55 percent of the stock outstanding.

He’s also a founding partner of 3G Capital, which has acquired Burger King and H.J. Heinz in recent years.

  • Born: Brazil
  • Lives: Switzerland
  • Wealth: $25 billion
  • Positions: Controlling shareholder of Anheuser-Busch InBev, Founding Partner of 3G Capital

Jack Ma

Jack Ma burst onto the list of global billionaires in the past few years as Alibaba (BABA) has become one of the largest tech companies outside the U.S. When the company completed its record-breaking IPO in 2014, Ma suddenly became one of China’s richest men.

Ma isn’t a traditional Web entrepreneur: he told a crowd at a conference in 2010 that he’d never written a line of code or made a sale. He encountered his first computer on a visit to Seattle — in 1995 when he was in his early 30s. Four years later, he co-founded Alibaba with his wife and 16 others as online yellow pages. By 2005, he convinced Yahoo! to invest $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in the company — a move that impacted the tech environment for years to come.

  • Born: China
  • Lives: China
  • Wealth: $23 billion
  • Positions: Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal

Al-Waleed bin Talal is the grandson of Ibn Saud, the first Saudi king. Though a member of the Saudi royal family, Al-Waleed’s wealth does not come primarily from oil. Rather, he is the founder and primary shareholder of Kingdom Holding Company, a conglomerate with interests in several businesses worldwide. Al-Waleed has been dubbed “the Arabian Warren Buffett” for his business and investing success.

Kingdom owns hotels in Canada, Paris, and throughout the Arab world. The company is also one of the largest shareholders in Citigroup (C) and News Corporation (NWS) and owns a large stake in Twitter (TWTR). The company also holds investments in Africa through a private equity firm. It has previously invested in Walt Disney (DIS), McDonald’s (MCD), Ford (F), Pepsi (PEP), and Amazon (AMZN), among others.

The company is the owner of the Kingdom Tower, expected to be the tallest building in the world at more than 3,300 feet when it opened in 2009.

  • Born: Saudi Arabia
  • Lives: Saudi Arabia
  • Wealth: Disputed; Forbes lists him at approximately $23 billion, through Al-Waleed has indicated his fortune is higher.
  • Positions: Primary shareholder of Kingdom Holding Company

Ma Huateng

“Pony” Ma Huateng is another Chinese tech billionaire, having generated his wealth from founding Tencent Inc. in 1998. The company originated as a Chinese version of AOL but has evolved over the years to include product lines similar to a handful of U.S. tech companies. The original product, launched by Ma and a handful of university friends, was an instant messaging platform that became popular with younger Chinese. The company expanded to offer games and, eventually, smartphone apps, winning a huge chunk of the Chinese market.

The Tencent platform today, which has more than 1 billion users, includes the functionality offered by Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Zynga, and even Uber.

  • Born: China
  • Lives: China
  • Wealth: $20 billion
  • Positions: CEO of Tencent

Dilip Shanghvi

Dilip Shanghvi became one of India’s richest men as a pharmaceutical mogul, growing his Sun Pharmaceuticals into one of the world’s largest generic drug manufacturers. He founded the company in 1983 with 10,000 rupees borrowed from his father, a generic drug wholesaler in Calcutta. Despite no formal science background, he started manufacturing a limited number of drugs, eventually expanding both the company’s offerings and distribution.

As a result of a series of acquisitions, Sun now distributes prescription drugs around the world. Approximately 60 percent of total sales are to the U.S., and nearly three-quarters of the company’s revenue is generated outside of India.

In 2015, Shanghvi applied for a permit to operate a payment bank in India, indicating that he may expand his empire beyond the drug industry in the coming years.

  • Born: India
  • Lives: India
  • Wealth: $20 billion
  • Positions: Managing Director of Sun Pharmaceuticals

Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani generated his fortune through a substantial ownership stake in oil and gas firm Reliance Industries. For a brief period in 2007, when the Indian stock market was surging, and oil prices were elevated, Mukesh was thought to be the world’s richest man.

Mukesh’s father pulled him out of Stanford University in the early 1980s to assist with the family’s polyester yarn business. The company expanded significantly over the next several years, reaching out into other areas of the global energy industry. Reliance now accounts for more than 10 percent of India’s total exports and controls some of the world’s largest refineries.

Mukesh and his wife hold the distinction of living in the world’s most expensive home: the 27-story Mumbai building known as Antilia is worth more than $1 billion.

  • Born: Yemen
  • Lives: India
  • Wealth: $20 billion
  • Positions: Chairman of Reliance Industries

Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote is Africa’s richest man. His fortune was built through the Dangote Group, which he founded as a trading firm in 1977 using a small amount of capital from his grandfather. He experienced success trading cement and commodities and began to expand his business.

The company has become a conglomerate over the years, now maintaining operations in everything from real estate to telecom to cement. Dangote Group is also one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, producing 800,000 tons annually. It controls the majority of the Nigerian sugar market as a major supplier to the food and beverage industry.

  • Born: Nigeria
  • Lives: Nigeria
  • Wealth: $18 billion
  • Positions: CEO of Dangote Group


About the Author: Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston is the Senior Analyst for All Emerging Markets, and also serves as the COO of parent company Poseidon Financial. His investment expertise has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and USA Today, among other publications. He resides in Chicago.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *