There are currently 2,640 billionaires in the world, worth a collective wealth of US$12.2 trillion, according to Forbes’ 2023 World’s Billionaires list.
While only a small fraction of our population, the top billionaires in the world have reached levels of wealth most of us can only dream of.
The US boasts the most number of billionaires, with 735 on the list. Following close after the US are the two countries with the highest population in the world.
China has the second-highest number of billionaires, with 495 individuals, and India follows closely behind with 169 billionaires.
From tech magnates shaping the way we use tech to industrialists revolutionising economic sectors, each billionaire carries a narrative transcending business and finance.
Beyond the zeros in their bank accounts lies a list of experiences, including education, that has shaped their destinies.
What’s behind the astronomical success of the billionaires in the world?
A closer look at the list of billionaires in the world shows diverse backgrounds.
They hail from various corners of the world, emerging from different cultural contexts and educational backgrounds.
According to Forbes, the five richest people in the world are:
- Elon Musk
- Bernard Arnault
- Jeff Bezos
- Larry Ellison
- Warren Buffett
Aside from the money in the bank, these billionaires share something else in common. The top billionaires in the world have studied at prestigious institutions.
While formal education is not the sole determinant of success, it often forms the foundation for each of these billionaires to build their success.
The top billionaires in the world have received their undergraduate degrees from all over the world, from the world-renowned Harvard University to the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) in India.
However, it is not always necessary to have a long list of educational qualifications to be successful in life. Surprisingly, a number of billionaires are college dropouts. Their stories defy conventional norms.
Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are among the top billionaires in the world who dropped out of college and still found a way to climb to the pinnacles of success.
From graduates of top institutions to self-made success stories, each of their journeys serves as an inspiration. By delving into their education, we uncover the extraordinary achievements and the educational pathways that played a pivotal role in their success.
The rich are getting richer
Whether through hard work or pure luck, these billionaires have plenty in their bank accounts to go around.
For example, if the net worth of the world’s wealthiest individuals were distributed among the global poor, it could make a considerable impact in improving their living conditions.
According to a study done in 2020, it was found that just 1% of the total amount of the wealth of the world’s billionaires would be enough to provide resources to end extreme poverty.
Comparing the wealth of billionaires to the state of global poverty highlights significant disparities in economic well-being and access to resources.
The combined wealth of billionaires often amounts to hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars.
Millions of people are being pushed further into poverty as the rich get richer. Despite the struggles faced by people all around the world to cover the rising costs of essential items like food and fuel, the wealthiest 1% have managed to accumulate nearly double the wealth of the entire remaining population over the past two years.
In 2020, the worst economic growth for the US since World War II was witnessed. This burden was felt by a large portion of the nation, particularly marginalised groups. However, the top 1% did not experience the same hardships; in contrast, their wealth increased substantially.
The richest billionaires in the world: 6 fun facts and their education
1. Elon Musk [rewrite]
- Bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics, University of Pennsylvania
Growing up, Musk was a prodigious child.
As a kid, he read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica by age eight and finished a six-month BASIC course in three days.
What sets him apart from other billionaires like him is his ability to remain perfectly focused.
During his Tesla infancy, for example, Musk would sleep under his desk and work 75-hour weeks until a specific problem was solved and his goals were accomplished.
Musk also bought Twitter for US$44 billion in April last year after he disclosed a 9.1% stake and threatened a hostile takeover.
2. Bernard Arnault
- Bachelor’s degree in engineering, Ecole Polytechnique de Paris
What does it take to be the wealthiest man in the world?
For Bernard Arnault, it took an engineer’s degree and the tactics of a Chinese war general born 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
As a student at École Polytechnique’s historic and highly selective engineering programme, the Frenchmen studied in one of the world’s finest engineering schools.
Arnault credits his analytical mind to his time at the school.
“My studies at École Polytechnique have given me an analytical and synthesis capacity that is inherent in the educational method of I’X and École Polytechnique’s training, which allows both to analyse the challenges you may meet in a factual and detailed way,” shares the CEO in a talk at the school.
Today, Arnault is the founder and chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company with 75 elite brands in six sectors.
These include Christina Dior, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon, Hennessy, Tiffany & Co, Hublot, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, Benefit Cosmetics, and many more.
Some have dubbed the French tycoon as “extremely competitive, unafraid of a fight and undaunted by public opprobrium” — that is, the “Sun Tzu of luxury.”
3. Jeff Bezos
- Bachelor’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering, Princeton University
Out of his garage, Bezos and his employees began building software — to what we today know as the giant e-retailer Amazon.
Bezos was born in 1964 in New Mexico, US, and is today worth US$162.5 billion.
While still in high school, he had a stint at McDonald’s and started his first venture called the Dream Institute, which was an educational camp for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.
His best memory of Princeton was finishing problems set in partial differential equations.
“To anyone starting at Princeton, try to figure out what you’re genuinely interested in and pursue those things, rather than find what is the most lucrative out there,” he says.
With this mindset, Bezos worked at an investment bank, D.E. Shaw & Co, but in 1994, quit and moved to Seattle to open a virtual bookstore.
In his journey of managing businesses, he met Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The best part? He became one of Google’s first angel investors, putting in an estimated US$250,000.
4. Larry Ellison
- Dropout, University of Chicago
- Dropout, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Larry Ellison gave up the role of Chief Executive Officer at Oracle in 2014 after 37 years at the helm.
Still, the Chief Technology Officer and owner of about 35% of the company knows the value of being different in the boardroom and marketplace.
Why should you trust him? In 2023, Forbes valued Ellison’s net worth at US$144.5 billion.
While Ellison might have dropped out of uni, he valued the importance of a good education.
His dream was to go to the University of Southern California’s medical school, get married, have a family, and practise medicine in Los Angeles.
Everyone in the family wanted him to be a doctor, including his girlfriend, so Ellison obliged, he says, and applied to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
When Ellison realised medicine wasn’t in his blood, he joined the University of Chicago, where he explored physics as a major.
Here, he was exposed to computers and found a love for programming.
He then moved to Berkeley, California and began his career as a computer programmer for different companies. One of his projects was building databases for the CIA.
5. Warren Buffett
- Master of Science in Economics, Columbia University
- Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, University of Nebraska Lincoln
Known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors of all time.
Buffett runs Berkshire Hathaway, which owns dozens of companies, including insurer GEICO, battery maker Duracell and restaurant chain Dairy Queen.
Before becoming one of the most prolific investors of our time, he studied business administration at the University of Nebraska before attending Columbia University to earn an MSc in Economics.
For a man who has made it into Forbes’ Real Time Billionaire list, you might be surprised that Buffett still lives in the same Omaha, Nebraska, home he purchased in 1958 for US$31,500.
6. Bill Gates
- Dropout, Harvard University
This world-renowned entrepreneur is best known for the success of Microsoft Corporation.
But Bill’s foray into this adventure began at quite a young age.
Bill attended Lakeside School, Seattle, a private institution where he befriended Paul Allen, who would later end up co-founding Microsoft together.
At 13 years old, he wrote his first computer programme, which was a game to be played against the computer itself.
By the time Bill finished high school, he was a National Merit Scholar and scored 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs.
It’s no surprise he scored a seat at Harvard University, where he started off studying law.
However, his childhood passion for computers lingered on and he shifted the focus to computers and programming.
In 1975, he left uni to begin working on the software venture that we today know as Microsoft.
By 1978, Microsoft’s year-end sales exceeded US$1 million, with fans calling him tough but focused.
At 31 years old, Bill becomes the youngest billionaire in the world.