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Following the Forbes 400

Following the Forbes 400

When I list an estate property for sale, I like to find out as much as I possibly can about its backstory. Digging into the history of a property that I’m handling, I learned that the original owner was Daniel K. Ludwig (1887-1992).

While the name didn’t ring any bells, I was surprised to learn that Ludwig was ranked Number One on the very first Forbes 400 list, in 1982. A shipping magnate who pioneered the construction of super tankers in Japan and developed the largest salt company in the world, among other accomplishments, Daniel Ludwig maintained a low profile and avoided contact with the press. In 1971, he used proceeds from the sale of his foreign interests to endow the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, which, since his death, has distributed over a billion dollars around the world for cancer research.

Called “The Definitive Ranking Of The Wealthiest Americans,” the Forbes 400 does more than crunch numbers. To come up with the annual rankings, a dedicated team of reporters reviews reams of documents, evaluates assets, talks with the candidates themselves, and interviews “their employees, handlers, rivals, peers and attorneys.”

Getting into the 400 doesn’t guarantee you’re going to stay there. Fortunes rise and fall, and even the wealthiest individuals may lose their ranking. In 2012, Sean Kilachand followed up on the original 400 from 1982 and discovered that 36 of them were still on the list. Today, the 1982 list has been winnowed down to 16 (alphabetically): Philip Anschutz, Donald Bren, Warren Buffett, Gordon Getty, Ray Lee Hunt, Phil Knight, Charles Koch, Leonard Lauder, George Lucas, Gordon Moore, Donald Newhouse, Frederick Smith, Leonard Stern, Donald Trump, Ted Turner, and Mortimer Zuckerman. (Some of the original names, such as Chambers and Perot, are today represented on the list by spouses or offspring.) Not surprisingly, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett tops that list of survivors with a 2020 net worth of $73.5B, earning him position #4 on the 2020 list.

In 1982, Daniel Ludwig held the #1 position with a net worth of $2B. According to the August 28, 1982, Washington Post, “The poorest person on the list of 400 fabulous fortunes is Armas C. Markkula Jr., 40, of San Francisco, who helped start a company called Apple computer in 1976 and now owns stock worth $91 million.” (With his 2020 net worth estimated at $1.2B, Markkula does not appear on the 2020 list.) In 2020, Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, with a fortune of $179B, as of July 24, 2020, remains in the top spot for the third consecutive year. PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel is at the bottom of the 2020 list, with a net worth of $2.1B.

Although we know that wealth is more consolidated than ever, it’s heartening to see that so many of those original 16 are today focused on charitable endeavors. In addition to wealth, the Forbes 400 members are also ranked for their philanthropy. The highest philanthropy score of 5 means that the person has given away at least a fifth of their fortune. Of the 16, Warren Buffett and Ted Turner earned a 5. Additionally, four of the 16 – Warren Buffett, George Lucas, Gordon Moore, and Ted Turner – have also signed the Giving Pledge, making a public commitment to give the majority of their wealth to address some of society’s most pressing problems.

Whether they were inspired by Daniel K. Ludwig, we just don’t know.

Joyce Rey
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