The leveraging of a giant social-media presence, a catchy tune about a family of sharks and a burgeoning collection of junkyards are just a few of the curious ways that helped make 2019 a fertile year for fortunes to blossom around the world.
Kylie Jenner became the youngest self-made billionaire this year after her company, Kylie Cosmetics, signed an exclusive partnership with Ulta Beauty. She then sold a 51 per cent stake for US$600 million.
It has been almost two months since the Washington Nationals captured their first World Series championship, but people around the world are still singing along to the baseball team’s adopted rallying cry: “Baby Shark, doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo.” The Korean family that helped popularise the viral earworm are now worth about US$125 million.
Even car wrecks proved to be a treasure trove. Willis Johnson, the gold-chain-wearing Oklahoma native who founded Copart, has amassed a US$1.9 billion fortune by building a network of junkyards to sell damaged autos.
The emergence of atypical fortunes underscores just how much money the uber-rich accumulated in 2019.
And the richer they were at the start of the year, the richer they got. The world’s 500 wealthiest people tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index added US$1.2 trillion, boosting their collective net worth 25 per cent to US$5.9 trillion.
Such gains are sure to add fuel to the already heated debate about widening wealth and income inequality. In the US, the richest 0.1 per cent control a bigger share of the pie than at any time since 1929, prompting some politicians to call for a radical restructuring of the economy.
“The hoarding of wealth by the few is coming at the cost of peoples’ lives,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, said in a December 12 tweet as the UK began to vote.
Still, the defeat of Britain’s socialist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose campaign included attacks on billionaires and calls to “rewrite the rules of our economy,” gave an added boost to mega-fortunes.
Leading the 2019 gains was France’s Bernard Arnault, who added US$36.5 billion as he rose on the Bloomberg index to become the world’s third-richest person and one of three centibillionaires – those with a net worth of at least US$100 billion.
In all, just 52 people on the ranking saw their fortunes decline on the year.
Amazon.com‘s Jeff Bezos was down almost US$9 billion, but that drop is because of his divorce settlement with MacKenzie Bezos. The e-commerce titan is still ending the year as the world’s richest person after Amazon shares jumped on Thursday. The company reported a ‘record breaking’ holiday season with billions of items shipped and “tens of millions” of Amazon devices like the Echo Dot sold.