How Billionaires Got So Rich In 2021

Food & Drink

The vast majority of the billionaires on this year’s Forbes list hail from these 10 sectors.


There are a record-smashing 2,755 billionaires in the world, according to Forbes’ 2021 World’s Billionaires list. How did they make their mega-fortunes? By doing everything from starting hedge funds and tech companies to breeding pigs and brewing kombucha. 

But certain industries offer a more common route to riches than others. The most likely way to make a billion-dollar fortune: go into finance and investments. That sector has minted the most billionaires in the world, with 371 people, or about 13% of the entire list. It was the top industry for billionaires in 2020—the last time we tabulated the number of billionaires per industry—as well. The number of finance and investment billionaires has grown by 50% in the past year, and has nearly doubled from two years ago, with household names like Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn and hedge fund titan Ray Dalio. There’s still space for newcomers, however, like the Winklevoss twins, who join the list this year thanks to big bets on cryptocurrency, and Jeff Yass, founder of trading firm Susquehanna International.

Manufacturing came in third this year, with 331 billionaires, and 155 of them hailing from China. The Asian nation represents an ever-growing percentage of billionaires worldwide—by Forbes’ estimation nearly 700 citizens (including Hong Kong and Macao) on this year’s list, and the second-largest number after the U.S. China’s richest newcomer—Chen Zhiping, who is chairman and CEO of vaping device-maker Smoore International—is a manufacturing billionaire. From Europe, British inventor James Dyson and German fastener producer Reinhold Wuerth rank high in the category. In the U.S., plumbing fixture billionaire Herbert Kohler Jr. and the father-son duo behind Ashley Furniture, Ronald and Todd Wanek, make the list. 

Despite the quarantines, fashion and retail clocked in fourth, with 273 billionaires, or 10% of this year’s list. Some of the most storied names in couture can be found here, including LVMH chief Bernard Arnault and brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, controllers of the Chanel fashion house. One notable newcomer: Kim Kardashian West, whose Skims shapewear and KKW Beauty cosmetics and fragrance line helped catapult her onto this year’s list.

See below for the full list of the top 10 industries in which billionaires made their fortunes:

#1 | Finance & Investments


371 billionaires | 13% of list

Richest: Warren Buffett ($96 billion), chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns stakes in over 60 companies, including Duracell and Dairy Queen. 

#2 | Technology


365 billionaires | 13% of list

Richest: Jeff Bezos ($177 billion), founder of e-commerce giant Amazon. The richest person in the world also owns the Washington Post and space company Blue Origin.

#3 | Manufacturing


331 billionaires | 12% of list

Richest: He Xiangjian ($35 billion), founder of appliance maker Midea Group. The company has more than 200 subsidiaries and trades on the Shenzhen stock exchange.

#4 | Fashion & Retail


273 billionaires | 10% of list

Richest: Bernard Arnault ($150 billion), chairman and CEO of LVMH. He oversees over 70 brands, including Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and Sephora.

#5 | Healthcare


221 billionaires | 8% of list

Richest: Jiang Rensheng & family ($24.4 billion), chairman of vaccine firm Chongqing ZFSW Biological Products, known as Zhifei. The company is working to develop its own tuberculosis vaccines.

#6 | Food & Beverage


219 billionaires | 8% of list

Richest: Zhong Shanshan ($68.9 billion), chairman of bottled water company Nongfu Spring. He also controls the publicly-listed Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy.

#7 | Real Estate


215 billionaires | 8% of list

Richest: Lee Shau Kee ($31.7 billion), cofounder of property developer Sun Hung Kai. Before that, he started Henderson Land Development in 1976, which makes up the majority of his wealth.

#8 | Diversified


188 billionaires | 7% of list

Richest: Mukesh Ambani ($84.5 billion), chairman of Reliance Industries. The firm holds interests in petrochemicals, oil and gas, retail and telecommunications.

#9 | Energy


100 billionaires | 4% of list

Richest: Robin Zeng ($28.4 billion), founder and chairman of leading electric vehicle battery supplier Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL). BMW, Volkswagen and Geely are among the firm’s clients.

#10 | Media & Entertainment


95 billionaires | 3% of list

Richest: Michael Bloomberg ($59 billion), cofounder of financial information and media company Bloomberg LP. He spent nearly $1 billion of his personal fortune on his failed presidential run in 2020.

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