Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world for a time on Wednesday, with a fortune of over $90 billion.
According to Forbes and Bloomberg, the Amazon CEO had a net worth of over $89 billion as of the close of markets Wednesday, while Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had a net worth of just over $90 billion.
Even if Bezos didn’t end the day as the richest man, he will likely take the crown from Gates more permanently in the coming days and weeks.
When he hits the mark, Bezos, who started selling books from his garage 22 years ago, becomes the first man to bump Gates from his perch in seven years and is only the sixth man to hold the “richest person” title in the past 30 years, according to Forbes.
Bezos’ rise carries important symbolic weight — signaling Amazon’s unbridled power and value, presenting a new face of outsized wealth to the world and heralding a new kind of billionaire who is skeptical of philanthropy and has massive reach in culture, technology and media. Bezos will be a stark contrast to his fellow Seattle-area resident Gates, who has topped the list for much of the past quarter-century and devotes his time and money to philanthropy.
What’s most astounding about Bezos’ rise is his recent wealth surge. He has been a billionaire for nearly 20 years, first making the Forbes list in 1998 with a net worth of $1.6 billion after Amazon’s IPO. He chugged along for the following decade, reaching $4.4 billion in 2007, gradually rising to $18.4 billion by 2012, ranking him 26th on the list.
But over the past two years, as Amazon’s stock has soared, so has Bezos’ fortune. He owns 79.9 million shares, or just under 17 percent of the company. His net worth has grown by $70 billion over the past five years, surging by $45 billion in the last two years alone — possibly the largest wealth-creation surge in history.
Of course, Bezos avoids talking publicly about his wealth. Like most tech tycoons, he insists he’s trying to change the world rather than get rich. In his commencement speech at Princeton, Bezos said he had the idea of selling books on the internet while he was working at a New York hedge fund. Torn between his high-paying job and a risky start-up, he chose the start-up.
“I took the less safe path to follow my passion and I’m proud of that choice,” he said.
Bezos may not only be the richest man in the world today — he might become the richest man ever, at least measured in pure dollars. At his peak Gates was worth $90 billion, marking the largest single fortune ever. With little sign that Amazon’s momentum may be slowing, Bezos could well be the first 12-digit man, worth $100 billion one day.