Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a list of the 400 richest Americans, the elite Forbes 400. Individuals on the list come and go from year to year, as their personal circumstances change and their industries rise and fall, but some names are constant.
Among those leading the list year in and year out are certain megabillionaires who trace their wealth to a product (computer software or hardware), a service (retailing), or lucky parentage (inheritance). Of those perennially in the top five, only one made his fortune through investment savvy. That one person is Warren Buffett. In the early 1990s, he was number one.
Then for a few years, he seesawed between number one and number two with a youngster named Bill Gates. Even for the dot-com-crazed year 2000, when so much of the wealth represented by the Forbes 400 came from the phenomenal growth in technology, Buffett, who smilingly eschews high-tech anything, was firmly in fourth position.
He was still the only person in the top five for whom the “source of wealth” column read “stock market.” In 2004, he was solidly back in the number two position. In 1956, Buffett started his investment partnership with $100; after thirteen years, he cashed out with $25 million.
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At the time of this writing (mid-2004), his personal net worth has increased to $42.9 billion, the stock in his company is selling at $92,900 a share, and millions of investors around the world hang on his every word.