By Tirthankar Mukherjee
“If you can count your money, you don’t have a billion dollars.” — J. Paul Getty.
True enough; there will always be others to do the work. That is how we get the various Forbes lists. I confess to lacking curiosity about people who have such mind-boggling amounts of money, and also to not having the acumen or the insight to tell a millionaire’s son from a billionaire’s in the very unlikely event that I meet them socially. Why then, this piece on the super-rich?
Even in these tough times, many miners have found a place in the latest Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires, though almost all of them are now worth less than what they had, say, two years ago. One of those who lost the most is Ukraine’s Rinat Akhmetov, whose worth has fallen from $12.5 billion last year to $6.7 billion, and ranking from 88th to 201st. Much of my information here comes from a report in Australian Mining that sifted through the Forbes list to identify the top ten mining moguls in it.
At No. 10 among miners, and 125th on the full list (up from 354th last year), is Wang Wenyin, the first miner from China to make the grade, with his worth put at $9.9 billion. He heads the Amer International Group, producing cable and copper products, and holds interests in a number of copper mines based in Jiangxi Province.
No. 9 is Mexico’s Alberto Bailleros Gonzalez, worth $10.4 billion in place of $12.4 billion a year ago. An interesting detail is that Gonzalez has remained stable at ninth position on the mining billionaires list, while dropping from 90th to 121st on the global list. He owns a holding company called GroupoBAL, which amongst other things runs Penoles, the world’s largest producer of refined silver and bismuth, and is also Latin America’s largest producer of lead and zinc.
8th among miners, and 107th globally, is Vladimir Lisin of Russia. His wealth has fallen to $11.6 billion from $16.6 billion, and ranking, from fourth in mining, and 53rd globally last year. A steel tycoon, Lisin is now one of the world’s leading authorities on metallurgy and holds a number of patents on metallurgical processes, but he started at the bottom, working his way up from being a mechanic at a Soviet coal mine. Tenacious trading skills gained him a large share of the nation’s steel and mining industry following the Soviet collapse He became the sole owner of Novolipetsk Steel in 2000 and has been a director of Norilsk Nickel since 2002.
At the 7th position (94th globally) is Gina Rinehart, the only Australian among the top 10. Her net worth has dipped by close to a third, to $12.5 billion from $17.7 billion in 2014, when she was ranked second for mining, and 46th globally. Something of an anomaly in the male-dominated and often macho world of mining, she assumed the chair of Hancock Prospecting in 1992, following the death of her father, and a 76.6% share of the firm gives her almost absolute control. Hancock leases about 500 sq km of mineral-rich land in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, which contains the world’s most substantial iron ore deposit. The company also has major stakes in coal projects. My caveat against this richest person in Australia and the sixth richest female billionaire on the planet is her stubborn opposition to carbon reduction-focused policies.
The 6th place (89th globally) has gone to Alexei Mordashov of Russia. Despite the downward path of the rouble, his worth rose to $13 billion from $10.5 billion in 2014, and his ranking from 10th among miners and 111th globally. Mordashov made his money during the break-up of the Soviet Union. He bought a major stake in Cherepovetsky Metallurgical Plant where he worked, when it was privatised. He went on to build the conglomerate Severstal, acquiring coal and mining companies. His wealth grew in spite of the sale of his North American steel plants to the Renco Group for $1.2 billion, less than half of what he had paid for them only three years earlier.
No. 5 among miners and No. 82 globally is Lakshmi Mittal of India. He and I lived in the same city for years and have a degree from the same university, so maybe I should feel bad that he has been having a particularly hard time, losing more than half his wealth since 2011. I console myself that he is still worth $13.5 billion. Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the largest steel manufacturer in the world, came in third for mining, and 52nd globally last year. ArcelorMittal operates in Canada, the US, Mexico, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Russia and many other locations, but Mittal is a London resident, and his company’s steel was used to construct the Orbit observation tower, London’s tallest, as part of the last summer Olympics.
At 4th place (82nd globally) is Iris Fontbana of Chile, widow of Antonio Luksic, founder of the Luksic Group. She is worth $13.5 billion, and a relatively small drop from $15.5 billion in 2014 has seen Fontbana fall in the global list from 58th but actually ascend the mining list from 5th position in 2014. Luksic holds a number of interests in different areas, but predominantly in mining.
No. 3 is German Larrea Mota Velasco of Mexico. Now worth $13.9 billion ($14.7 billion in 2014), Velasco has recorded the third consecutive annual drop in his revenues, but his wealth has stayed relatively stable, helping him climb in the rankings from 6th for mining, although he did fall from 67th to 77th globally. Velasco is the head of Grupo Mexico, the third largest copper producer in the world. He is quite a recluse, so much so that most Mexicans do not know what he looks like. His image took a hit last year when his company was adjudged responsible for the worst ecological disaster in the country’s history: a toxic spill of 10 million gallons of copper sulphate acid into rivers. Velasco did not apologise while Grupo Mexico tried to distance itself from the catastrophic environmental and human impact.
At 2nd place (71 globally) is Alisher Usmanov of Russia/Uzbekistan. He is worth $14.4 billion, and the 22 per cent drop from $18.6 billion in 2014 has unseated him from his top position last year. He has also slipped significantly in global rankings, after coming in 40th last year. This also means he is now no longer the richest person in Russia, only the third richest. Usmanov runs USM, holding 100% voting rights in the company, and is the co-owner of Metalloinvest, which owns metal and mining businesses such as Lebedinksy GOK and Ural steel mills. He also holds a large stake in underwater mining company Nautilus Minerals. Usmanov also co-owns Russia’s second largest mobile phone operator MegaFon, alongside co-owning Mail.ru, Russia’s largest internet company.
Topping the list among miners but ranked ‘only’ 60th globally is Vladimir Potanin, whose $15.4 billion ($12.6 billion in 2014) makes him the richest person in Russia. He has shot up from his rankings from 86th globally, and No. 7 in mining.
As I write about these wealthy people, almost all of whom have had to work hard for their success, I keep remembering a story about Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22. A man came over to him at a party and pointed at a guest, saying, “That guy over there made more money last year then you will ever make with all your books.” Heller said, “Maybe so. But I have one thing that man will never have.” His friend was skeptical. “Oh yeah, what?” Heller said, “Enough.”
That ‘enough’ is enough.