Do billionaires care much about wealth fluctuation?

Industrialist Dr Manu Chandaria Chandaria. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

When Bill Gates was first named the richest man in the world, Nelson Mandela had just entered his second year as the first black president of South Africa. That was in 1995, 28 years ago.

He had become a paper dollar billionaire nine years before, which means that the 67-year-old has spent the larger part of his life atop global rich lists and among the most powerful people on earth.

Only recently, he has slipped from the top of the list, now ranking fifth with a staggering net worth of $105 billion (Sh13.1 trillion), according to Forbes magazine.

Accustomed to money and having built a seemingly unshakable empire in Microsoft, does Mr Gates care about money anymore? Was he, when he promised to only leave $30 million (Sh3.8 billion) to be equitably shared among his three children, distanced from the importance of inheriting a healthy fortune from a rich parent?

MacKenzie Scott suddenly became the third richest woman on earth when she divorced her husband Jeff Bezos in 2019, and even temporarily topped the women’s list in 2020. Mr Bezos was the richest man at the time of the divorce settlement and soon slipped off to second.

Was he not bothered by the settlement? Did it not hurt to cede the top position?

India’s Gautam Adani’s net worth temporarily took him to the podium spaces, surpassing Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani as the richest man in Asia. Soon, sliding stocks took him to 23rd in the world list with $54.4 billion (Sh6.8 trillion) at the time of going to press.

Does he care that his net worth has slipped and if a rally fails to take him up to third on the list, will he sulk, curse the markets and sell his stake in some of his key companies?

Even with these high-profile challenges, some of these rich people remain philanthropists, with a feeling of social responsibility they are unwilling to run from.

Billionare Gautam Adani, the head of the conglomerate Adani Enterprises. [AP photo]

“When we grow and get to take responsibility for our societies, we become givers instead of takers. And that is the philosophy we should make very sure our children and their children - to the fourth generation - follow,” said Manu Chandaria as he accepted The 2022 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in New York late last year.

Often listed as one of the wealthiest people in Kenya, the 94-year-old is one of the biggest philanthropists in the country. “Manu should not be known just because he is wealthy. He should be, and is, known as the man who helps others,” the founder of The Chandaria Foundation told this writer.

“I can only wear one pair of trousers at a time- however many I have. The minute it gets to you that life is not about material items, then you think about what you can do not to yourself but to others.”

While some of them tumble over each other almost competing to see who donates more to noble causes, there is a widely accepted theory that for one to be a billionaire, he or she needs to be stingy to some extent.

And that what most billionaires are. “For the first time this year, we scored each member of The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans on how generous (or not) they are with their money. We found that a perhaps surprising number are tight-fisted, despite their financial wherewithal. Seventy-six billionaires (or nearly a fifth of our list members) earned the lowest-possible philanthropy score of one, which means they have given away less than $30 million (Sh3.8 trillion) or under one per cent of their fortune in their lifetimes,” wrote Forbes in 2018.

“While many of the nation’s wealthiest people are exceedingly generous - by Forbes’ calculations, 36 members of The Forbes 400 have given away at least $1 billion (Sh125 billion) or more over their lifetimes. There are a significant number of stingy billionaires who, to the best Forbes could find, have given away next to nothing in their lifetimes.”

To amass some fortune, it makes sense that one should retain way more than one gives.

The Guardian asked the public why they thought poor people were generally more generous than wealthy people, to which a respondent said: “The answer is obvious if you ask the question the other way around: Why are stingy people wealthy and generous people poor?”

Another elected to have a rather diplomatic answer:

“It’s probably cultural. In situations where poverty is rife, a sense of collective responsibility comes into play. If you and your friends are hungry, you will share whatever food you have. This factor does not apply in situations where there is no scarcity, as the gift of a meal, some cash, or a helping hand is of much less importance and is therefore not as meaningful. Thus, the poor tend to have a more collective view than the rich and tend to be more willing to share.”

Frenchman Bernard Arnault, 69, CEO of LVMH – the world’s largest maker of luxury goods – who is the world’s third-richest man. [Reuters]

When an extremely rich person sees the suffering in their neighbourhoods, does he or she ever stop to think that a tiny fraction of their wealth could solve the problem? Or are they so fixated on the prospect of making more than every penny which can birth another is guarded fiercely and jealously?

Do they sit up at night to analyse their real-time financial position and does it matter that even when they have lost some millions when at their lowest, when the markets are bearish, they still own enough to last them several lifetimes?

Personal development expert Steve Siebold wrote that rich people considered making money “simple”.

“The masses have always thought that rich people are smarter, luckier or more educated. Of course, none of these things is true,” wrote Mr Siebold.

The rich know that money flows from ideas and problem-solving, CNBC quoted his book How Rich People Think. “The bigger the solution, the bigger the paycheck,” he wrote. “Making money may not be easy, but it is simple. There is no mystery to getting rich, but this limiting belief stops most people from ever trying.”

 Little sense

Perhaps because to them, it is simple to make money, then it makes little sense, and is not ideal, to track every coin and try to shield it. They can donate some as they are certain to make more.

But then even that which is given is tracked and is given with a lot of care. Most of these businesspeople are specific about which charities they give to. As they fund research, they are keen not to have their money go to wasteful ventures.

Those who give believe that all the money should go out to help societies and that the impact should be felt in society.

“I told my managers that we should ensure benefits go back to these people in society. It is from them we got business, anyway,” Dr Chandaria says.

The rich care about their hard-earned billions. Elon Musk may not be too bothered to see Bernard Arnault race ahead of him in the Forbes rich list as long as he is certain his investments are on the right trajectory.

One morning when the Tesla stock suddenly rises, he will go top. The next, disgruntled Twitter shareholders will cause a dip in his fortune, but Musk will hardly give up, or celebrate too much. Like the ups and downs of life, so are their oscillating fortunes.

And they care, just not maniacally.

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