RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And the world's top 100 billionaires have a combined fortune of $2.1 trillion, according to Bloomberg Markets magazine. In the latest issue out today, they've got a list of the richest of the rich. Bloomberg Billionaires' editor Matthew Miller spoke to our David Greene.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The list that you put out has some familiar names at the top: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett. But I was interested in asking you about some of the so-called hidden billionaires, people who you don't necessarily think about. How do your billionaire hunters find these people?
MATTHEW MILLER: Well, a lot of it has to do with just making sure that when you're looking at privately held assets around the world that you have enough reporters out there. And so we have about 20 reporters in nine countries whose whole job it is to maintain our daily rich list for billionaire index, but also to find hidden billionaires. And so a lot of the times the dramatic or the cool, sexy version of hunting billionaires would be to put a reporter at a bar in Paris and hopefully, he would chat up some wealth managers outside a wealth conference. We did that once or twice and that actually works. And that's the James Bond version.
GREENE: That is the James Bond version. I like that.
MILLER: Typically, it is much less dramatic, less sexy. It's sitting around looking and putting lists together of who owns the potato industry in Idaho. Who owns the supermarket business in Germany. Who owns the oil business in the Middle East. And making sure that we have accounted for all of the companies in closely held assets around the world. And so that's how we do most of our hidden billionaires stuff. But the more boring the better, actually.
GREENE: The more boring you find out the juicier stuff. I wanted to hear about one of your hidden billionaires, and the billions are in burgers.
MILLER: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's Lynsi Torres. Lynsi Torres is probably worth a billion and a half now. She is the youngest female billionaire in the U.S., and she owns In-N-Out Burger.
GREENE: The big chain on the West Coast that a lot of people know very well. Yeah.
MILLER: Basically, her grandparents started the company, which is renowned, especially in California, for its tasty burgers, its very simplistic menu. When her father died, she inherited a fortune. She's a racecar driver. She's been divorced three times. Quite an eclectic billionaire.
GREENE: With a ton of money.
MILLER: Ton of money.
GREENE: There's a billionaire, Dennis O'Brien, who didn't make it onto the top 100, but you profiled him in your December issue. Why did you find him interesting?
MILLER: Well, Dennis is an interesting guy in that he's an Irishman who has built his fortune through telecommunications in the Caribbean. He owns a company called Digicel, which basically controls all of your cell phone service in the Caribbean - Jamaica, Haiti. He's done a lot of work for Haiti post-earthquake and done a lot of charitable work with Bill Clinton and others to make sure that Haiti remains on the map. But it's also an opportunistic thing because as they rebuild Haiti, he has an opportunity to get richer. Dennis likes to go into some of the more difficult places in the world - like Africa or the Caribbean - where it's not so easy to set up companies but there's a real opportunity to control large market share when you get in. And so Dennis has been able to flourish and build a fortune that's bigger than $5 billion dollars...
MILLER: ...just in the Caribbean.
GREENE: I'm thinking about cheeseburgers and milkshakes.
GREENE: I'm thinking about cell phone service in the Caribbean. Very different types of billionaires. Does anything sort of tie them together? Do you see some common themes when you look at the lives of these people?
MILLER: Sure. If you were to look at three different traits that all billionaires have, the first thing is they're in credibly ambitious - probably ambitious to a fault. Second, they are smart or have smart ideas. They are big ideas that allow them to control a large portion of the market and allow them to reach lots and lots of consumers. And the third thing is luck. The difference between the gentleman who founded MySpace and Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook is essentially timing and when the market is ready for products such as a social network. And so luck has a great deal to do with your ability to develop a billion-dollar fortune.
GREENE: And maybe we are related to as well.
MILLER: Yeah. A little bit. You know, inheritance tends to remain the minority. I think it's something like three quarters of the world's billionaires are self-made. But we do continue to find lots of old money, especially in Europe still.
GREENE: Matthew Miller, interesting talking to you. Thanks so much.
MILLER: Thank you.
GREENE: He's the editor of Bloomberg Billionaires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.