Every town has a richest person. Do you know who the richest person in your town is?
Have you ever wondered who the richest man in town is? W. Randall Jones has. The former magazine executive found himself in a country club near his hometown of Carrollton, Ga., one day when someone he was with pointed out a man at another table and said: "See him? He's the richest man in town."
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That got Jones thinking. What his friend did is what people have been doing for millennia: pointing out the richest man in town. Sometimes people just want to know out of curiosity; other times it's because they think such proximity to wealth might present an opportunity. And, of course, the scale of the wealth in question might vary widely. What might pass for rich in a small town in Georgia may seem like a rounding error when compared with the net worth of billionaires such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates or Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett.
So Jones got out a map and began identifying the largest metro areas in the U.S., then set out on a two-year search to find out who the richest men were. He spent more than two years interviewing local business editors, and business and community leaders in 100 towns across America in an effort to uncover their wealthiest citizens. In addition, he and a team of researchers combed through all available public data, including SEC filings, LexisNexis, EDGAR, and newspaper and magazine accounts. He even "Zillowed" their homes to determine their valuations.
Some of these individuals, like Gates, were well-known. His $40 billion fortune has established him as the richest man in Seattle, if not the world, for more than a decade. But what about the richest man in Spokane, Washington State's second-biggest city? According to Jones, it is Harlan D. Douglass, the largest real estate developer in town, who also sits on the board of Northwest Bank and invests in local companies such as Eagle Hardware & Garden. Bet you didn't know that.
In his new book The Richest Man in Town (Business Plus, 2009), Jones has come up with a list of the 100 richest people by town in the largest cities in almost every state in the U.S. "The media in general and the business press in particular is guilty of focusing too much on New York or San Francisco," says Jones. "There are success stories everywhere. I wanted to paint a true portrait of American wealth."
Women on the List, Too
It is important to point out that these are not the richest people in the U.S. Jones only picked the wealthiest individual in the biggest towns. If you were the second-richest person in town, you didn't make the cut.
Despite the title, there are women on Jones' list, too. Women such as Boulder, Colo.'s Judi Paul, the co-founder of Renaissance Learning, and Indianapolis' "time-share queen" Christell DeHaan, the founder of Resort Condominiums International, the largest vacation exchange company in the world. (Jones explains that his editor thought the title The Richest Person in Town, while more accurate, wouldn't have the same punch.)
According to Jones, the average Richest Man in Town (RMITs, as he calls them) has a net worth of more than $3.5 billion, and 50 of the 100 people he identified were billionaires when his book went to the printers.
10 of the Richest People in Town
O. Bruton Smith, 80
How'd he get so rich? The first man to bring Nascar to Wall Street, the auto-racing billionaire owns Speedway Motorsports, which includes the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway. He is also chairman and CEO of Sonic Automotive, a company with more than 180 car dealerships.
Charles W. Ergen, 56
How'd he get so rich? Ergen is co-founder, chairman, and CEO of EchoStar Communications and satellite company DISH Network. A keen poker player, Ergen's biggest bet came in 1995 when he launched the first direct-broadcast satellite into orbit on a Chinese rocket. Today, he has an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.
William Davidson, 86
How'd he get so rich? Not everyone in Detroit is struggling. Davidson is the chairman of privately held Guardian Industries, the world's largest maker of automotive glass. He is also the owner of the Detroit Pistons basketball team, as well as the Detroit Shock of the WNBA and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. He reputedly is worth $2.1 billion.
David Bonderman, 66
How'd he get so rich? Leveraged buyout king Bonderman runs Texas Pacific Group, the private equity powerhouse that has made major investments in J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Burger King, Bally's, Continental Airlines, and TXU. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Bonderman apprenticed under two legendary investors: Robert Bass and Richard Rainwater. TPG today has more than $50 billion under management, and Bonderman has a net worth estimated to be about $1 billion.
Michael Bloomberg, 67
How'd he get so rich? After being fired from investment bank Salomon Brothers in 1981, Bloomberg used his $10 million severance package to set up his own financial software services company, eventually making him the richest man in New York—as well as one of the richest men in the world. Today closely held Bloomberg has more than 150,000 global subscribers for its eponymous terminals, which rent for $1,500 a month and up, as well as a cable network, radio station, Web site, and magazine. Bloomberg stepped down as CEO of his company when he was elected mayor of New York in 2001, and he is now making a bid for a third four-year term in office. In addition to his mayoral duties, Bloomberg, often cited as a potential presidential candidate, is an active though frequently anonymous philanthropist and has given away hundreds of millions.
Newport Beach, Calif.
Donald Bren, 76
How'd he get so rich? Founder and chairman of Irvine, a massive real estate development firm, Bren almost single-handedly made Orange Country, Calif., into the pristine, wealthy retail and technology mecca it has become. Bren built his first house in 1958 with a loan of $10,000. Today he owns 25,000 undeveloped acres in Orange County, 400 office buildings, 40 retail centers, as well as numerous apartment communities, hotels, marinas, and golf courses. His net worth is estimated to be $12 billion. In 2004, BusinessWeek magazine ranked him 15th on its annual list of the 50 Most Generous Philanthropists in the country.
Palo Alto, Calif.
Sergey Brin, 35
How'd he get so rich? Ever heard of Google? This former Stanford student co-founded the Internet search powerhouse with Larry Page in 1998. Today it is considered to be one of the greatest business success stories of all time. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants—both of whom are professors—he is worth around $12 billion. Google has a market cap of $123.1 billion.
Fred DeLuca, 60
How'd he get so rich? Starting in 1965, Fred DeLuca turned a $1,000 investment from his friend and partner, Dr. Peter Buck, into Subway, one of the biggest sandwich chains in the world. With more than 31,000 franchisees, DeLuca now has a fortune estimated at $1.6 billion.
David Rubenstein, 60
How'd he get so rich? Rubenstein is the co-founder of the Carlyle Group, one of the largest private equity investment companies in the world, with more than $80 billion under management. In 2007, Rubinstein, who has a net worth estimated at $1.4 billion, purchased the last privately owned copy of the Magna Carta for $21.3 million, ostensibly as a gift for his daughter's 20th birthday. He then lent it back to the National Archives.
Phillip Ruffin, 74
How'd he get so rich? The billionaire best friend of Donald Trump made his fortune in casinos, greyhound racing tracks, convenience stories, real estate, and hand trucks. He is the owner of New Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, as well as the Trump International Hotel & Tower. On Jan 6, 2008, he married the 26-year-old supermodel and Miss Ukraine 2001 title holder Oleksandra Nikolayenko. Ruffin reportedly has a net worth of $2 billion.