When you reach your later years, it’s nice to know you’re taken care of. But it’s a whole lot nicer when you’re sneaking up on 100 with over a billion dollars in the bank.
That’s the case for Marcel Adams, 98, a fascinating real estate magnate based in Canada. Forbes estimated that he has a net worth, shared by his family, of $1.7 billion. Adams is currently the second-oldest billionaire in the world. He’s beaten in the hallowed list of the oldest and richest across the world by Singapore’s 100-year-old Chang Yun Chung, worth about $1.8 billion, who’s been dominating coastal shipping in the area for decades.
Adams is trailed by Aloysio de Andrade Faria, a fellow 98-year-old with a net worth of $2.1 billion, who was born just a few months after Adams in 1920. Faria is a Brazilian who was trained as a doctor but overtook his family’s bank Banco Real and oversaw it become one of the largest financial institutions in the region, igniting his investments in other diverse areas.
Still, it’s impossible to beat Adams’ life story. Not a native Canadian, the Jewish business leader in fact grew up Marcel Abramovich in Romania. He survived being in a Holocaust forced-labor camp in the country during World War II, escaping in 1944 to Israel and fighting in Israel’s War of Independence, The Jerusalem Post reports.
Adams moved to Canada in 1951 and started work there in the leather industry as a tanner before transitioning to real estate, where he made his fortune. He founded Iberville Developments in 1958. Located in Canada’s largely French-speaking Quebec province, Iberville has become a massive player in the country’s real estate market. The Montreal-centered company owns and manages about 8 million square feet across approximately 100 shopping centers, office spaces, industrial properties, and residential assets. (That’s about 139 football fields worth of prime property, for those keeping count.) It has principally placed its chips on malls, however. Adams developed Galeries de la Capitale, the largest shopping mall in Quebec.
The longtime Quebec resident bought his first piece of land using his savings as a tanner on Quebec’s City’s chic Grande-Allée stretch, according to Canada’s Financial Post. He got to where he is, by all accounts, on almost pure hustle—and that after surviving a harrowing life in Europe under Nazi rule in his 20s that he recalls with vividness.
“The war was a nightmare,” he reportedly wrote in a book review for Montreal’s The Gazette. “I lost three years of my life, hundreds of thousands died needlessly, and Romania itself self-destructed.”
Adams is also a dedicated philanthropist. With his late wife Annie, he established Tel Aviv University’s Adams Institute for Business Management Information Systems and endowed the university’s Adams Super Center for Brain Research. Hoping to pay back Israel for giving him a new lease on life decades ago, he also set up the Marcel Adams Scholarship Fund, which donates $1 million annually in academic funding through the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to top Israeli doctoral students in the natural and exact sciences.
Even with a nightmare behind him and staring down becoming a centenarian, along with being a father of four and grandfather of 11, Adams’ drive apparently hasn’t slowed down much, though he has remained steadfastly press-shy.
“He still beats me to the office every single day,” Marcel’s son Sylvan, who runs the family’s Iberville these days from Israel, told the Financial Post in 2013. “My father gets in before 8 a.m. When you’ve been working basically all your life, I don’t know if you call it a habit or a lifestyle. That’s what he does. He comes to the office.”
It doesn’t quite match up with many accounts of the youngest billionaires on the planet. But there’s no denying Adams’ rich (in more ways than one) life, struggle, and tireless effort.