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By Caleb Melby for Forbes
Anybody who watched the anemic Facebook IPO and the subsequent damage it wrought on its social media contemporaries like game-maker Zynga might look at this year as a bust for new money. And they wouldn’t be wrong. When we published the Forbes 400 in 2011, seven of the 18 new fortunes, a ripe 39%, were social tech-related.
This year only one of the 20 newcomers has any ties to social media, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, worth $1.1 billion. But even that is misleading. Dorsey makes the list not because of his Twitter stake, but thanks to the increasing value of his second startup, mobile pay outfit Square, which announced a partnership with Starbucks in August that will allow it to process all credit and debit card transactions for the coffee shop giant. Starbucks also invested $25 million in Square valuing it at $3.25 billion. Forbes’ Ryan Mac writes more about the fall of social elite here.
But entrepreneurial heroes from other sectors have filled that void creating fortunes in finance, restaurants, power shots, gas stations — even space. Indeed 16 of the top 20 newcomers built their fortunes from scratch, often in ingenious ways. A walk-on special teams player at the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank created a skintight, sweat-wicking synthetic shirt, working from his grandmother’s basement, in 1996. He called the company Under Armour and sold $17,000 worth of apparel that first year to teammates and other college athletes. Today he is worth $1.35 billion, nearly all of which is held in Under Armour’s stock, which is up 60% in the past year. Tilman Fertitta, worth $1.6 billion, transformed two Texas restaurants into a 56 brand, 421 location empire of casinos, entertainment complexes and eateries, often by buying failing companies right out of bankruptcy court and retooling them to profitability.
Four of the entries are immigrants who came to the U.S. and have lived out the American dream. Among them: Andrew Cherng, who came from China in 1966 with little money. Andrew and his father, a trained master chef in Japan, opened a sit-down Chinese restaurant in 1973. A decade later he opened his first quick service Panda Express restaurant in a mall. Today he and his wife Peggy , who gave up a career in software development to help him, operate 1,500 restaurants. Other foreign born immigrants include Indian-born Manoj Bhargava ($1.5 billion), the former monk responsible for 5-Hour Energy (and its unfortunate advertising), Pakistan-born Shahid Khan ($2.5 billion) who fixed the auto industry’s bumper problem and is hoping to turn around the NFL’s least valuable team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and bombastic Elon Musk’s ($2.4 billion), a native South African who founded Tesla Motors, which launched its first Model S sedans this year. His company SpaceX also boasts the singular distinction of being the first non-government entitity to successfully resupply the International Space Station.
Several did get rich in tech, just not social media, including healthcare software IT rivals Judy Faulkner ($1.7 billion) and Neal Patterson ($1.12 billion). Ayn Rand-devotee Patterson’s Cerner boasts a $12 billion market cap, while forty percent of all American medical records can be found on Faulkner’s Epic Systems. And four made fortunes in finance, specifically hedge funds. Among them: Young gun money manager Chase Coleman ($1.5 billion), the secretive and much sought-after boss of Tiger Global, whose hedge funds racked up gains of 45% in 2011 and continued with 20% gains for the first half of this year; enigmatic Paul Singer ($1.1 billion), a Republican with a gay son who has given $11 million to support gay and lesbian rights; and Daniel Loeb, who helped lead the shake up at Yahoo. In a fateful twist, David Einhorn, who helped drive down Green Mountain Coffee Roaster’s shares by shorting them, joins The Forbes 400, while Green Mountain’s founder, Bob Stiller, falls off, having lost nearly his entire fortune.
The richest newcomer of all is one of just four who inherited fortunes. Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, debuts with a net worth of $11 billion.