Philanthropy a common theme among the filthy rich

By Steve Boughey

Yesterday we found out in this story what the world's wealthiest are spending their money on these days, according to a survey by Merrill Lynch and CapGemini.

So that got us to thinking - who would make the list of the ten richest men of all time?

The AskMen.com website once came up with the following list. To solve the problem of the men coming from different eras, AskMen converted their wealth into a common currency - US dollars, present-day value.

Just missing out on the all-time list, but worthy of honourable mention in 11th place, is Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004), who had a personal fortune of US$20 billion.
The United Arab Emirates Sheikh had considerable holdings in oil, property and various investments. The source of this wealth was due to the immense oilfields of Abu Dhabi and the Emirates, which make up a tenth of the world's oil reserves.
He was a man respected across the globe, especially in the US and Europe due to his moderate stance towards westerners.

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10. Lawrence (Larry) Ellison - US$21 billion
Oracle's Chief Executive Officer is a charismatic visionary and driven individual, both in and out of the boardroom. Ellison's company is behind the Oracle BMW Racing syndicate, which saw Chris Dickson at the helm in the semifinals of this year's Louis Vuitton cup off Valencia, a series which Oracle surprisingly lost easily to underdogs Luna Rossa of Italy.

9. Paul Allen - US$22 billion
The Microsoft co-founder and Vulcan Ventures founder makes the list mainly because of his involvement with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant. Allen also owns two professional sports teams: The Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL) and the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

8. King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud (1921-2005) - US$30 billion
The Saudi Arabian King's fortune was based on his nation's abundant oil supplies. His status at the helm of one of the world's top oil-producing countries gave the King substantial financial clout in the global marketplace. He owned seven palaces in Saudi Arabia, a chateau on the French Riviera, a private Boeing 747, and two liner-sized yachts. His residence in Marbella, on the Costa del Sol, was a faithful replica of the US White House. Numerous landmarks and utilities in Saudi are named after the King, including the airport.

7. Warren Buffett - US$52 billion
During the 1990s, Warren Buffett tumbled a bit on this list, mostly because of his aversion to investing in technology stocks through his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway. But the bridge-playing Omaha mogul had the last laugh when tech stocks melted. In 2006, he made a commitment to give away his fortune to charity, with over 80 per cent of it going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett's donation is said to be the largest in US history.

6. Carlos 'Slim' Helu - US$57 billion
'Slim' is the second richest person in the world right now, according to Forbes magazine. Slim has a substantial influence over the telecommunications industry in Mexico and indeed the whole Latin American region. He controls the Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex), Telcel and America Movil companies. Though he maintains an active involvement in his companies, his three sons Carlos, Marco and Patrick head them on a day-to-day basis.

5. William (Bill) Gates III - US$60 billion
Currently the world's richest man, at one point, Gates' fortune was creeping towards the US$100 billion mark, before an anti-trust case cost him dearly. Someone once calculated that Gates earns US$250 every second! The man behind Microsoft Windows, the world's most popularly-used operating system, has promised in his Will to contribute over 90 per cent of his fortune to charities. He and his wife Melinda French Gates run the world's largest philanthropic association.

Perhaps representing the fact that when the world was smaller, it was slightly easier to be a "big fish" in it, numbers 4 through 1 on the AskMen rich list come from an era long since past:

4. John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) - US$85 billion
The German-born Astor became synonymous with the American Fur Trade. Astor symbolises the American Dream, as he rose from obscurity to financial success. His great-grandson, also named John Jacob (1864-1912), built fabulous New York hotels such as the Waldorf-Astoria, before perishing at sea as a passenger on the Titanic.

3. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) - US$100 billion
You know you had serious clout when universities are named after you. An American steamship and railroad builder, financier, promoter, and executive, Vanderbilt left an estate of roughly US$100 million, which equates to an astonishing US$100 billion today. His grandson Harold (1884-1970) invented the modern card game of bridge and once (in 1930) defended yachting's America's Cup.

2. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) - US$110 billion
By the time he passed away in 1919, US Steel founder Carnegie had made and given away over US$350 million. A patron of the arts and philanthropist, he built many libraries and the concert auditorium Carnegie Hall in New York, which features wonderful acoustics, even by today's standards.

1. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) - US$200 billion
The man who built, dominated, controlled, and ultimately lost the Standard Oil Company is remembered by a Center named after him in New York City. Standard Oil was eventually convicted of monopolistic practices and broken up in 1911. Rockefeller spent the last forty years of his life in retirement, living to a ripe old age. His fortune was used to create the modern approach of targeted philanthropy, with foundations that had a major impact on medicine, education, and scientific research.

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