The world's 50 Richest Jews: 1-10

Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, Sergey Brin, Lawrence (Larry) Page, Steven Ballmer, George Soros, Michael Dell, Mikhail Fridman, John Paulson, and Roman Abramovich.

Larry Ellison 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
Larry Ellison 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
1. Larry Ellison
Age: 66. Net worth: $28 billion.
Lawrence Ellison, today ranked sixth on Forbes list of the world’s richest people but for a time at the very top of it, is the ultimate against-theodds success story. He was born in Manhattan to a 19-year-old unwed Jewish mother (and an Italian-American air force pilot father), grew up with his great aunt (and a great uncle who constantly belittled him), didn’t even meet his mother until he was in his late 40s, and yet had the drive and ability to found what became an extraordinary computer software giant, Oracle, with $1,400 of his own money.
He got his first taste of computer designing at the University of Chicago but never completed an academic degree, moving to California at age 20 and finding a job with the Ampex electronics company, where he worked on a database for the CIA. He adopted that project’s title, Oracle, for his own firm, which he developed into the world’s foremost supplier of software for information management.
Oracle employs 200 people in Israel and has been operating here since 1996. Ellison, however, only visited Israel for the first time in 2007. Touring Sderot on that trip, he was told it needed $500,000 to reinforce a community center against rocket attack, and immediately donated the money.
Four times married and today residing in a $70 million estate in Woodside, California, Ellison, who is on a base salary of just $1 for 2010, has earned annual compensation ranging between $50 million and $80m. in recent years.
He has used some of his money pursuing his passion for sailing, and a great deal more on philanthropy, with reported donations of over $150m. in 2003 alone, and well over half a billion in total, including a $115m. pledge to Harvard. In 1997, he created the Ellison Medical Foundation to support research on infectious diseases in the third world and age-related diseases and disabilities. In August of this year, he became one of numerous billionaires to pledge his support for the Warren Buffett and Bill Gates “Giving Pledge,” under which some of the wealthiest Americans have pledged to give away at least 50% of their wealth. Ellison has personally pledged to donate 95% of his wealth when he dies.
2. Michael Bloomberg
Age 68. Net worth: $18 billion.
Michael Bloomberg, now in his third term as mayor of New York City, is a former equity trader and partner at Salomon Brothers who used some of his $10 million severance package after being fired in 1981 to develop what became the global financial news and media company Bloomberg L.P.
Born in Boston to a family with Russian immigrant origins, Bloomberg stepped down as the CEO of his company, which today has 250,000 terminals operating worldwide, when he entered politics, winning the mayoralty in 2001 as a Republican, having previously been a lifelong Democrat.
A major philanthropist, who has annually made donations of a hundred million dollars or more and has also signed up to the “Giving Pledge,” Bloomberg funded the renovation of his hometown synagogue, Temple Shalom, in Medford, Massachusetts.
He came to Israel in February 2007 to attend the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Jerusalem’s refurbished Magen David Adom station, renamed in honor of his father, William, making the major donation of $1.5 million. He was accompanied by his mother, Charlotte, who was then 98 and is still reportedly in good health.
On other Israel visits, Bloomberg has attended Holocaust commemorations, traveled on buses in Jerusalem in solidarity at the height of the second intifada, and toured Sderot and Ashkelon during Operation Cast Lead. On that trip, flying in on his private jet, he declared that “if anyone in New York was being threatened, my instruction to the NYPD would be to use all the resources at their disposal to protect civilians.”
3. Sergey Brin
Age 37. Net worth: $17.5 billion.
Moscow-born Sergey Brin is the cofounder, with Larry Page, of Google, the world’s largest Internet company, which is based on the data mining systems they developed into their peerless search engine while roommates at Stanford.
Brin and his family moved to the US when he was six, after it became clear to his mathematician father that he had no academic future in the Soviet Union because he was Jewish. His parents’ goal of giving their son the educational opportunities they were denied saw Sergey graduate from the University of Maryland with a double degree in mathematics and computer sciences, and move on to Stanford, where his studies for a PhD in computer sciences were interrupted by the staggering success of Google.
The founders’ vision has been to make all the world’s information accessible and useful. Google’s capacity to achieve that goal was recognized in their ranking last year as joint fifth in Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people. The pair are also now applying their formidable capabilities to research into climate change and alternative energy.
Google has a sizable Israel operation, including premises in Haifa and Tel Aviv. And Brin has visited several times, first on a three-week tour as an 11-year-old.
Three years ago, Brin married Anne Wojcicki, his longtime sweetheart, the Jewish daughter of a Stanford physics professor father and a journalism teacher mother.
Among his philanthropic contributions was a poignant 2009 donation of a million dollars to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which had helped the family when they first moved to the US. A year earlier, when his mother, Eugenia, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he made a donation to the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine where she is being treated.
4. Lawrence (Larry) Page
Age 37. Net worth: $17.5 billion.
Larry Page, like his Google partner Sergey Brin, is the son of mathematically gifted parents. Both were computer science professors at the University of Michigan, and Page has recalled a childhood in a home drowning in computer magazines, with computers – his first toys – strewn all over the place.
Graduating from Michigan with an honors degree in computer engineering, he went on to Stanford, received a master’s in computer science and enrolled in the PhD program there. Then he met Brin at a university welcome event, and the rest is Internet history.
Page’s maternal grandparents were Jewish – his grandfather was an early resident of the Negev town of Arad – but he was not raised with a strong Jewish identity, and did not have a bar mitzva.
But he has visited Israel along with Brin, including a trip several years ago where they were particularly enthusiastically welcomed at a Tel Aviv school for gifted math students.
It was Page who came up with the idea “Googling For Charity,” under which the firm sets aside 1% of its equity, profits and employees’ time for charitable efforts including work to alleviate world poverty and address environmental problems.
5. Steven Ballmer
Age: 54. Net worth: $14.5 billion.
Detroit-born Ballmer is the CEO of Microsoft, having joined the fledgling company in 1980 as its 24th employee. Ballmer had befriended founder Bill Gates at Harvard, stayed on while Gates dropped out, worked for Proctor and Gamble and then entered Stanford Business School before finally succumbing to Gates’s appeals to join the company. A flamboyant character, Ballmer is known for eccentric appearances at various Microsoft events, and was the subject of a 2002 book entitled Bad Boy Ballmer, The Man Who Rules Microsoft.
Ballmer grew up in Farmington Hills, Michigan, the son of a Swiss-American father and a Jewish-American mother whose family has its origins in Iran. His activities on behalf of Jewish causes includes his membership of the Jewish National Fund’s World Chairman’s Council.
Ballmer has been deeply involved in Microsoft’s substantial operations in Israel.
In 2004, he attended a Microsoft conference here and hailed the country’s thriving hi-tech center. Two years ago, he flew in for three hours to launch a new R&D center in Herzliya, and declared that “Microsoft is as much an Israeli company as an American company.” The proportion of Microsoft employees per capita in Israel, he explained, was similar to that in the US.
6. George SorosAge: 80. Net worth: $14 billion.
Born George Schwartz in Budapest, Soros survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary after his father paid a government employee to pose as his godfather and told him to hide his Jewishness. He emigrated to England after the war, graduated from the London School of Economics, moved to New York in the mid-1950s and began a career in finance that saw him enjoy extraordinary success as a savvy speculator, most notoriously as the so-called “man who broke the Bank of England” by making $1 billion during the UK’s 1992 currency crisis.
Soros is the founding chairman of Soros Fund Management and heads the Open Society Institute, a grant-making foundation. An effective liberal activist, he is credited with a significant role in his native Hungary’s peaceful transition from communism to capitalism in the 1980s, and in the Georgian Rose Revolution of 2003, and he was a passionate critic of president George W. Bush.
Soros is a prolific philanthropist, having given away an estimated $7b. in the past 30 years, though not to Israeli causes. Often critical of Israel, he has intimated that he partially blames the upsurge in anti-Semitism on aspects of Israeli policy, although he has also qualified such comments to say that he does not blame Jews for anti-Semitism. A critic of the pro-Israel lobby groups in the US, he was involved early in the process that led to the formation of the left-wing J Street lobby but withdrew his involvement amid reported concern that his liberal reputation would harm it.
7. Michael Dell
Age: 45. Net worth: $13.5 billion.
Along with Larry Ellison, Michael Dell is one of the most successful college dropouts in history, quitting the University of Texas to create what became the largest and most valuable personal computer company in the world.
Houston-born Dell was tinkering with computers from junior high, disassembled his first Apple in his mid-teens, and was upgrading computers as a sideline from early in his aborted pre-med studies. Recognizing the financial advantage in selling PCs directly from manufacturer to user, cutting out the retail middleman, he started PCs Limited in 1984 and, beating IBM and the rest of the heavyweights at their own game, had driven the renamed Dell into the Fortune 500 within eight years. In 2001, Dell passed Compaq as the No. 1 brand of PC computers, although it has since fallen back to second place.
Dell’s charity, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, has donated more than $650 million to children’s health and education projects in the US, India and South Africa. Other gifts include a 40-acre plot of land given to the Jewish Federation of Austin for the development of a community center in 1994.
Dell made what was reported to have been his first official visit to Israel in 2008, and reports last spring suggested he was considering opening an R&D center here, which would mark something of a shift for a man who caused a stir in 2000 by telling a Ma’ariv reporter that “the situation in Israel does not give us positive reasons to invest there.”
8. Mikhail Fridman
Age: 46. Net worth: $12.7 billion.
Born in Lviv, Ukraine, Fridman is regarded as the third richest man in Russia. A graduate of the Moscow Institute of Steel, he is the founder of the Alfa Group, a conglomerate holding interests in banking (including the Alfa Bank, the largest private commercial bank in Europe), construction, oil and telecom (including Russia’s largest retail cellular company, X5). The sale of half of Alfa’s Tyumen Oil subsidiary to BP in 2003 for over $6 billion represented the biggest ever foreign investment in Russia.
Fridman co-founded the Russian Jewish Congress in 1996, and is a major donor to the non-profit European Jewish Fund, which promotes inter-religious dialogue. Two years ago, he cofounded the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a social-investment fund focused on Russian-speaking Jewry which has also recently been linked to an initiative to award a million-dollar annual Nobel-style prize for Jewish contributions to humanity. Genesis has also funded the Nativ program that prepares non-Jewish Russian immigrants to Israel for conversion.
Fridman told a Genesis conference last year that most Russian Jews like him “don’t follow many rules and traditions that are characteristic of Jews.
We don’t speak the national language, whether Hebrew or Yiddish. We’re just simple citizens.” Thus Genesis should work to preserve and encourage “the values and principles of the Jews,” rather than any specific notion of religion or nationhood, he said.
9. John Paulson
Age 54. Net worth: $12 billion.
New York-based John Paulson graduated first in his class at New York University’s College of Business and Public Administration, and in the top 5 percent of his MBA class at Harvard. He worked on Wall Street, including at Bear Stearns, before founding his own hedge fund.
Capitalizing on the recent insecurity in the mortgage and foreclosure market, Paulson & Co. made profits of $15 billion in 2007 alone. His fund was also a partial crafter of mortgage-related products related to the ongoing SEC lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, though neither his fund nor its employees are cited as defendants.
Paulson, who attended a Hebrew school affiliated with his local Queens Conservative synagogue, was honored last December by the UJA-Federation of New York for his ongoing support. The 1,000 participants at the Wall Street Dinner raised $19 million that night. Paulson recently donated $15m. to the Center for Responsible Lending and $20m. to the New York University Stern School of Business.
10. Roman Abramovich
Age: 43. Net worth: $11.2 billion.
Born in Lithuania, Roman Abramovich rose from steel-maker, mechanic, toy-maker and commodity trader to become an oil oligarch and, though dogged intermittently by brushes with the law, Russia’s fourth richest man. He is best known outside his home country as the high-profile owner of England’s Chelsea football club since 2003, where he employed Israel’s Avram Grant for a tempestuous period as club manager.
Extremely well-connected politically, he has been close to Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, served in the Duma representing the region of Chukotka, and from 2000 to 2008 was the governor of Chukotka, lavishing over $1 billion of his own money on the district.
In 2004 Abramovich was recognized as Russia’s Jewish philanthropist of the year after donating money for a Moscow community center. He has visited Israel several times in recent years, including last Pessah, and regularly puts up the money to bring top eastern European teams here to play in a brief annual cup competition.