Bill Gates at lowest point on Forbes list for 30 years because of divorce

Bill Gates is at his lowest point on The Forbes 400 rich list in 30 years following his divorce from Melinda Gates.

The co-founder of Microsoft’s time as the richest or second richest person in the US has come to an end, partly because of stock transfers prompted by the end of his marriage.

It’s the first time since 1991 that Mr Gates doesn’t occupy the number one or number two slot on The Forbes 400 that ranks the wealthiest people in the US. Mr Gates’s net worth rose by $23bn from last year and he’s now worth around $134bn. He was outpaced by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of Tesla, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, leaving Mr Gates in the number four spot.

The rising share prices of Amazon, Tesla, and Facebook left Mr Gates behind, but he also lost around $5.7bn in shares in publically traded companies to ex-wife Melinda French Gates following their divorce, which was announced in May. Without the split, Mr Gates would have ended up on the third spot on the list ahead of Mr Zuckerberg.

Forbes estimated Mr Gates’ wealth for this year’s list on 3 September, when his 1.3 per cent stake in Microsoft was worth $31bn. The rest of Mr Gates’ funds are tied up in his investment firm Cascade Investment LLC as well as as other assets, such as his “Xanadu” estate in Medina, Washington worth $143m.

Via Cascade, Mr Gates holds a controlling stake in the Four Seasons Hotels, 14 per cent of AutoNation, he also has shares Republic Services – a waste management firm, tractor manufacturer Deere & Co, Canadian National Railway as well as many others.

Mr Gates was first included on the list in 1986 as Microsoft went public. At the time, Mr Gates was worth $315m and he owned 45 per cent of Microsoft’s shares. At the age of 31, he became the youngest billionaire in the world when Microsoft’s rising share price rocketed his wealth to $1.25bn.

In 1990, Microsoft passed $1bn in revenue for the first time. At the time, it was the largest provider of software in history. In 1991, he went from spot 16 to the number two slot on the list as his wealth ballooned to $4.8bn. He became the richest person in the US in 1992 when he was worth $6.3bn.

Mr Gates net worth decreased for the first time in 2000 when he left his post as CEO of Microsoft, but he managed to hold on to the top spot on the list. During the dot-com crash, Microsoft’s share price dove as it pushed back against antitrust charges from the US government. Mr Gates also decreased his wealth by transferring $20bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation when it was started in 2000.

Through regular donations from Mr Gates, the foundation is now the largest philanthropic organisation in the world.

Mr Gates was the richest person in the US until 2017 – in 2018, the top spot was nabbed by Mr Bezos.

As of 2020, Bill and Melinda Gates had given their foundation $36.8bn – most of it through transfers of Microsoft stock.

After being overtaken by Mr Bezos in 2018, Mr Musk also surpassed Mr Gates in 2020. Following divorce-related stock transfers, Mr Gates ended up behind Mr Zuckerberg in August of this year.

But the net worths of billionaires can change fast. Following a six-hour Facebook shutdown on Monday and investigations into how the company’s platforms affect younger people, specifically how Instagram affects the mental health of teen girls, Facebook’s stock price plummeted, costing Mr Zuckerberg an estimated $6bn and putting Mr Gates back as the third richest person in the US.