We took a look at what five billionaires from Forbes’ 2005 list of billionaires to see what they are up to today. A decade after making the coveted list, billionaires face obstacles– both financial and legal– that are no different from ordinary Americans. In turn, those that remain above the fray reinvent themselves and their businesses to adapt to anything the world throws at them.
1. Carlos Slim Helu
Carlos Slim famously went public with his skepticism of BIll Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Billionaire’s Giving Pledge, which offered half of their wealth to charity. Slim’s holdings led him to overtake Gates and Buffett in the last decade as share prices of Slim’s top two holdings– Telmex and America Movil– rose steadily. In 2013, however, Slim took some heat from Henk Kamp, Dutch minister of Economic Affairs who questioned America Movil’s potential purchase of KPN, a Dutch telecom company. Known for being a shrewd businessman who keeps his financials in meticulously assembled notebooks instead of on computers, Slim’s latest investments are in the oil and gas industry and real estate. In 2010, he purchased the Duke Seamans mansion in New York City for $44 million, and listed it for sale for $80 million in 2015.
2. Michael Dell
In 2010 Dell settled a $100 million dollar fine with the SEC following its charges against him for undisclosed payments from Intel. He rebounded, however, announcing his return to head Dell Corporation in 2007, and announcing a leveraged buyout of the company that consummated in 2015. In 2010 he funded and founded the Dell Medical Center at the University of Texas as part of his philanthropic efforts, while his family’s wealth is managed by MSD capital. His investments outside Dell include a diversity of real estate, equities, and private placements.
3. Richard Branson
Following Branson’s Virgin Airways skiffs with British Airways in the mid 2000s, Sir Richard Branson, the owner of 400 different companies through Virgin Group, looked upwards to the heavens with Virgin Galactic. Branson first earned fame in the 1970s through Virgin Records, the fast-growing recording label and music megastore. More recently in 2007, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Group’s UK-based mobile phone business, sold for $1.6 billion to NTL-Telewest. The sale raised funds for other ventures, including Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic promises to bring people into sub-orbital space, with flights featuring music from Virgin Records label artists.
Among Branson’s other newest ventures in his sprawling empire is Virgin Fuels, which aims to replace conventional auto and airplane fuels with cheaper, lighter versions manufactured by his company. His latest philanthropic efforts are similar: The Virgin Earth Challenge, Branson’s answer to Al Gore’s environmental push, awards $25 million each year to an individual or group able to prove a commercially viable design that removes greenhouse gasses from Earth’s atmosphere without showing harmful side effects.
4. Jerry Yang
Following his inclusion in the 2005 World’s Richest list Yang immediately took heat from western journalists for cow-towing to China’s internet security policies, calling Yang’s company, Yahoo!, a “Chinese police informant.” In 2008, Microsoft made an unsolicited buyout offer for Yahoo! That was 62% above Yahoo!’s pre-offer price. However, Yang had no interest in seeing Yahoo! sell, and, along with other board members, quashed the deal by not returning a counteroffer. The action ended in several shareholder lawsuits and a proxy fight led by public company activist Carl Icahn. It also led to Yang stepping down as CEO and the arrival of Yahoo!’s new CEO, Carol Bartz, in 2009.
In 2007 Yang and his wife, Akiko, donated $75 million to Stanford University, earning them the naming rights to Stanford’s newly minted Environment and Energy building. Meanwhile, Yang launched and mentored startups through venture firm AME Group, counseling new tech starlets that include Evernote, Wattpad, and Tango.
5. Carl Freer
Swede-turned-American businessman Carl Freer rode Tiger Telematics, the maker of the Gizmondo handheld device to new heights in 2005 only to see his company file for bankruptcy in 2006. Freer’s $1.1 billion fortune in 2005 was more than halved by mid-2006. Freer chaired Tiger Telematics, who’s product, Gizmondo, was a handheld gaming device featured at the 2004 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. After leaving Tiger at its peak market capitalization of $2.7 billion, Carl Freer moved to direct product development at Magitech, to develop mobile augmented reality systems. In 2008, Freer co-founded Logovision to create an augmented reality mobile search application that is currently used by a number of Fortune 500 companies.
Shifting to the medical device industry, in 2010 Freer built Aluminaid to develop thermally conductive burn dressings. During the decade Freer accumulated over half of the dozen patents that name him a co-inventor. At the same time, Freer upped his philanthropic efforts with a $5 million donation to Georgia Tech to further research in virtual reality.