A nine-figure fortune won’t get you much mention these days, at least not on these pages. This year, for the first time, everyone on The Forbes 400 has at least $1 billion. The collective net worth of the nation’s wealthiest climbed $120 billion, to $1.25 trillion.
Surging real estate, oil and other asset prices paved the way for 28 new members. Developer John P. Manning used political savvy to build a $1.1 billion fortune, in part by brokering low-income housing projects.
Chesapeake Energy founders Aubrey McClendon and Tom L. Ward are two of the oil fortunes added to the list. Pouring 40 million caffeinated drinks a week landed Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz on our list of America’s 400 richest. Manny Mashouf placed his skimpy women’s wear on TV shows like "Party of Five" and "Ally McBeal"; today he has a $1.5 billion fortune in Bebe clothing stores.
Also gracing our list for the first time are Lehman Brothers chief Richard Fuld ($1 billion), hedge fund manager David E. Shaw ($1 billion), mutual fund guru Jonathan Lovelace Jr. ($1.1 billion), Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander ($1.2 billion), leveraged buyout tycoon Leon Black ($2 billion), Google veteran Omid Kordestani ($1.9 billion), Colony Capital’s Thomas Barrack ($1 billion), New York City real estate moguls Stephen Ross ($2.5 billion) and Tamir Sapir ($2 billion), and the husband-and-wife computer chip team of Weili Dai ($1 billion) and Sehat Sutardja ($1 billion).
Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, who rebuilt his fortune with investments in real estate and restaurants, is among the 14 returnees to this year’s list. Netscape pioneer James Clark is another retread; he reinvested his tech proceeds into Miami condos and construction outfit Hyperion Development Group following the burst of the tech bubble six years ago. Also returning is Little Caesar’s founder Michael Ilitch ($1.5 billion), car dealership owner Robert Friedkin ($1.2 billion), investors J. Christopher Flowers ($1.2 billion) and Alfred P. West ($1.2 billion), and banking and real estate maven Paul M. Milstein ($3.5 billion).
Once again the biggest gainer is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, with a net worth up $9 billion. Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands stock is up 125 percent since its public offering in December 2004. He has made almost $1 million an hour since the 2004 Forbes 400 was published.
Another big gainer is Warren Buffett, who added $6 billion. That wealth, and the rest of what he has accumulated as a value investor, will be given away, mostly to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Eight members of last year’s list died, including investor Preston Tisch, Grey Goose vodka creator Sidney Frank, and James and Margaret Cargill, two cousins who inherited a stake in the world’s largest commodities company from William W. Cargill.
Thirty-four people couldn’t keep up, or gave their money away. They include leveraged buyout tycoon Theodore Forstmann, poultry man Donald Tyson, real estate investors John Arrillaga and Richard Peery, and fashionista Richard Hayne. Husband-and-wife banking team Herbert and Marion Sandler dropped from our rankings after giving away more than $1 billion combined to charity.
© 2012 Forbes.com