Image: Vijay Mallya
Jonathan Drake / Bloomberg News
Vijay Mallya, may be the Indians' answer to Richard Branson. The liquor magnate recently started an airline.
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updated 12/12/2006 5:24:28 PM ET 2006-12-12T22:24:28

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are old news. Every day it seems they're making headlines, either for their efforts to make money or their efforts to give it away. The two richest men in the world, who have a combined net worth of $92 billion, have managed to win over the American public with their philanthropic activities and (in Buffett's case, at least) their folksy charm.

But while Gates and Buffett can't avoid the spotlight, other fantastically rich people do manage to slip under the general public's radar, often because they built their wealth through privately held companies. Take the extra-secretive Cargill family. The descendants of William W. Cargill, who started an agricultural empire with one grain elevator in post-Civil War Iowa, keep a low profile.

That's because they can. The largest private company in America, Cargill is still 90 percent family-owned, and employees own the rest. Unlike Gates, who must disclose his Microsoft stock holdings in public filings, the Cargills are under no such obligation.

There are two branches to the Cargill family. After William W. Cargill's death, his son-in-law John MacMillan rescued the company from a debt crisis. Today, Forbes estimates that the MacMillans are worth $1.2 billion each, while Margaret Cargill is worth $1.8 million. But the great-grandchildren of William W. are all in their 70s and 80s, so the fortune will continue to disperse. This year, James Cargill and W. Duncan MacMillan both passed away.

Of course, most billionaires are well known within some communities, so we can't promise that you've never heard of the rich people on this list. Wall Streeters undoubtedly know about Abigail Johnson, whose family controls Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund company in the U.S. Johnson graduated from college in 1984 and started working at the family company four years later. She ran her first diversified fund in 1993 and became president of the company's mutual fund division in 2001. Net worth: $12.5 billion.

And Albert von Thurn und Taxis, the youngest billionaire in the world, is well known in his home country of Germany. He inherited a fortune on his 18th birthday in 2001. His assets now include an art collection, a tech company and one of the largest parcels of forest land in Europe. He lives in one of his family's castles. And yes, ladies, as far as we know, he's single.

Then there are the emerging-market billionaires, who are well known in their home countries and will soon be making headlines all over the world. Take Vijay Mallya, who may be the Indians' answer to Richard Branson. Right now, the flamboyant liquor mogul is worth only about $1 billion. But Mallya is growing his fortune by expanding his liquor business and, more recently, by starting an airline.

His UB Group recently acquired archrival Shaw Wallace, becoming the third-largest spirits producer by volume. Top brands include Bagpiper whiskey and Kingfisher beer, and he launched Kingfisher Airlines last year. He has a fleet of vintage cars, a stud farm with 200 horses and an 18-year-old son, Sidharta, who has been anointed as his successor.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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