Image: Warren Buffett
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No. 1 on the list: Warren Buffett. He didn't start Berkshire Hathaway, but he made it the billion-doallar titan it is
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updated 2/6/2008 5:02:04 PM ET 2008-02-06T22:02:04

Man, it must be nice. The private jet. The vacation homes. The savings account that exceeds the gross domestic product of Barbados.

Yes, when you fantasize about what it would be like to have a fortune worth billions, it's easy to picture a life of leisure.

But while many billionaires do enjoy a blessedly unhurried existence, some embrace a very different approach: They hit the office every day.

The most prominent working rich? The world's wealthiest chief executives.

These are people who don't have to work another day in their lives. And yet they choose to devote untold amounts of time and energy to the arduous task of running a company and answering to shareholders.

Who are they? By perusing the ranks of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans from September and our annual billionaires' list from last March, we found the 10 richest CEOs around, some of whom founded their own companies, others who benefited from large inheritances and still others who built their fortunes through other means. They range from Koch Industries Chairman and Chief Executive Charles Koch, who is worth $17 billion, to the Oracle of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett, who is worth a staggering $52 billion.

Considering their huge fortunes, it might make you wonder how they stay motivated to do what they do. Then again, if you look at the kind of people who are on our list, it all begins to make sense.

For instance, there's no questioning the work ethic of Michael Dell or the other self-made billionaire company founders on our list. Dell wouldn't even be included if he hadn't retaken the reins of his company last January. He reassumed the CEO post following the departure of former Dell Chief Executive Kevin Rollins, under whom the computer manufacturer had lost its lead as the world's leading PC maker.

By contrast, Oracle co-founder and Chief Executive Larry Ellison has held on to his job without interruption since the company's birth in 1977. And how could it be any other way? Money isn't the only thing that Ellison has in abundance. Confidence would be another. The title of his 1999 authorized biography? The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison. The punchline appearing a little lower on the book cover: "God Doesn't Think He's Larry Ellison." Ha-ha, what a kidder.

Indian steel titan Lakshmi Mittal runs ArcelorMittal, which has become the world's leading steelmaker by output after a staggering run of acquisitions. Mittal was the fifth-wealthiest person in the world when we last valued his fortune at $32 billion for Forbes' annual billionaires list, released last March. He comes in at No. 2 on this list.

Some self-made billionaires on our list didn't start the companies they now head, but found other paths to their riches. Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson made his fortune in trade shows, the best known of which was the annual computer industry confab Comdex. He sold his trade show business to Softbank of Japan in 1995 for around $860 million.

Berkshire Hathaway is so synonymous with Buffett that it's easy to forget the legendary investor didn't actually start the company. Instead, he took over the then-textile manufacturer in 1965 after gradually buying up shares in the company. Berkshire eventually became a holding company for Buffett's acquisitions in the insurance industry and elsewhere. You know the rest of the story.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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