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The Forbes 400 list

A ready reckoner on the 400 richest Americans

Published: Oct 19, 2015 06:12:53 AM IST
Updated: Oct 15, 2015 01:24:38 PM IST

Bill Gates is still the richest, but big gains by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg vault the two tech pioneers into the ranks of the ten wealthiest Americans for the first time, while Nike’s Phil Knight returns to the top 20 after 18 years.

This is the 33rd year of the flagship Forbes 400 . Even though we’ve been at it a long time, it’s always a challenge. Our reporters dig deep. This year we started with a list of more than 600 individuals considered strong candidates and then got to work.

When possible we met with Forbes 400 members and candidates in person or spoke with them by phone. We also interviewed their employees, handlers, rivals, peers and attorneys. Uncovering their fortunes required us to pore over thousands of SEC documents, court records, probate records and web and print stories. We took into account all types of assets: Stakes in public and private companies, real estate, art, yachts, planes, ranches, vineyards, jewellery, car collections and more. We factored in debt. Of course, we don’t pretend to know what is listed on each billionaire’s private balance sheet, although some candidates did provide paperwork to that effect.

Some billionaires presiding over private companies were happy to share their financial figures, but others were less forthcoming. To value these businesses, we couple revenue or profit estimates with prevailing price-to-revenue or price-to-earnings ratios for similar public companies. We didn’t include dispersed family fortunes. Those appeared on our list of America’s Richest Families, which came out in July.

We did include wealth belonging to a member’s immediate relatives if the wealth could be traced to a single living person. In that case, you’ll see “& family” on the list.

 Money and politics increasingly overlap, and with the presidential election a year away, Forbes chose to shine a spotlight on political giving by Forbes 400 members. Most of the donation data comes from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive politics, also known as OpenSecrets.org.

Our estimates are a snapshot of each list member’s wealth as of September 11, when we locked in net worth numbers and rankings. Some of The Forbes 400 will become richer or poorer within weeks, even days, of publication. We track those changes online at www.forbes.com/forbes-400. That’s also where you can find more information on list members, including additional photos, videos and coverage of these influential billionaires.

(This story appears in the 30 October, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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