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Elon Musk and 5 other billionaires teach you how to lose billions of dollars

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadJan 12, 2023 | 14:34

Elon Musk and 5 other billionaires teach you how to lose billions of dollars

Elon Musk makes world record for losing the largest amount of person fortune. Photo: DailyO

We hear inspiring stories of people who went from rags to riches, but we also need to hear the stories of those who went from riches to rags. The wise saying goes: It is not about how much money you can earn, it is about how much you can keep and multiply. 

The latest big name on the burning billions list is Elon Musk. While Musk is not behind the bars or declared bankrupt (yet) like those before him, he has made history by becoming the first-ever person to lose the highest amount of personal wealth. He is still far richer than most and on the list of the world's richest, but even then, losing billions hurts. 

  • Musk lost $200 billion from his personal fortune after his fortunes peaked in 2021. He also bought Twitter, which is bleeding money, at a whopping $44 billion debt, some of it on the company's books, investors' and his own.

$200,000,000,000 gone

  • Musk may have made a new world record, but he is not the only one to have squandered away fortunes that would otherwise take generations and lifetimes to burn through. 

Here's our list:

Sam Bankman-Fried: $16 billion to $0 and in debt to all the investors, customers and lenders he stole/took money from.

  • It's 2023 and the riches-to-rags list has to start with the once high and mighty of Crypto - SBF. Bankman-Fried is fighting charges of having defrauded investors, customers and lenders of billions of dollars in the US through his cryptocurrency exchange firm FTX and its sister company Alameda Research.
  • As is the trend in Silicon Valley of a bubble in modern times, it seems like FTX's inflated valuation and SBF's $16 billion net worth was solely based on the latter's charisma. 

Elizabeth Holmes: Once dubbed the youngest self-made female billionaire, a woman in the Silicon Valley industry of bros, with a net worth of $4.5 billion.

  • If SBF pumped up the value of FTX's FTT tokens using his other company and then taking loans out of value made out of thin air, then Elizabeth Holmes created a company based on technology that never existed and fooled investors out of their money. 
  • Holmes started her start-up Theranos claiming to have technology that could take a single drop of blood into a small device to test anything from diabetes to cancer. Of course, they were all false. 
  • Theranos was worth nothing and neither was Holmes, who is now in jail. 

Kanye West: Hysteria and anti-Semitism burns millions 

  • Not everyone who loses their billions ends up in jail or $0 net worth, like Elon Musk and Kanye West. Rapper Kanye West or Ye was worth $2 billion at his peak in April 2022, with his shoe empire and several fashion collaboration contracts
  • But his anti-Semitic hysterical downturn resulted in several brands dropping him from their contracts. 
  • His net worth is estimated to be $400 million now. 

Anil Ambani: From $42 billion to $0

Mukesh Ambani (left) and Anil Ambani (right). Photo: India Today Archives
  • The name Ambani is still worth billions, mainly because of Mukesh Ambani, one of the world's richest people. His brother Anil Ambani too had the same start, with billions and the title of one of Asia's richest. It didn't end well for him though. 
  • Anil Ambani grew up in luxury, inheriting his father's company, Reliance. But a feud between brothers - Anil and Mukesh, resulted in the company being split. 
  • While Mukesh Ambani now has a successful business empire with his share of the inheritance and a net worth of over $98 billion, Anil Ambani has gone bankrupt. 
  • Anil Ambani who had $42 billion in net worth in 2008, ended with $0 in 2020. In fact, Mukesh Ambani paid off some of the debts that his brother had to prevent him from going to jail. 

Vijay Mallya: From $1.4 billion in 2011 to fugitive economic offender 

Vijay Mallya in UK. Photo: Getty Images
  • The liquor baron was once known as the 'King of Good Times' and at his peak was a playboy billionaire. He started off with a liquor business his father had, and turned it into a multi-national business. However, his foray into the airline business with Kingfisher Airlines and Air Deccan cemented his fall. 
  • He took loans of thousands of crore rupees from Indian banks but failed to save his companies from going bankrupt. Then, he fled India and now lives in the UK. India is trying to extradite Mallya from the UK, but he's still holding up his ground.

There are several such stories in India and elsewhere in the world. While some ran downright ponzi schemes and scams based on their charisma, others made bad investment and business decisions again and again. 

In recent times, we have seen the rise of charismatic business leaders whose only claim to investor money is how well they can bluff. Even a fake German heiress (Anna Sorokin/Delvey) with a non-existing trust fund somewhere in Europe can almost get banks to loan her millions of dollars. So, maybe it's time to not equate wealth with genius. 

Last updated: January 12, 2023 | 14:34
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