Tim Cook, Steve Ballmer and Jamie Dimon are among the few US billionaires who didn't found a company or inherit a fortune

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Tim Cook, Steve Ballmer and Jamie Dimon are among the few US billionaires who didn't found a company or inherit a fortune
Tim Cook, Steve Ballmer and Jamie Dimon all became rich by climbing the corporate ladder.Getty Images
  • Almost all American billionaires are founders or heirs to family fortunes.
  • Forbes identified just 26 out of 760 US billionaires who made it big by climbing the corporate ladder.
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Virtually all of America's billionaires either founded a wildly successful company or inherited a vast fortune. Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer are among the few exceptions.

Forbes identified only 26 people on its list of 760 US billionaires who are neither entrepreneurs nor scions, yet still managed to amass 10-digit net worths by working at companies they didn't create.

Their routes to fabulous riches range from being hired as early employees or executives at big tech companies, to climbing the corporate ladders at hedge funds, private equity firms, and investment banks.

Ballmer leads the pack with an estimated fortune of $143 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index largely due to his near-4% stake in Microsoft. He first joined the software company in 1980 as an assistant to then-president Bill Gates, and was CEO from 2000 to 2014.

Remarkably, Ballmer ranks sixth on the Bloomberg list, just one spot and $3 billion behind the Microsoft cofounder.

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Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, ($21 billion), Microsoft former chief software architect, Charles Simonyi ($7.3 billion), former Facebook vice-president Jeff Rothschild ($5.7 billion), and ex-eBay president Jeff Skoll ($4.3 billion) are also among the richest hired-hand billionaires according to Forbes' list.

Other industry stalwarts include Meta's former operating chief, Sheryl Sandberg ($2 billion), and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman ($3 billion).

Tim Cook, Steve Ballmer and Jamie Dimon are among the few US billionaires who didn't found a company or inherit a fortune
Former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tech leaders on the Forbes list include Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman ($3.5 billion), Apple's Cook ($2.1 billion), Oracle CEO Safra Catz ($1.8 billion), and AMD chief Lisa Su ($1.1 billion).

Elite financiers also feature heavily, ranging from Veritas Capital CEO Ramzi Musallam ($9 billion) to JPMorgan's Dimon ($2 billion), ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein ($1.2 billion), and the top brass at Blackstone, KKR, and Silver Lake.

Only two people on the list struck gold outside of tech and finance. Those are Tor Peterson ($2.4 billion), the former head of coal trading at commodity behemoth Glencore, and Paul Saville, executive chairman and former CEO of homebuilder NVR.

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A vanishingly small number of employees get filthy rich working for someone else, but this group show it's possible to join the three-comma club without being a founder or an heir.

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