I’ve tracked the world’s wealthiest people for Forbes for nearly two decades, first as an enterprising reporter and later as one of two editors who oversees all our global wealth coverage and ultimately signs off on the final ranks of the world’s billionaires for the annual Forbes Billionaires list. Handling highly confidential and sensitive information is a critical part of my job, as is figuring out who to trust. It is never dull and I am always trying to uncover new information and out new billionaires.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/2wrnbnxmras01.jpg

Comments: 117 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

Kai_Noir63 karma

How much are you worth?

forbes57 karma

Much less than Forbes 400 members. And certainly less than 1 million!

Duke_Paul37 karma

Oh man, so glad I get to be the first to ask this--What do you think about Donald Trump's consistent misinformation campaign to get on the Forbes 400? Is this kind of lying, posturing, or what-have-you common among contenders for the list? What is your methodology for fact-checking claims like these, and is real estate still an exceptionally difficult field to gauge? What impact do you think this will have on the credibility of the Forbes list, if any? Finally, what's your favorite part of the job?

forbes54 karma

  1. There's a small but vocal minority of billionaires who want to be higher on the list, and Trump is certainly in that category. You can find more on our long history with Trump here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/randalllane/2018/04/20/the-5-things-to-know-about-president-trumps-36-year-relationship-with-the-forbes-400/#523d5ea65928

forbes35 karma

We only publish estimates that we can defend based on solid evidence. In some cases holdings are publicly disclosed; in others we might get bank statements or personal financial documents. For Trump, we dig deep to find documents and also speak with nearly 100 sources to help us separate fact from fiction.

forbes29 karma

Honestly I think Forbes has always invested a ton of time and talent digging into these fortunes, which is why people still come to us. We admit when we get things wrong but we have so much experience dealing with these types of people and investigating their fortunes and trying to see the holes that I think our credibility will remain intact. Certainly a lot of billionaires and readers, not just Donald Trump, want to know where people rank on the Forbes lists.

My favorite part of the job is getting to meet with all these interesting entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes in dozens of ways. Frankly I always tell people that I am convinced you have to be a bit crazy to achieve the kind of success many of these people have.

heartofthemoon27 karma

Are there any billionaires that have asked not to be placed on the list? Is it only privacy reasons or are there other ones?

forbes61 karma

Plenty of billionaires ask not to be on the list. Sometimes they cite privacy or security, sometimes they're worried about the IRS, sometimes they just want to appear down to earth.

forbes38 karma

For example, when contacted about founder Yvon Chouinard, a spokeswoman for Patagonia told FORBES, "We strongly oppose being included on this list."


JSP042118 karma

Obviously things like shares of stock are public record, however how do you figure out things like bank accounts and other private and personal money?

forbes50 karma

Believe it or not, some billionaires will send us their bank statements as long as we agree to keep specifics confidential. It’s usually when they want to be higher up the list and we insist on proof.

For other private businesses, the best answer is that it depends. Sometimes we can track their money by what they are buying, such as art or sports teams, or by tracking sales of their stocks or private business and by valuing any non public assets. Over the years we’ve valued everything from real estate to game parks to yachts.

yunus8911511 karma

What's the biggest surprise you have experienced in this role? Like learning that someone became a billionaire in a really crazy way or something.

forbes41 karma

Well not sure this answers directly but I still retell the story about the billionaire who refused to shake our hands and gave us his pinky to shake instead 😊. In all seriousness, it’s not super surprising anymore but I love the stories of the people who have endured such hardships before achieving extraordinary success. Bob Parsons, the founder of godaddy.com pretty much flunked out of fifth grade and grew up poor as a church mouse. Dennis Washington operated a crane in Alaska as a teen, never went to college, worked for his uncle and then finally quit and started out on his own. These stories never get old. One of my colleagues found out their college roommate was part of a billionaire family when she was reporting a story on another billionaire years later. My other colleague Chase who is with me today is telling the story about how he started looking into Arizona iced tea founder’s fortune after seeing how big his house was on Google Maps. Turned out he was a billionaire and we ended up doing a big magazine story on him: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chasewithorn/2017/10/17/inside-arizona-iced-tea-how-don-vultaggio-beat-snapple-became-a-billionaire-and-nearly-lost-it-all/#682b77668fd0

forbes11 karma

Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us! Excited to be here today answering your questions about the Forbes 400. —Luisa

AlexForNudes10 karma

At which point did you see Amazone's Jeff besos rise and become #1? Was it obvious what is gonna happen ? How rich did you get with Amazon stocks :D?

forbes40 karma

Bezos climbed to number two for the first time in early 2017 and that’s when we started watching closely to see if and when he would climb past Bill Gates. He did so briefly later in 2017 but it’s only been this year that he’s firmly held on to the spot. It did seem obvious that he eventually would take over. Gates has given aways so much and has very little in Microsoft. Meanwhile Bezos' fortune jumps by billions whenever Amazon’s stock rises. Of course we also watch for big news that could knock him down because almost all of his fortune is tied up in the stock. As for me, unfortunately don’t own any Amazon stock, though I love shopping at Zappos :)

thesilent_spectator8 karma

How do you calculate net worth of those individuals whose businesses are fully privately owned not listed on stock market?

forbes14 karma

The short answer is that it depends. It depends on the kind of businesses. We value private companies by first getting whatever financials we can and then comparing them to similar public companies. For real estate, we track down square footage or net operating income. For hedge funds, we calculate the value of the firm and the tycoons’ cash in fund by looking at such factors as assets under management, returns and fees. In all cases, we reach outside experts who study and know the industries or asset classes well.

simflint7 karma

Does it put your life in danger. I mean if the money is hidden and you continue asking questions?

forbes34 karma

I have never felt personally in danger but this kind of work definitely creates security risks particularly for our reporters in other countries. The former editor of Forbes Russia who started the coverage of Russian tycoons for us years ago was gunned down. The killer was never found.

janeetcetc5 karma

How do you start a project like putting together this list? And then how do you continue to update it? Are you working on this all year long?

forbes9 karma

It's a huge project. We update our estimates throughout the year for the various lists we do, including the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans and the World's Billionaires list of all the planet's billionaires. We started from scratch in 1982 -- you can read more about how we put together that first list here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chasewithorn/2017/09/19/birth-of-the-forbes-400-the-story-behind-forbes-first-rich-list/#513f03d05db2

simflint4 karma

Do you know someone that you suspect to be very fortunate and you just can't prove it?

forbes14 karma

Yes, we have a list of people who we suspect have fortunes but we only put on people whose net worth numbers we can defend. I still remember when I was starting out talking to a wealth editor at a rival publication. He told me at the time that someone was a billionaire because he lived like a billionaire with a yacht and nice home. To us, we need more than that to put them in the ranks.

mr___matt3 karma

How common is it for the people in the list to be drug dealers? Or other types of criminals etc

forbes6 karma

It’s not common at all but we have put at least a few drug dealers on the list including El Chapo, the Mexican druglord now in jail, and Pablo Escobar. More common are people on our lists who end up in jail or are convicted of all sorts of misdeeds including fraud and tax evasion.

Antilogy_3 karma

Have you ever been drastically, horribly wrong about somebody's net worth?

forbes9 karma

Yes, it has happened. Often it’s because of misinformation given to us by billionaires or potential candidates or because the companies we are investigating don’t disclose financials and our estimates, derived with help from industry experts, are off. We spend hours and invest a lot of manpower to avoid but when it happens, we’re quick to correct it. We are always looking for better and more precise information.

SrinivasPM3 karma

What are your Sources for gathering information about these billionaires?

forbes8 karma

I think we already answered that question but anything from SEC filings and bank statements to ex-employees and legal documents. We talk to all sorts of people including art dealers, yacht brokers and ex-wives.

forbes1 karma

Thanks so much for your questions! Reach out anytime: https://www.forbes.com/sites/luisakroll/#658e3c3b397d

[deleted]1 karma


forbes2 karma

Yes, the private ones typically are most difficult though some of the footnotes on SEC filings and stock options make even public fortunes challenging. In case of Bren, we value approximately 19 different assets including everything from marinas to apartments.

[deleted]1 karma


forbes2 karma

Not surprised. Generally we’d prefer to be low than high. We’ll keep digging and see what we can find out.