Steve Ballmer: Big man with a big personality. Picture: Bloomberg/SeongJoon Cho
Steve Ballmer: Big man with a big personality. Picture: Bloomberg/SeongJoon Cho

One of the world’s most exclusive clubs just got a new member, with a second aspirant knocking on the door.

Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, has a net worth of more than $100bn, making him the ninth person in the world to reach that lofty plateau. Oracle Corporation founder Larry Ellison fell just short of making it an even 10, ending Wednesday with a fortune of $98.6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ballmer, 65, who stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO in 2014 and now owns the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers, has seen his wealth grow by $20.1bn this year, while Ellison has added $18.9bn.

A rally in tech shares has fuelled the latest surge in wealth, with seven of those above the $100bn mark deriving their fortunes from technology companies. Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, has been among the biggest recipients of that rally and now has a record net worth of $212.1bn.

Together, the nine members of the club — along with Ellison — have added about $245bn to their fortunes since the start of the year and are now collectively worth $1.36-trillion. In addition to being mostly technology chiefs, the group is also largely American, with French luxury goods mogul Bernard Arnault the only exception.

While the stock rally has boosted the fortunes of the world’s richest, it has also renewed scrutiny of wealth inequality and taxes. Using leaked confidential tax return data, news outlet ProPublica reported last month that Bezos, Elon Musk and other top billionaires had paid little to no income tax in some years, leading to calls from Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and others to re-examine the tax code.

President Joe Biden is pushing a broad package of tax changes that aim to force the wealthy to hand over more of their money. He wants to double the capital gains tax to a top rate of 39.6% and toughen rules governing trusts, estates and other vehicles often used by millionaires and billionaires to reduce their tax bills.

“The persistent lack of wealth for large shares of Americans is striking,” said Kenan Fikri, director of research at Economic Innovation Group, a Washington-based think-tank started by tech entrepreneurs including Napster co-founder Sean Parker. “Markets are reaching historic highs but far too few people see any direct economic benefit from it.”

Ballmer’s taxes were cited in a ProPublica story on Thursday that showed how billionaires use ownership of sports teams to lower their tax obligation. The Clippers owner made $656m in 2018 and paid $78m in taxes, a federal income tax rate of 12%, much lower than the team’s star players or arena workers.

ProPublica, which cited Internal Revenue Service documents, said a spokesperson for Ballmer declined to answer specific questions. The spokesperson told the news outlet that the billionaire has always “paid the taxes he owes, and has publicly noted that he would personally be fine with paying more.”

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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