If there's one thing that Forbes magazine's 1998 listing of the 400 richest Americans makes clear it is this: If you earn your living in Utah, the only thing tougher than making the list is staying on it.
The Forbes 400 list was published Monday in the magazine's Oct. 12 issue.Only two local businessmen, plastics and chemicals industrialist Jon M. Huntsman, 61, and medical devices magnate James L. Sorenson, 77, have made the cut every year in this decade, a feat that may be equivalent to winning the Super Bowl nine times in a row.
Particularly impressive is Huntsman's rise up the list. In 1990, Forbes listed his net worth at $450 million, $75 million below Sorenson's, but quoted Huntsman as saying that in 10 years he expected his privately held Huntsman Corp. to be generating $5 billion in annual revenues.
He may make it. Last year, Forbes put Huntsman's net worth at $3 billion, $1 billion ahead of Sorenson. This year the gap was narrowed slightly with Huntsman's net worth placed at $3.2 billion and Sorenson's at $2.4 billion. Huntsman was ranked 41st on this year's list, down one position from last year's 40th, while Sorenson moved up four places this year from 74th to 70th.
Joining Huntsman and Sorenson on this year's list was R. Earl Holding, owner of Little America, Sinclair Oil, Sun Valley Resort and Snowbasin Resort. He is ranked 237th this year, down six positions from 1997, with $830 million.
Nationally, Microsoft boss Bill Gates topped the 1998 Forbes list for the fifth consecutive year with a net worth of $58.4 billion, well above Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett who could muster "only" $29.4 billion to hold second place.
Of the more exclusive billionaire's club, 29 people have had to turn in their membership cards since the stock market peaked July 17, leaving only 189 total. Gates has lost (on paper) an incredible $9 billion over that 2 1/2-month period, but he'd have to drop more than three times that much to lose his position as the richest American, and that's assuming Buffett's net worth remained unchanged, an unlikely scenario in a bear stock market.
Among those who missed the cut to remain mere megamillionaires: Computer Associates chairman Charles Wang ($975 million); Walt Disney vice chairman and founder's nephew Roy Disney ($900 million); and the founders of the Yahoo! Web site, David Filo ($840 million) and Jerry Yang ($830 million).
Of the top 10 on Forbes' list, all but two of the members earned their wealth from just two companies: Microsoft and Wal-Mart.
Behind second-place Buffett was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen ($22 billion), Dell Computer chairman Michael Dell ($13 billion) and Microsoft president Steven Ballmer ($12 billion).
Rounding out the top 10 are the five heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, each worth $11 billion.
In Utah, making the Forbes list at all is a monumental feat, and for the eight local businessmen who have made it even once in the 1990s, it represents the state's second most exclusive club.
In addition to Huntsman and Sorenson, the Utah members are L.S. "Sam" Skaggs, 75, the retired chairman of American Stores; Raymond J. Noorda, 74, the retired chairman of Novell Inc.; Alan C. Ashton, 56, and Bruce W. Bastian, 50, the founders of WorldPerfect; R. Earl Holding, 72, owner of Sinclair Oil, Little America, Sun Valley resort and Snow Basin; and Ian M. Cumming, 57, chairman of Leucadia Corp., which has investments in banking and insurance, among others.
The most exclusive club in Utah is the billionaire's list which includes only Huntsman and Sorenson.