swiss billionaires secrets

9 Things Swiss Billionaires Have in Common

Ever wondered what it takes to become a billionaire? This guide looks at the common traits of Switzerland’s richest residents to help you gauge your chances.

Switzerland is home to more than 30 billionaires, putting it at eleventh place globally behind major industrial powers like China, the United States, Russia and India. Having such a concentration of high-net-worth individuals among us not only provides a source of revenue, it also allows us to observe the habits and features of many of the world’s wealthiest people.

Here lists 9 things which resident billionaires have in common:

1. They are men.
Whether home-grown or imports, the vast majority of Switzerland’s wealthiest residents are male. In fact, only around 5 women are part of the exclusive top 50 club, with several of them only making the grade as part of a family unit. One of the most prominent of the resident female billionaires is Heineken heiress Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken. Other women of wealth include BASF’s Traudl Engelhorn, Heidi Horton (widow of Helmut Horton), Bettina Würth and Picasso heiress Marina Picasso.

2. They are immigrants.
Attracting high-net-worth foreign residents and their money through favorable tax conditions has long been a Swiss tradition, so it is hardly surprising that many of the country’s billionaires are not of Swiss origin. Only around a third of Switzerland’s 50 richest people do not have a recent migration history. The remaining two thirds hail primarily from Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, although numerous wealthy Russians, Swedish, Belgians and Dutch also call Switzerland home. Many have obtained Swiss citizenship. Curious fact: 4 of Switzerland’s wealthiest billionaires hail from Africa, namely: Alan Parker (Rhodesia), Ivan Glasenberg and Johann Rupert (South Africa) and Patrick Drahi (Morocco).

3. Most were born rich.
Switzerland is a prime destination for wealthy heirs and heiresses looking to squander their ancestors’ hard-won fortunes on expensive watches, leisurely ski trips and insanely-priced luxury housing. Around two-thirds of Switzerland's resident billionaires inherited at least part of their fortunes. But not all Swiss billionaires belong to the leisure class: around a third of Switzerland’s richest hail from average middle-class backgrounds and built their fortunes from scratch.

4. They are white.
Switzerland may be highly globalized, but as yet it has not been highly successful in attracting many non-Europeans billionaires. Only 1 of the top 50 residents is non-Caucasian. Perhaps billionaires from further afield feel more at home in tropical tax havens like Singapore or Hong Kong in Asia, Mauritius and the Seychelles in Africa or the U.S., Bahamas or Cayman Islands in America.

5. They seem to have good eyes.
Sure, there are a handful of billionaires that fit the stereotype of the dowdy old geezer peering at finely-printed stock quotes through thick glasses. But a full 40 of Switzerland’s 50 top billionaires appear to have functional eyes, with only 10 regularly wearing glasses.

6. They live in Geneva.
If you thought most billionaires soak up sun on the Gold Coast or hide out in Zug or Schwyz, you may be surprised to know that 12 of 50 richest people in the country call the Canton of Geneva their home (according to the Swiss business magazine Bilanz). That claim puts Switzerland’s westernmost canton far ahead of its nearest competitors – Schwyz (7 of the top 50), Vaud (6 of the top 50) and Bern (5 of the top 50).

7. They have unusually large numbers of children.
If there is one thing that the vast majority of billionaires have in common, it’s kids – and lots of them. While not all billionaires have families as large as that of Theo Müller (9 children), Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken or Curt Engelhorn (5 children each) the average rich far outdoes the average Swiss fertility rate of 1.5 children. A full 48 of the richest in Switzerland have children, with 2 being the most popular number, followed by 3, 4, 1 and 0, in that order.

8. They are active.
Long before he conquered the world of beer, Jorge Lemann was a tennis star in his own right. Bernie Ecclestone tried hard to become a Grand Prix racer before building a formula one empire instead, while former L’Oréal Chairman Lindsay Owen Jones ran a side career as a race car driver. Swatch Group president Nayla Hayek breeds horses in her time off, as does Eva-Maria Bucher-Haefner. Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe engages in motorcycle treks and polar expeditions in his free time.

9. They aren’t computer geeks.
In contrast to the U.S. top billionaire list, which reads like a who’s who in the world of ICT, the industries which created Switzerland’s richest billionaires are highly diverse, spanning from investment and banking to food and beverage processing, manufacturing, retail, wholesale, pharmaceuticals, commodities, hospitality, construction, sports, real estate, telecoms, fragrances and chemical production. Curious fact: Pharmaceuticals may have created the fortunes of 3 of the of 50 wealthiest families, but despite its high profile the pharma industry lags behind alcohol – 5 of the top 50 earn at least part of their wealth through beer or wine production.

Conclusion: If you are a white male immigrant with good eyes who is willing to seize the moment to build a self-made empire while engaging in extreme sports in your free time, your statistical chances of becoming a billionaire are a little higher than the next guy's. Moving to Geneva can probably wait until after you’ve made your first billion.

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