It’s a rare day that passes without a headline about Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, or any number of the other flashy and seemingly press-loving billionaires.
The rumored cage fight between Musk and Zuckerberg has become a melee for media attention, and Jeff Bezos can regularly be spotted on his $500 million yacht with his fiancée, Lauren Sánchez.
But some others in the billionaire class are the opposite, taking great care to stay out of the limelight.
Here’s a sampling of some of the world’s most secretive and reclusive billionaires, how they built their fortunes, and how they’ve tried to avoid the public eye over the years.
One necessary disclaimer: We may not even know about the really tight-lipped billionaires who have managed to stay off the lists of Forbes, Bloomberg, and the like.
The individuals and families named below did not immediately respond to requests for comment unless stated otherwise. Their net worths are accurate as of August 15.
You’ve probably heard of Coachella before, but the man behind the festival is far less known.
Meet Philip Anschutz, who has been dubbed “America’s most reclusive billionaire.” His net worth sits at $10.7 billion, according to Forbes.
The 83-year-old owns Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is the parent company of Coachella.
AEG owns several sports teams; runs more than 100 clubs, theaters, and arenas around the world; and produces or manages more than 25 music festivals.
Before getting into entertainment, Anschutz made his money in oil and railroads. He discovered an oil field on the Wyoming-Utah border by 1979, and three years later, Mobil purchased half of it for $500 million.
He went on to buy the Rio Grande Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1980s and sold them in 1995 for $1.4 billion while retaining the right to lay fiber-optic cables on them for telecom services.
In 2019, Forbes said that Anschutz was one of only two men to have been on the magazine’s annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans every year since its inception in 1982. (The other was the fellow oil billionaire William Herbert Hunt.)
Despite his regular appearance in the magazine, Anschutz has avoided the public eye and only given two press conferences throughout his career, Bloomberg reported.
“Anschutz is sort of like the Wizard of Oz,” the Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser told the Los Angeles Times in 2006. “He is the man behind the curtain pulling the levers. Nobody sees him, yet he has a huge impact on Los Angeles.”
Identical twins Sir David Barclay and Sir Frederick Barclay were commonly referred to as the Barclay brothers. While David died in 2021, Frederick is still alive at 88 years old.
In 2020, before David’s death, the brothers were estimated to be worth $4 billion combined by Forbes.
Over the years, the Barclay empire had spanned multiple industries, including online retailer Very, formerly known as Shop Direct, The Daily Telegraph newspaper, and The Ritz hotel in London.
Still, much about the Barclays’ origin and empire-building remains unknown, with Forbes calling the brothers “the U.K.’s most infamous reclusive billionaires.” The pair were rarely photographed and together owned a private island.
“We are private about everything we do,” David once said in a rare public comment. “It stems from our philosophy of not talking about ourselves, or claiming how clever we are, or boasting about how successful we have been. We would, anyway, claim that we have been more fortunate than many others.”
“It was a great journey in everything that we did,” Frederick said in a statement shortly after his brother died. “We were twins from the beginning until the end. He was the right hand to my left, and I was his left hand to his right. We’ll meet again.”
The Cargill-MacMillan family
You might not have known it, but something you ate today most likely passed through some aspect of the Cargill-MacMillan family’s business.
With an agricultural empire spanning seven generations, the Cargill-MacMillan clan runs Cargill, one of the largest privately held US companies by revenue. It was the eighth-richest family in the world in an October 2022 Bloomberg ranking and includes 12 billionaires, Forbes reports.
Pauline MacMillan Keinath is thought to have the largest stake in Cargill and is worth $7.2 billion, while Martha, pictured above, is worth $1.3 billion, Forbes estimates.
Founded in 1865 as a grain warehouse in Iowa, Cargill continues to be synonymous with agriculture first and foremost but has expanded to also offer products and services in areas such as pharmaceuticals, risk management, and transportation and logistics.
Once the richest person in China — his net worth is $24.4 billion, according to Forbes — Jack Ma made his fortune as the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba and the fintech company Ant Group, which operates the popular payments platform Alipay.
Though in the past Ma has occupied the limelight — when he marked his retirement with a 60,000-person party at an Olympic stadium, for example — it’s his disappearance from public view that’s made headlines in recent years.
In January 2021, media outlets reported that he hadn’t been publicly seen in two months, prompting speculation he might have gone missing.
His disappearance came as Chinese regulators launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba and introduced regulations that hit the brakes on Ant Group’s IPO. The crackdowns followed critical remarks Ma had made about China’s financial regulatory system.
Ma remained out of sight before returning to the public eye in 2023 when he was spotted in Thailand hours before Ant Group said he was giving up control of the company.
He has since assumed a visiting professor role at Tokyo College, which is part of the University of Tokyo, where he is expected to conduct research on sustainable agriculture and food production.
Ma’s friend, Chen Wei, told USA Today in 2014 that the billionaire’s lifestyle was “very simple and modest.”
“His hobbies are still tai chi and kung fu novels,” Chen said at the time. “I don’t think he has changed much, he is still that old style.”