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Rank of tech billionaires dwindled in 2000

After watching their stocks soar to astounding heights in 1999, the technology CEOs with the highest net worth looked on helplessly in 2000 as their fortunes dwindled.

4 min read
Pity the poor billionaires.

After watching their stocks soar to astounding heights in 1999, the technology CEOs with the highest net worth looked on helplessly in 2000 as their fortunes dwindled, in some cases to mere millions.

At least seven executives who could call themselves billionaires 12 months ago tumbled to petty millionaire status by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, not a single tech CEO stepped up from the millionaire's club into the billionaire league, according to CNET's CEO Wealth Meter. Conversely, in 1999, 14 high-tech CEOs added at least $1 billion in paper wealth.

The billionaire boys' club lost members last year because of a dramatic slide in tech stocks: The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index lost about 37 percent of its value, and the shares of many individual Net companies plunged by more than 90 percent.

Even blue chip technology companies from Intel to Microsoft to Cisco Systems were pounded. Microsoft shares, for example, lost some 60 percent in 2000, shaving an astounding $50 billion from chairman Bill Gates' net worth.

"For technology investors, it was one of the worst years on record, if not the worst," said Charles Reinhard, senior U.S. equity strategist with Lehman Brothers. "To the degree that their wealth is tied to the price of their stock, technology CEOs saw their wealth diminish too."

Easy come, easy go
2000 was a rough year for technology CEOs, many of whom watched their net worth plunge by billions of dollars. (Values as of Dec. 26.)
Lawrence Ellison, Oracle, +$3.9 billion

Thomas M. Siebel, Siebel Systems, +$1.2 billion 
B. Thomas Golisano, Paychex, +$954 million 
William Coleman, BEA Systems, +$313 million 
Sanjiv Sidhu, I2 Technologies, +$238 million 
Patrick H. Nettles, Ciena, +$232 million 
Walter Alessandrini, Avanex, +$99 million 
John E. Warnock, Adobe Systems, +$91 million 
Geoff Tate, Rambus, +$77 million 
Michael C. Ruettgers, EMC, +$29 million

Steven Ballmer, Microsoft, -$16.8 billion 
Michael Dell, Dell Computer, -$10.3 billion 
Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon.com, -$7.0 billion 
Bobby Johnson, Foundry Networks, -$3.0 billion 
Robert Glaser, Real Networks, -$2.7 billion 
David S. Wetherell, CMGI, -$2.0 billion 
Pehong Chen, Broadvision, -$2.1 billion 
Daniel E. Smith, Sycamore Networks, -$1.4 billion 
Stephen A. Garofalo, Metromedia Fiber Network, -$1.1 billion 
Keith J. Krach, Ariba, -$678 million
Source: CNET News.com
CNET News.com derived the following list based on the number of shares held and options that were exercisable within 60 days of the companies' most recent proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The values of the individual stocks are based on the closing price Dec. 26. The figures do not reflect other assets owned by the CEOs, such as real estate or stakes in other companies.

The losers
David Wetherell, the chief executive officer of Internet investment company CMGI, ended the year as the biggest money loser. After starting out with CMGI shares valued at $2.1 billion, he ended the year with a "mere" $100 million, a 95 percent decline.

CMGI investors, who have watched the comany's shares plunge from $138.43 to about $6 during the year, have shown little sympathy for Wetherell's personal $2 billion loss. At a recent CMGI shareholders meeting, some angry investors called for Wetherell's resignation. The tone was a far cry from last year's annual meeting, when many investors--giddy with a 870 percent return on their shares--asked the CEO for his autograph.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also took a substantial hit this year, as the value of his share of the software giant fell from $27.9 billion to $11.2 billion, a loss of $16.7 billion, or 60 percent.

Microsoft's stock declined a hefty 61 percent last year, culminating in December when the software giant told shareholders that it would miss its earnings estimates for the first time in more than a decade. Microsoft blamed its shortfall on the sectorwide slowdown in PC sales that affected companies from PC makers Dell Computer, Compaq Computer and Apple Computer to chipmakers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

The company's troubles also cut into the bank accounts of Gates and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Gates, who handed over his CEO duties to Ballmer in January, has watched his bankroll dwindle to $34 billion from $85 billion. Allen lost some $40 billion as Microsoft shares fell from $116.75 at the beginning of the year to about $44 last week, a 61 percent slide.

Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer, also gave some back last year. The 35-year-old watched his net worth dive from $15.6 billion to $5.3 billion, a loss of $10 billion, or 66 percent.

Dell was among the PC makers battered by a slowdown in sales of desktop and notebook computers. The company's stock tumbled from $51 to $17.69, a 65 percent decline.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, Time magazine's 1999 "Person of the Year," watched his personal wealth shrink by 78 percent, from $8.9 billion to $1.9 billion.

Amazon was battered by a series of problems last year: The company again failed to turn a profit, and many analysts questioned whether its uncertain prospects deserved such a high stock valuation. Its stock tumbled 77 percent to about $17.

The winners
Not everyone lost money. Larry Ellison, the Oracle CEO known for his disdain of Microsoft and a love of yacht racing, logged a hefty $3.8 billion increase in wealth last year.

Ellison saw his net worth jump 10 percent--from $37 billion at the beginning of 2000 to $40 billion.

Other winners include Siebel Systems CEO Thomas Siebel, who gained $1.2 billion, and Rambus CEO Geoff Tate, who made $76 million.

Last spring, the worth of Ellison's stake in Oracle briefly eclipsed the Microsoft shares held by business rival Gates, who routinely ranks as the richest person in the world. In April, Ellison was worth $53 billion, compared with Gates' $51.75 billion.