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Tech billionaires a little less wealthy

Though Bill Gates is still king of the hill, according to Forbes, many technology executives on the magazine's billionaires list lost some of their net worth.

Bill Gates is the world's richest man again in 2002, overshadowing other high-tech executives who have slipped from the top echelons of Forbes magazine's annual list of billionaires.

Forbes' 16th annual survey painted a grim picture of the technology industry, as all of the tech titans in the top 10 declined in net worth and several notable executives fell off the list altogether. In a further sign that tough economic times are taking their toll on the world's richest, the average net worth of the world's billionaires fell from $3.2 billion to $3.1 billion.

Despite losing almost $6 billion in the past year, Gates, Microsoft's chairman, has a net worth of $52.8 billion. Gates has dominated the survey since 1996, with the exception of 1997 when he was displaced by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.

In another sign of the times for the tech industry, Larry Ellison, Chief Executive of software giant Oracle, who ran a close second to Gates in Forbes' April 2000 billionaire rankings and September 2000 "richest American" rankings, fell to fifth place. Ellison's net worth declined from $26 billion to $23.5 billion this year.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who has also long ranked near the top of the survey, ranked fourth this year. Allen's net worth slipped to $25.2 billion from $30.4 billion. Allen is now chairman of cable company Charter Communications and has a VC firm, Vulcan Ventures.

Warren Buffett, who placed second in the survey, worked the tech implosion to his advantage. Buffett's net worth increased from $32.3 billion to $35 billion this year. The investor may have missed out on gains during the tech bubble, but his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is on the rise again now that the dot-com mania has subsided.

Chunk of change
Technology executives and personalities who were conspicuously absent from this year's Forbes billionaire list.

Steve Case, chairman, AOL Time Warner
2002 $760 million
2001 $1.4 billion

Scott McNealy, CEO, Sun Microsystems
2002 $760 million
2001 $1.7 billion

David Filo, co-founder, Yahoo
2002 $735 million
2001 $1 billion

Jerry Yang, co-founder, Yahoo
2002 $730 million
2001 $1 billion

Gary Winnick, chairman, Global Crossing
2002 $500 million
2001 $2 billion

Source: Forbes

The only billionaires in the top five not affected by the fizzling of the tech bubble were German supermarket executives Karl and Theo Albrecht. The brothers, who have an extensive discount chain in Germany, also own U.S.-based gourmet food chain Trader Joe's.

Several tech luminaries were conspicuously absent from this year's list, which tracked 497 billionaires, down from 538 last year.

Steve Case was worth $760 million this year, down from $1.4 billion in 2001, as the AOL Time Warner chairman saw the advertising slump eat into the value of his Internet and publishing empire.

Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Scott McNealy, who was worth $1.7 billion last year, saw his net worth decline in tandem with Sun shares. McNealy is worth $760 million this year.

The creators of Yahoo have also suffered from the dot-com implosion; David Filo and Jerry Yang are worth $735 million and $730 million, respectively, this year. Last year both were worth $1 billion each.

Gary Winnick may be the most infamous of this year's former billionaires. The chairman of Global Crossing, which is under investigation by the SEC, is worth $500 million. Last year Winnick was worth $2 billion.